Listening to life

(Wren McDonald for This American Life)

By IRW staff


Share this story

Chicago Public Media

Associate Editor Margot Susca’s favorite podcast remains This American Life, which in 2020 was the first-ever radio program to win a Pulitzer Prize. The site describes its history and influence this way: “Back in 1999, the American Journalism Review declared that the program was ‘in the vanguard of a journalistic revolution’ and since then, a generation of podcasts and radio shows have sprung up — Radiolab, Invisibilia, StartUp, Reply All, Snap Judgment, Love + Radio, Heavyweight —  building on the lessons we learned about narrative journalism and inventing all sorts of things we never could’ve.” Top journalism awards aside, she listens to it regularly for its unique storytelling on a range of subjects and issues. Susca turned to this decades-old piece on summer camp to help her 11-year-old daughter get ready for two weeks away in the woods.  

Other recommendations for a summer of listening from IRW’s Abby Wallace and Eva Herscowitz:


  • Up First: NPR’s Up First is a daily podcast to start your morning off with the news you need to know. New episodes are released by 6 a.m. ET every weekday and 8 a.m. ET on Saturdays. All episodes are about 10 minutes long and can seamlessly fit into your morning routine.
  • The NPR Politics Podcast: The NPR Politics Podcast is your one stop shop for political news podcasts. The team releases multiple episodes a week with the latest news out of Washington and why it matters.
  • Short Wave: Short Wave, out every weekday, features snack-sized science stories in about 10 minutes. Host Emily Kwong welcomes audiences of all ages and backgrounds to join her for a daily dose of scientific curiosity right in your podcast feed.

Tenderfoot TV

  • Up and Vanished: Each season, host and creator Payne Lindsey investigates the unexplained disappearances of women across the country. The podcast became a smash hit in its first season covering a high school teacher and beauty queen named Tara Grinstead. Since the podcast’s release in August 2016, two arrests have been made in her case.

The Australian

  • The Teacher’s Pet: The Dawsons appeared to share a beautiful life in marital bliss, Chris was a high school teacher while Lynette was a doting mother. That was until one of them disappeared from their Sydney home without a trace. Join the Australian’s Hedley Thomas as he investigates the over 35+ year cold case of Lynette Dawson’s disappearance in The Teacher’s Pet.

Investigative from CBC

  • Who Killed Alberta Williams?: This podcast from CBC investigative reporter Connie Walker and Marnie Luke is about Alberta Williams, a 24-year-old indigenous woman who was found dead in 1989 along the Highway of Tears near Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The podcast spotlights the violence unique to indigenous women, the failures of the criminal justice system, and new details about the cold case. 

Parcast Network

  • Very Presidential: Host Ashley Flowers covers the salacious scandals and secrets from American presidents in this Spotify Original from Parcast. From as far back as George Washington, learn more about the darker side of presidents past in Very Presidential.