Kevin Kelly and I surveyed over 1600 people to come up with this list of the top 50 most popular non-fiction podcasts. From our introduction to the list:
We made a list of the best factual podcasts by ranking the most popular factual podcasts from the results of an unscientific survey we posted online several months ago. We asked readers of this Cool Tools blog and our social followers to take our survey and rate some suggested podcasts — and to add ones we did not know about. More than 1,600 people filled out the survey, and by the end we had a list of 775 suggested titles. We combined the number of times a podcast was checked together with its average rating to come up with a total score. We then sorted the final list of podcast titles by rank. (The full data dump is here.) We wrote descriptions for the top 50, shown below. (The rankings in this list are biased to our original suggestion list; we'd do the survey differently if we did it again next year.)
There are two broad types of factual podcasts; unscripted and scripted. Unscripted shows are usually interviews or discussions that play out as recorded. The producers don't know, nor have much control, over where the show goes. Scripted shows, on the other hand, will carefully edit interviews after the fact, mixing them with narration, inter-splicing them with other interviews, maybe adding a soundtrack or ambient sounds. They craft the raw factual materials into a highly produced show in the way a reporter might craft a magazine article, rather than just run a Q&A. Scripted shows, on average, take much more energy, time, staff (and money) to make than unscripted shows (with some exceptions). It is no surprise that the highest ranked podcasts are scripted.