How to Evaluate Podcasts: Tips for Finding the Best Podcasts

Q: I like to listen to podcasts, but do you have any tips on how to find the best ones?

Podcasts, defined as a type of digital media with an episodic series of files subscribed to and downloaded through web syndication, are a great way to consume information. (Skip to our list of best podcasts)

Since they are most commonly listened to on portable media players, you can keep up with the news or learn a new subject during your daily commute or wherever else you happen to be. And if you’d prefer to listen from the comfort of your own home, you can do that as well. To get the newest files, you can either go out to the publisher’s website, or subscribe using a software program like iTunes so the episodes automatically come to you and your device.

Also, anyone can create a podcast, so there is a varied and exciting mix of different perspectives out there for your enjoyment. But doing a little podcast quality control will greatly improve your experience, and this article will outline some things you will want to look for when evaluating podcasts.

Determine whether the podcast’s style is a good match for you

Since a podcast is just a format for delivering content, you will find a plethora of different styles, formats and lengths. Some podcasts are well-structured and to the point, while others are more of an entertainment experience filled with colorful personalities and plenty of casual chatter. Some are produced by a professional media organization; others by independent folks with a story or opinion to share. And in addition to the standard audio podcasts, there are a growing number of video podcasts.

When you are looking for the best podcasts, consider what exactly it is you are looking for. Are you trying to keep up with current events? Learn a new subject? Or just enjoy yourself as you would while flipping channels on TV? Each of these goals would have a different ideal format and style.

Verify that the speakers are qualified to discuss the topic

When I am evaluating a new podcast, I do a little digging to find out more about the people who are giving the show. This is less crucial when you are listening to a podcast produced by a large media company such as the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, but in most other cases, you will want to research the speaker’s background and experience as well as possible incentives that might affect what they say.

I like to head over to the publisher’s blog or website and also take a look at their social media profiles. Even in the case of professional journalists, you might want to do some looking into their political background depending on the subject matter they discuss.

Confirm that podcast is active and frequently updated

The iTunes store’s relevance algorithm doesn’t really filter out abandoned podcasts, so if you do a search there to find a new podcast, the first result might be a Podcast which hasn’t been updated since 2007. Also, if it looks like the publishers are only putting out a new episode every couple of months, it might not be worth subscribing.

On the other hand, if the topic of the podcast is not time-sensitive, then an abandoned show might meet your needs just fine, as you can listen to the old episodes at your leisure.

Watch for excessive advertising

The vast majority of podcasts are free to listen to, so many content providers naturally include advertising in order to gain some revenue from their efforts. This can include messages from corporate sponsors or quick plugs for premium services offered by the podcast publisher.

One thing to keep in mind is the fact that the sponsored messages will usually be spoken by the same people who do the rest of the show. If you are only half-listening and miss the sentence about an upcoming advertisement, you might mistakenly think that the host is simply talking about a product or service without any financial incentive. For many people, this is less likely to happen with text-based content online because we see so many ads every day that they become easy to spot.

Overall, if you are looking for high quality podcast content without any advertising at all, you are probably going to be disappointed. But be sure to consider the ratio of content to ads when you are evaluating podcasts, because some probably take it a little too far.

These are just a few things you might want to consider when you are launching into the world of podcasts. What factors would you add to the discussion?

A few of our picks for the best podcasts of 2012

Planet Money by NPR – a fascinating and intelligent look at the global economy from a variety of different perspectives.

How Stuff Works Podcasts – Several interesting podcasts from the staff of, including Stuff to Blow Your Mind, TechStuff and Stuff You Missed in History Class.

Spark by CBC – Engaging coverage of technology and its relationship to culture.

NYTimes Podcasts – The New York Times offers podcasts in news, science, books and more.

Wall Street Journal Podcasts – The WSJ’s podcasts range from business and politics news to personal technology and the best of the web.

Mixergy – For those with an entrepreneurial or business-oriented spirit, Andrew Warner’s interviews with successful startup founders are educational and very inspiring.

What would you add to our list of the best podcasts?


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