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Vol. 1, No. 1

The Readout Loud

The Readout LOUD (STAT) is a weekly podcast hosted by Damian Garde, Rebecca Robbins, and Adam Feuerstein. STAT bills The Readout LOUD as its biotech podcast that digs deep into “industry goings-on.” At the outset of each episode, the hosts charmingly share where they’re reporting/recording from, and it’s always the same since they’re all sheltered-in-place, but they try to switch up just how they describe the closet they’re in or tell a funny fact about the quarantine in their city.

This podcast existed before the COVID-19 epidemic, so the weekly episodes include regular biotech reporting content in addition to the COVID-19 content. The COVID-19 content is always first, and there are some human-interest COVID-19 stories mixed in for the second of three segments, usually leading to a regular biotech snippet. Hosts rotate reporting duty so it’s a nice mix of different styles and voices throughout the episodes. 

The content can be a bit technical for the average non-biotech industry listener, but I like that science is primary over politics in this show.

Fact-based: 5 of 5. I trust a biotech research media outlet to give me the facts about COVID-19.

Host: 5 of 5.

Production: 5 of 5.

Storytelling: 3 of 5. At times the level of technical explanation gets too detailed, which could alienate some listeners.

Perspective: 4 of 5. I like that this show fills a niche I hadn’t heard much from yet, the biotech sector—presumably the people doing the work that will help us move beyond this crisis.

Action-Oriented: 3 of 5.

Overall Rating: 4 of 5.

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Vol. 1, No. 1

Coronapod

Coronapod (Nature), hosted by Benjamin Thompson, Noah Baker, and Amy Maxmen, releases a new 20-minute episode every week. Based in Britain, Nature is a premier source of primary science articles by scientists as well as science news written by journalists. The journal, Nature, has been published since the mid-nineteenth century and is currently regarded as one of the top journals in science. The organization also published many specialized science journals and has been innovative in online communication, beginning a podcast in 2018. Starting in mid-March 2020, many of these podcasts have focused on the pandemic and, while it’s not possible to subscribe only to those podcasts, they are clearly labeled with the title “Coronapod.” These segments combine personable chat among the hosts that seems unscripted but is informative and brisk as well as more traditional science journalism covering topics such as what we can learn from South Korea and China, what’s happening with drug trials, diagnostic developments, and whether masks are recommended or not, all with a focus on the science.

Unlike some of the podcasts that present science for a non-specialist audience, Coronapod is rather like the journalism featured in the journal, written for an audience of scientists who want to keep up with fields beyond their own, yet accessible to non-scientists with an interested in science. There’s no “let me explain this scientific concept in terms you’ll understand” feel to it. It’s smart, well-produced, informative and, as a bonus, features some lovely British accents. As one might expect from a premier science journal, it’s an excellent source of solid scientific information that is lively and interesting.

Fact-based: 5 of 5. It’s honest about what science can and cannot yet tell us, but keeps the focus on the science.

Host: 5 of 5. The three hosts seem very comfortable with one another and provide a human face to preface more journalistic segments. 

Production: 5 of 5. The hosts are broadcasting from a basement in London, a home in Sussex where a pile of duvets and cushions are used to improvise a sound booth, and an apartment in Berkeley, California—but it sounds like it comes from a well-equipped studio.

Storytelling: 5 of 5. Both the chat among the hosts and the news segments are well done and keep the pace lively and informative.

Perspective: 5 of 5. Don’t look here for political analysis or cultural critique, but if what you want is quality science journalism, this is your podcast. 

Action-Oriented: 3 of 5. This is news reporting, not advocacy, and it steers away from “news you can use” features to focus on “here’s what’s happening in the world of science.” 

Overall Rating: 5 of 5.

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Vol. 1, No. 1

Social Distance

Social Distance (The Atlantic) is a thrice-weekly podcast tackling coronavirus news in near real-time, hosted by Dr. James Hamblin and Katherine Wells. Publishing new shows this frequently is impressive to pull off as it is time-intensive to script and edit a show, and if there are guests, to line them up and insert their point of view purposefully. The show’s public health expert, Dr. James Hamblin, a Lecturer in Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine, is certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine

Each of the 20-30 minute episodes tackles a (U.S.) culturally relevant topic each day, ranging from how procuring food is changing to whether we should get deliveries. Hamblin’s outlook is decidedly more grave than his co-host Wells’s, and listeners should appreciate that honesty from a public health expert. Wells’s informality and desire to crack jokes is then a frustrating dichotomy for me as a listener. Levity isn’t really what I want out of a COVID-19 podcast aiming to educate me on how things are going on the front lines, in Congress, and in places less affected to date. The hosts actually addressed the role of humor in an episode from mid-April, with Hamblin making the excellent point that he believes science communicators should use different styles to share science information, because there are some people he wouldn’t reach unless he used some humor. But, the humor just doesn’t land for me; it feels too forced or awkward.

The Atlantic’s reporting skews left but generally has well-reported pieces in print, so I expected well-reported and fact-based journalism in the podcast. I have been disappointed, as it feels like a daily check-in between two hosts and whoever they can get on the show that day, including people who are related to the hosts. The problem with bringing a family member on to a podcast where you’re conversing about COVID-19 preparedness, effects, and public response is that a strange disparity is introduced, confusing the listener about whether this is a show about science/policy/government or a storytelling show about how people are coping. 

