Finally getting to the bottom of whatever the heck podcasts are …

I consider myself to be fairly sharp, fairly with it. I have varied interests, am well read, tech savvy and pay (semiregular) attention to current events. But there are some times—and some topics—when I find myself nodding along with colleagues and friends, absolutely clueless.

At the top of that list? Podcasts.

For a while now, I’ve struggled with just what on earth a podcast is, and what it is for, while those around me simply dove in. Editor Kelsey Reinhart couldn’t stop talking about “Serial” last year while I nodded blankly at her. And my husband has listened for some time to “The West Wing Weekly,” an episode-by-episode deep dive into his favorite television show of all time.

But it wasn’t until I was going back over some notes about future installments of “The Jess Files” that I stumbled onto a Post-It that simply said “podcasts?” and decided it’s high time we just rip off the Band-aid, get to the bottom of things and come out the other side with some recommendations for you!

Here goes.

A podcast is an audio (and sometimes video) series, issued in episodic installments that you can download and consume on demand via iTunes or by using a podcatcher app such as Overcast for iOS or Podcast Addict for Android (both free and easy to use).

Podcasts vary greatly in topic and can be exceedingly niche—spanning categories from science, politics, entertainment and food, to health, family and culture—even more so than magazine titles, primarily because they are relatively easy and cheap to produce. Some are news or current events heavy, mimicking talk show formats while others are pure entertainment. Some delve into the most eclectic areas of interest, offering indepth information from subject matter experts not easily obtained in any other format.

Not sure what kind of podcast is your kind of podcast? The apps offer built in recommendations which you can tailor to your interests. Or, simply get started with a good old fashioned keyword search to view, play and subscribe. Most are free, and the interface makes it easy to navigate.

Still a bit lost? Here are my picks for a few podcasts to get you started.

The Daily
News & Politics
Host: Michael Barbaro
Cost: Free
The Gist: Powered by New York Times journalism, The Daily features a main story alongside top newsbites, 20 minutes a day, five days a week, ready by 6 a.m. This has become the perfect way for me to elevate my current event digestion from “semi-regular” to daily.

News & Politics
Host: Sarah Koenig
Cost: Free
The Gist: Serial tells one story—a true story—over the course of a season. Season one centers upon high-school senior Hae Min Lee, who disappeared one day after school in 1999, in Baltimore County, Maryland. A month later, her body was found in a city park. She’d been strangled. Her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested for the crime, and within a year, he was sentenced to life in prison. Adnan has always maintained he had nothing to do with Hae’s death. For over a year, Koenig sorted through thousands of documents, listened to testimony and interrogations and talked to everyone she could find who remembered what happened. All of her findings lead back to the most basic questions: How can you know a person’s character? How can you tell what they’re capable of?

Anna Faris is Unqualified
Hosts: Anna Faris and Sim Sarna
Cost: Free
The Gist: Not-so-great relationship advice from completely unqualified Hollywood types. The co-hosts interview stars of music and film—recently Nick Jonas, Denis Leary and Jesse Tyler Ferguson—while offering relationship advice along the way, by playing games like Deal Breaker, where celebs evaluate dating faux pas and personal foibles that would cause them to call things off.

Science & Medicine
Cost: Free
The Gist: Why do dogs love their owners? What is dust? Is there evidence of life after death? Created by the BBC, CrowdScience takes your questions about life, Earth and the universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge.

Binge Mode: Weekly
TV & Film
Hosts: Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion from The Ringer
Cost: Free
The Gist: The hosts cover topics obsessing them at the moment, from TV and movies to books and sports. Known best for the complete dissection of the Game of Thrones series, where the experts parse the theories, history, characters and themes while binging all 60 episodes.

Stories Podcast
Kids & Family
Cost: Free
The Gist: A new G-rated story for your children every week. Stories range from retellings of fairy tales such as Snow White, classics such as Peter Rabbit and even completely original works. Perfect for bedtime, when you’re driving or just want to limit your kids’ screen time.

About The Author

Vice President

Jess Bennett leads a dynamic team in overseeing all facets of About magazine, Stark County's award-winning lifestyle monthly, and other specialty publications. Bennett was previously the director of marketing and events for the Canton Regional Chamber, where she directed all advertising, marketing, PR and web, including promotion and publicity for more than 70 events annually. She is the founder and volunteer executive director for Indigo Ink Press, a nonprofit literary publishing house in Canton. She currently serves on the board of the YWCA of Canton, is a winner of the ‘Thrive Under 35′ marketing award and the Twenty Under 40! award, presented by ystark! and The Repository.

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