Podcasts don't work for me


I don't listen to podcasts. The format has never appealed to me. I am a visual learner. I love to read. Reading allows me to jump around, skim where I think it appropriate, moderate my pace, and return to passages that are important. With reading, I can easily highlight, or copy and paste a key phrase into a blog post. Moreover, much more care is put into the printed word. Authors (present company included) labor over every sentence, word, and syllable. Podcasts are different. Less care is put into the spoken word. Unless the narrator is reading from a transcript, we are left with the normal flow of conversational english. Sentences run on. Other sentences are cut short. There are stumbles. There are jokes that sound funnier in the narrator's head. And so on. Moreover, with a podcast, I need to follow the narrator's plan. Sure, I can play it at double-speed, but I am still stuck with his chronology. Even with time-markers, it is tough to jump to specific portions. You can't CTRL-F an audio file. The thought of devoting a full thirty minutes, or an hour, to someone else's thought process is too much for me to commit. I move on my own track.

More and more podcasts have started to transcribe their dialogues. (Tools like Otter, which I use for my classes, are very helpful). Still, reading a transcript of a podcast is not a pleasant experience. All of the quirk of conversational English are printed in black-and-white, for all to see. Every lawyer has experienced this disconnect when reading a court-reporter transcript of a hearing. What the court-reporter heard is very different from what the lawyer thought he said. (Court reporters usually let attorneys submit revisions after the hearing, though they don't always accept those edits).

I realize that my position leave me out in the cold. There are many, many excellent scholars who record podcasts. (Co-blogger Will Baude just launched a new one this week!). I regret that I'm missing out on these insights, but I am simply going to have to pass. I feel the same way about social media. I have been off Twitter for nearly 15 month, and feel wonderful. Most of the content on Twitter is dreadful. But there are occasional diamonds in the rough.  Hopefully, new ideas developed in these podcasts and on social media will make it into the printed format soon enough.

NEXT: Dan Greenberg Guest-Blogging About Occupational Licensing Rules

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Amen. Especially when someone refers you to one specific thing in a podcast that runs 90 minutes without giving you a time where it is. I can find stuff faster and skip stuff I don’t care about much more easily with text.

    1. Most people can also read a *lot* faster than they can listen.

    2. Sturgeon’s law. Ninety percent of everything is crap. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_law

      The obvious corollary is “No matter the category, ten percent is possibly not crap”. Think opera, polka, rap, heavy metal, prog-rock, libertarian blog comments, Josh Blackman posts, horror movies, daytime television, etc.

      I’m not much of a podcast fan. But there are some good ones. Be selective. Don’t write off the entire medium.

  2. Good manners. Start with the most 1important new point, in a simple declarative sentence, then the second and third ones. Stop at 4 minutes.

  3. I agree with Josh here.

    I vastly prefer reading to listening.

  4. “I am a visual learner. I love to read. Reading allows me to jump around, skim where I think it appropriate, moderate my pace, and return to passages that are important.”

    Yes, indeed. For instance, if (hypothetically) I think an author is a bit too prolix, I can just look for the parts which interest me and skip over the rest.

    Hard to do that with a podcast.

  5. Very much agree. I see to really like Freaknomics and their blog. I regularly get links for their audio and podcasts. Looks fascinating. But, no. They used to have transcriptions that worked decently well. No longer.

    1. Bruce,

      We have formed a Discord for former Althouse commenters. If you want an invitation, just e-mail me at twixella@aol.com.

  6. Thanks for sharing?

  7. When I drove more I found podcasts a great way to fill the time.

    1. Seems dangerous. Sleepy driving is impaired driving.

  8. Same here. Much prefer reading to listening. Only rarely — maybe once a month — listen to a podcast.

  9. I prefer to skim the transcript, if one is available. The only time I listen to podcasts is on commutes or long drives, both of which are (happily) rarer these days.

  10. Hear hear. Another problem is people who are hard of hearing cannot understand much or even most of what is being said, even if the podcasters speak slowly and clearly – let alone the fact that podcasts take a long time to convey the content.

  11. I don’t listen to podcasts at home, partly because I also prefer reading. But I do find them useful and reasonably diverting on my infrequent longer drives. So they have some small place in my media consumption anyway.

  12. If the podcast has advertisements, I’m out. If its purpose is being silly or hamming it up, I’m also out. I do like long form interviews over short form ones though. The only podcast that I consume almost every week is The National Constitution Center’s “We the People”, but only if the subject matter is of interest to me. I like it mostly because the moderator is serious, imposes a reliable structure, and always has two guests with opposing viewpoints that are hashed out civilly. The same guests will be totally nutty when they’re on other podcasts, but they’re on their best behavior under Jeffrey Rosen’s supervision.

    I wonder what the blackman kid does for fun and entertainment? Linear movies and “TV” are probably out, unless he can read the transcript beforehand, or skip around and watch the end first. Maybe he is into golf or mountain climbing.

  13. I agree. I much prefer to read.

  14. Podcasts are convenient when driving, riding the subway, or walking the dog.

  15. I agree that video and audio is most often a wasted of time. Narration is the witch doctor’s tool. But wait! You don’t believe me because I haven’t finished.

    Resident Biden is a tool. See, a simple concise positive assertion with no ad-hockery.

  16. I can’t find time to read nearly as easily as I can find time to listen.

    My favorite type of podcast is the panel discussion, not the single scripted voice.

  17. I never could get into podcasts either. I prefer to read, and I don’t like having to listen to long introductions and tangents before they get to the point. I hate getting sent a YouTube link instead of an article too. I can skim an article quickly and get an idea of whether I want to read it in depth. I’m stuck on a podcast or video.

  18. I just don’t process long stretches of people talking like that, especially if it’s just one person. Video is only marginally better. And podcasters don’t stop to think about how many hearing-impaired people they’re excluding by not having a transcript.

  19. I feel exactly the same. I don’t want to listen to pod cast. The first few minutes are nearly always conversational fluff of some sort. (“Today we are honored to have the privilege to talk to X. Welcome X.” “Thank you for inviting me. blah. blah”. “Your welcome.” “Irrelevant small talk question”. There’s no easy way to scroll to the actual meat.)

    The thing that annoys me even more is when someone will cite a podcast and tell me it contains something interesting. But they don’t go to the trouble to find the minute mark. If there is no transcript, they don’t attempt to quote.

    I get some people enjoy them which is fine. But my reaction to someone recommending a pod cast is: “Really? A pod cast? Can you give me a synopsis?” (Often they can’t. It’s just “really interesting” and “worth listening to”.)

  20. Can’t beat Jacob Mchangama’s history of free speech podcast, Clear and Present Danger, which was scripted.

  21. Nothing is less satisfying than listening to several journalists yap about recent events. If they had anything meaningful to offer, it would be in their reporting.

Please to post comments