Podcast Review: [citations needed]

By Sophie Williams

Five Stars ★★★★★

From the show notes description: “Citations Needed is a podcast about the intersection of media, PR, and power, hosted by Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.”


Modern media is convoluted, to say the least. Citations Needed helps clear it up.

The 24-hour news cycle should make spacious time for reporting diverse content with adequate historical context. But listen to the radio for half an hour and you’ll see that the opposite is true. The liberal media (an odd title) will fixate on an event or even a single quote, picking it apart for hours on end in a vacuum that barely looks beyond a single day. When flipping between Fox, CNN, NBC, and even NPR, I have trouble distinguishing between them at all, with each station picking up on certain phrases and positions and spreading them in a flurry until the word-mandate changes again.

The U.S. liberal media isn’t biased towards the right or even towards the left, as the right claims, but to the center. While the liberal media may claim stances that are “center-right” or “center-left” or “liberal,” they stay tethered to a place in the paradigm that allows them to claim “common sense” and “unbiased reporting.” The center isn’t the middle of the spectrum, but a point that falsely shows the “compromise” point. The big media outlets — Fox, NPR, CNN, NBC, ABC — refrain from making any wider analysis, favoring an approach that looks at events in isolation. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post; Laurene Jobs (Steve Jobs’ widow) owns The Atlantic, and Disney owns Fox. Republican or democrat, “conservative” or “liberal”, all parties and endorse corporatism. This reality can be obscured by hearing the chorus from a set of diverse voices.

The nearly-endless sea of ongoing history makes it easy to drown in information. A bit of understanding helps you tread water. Give your content intake a level of focus. It’s easy to get lost in doom-scrolling — getting back on Twitter, clicking on an article and diving straight to the comments, sinking into a black hole courtesy of the YouTube Recommended algorithm, or skimming another Instagram infographic. Pull away from social media, and don’t feel compelled to rely on shallow, sporadic takes from the corporate media on the radio or nightly news. Instead, pick from a catalogue of episodes on specific but pressing topics, things you never thought about critically but always felt were vaguely important.

With over 100 episodes since 2017, Citations Needed offers an approachable look at modern phenomena. Want to know how and why country music grew from radical pro-worker folk into a purity-testing, far-right-all-white genre? Curious about what the wild popularity of HGTV home-makeover programs indicates about houselessness and gentrification in the United States? Interested in how vapid diplomacy-speak disguises the brutality of imperialist foreign policy? This is your show.

Citations Needed, like all the best informative podcasts, delivers a mixture of the experiences of having a conversation, watching an interview, and reading a book. The information is thorough, thoughtful, and passionately well-researched, and the earnest yet conversational tone really does drive some loneliness away. The cherry on top — there are no ads, whatsoever. Offering analytical takes on modern details, with accessible language and knowledgeable guests, Citations Needed is news-praxis all the way.

(And their sources are thoroughly cited.)