There are some things I think the show does very well. The podcast makes an effort to bring different perspectives (bioethicist Arthur Caplan and psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb), although many are staff writers at The Atlantic, which sometimes seems like they grabbed whoever was willing to be recorded from their closets at home. I commend The Atlantic for providing transcripts of all episodes to make the podcast accessible. And it really is a lot to even record a podcast frequently—sometimes you just don’t feel like talking and it’s impressive that the pair has kept up the cadence, including recording daily for podcast’s first few weeks. However, there is room for improvement overall, especially with editing and scripting.

Fact-based: 3 of 5. I wish The Atlantic put more resources onto this show to help do research, fact check, and provide the hosts with more talking points.

Host: 2 of 5. Wells and Hamblin are not an ideal pairing; they do not have good chemistry on air which makes some of the episodes painful to listen to. 

Production: 2 of 5. Large, well-established media outlets with good reputations should edit their podcasts and record more material than 20 minutes to make a 20-minute show. That does not appear to be the case here. The audio is not particularly clear especially on Wells’s end and I believe this is fixable. I don’t believe that a podcast needs to be published the same day it’s recorded, which is what is happening with this show. If a few more hours were allotted for editing, I think it would make the end product cleaner and more interesting. 

Storytelling: 3 of 5.

Perspective: 4 of 5.

Action-Oriented: 2 of 5. I haven’t really changed anything I’m doing because of something I heard on this podcast, nor have I felt the urge to recommend it to anyone.

Overall rating: 2.5 of 5.

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Vol. 1, No. 1

Don’t Touch Your Face

Don’t Touch Your Face (Foreign Policy) is hosted by James Palmer and Amy Mackinnon, writers at Foreign Policy, a centrist magazine that has four other podcasts. It is a daily podcast that focuses on the global spread of COVID-19, how countries are containing the virus, and how society is being impacted. 

Topics addressed by the show since its inception have included Iceland’s unique take on social distancing and effort to get as many people tested as possible, how different countries are using borders to prevent the spread of the virus, and how countries with authoritarian leadership are faring. The focus is certainly the global perspective, which I think is one of the best ways for us to collectively choose the best path forward for all of society—we should share what is and isn’t working across the world to save the most lives.

What differentiates Don’t Touch Your Face from some of the other COVID-19 podcasts I have listened to is that it weaves a thread through multiple segments seamlessly: the segues are very logical and the hosts tell the audience how each piece relates to the next. This has to be difficult in a show that is only 20 or so minutes long, if the team is trying to fit in three or more guests or stories. It’s therefore a very satisfying listen. 

The show started out as a daily podcast, and in early April it moved to a twice-weekly release schedule. I don’t believe the hosts mentioned the reason for the adjustment, but when I heard it, I thought it was a perfect pivot. For several episodes leading up to this change, Mackinnon solo-hosted while Palmer was out sick. She reported often that he was hoping it wasn’t COVID-19, and would be back soon. I kept listening in part because I really enjoy the show, but also because I was afraid for Palmer, and wanted to hear that he was okay. 

On the episode The Price We Pay, Palmer was back and confirmed he was in fact recovering from COVID-19. Mackinnon’s interview with him and his wife were terrific—there were some very honest, poignant moments that helped strike home the point that COVID-19 is absolutely going to affect someone you know if it hasn’t already, and the price paid by not just the infected but the families of those suffering is immense. They made the point that if someone can’t get out of bed for two or three weeks, it’s not just a regular virus that they’ll soon forget—this is a major impact on people’s lives. It was really well done, including the segues to the accompanying pieces. 

This is one of my favorite podcasts about COVID-19—it’s definitely worth a listen.

Fact-Based: 5 out of 5.

Host: 5 out of 5. Great chemistry between the hosts, who are good on audio — something not all writers are good at. I also want to commend the hosts for fitting this in to their regular writing and editing schedules: both have been continually authoring content over the last several weeks on Foreign Policy as well as doing the podcast.

Production: 5 out of 5. Excellent editing and great choice to move to a twice-weekly release schedule.

Storytelling: 5 out of 5. The well-woven thread makes each of these episodes very listenable.

Perspective: 5 out of 5. At the end of each episode, I feel like I got some global perspective from a non-biased source. There’s no directive that I should believe a certain thing about what I heard, just information I can make decisions about on my own.

Action-Oriented: 3 out of 5.

Overall: 5 out of 5.

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Vol. 1, No. 1

Coronavirus Daily

Kelly McEvers is the host of Coronavirus Daily from NPR. This podcast offers short daily episodes that round up news reports, feature stories, and conversations about the latest information on the spread and impact of the pandemic. The focus is on current events, including public health recommendations, political developments, and ideas about how to cope, taking a journalistic approach to the emergency to provide information that is intended “to help you process it all.” 

As might be expected from a major radio network, the podcast is well-produced. At a time when listeners may feel bombarded by news, this podcast does a good job of reporting on the day’s events as a news digest with an emphasis on what’s happened in the past 24 hours. News junkies may not discover anything new here, but for those who are holding back from news overload, it can provide a one-stop summary of all things Coronavirus.

Fact-based: 4 of 5. Because the focus is so much on news (with some lighter material mixed in) this podcast works with what we know at the moment—it’s the first draft of history, so the “facts” may require revision or more context at times. 

Host: 5 of 5.

Production: 5 of 5.

Storytelling: 5 of 5.

Perspective: 3 of 5.

Action-Oriented: 3 of 5. There are parts of this podcast aimed at individuals and how they can cope, but much of the purpose of the podcast is to inform the public about the latest news. 

Overall Rating: 4 of 5.