Storytelling podcasts I love … and an announcement!

Let me start with the announcement first.

Later this month I will debut the Telling the Story podcast. This will add to the content already on the Telling the Story blog, and it will allow me to discuss storytelling in a different fashion.

For each podcast, I plan to interview a respected journalist and storyteller to expound upon many of the subjects I discuss on the blog: storytelling process, the changing role of the journalist, great stories and pieces, et cetera. I have not yet decided how frequently I will record the podcasts, but I will likely determine that over the next few weeks.

As this site enters its third month, I am excited about its current growth and look forward to adding the podcast to its arsenal. I hope you all enjoy it as well.

To celebrate that announcement, I thought I would offer three recommendations for podcasts that provide great storytelling. Give these shows a whirl, and then come back here later this month.

99% Invisible

The 99% Invisible podcast bills itself as “a tiny radio show about design”, which reminds me of when Seinfeld used to call itself “a show about nothing”.

Both assertions are true in a very, very loose sense.

Yes, 99% Invisible has tiny roots — it is a PRX public radio show that has relied on Kickstarter campaigns for financing. And yes, it technically deals with design … but in fascinating ways you would never imagine.

(Oh, and just so we’re clear, the 99% reference has nothing to do with Occupy Wall Street.)

Take last week’s episode: “The Modern Moloch“. We all drive cars and accept them as unavoidable components of modern-day life. But have you ever thought about how they were first received in the 1920s? Have you ever thought about how cars were once derided as death traps because they killed too many pedestrians playing out in the roads? Have you ever thought about the similarities between the automakers’ response to such criticisms and the NRA’s campaign against gun control?

In short, did you ever think a story from nearly 100 years ago could be so relevant today?

Roman Mars, named the “Ira Glass of design” by one New York Times writer, crafts his stories in classic public radio fashion — lots of natural audio, lots of intertwined conversations and shifty editing, and lots of well-written prose capable to explaining complex subjects in a digestible manner. Each episode lasts between 15-20 minutes — a standard car ride for most of us.

The Moth

Here is a example of storytelling in its truest sense.

Each episode of The Moth’s podcast is an audio rendition of an individual telling a story about his or her life, in front of a live audience.

Essentially, this is theater, not journalism. But it is also storytelling, pure and simple.

I find most of the pieces here extremely moving. Journalists who love storytelling often gravitate towards human-interest pieces; heck, look at the stories I chose from the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism competition. The Moth consists solely of human-interest pieces, except they are told by the humans who lived them.

The story that hooked me to The Moth is called “Lessons from the Perry Como Sundae Bar“. It comes from a young (I think) man named Robert Weinstein, and he talks about how he visited his grandmother at a nursing home and, through a chain of events and thoughts, wound up becoming the delight of all the elderly women in the building.

This story would not really fit on a television newscast; it probably would not work as a newspaper article. But it absolutely works as a first-person story, especially because of how the audience responds to Weinstein’s story.

If you believe that everyone has a compelling story to tell, you may also believe, as I do, that everyone has many compelling stories to tell. This is because we share so many bonds and emotions, and one man’s story about his grandmother will likely trigger a similar memory from your life.

That is the thinking behind The Moth. It may not be journalism, but it sure as heck is storytelling — often at its finest.

This American Life

You may not have heard of the first two podcasts I listed.

You have most likely heard of this one.

This American Life is the most-downloaded podcast in iTunes, and it is also a formidable NPR radio show. As such, I probably do not need to provide much background other than a quick synopsis: host Ira Glass presents a variety of tales, usually dealing with the same theme, that plays like a journalist’s answer to “The Moth”.

By that, I mean this: it tells human stories, but it does so through a journalist’s lens.

Robert Weinstein’s story about his grandmother may not translate as well to an episode of This American Life. But Glass and his team have a terrific knack for finding stories that share a common, often newsworthy, thread.

I have mentioned the show in several “3 Great Stories” columns, and I always find myself enriched — either in a “Did you know?” kind of way or an “Oh my” kind of way.

If you are not listening yet, and you enjoy storytelling, you should absolutely join this party.


Matt Pearl is the author of the “Telling the Story” blog. E-mail your questions and comments to

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