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Listen up: MPR News staffers' favorite podcasts of 2018

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How do you pick a podcast? Try our staff's recommendations.
How do you pick a podcast? Try our staff's recommendations.
MPR

There are more than 500,000 podcasts floating around the internet. New shows sprout up every day. 

Many of these shows are fantastic. They teach us something, give us the day's news or make us laugh. 

But there are still just 24 hours in a day. How's a person supposed to choose what podcasts they should hear? 

Fortunately, I work with an intelligent team of professional audio- and internet-makers here at MPR News. So, I asked them for their favorite podcasts of 2018.

Here are some of the most-recommended shows, with links to each one's website so you can check them out wherever you get podcasts: 

Slow Burn: Season two of Slate's hit show examines Bill Clinton's impeachment. "I was in a newsroom during the Clinton/[Monica] Lewinsky scandal and subsequent impeachment, but there was so much I'd forgotten — and so much I remember that I have fresh views on now," said Kelly Gordon, a talk show producer at MPR News.

Correspondent and editor Laura Yuen also praised Slow Burn: "I was in college when his affair with Monica Lewinsky was revealed. Now that I'm older, I have an even deeper appreciation for how young Lewinsky was and the pressures she faced. Like a lot of people, I have been thinking more about this moment in our nation's history, and of Lewinsky specifically, ever since the #MeToo movement emerged."

Caliphate: The New York Times' deep dive on the Islamic State received high praise from the MPR Newsroom. "Caliphate is an engaging series that will help you understand the war on terror, recruitment efforts in the west and the fall of Mosul," said reporter and 74 Seconds co-host Riham Feshir. "As a journalist, I not only appreciated the storytelling, but the reporter's ability to humanize certain aspects that are often lost in the larger conversation."

Heavyweight: The show has a simple description for itself: "Jonathan Goldstein goes back to the moment everything changed." Goldstein, the host, really defines the show, said Jon Collins, an MPR News reporter and co-host of the podcast 74 Seconds.

"His personality, humor and sense of curiosity are at the root of every episode. Between the jokes, Goldstein is insightful and empathetic. When it works best, Heavyweight gives the listener the sense that there's a larger meaning to these stories. A must-listen for those deprived of Canadian accents in their everyday lives," Collins said. 

Smash Boom Best: This is a debate show for kids and families from the makers of Brains On! We'll let the show explain itself: "Every episode takes two cool things, smashes them together and lets you decide which is best. Cats versus Dogs. Pizza versus Tacos. Super Speed versus Super Strength. Who will be crowned the Smash Boom Best?"

Digital producer (and human/dog mom) Nancy Yang gives it two thumbs up: "In this day and age when reasoned debate seems to be a thing of the past, this kids' podcast teaches you how to back up your opinions using facts and logic. Sure, passion and showmanship are great — but what about the evidence? It's all about the details."

In the Dark: Season two of the podcast investigated the case of Curtis Flowers, a man tried six times for the same crime. Here's MPR News producer Jeyca Maldonado-Medina: "This season was journalistically so sound. Every time I had a question about the case, [host Madeleine Baran] was about to get to it. The team left no stone unturned and the story of this one case says so much about larger issues in the justice center."

Six Minutes: This is another show for kids and families, and it explores a mystery. Senior producer Steph Curtis plays it at her house: "Every addictive episode is  — like the title suggests — six minutes. Follow Holiday as she learns her family's mysterious background and develops amazing abilities. The rule in our household: NO TALKING ABOUT SIX MINUTES UNTIL EVERYONE HAS HEARD IT."

16 Shots: WBEZ and the Chicago Tribune made this series on the police shooting of Laquan McDonald and the trial of the officer who killed him. "It then segues into coverage of the police officers accused of covering up the killing. Solid journalism about Chicago that adds to the national discussion around police accountability and use of deadly force," said Jon Collins, a reporter and co-host of 74 Seconds. 

Outside/In: This New Hampshire Public Radio podcast is "a show about the natural world and how we use it." MPR News digital producer Matt Mikus is a big fan.

"If you're a fan of outdoor recreation, bicycling, hunting, or even paintball, this podcast has loads to offer. It's a casual-outdoors and environmental show. A few great episodes to start with include' Stay In Your Lane,' 'The Forest for the Treesap' and 'Life on the Edge of the Olympics.'"

La Mezcla: Newsroom coordinator Denzel Belin recommends this podcast hosted by actor/comedian/writer Adrian Burke: "Mezcla is a freeform conversation with biracial/multiracial people of all walks of life in New York City. I love it because it feels like you are sitting with Adrian in his apartment with his guest as they talked about an important part of themselves that they don't usually get to talk about. Even as a POC myself, I find myself having many eye-opening experience through the conversations Adrian facilitates."

Bear Brook: Photojournalist Evan Frost recommends this unique murder mystery: "We get it. Murder mysteries are the new black. Bear Brook takes you through a tragic tale, but is more interested in the process, and the stories of people who try to solve these horrific crimes, and how the way they are investigated has evolved into the 21st century. All while leaving you with a deep sense of mystery."

Believed: Rochester-based senior reporter Catharine Richert recommends this NPR/Michigan Radio podcast on the story of an Olympic gymnastics doctor's abuse of hundreds of women and girls: "Hard to listen to but the hosts tell the stories of Larry Nassar's victims with such grace. Really well done."

Wine & Crime: Digital producer Sara Porter recommends this Minnesota-produced podcast: "It's a very funny true crime podcast that dives into the psychology and history of certain types of crimes making for some very dark humor. They do try to keep it light and their heavy Minnesotan accents really help in this regard. They also relate their topics to current events, activism and mental health."

Revisionist History: Bemidji-based reporter John Enger recommends this podcast by Malcolm Gladwell: "Hard to beat this one. Gladwell is somehow funny and human, and also smarter than most people on the planet. Listen to 'The King of Tears' ... drop dead brilliant."

It's Been a Minute: Correspondent Mark Zdechlik likes this podcast from NPR's Sam Sanders: "It's informative but presented with great factual information. It just feels energetic."

The End of the World with Josh Clark: This pick comes from All Things Considered producer Kyle Shiely: "You know what really adds to a long drive through rural Wisconsin the the middle of the night? 10 hours of discussion about how the world is going to end. A fascinating look at why we have never met an alien species and the many ways society could come to an end."

In Our Time: Deputy managing editor Michael Olson calls this BBC podcast a "masterclass on human history, philosophy and science" with host Melvyn Bragg. "Bragg is a gifted host who joyfully challenges his guests with intellectual rigor. Hosting a show with academics is a dangerous proposition, but Bragg navigates the depths and keeps the conversation going. The back catalog goes on for years. Spoiler alert: at the end of every program Bragg has tea or coffee with the guests and they talk about what they missed. Delightful!"

Rivers of Oil: The first person to reply to my ask for help on this article was Duluth-based reporter Dan Kraker. His response: "Rivers of Oil, duh!" As someone who helped Kraker make the show (along with Julie Siple, Bill Wareham and Meg Martin), I couldn't agree more. At least Dan and I are not above self-promotion.