In some ways, elections are the perfect foundation on which to build a podcast. Here is a major event that draws attention from people across the country and is full of news developments that require context, discussion and debate. Television doesn’t seem to scratch that itch, mostly because it is full of shouty debates, and the audience may not be willing to wade through all of the briefs littered across a newspaper to figure out which ones matter the most.
Newsletters may be one way to keep track – we have one at Scroll.in that does just that – but podcasts could potentially do even more of the heavy lifting, drawing attention to the things that matter the most.
The 2016 US elections, for example, saw a glut of political podcasts, from the famous Slate Political Gabfest to The Washington Post’s Presidential to Keepin’ It 1600, a show by former Barack Obama staffers that would later expand into Crooked Media, one of the most popular, successful podcast networks.
Many of these followed a simple formula, the “gabfest”. Put three or four people around a mic and record their conversations. Cheap, easy to produce, and considering this was the Donald Trump election, never a dearth of things to talk about. After the election some asked if this was the wrong approach to take, because it was simple to make but did not anticipate the Trump victory.
But the success of podcasts in the election glut meant that political shows were not going anywhere. Indeed, it was the New York Times’ election show The Run-Up, hosted by “star reporter-turned-podcaster” Michael Barbaro, that prompted the company to create The Daily.
If you haven’t heard of that show, you’re not paying attention to the podcasting world. It is a daily news round-up from the New York Times that has been an absolute phenomenon, with 8 million monthly listeners – which is more than the number of subscribers the newspaper has – and multiple spin-offs, including a newsletter and a weekly TV show.
India doesn’t have a blockbuster podcast like The Daily yet, in part because the medium still has teething issues, though several organisations do follow the same format. The Indian Express’ 3 Things stands out as one that comes closest to the format, interviews with reporters to dig into the story, but others like Quint, Newslaundry, BloombergQuint and TakeAPart.in all use the daily approach.
But a morning bulletin is not the only way to follow the elections.
- With Every Vote Matters, host Padma Priya from podcast network Suno India with support from Factly, attempts to take you behind some of the more structural questions that underpin our elections. This isn’t a political gabfest. Instead, “EVM” features interviews with experts and has tackled issues like how to become a voter, whether Non-Resident Indians and internal migrants can vote and examined the state of women’s representation in politics.
- Grand Tamasha, hosted by Milan Vaishnav, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in partnership with the Hindustan Times, might be more up your alley if you would prefer something closer to the gabfest, even though it is not a round table show. Every week, Vaishnav pulls in someone who has looked closely at Indian politics, from journalists to political scientists, to examine specific aspects of the election.
- Then there is Ganatantra, a podcast hosted by political scientist Sarayu Natarajan and policy lawyer Alok Prasanna Kumar, on the IVM network. Although this is expressly not an election podcast – Kumar and Natarajan take pains to insist they will not be discussing personalities or the news cycle – the show is about politics. Recent episodes have looked at how political violence actually works, what role social media plays and what the farmer’s mobilisation tells us about India’s political discourse.
Of course, there is much more still to come:
India’s established weekly “gabfests”, the Newslaundry Hafta podcast and IVM’s Puliyabaazi will undoubtedly focus more and more on the elections as we get closer to polling day. IVM’s How to Citizen by Meghnad S and Shreyas Manohar features civic issues, usually with a comedian guest. Arnab “GreatBong” Ray’s Attention Pliss! podcast will surely cover political territory. Several think tanks looking at India have covered political questions in the past.
Suno India has just announced a “Hindustani” show called Election Nama, with The Wire Urdu’s Mahtab Alam. The Indian Express and the Hindu both have election shows coming out soon as well. One unconventional approach that might cover things for you also is the NDTV app: It has a radio option that allows you to listen to the channel without any video, letting you plug into the primetime debates without being parked in front of a television, though that does mean having to hear commercial breaks also.
India may not have the glut of election-related audio that America had during the Trump election, but there’s enough material for anyone interested in either politics or podcasts to try out the form – and maybe one of these will end up mimicking the path that The Daily or Keepin’ it 1600 took?
Did we miss any election-related podcasts from India? Please send them in to email@example.com and we’ll update the piece closer to polling dates. Podcast picks is a fortnightly column that highlights interesting podcasts and covers the industry. Read earlier columns here.