In Review

Podcasts of the week: war reporters, hard news and big interviews

Featuring The Line of Fire, The Ezra Klein Show and The Backstory with Andrew Neil

“I am going to die now, and I wonder if it’s going to hurt.” That was the thought that ran through Stuart Ramsay’s head in early March, as the Sky News correspondent came under heavy fire from Russian forces in Ukraine. He did not die, but he was shot in the back, and he discusses this experience – which took place when the car he was travelling in was ambushed at a checkpoint – in a riveting episode of The Line of Fire, said Fiona Sturges in the Financial Times.

A new podcast about the lives of war reporters, it is hosted by the British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai, whose “own experience in the field means she is able to ask blunt questions without seeming ghoulish”. It’s not just about close shaves with death, though. It’s also “about how war reporters cope with working in such dangerous conditions, what they have learnt about humanity in the face of astonishing cruelty, and why they do what they do”.

Another of Navai’s guests is CNN’s Clarissa Ward, who talks with illuminating candour about the complicated mixed emotions that she has on “leaving conflict zones and returning to a comfortable life back home”.

Even those of us not in war zones can feel overwhelmed by the “relentless” cycle of “destruction and killing” that dominates the news, said Miranda Sawyer in The Observer. “For some, the answer is to switch off; for others, there is comfort in trying to understand.” A great place to start is The Ezra Klein Show.

This twice-weekly podcast by a US political journalist has been running since 2015, and was taken under the New York Times umbrella last year. Of late, the show has been focused on Ukraine and the geopolitical fallout. But it covers a wide range of issues, from the climate crisis to cryptocurrencies.

With his new weekly Tortoise Media show The Backstory, Andrew Neil becomes the latest “legacy media silverback” to try podcasting, said James Marriott in The Times. It doesn’t always go swimmingly for those switching to the more informal medium. In his The Lock In podcast, Jeremy Paxman found a “slightly awkward place between chatty and confrontational”, even with the likes of the QI elf Andrew Hunter Murray, who “did not need to be urgently held to account for anything at all”.

By contrast, Neil – in a series billed as conversations with “the people in power and those trying to influence them” – makes “no concessions” to the looser format. Interviewing General David Petraeus, the former director of the CIA and commander of the US army in Iraq, Neil remains in “big media beast mode: tenacious, brusque and intimidatingly well-briefed”. The result is a podcast that is “unlike anything else out there. An old-school, grown-up conversation about geopolitics, Ukraine and the changing nature of war. This could catch on.”

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