The world of international affairs is constantly changing, and it can be quite the hassle to stay in the loop all the time. Apps such as Instapaper make it easy to download and read articles on command, but what if you don’t have time to sit down and read? Then you may want to consider downloading yourself some surprisingly good podcasts. (Featured Image by Gratisography).
As I started my first full-time job in November, I quickly realised how difficult it would be to stay informed about the world of international affairs that I am so passionate about. Your job description may not include ‘reading the news’, necessitating you to spend your valuable free time reading. Yet in an effort to spend that time more efficiently, I found podcasts to be an ideal alternative.
Podcasts are digital audio (or video) files that are usually part of a themed series, and can be downloaded to your computer or other media player such as your smartphone. Forbes noted that the market for podcasts is growing: distribution is expanding, investment is growing and its general popularity is increasing. On the topic of international politics too, several podcasts have emerged – usually taking the form of a host-guest interview or round-table discussion.
The main reason why I would advise listening to podcasts is this: it’s incredibly convenient. You can listen to an episode while you are walking, doing your laundry or while you are driving. Audio podcasts are far less demanding than written articles or even video messages and allow you to combine tasks. Or have you ever (successfully) walked down a street while reading an article?
I also found podcasts to be very easy to use, although admittedly this is in large part due to Apple’s integrated podcast app on my IOS devise. Downloading from the app (when on Wi-Fi) feels very natural, but the caveat is that Android services are less extensive and that downloading directly from the internet is more cumbersome.
In my search for episodes to listen to, two things stuck with me. First, I found the most popular podcasts to indeed be the best. I tried out several ‘alternative’ podcasts, but none had the same level of quality, professionality or even depth in terms of content. Second, many of the podcasts talk about international affairs from a U.S. foreign policy perspective. While this does make sense as most large magazines on these topics are based in the U.S., it tends to limit their usability to non-Americans.
I tried out a total of fifteen podcasts – what follows are the three podcasts that I believe you too should give a try.
The Editor’s Roundtable (or E.R.) is major magazine Foreign Policy’s flagship podcast in which CEO and Editor David Rothkopf hosts a number of experts to discuss current U.S. foreign policy. The sound quality is excellent and the format is easy to jump into. Furthermore, the atmosphere is noticeably relaxed, and an added plus is the occasional injection of a good dose of humour. Episodes are rather lengthy at about 40-50 minutes, and the decision was recently made to broadcast twice instead of once a week.
The CSIS Podcast belongs to the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) and has their Deputy Director of Strategic Communication Colm Quinn host one or more specialists on a specific topic in international affairs. The big plus is that this podcast is distinctly broader than the E.R. as it addresses Aleppo, Ukraine, cyberwarfare, etc. I did find Quinn to be a less enjoyable host than Rothkopf, but that may be a personal preference. At about 15 minutes, the episodes are short and sweet, and they appear once a week.
Finally, The World Next Week from the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) discusses news from around the globe. It’s an interesting concept where Editor Robert McMahon and Director of Studies James M. Lindsay give a preview of international developments to watch in the week ahead. The format is that of a classic news bulletin: straightforward, which you may either appreciate or consider a bit dull. The episodes last about 30-40 minutes and appear once a week, which is ideal for a news report-styled format.
All Things Considered, Try It!
Podcasts cannot replace reading altogether, and you are unlikely to learn everything from them. Indeed, it makes perfect sense that nobody dedicates a podcast to highly specialised news such as the rise and fall of specific jihadi groups in Syria. What podcasts do allow for, however, is to easily stay in the loop about the general situation in international affairs, in a format that is still far more specialised than any regular news report you may read or watch during the day.
If you dream about working in international affairs, staying informed is key. Podcasts are not a magical solution, but may be a very useful tool to help you reach that goal. Whether you will actually like podcasts or not, will eventually be a matter of personal preference. So, all things considered, why not give it a try?