Do you listen to podcasts to find out what’s happening throughout the world? Or do you tune in to learn about sports, music or films — or simply to be entertained? Do you prefer shows with one host or multiple hosts? Are you interested in series that tell a story over many episodes, or shows that explore a new issue or interview a different guest each week?
Imagine you — or you and several of your friends — are behind the microphone. What would you talk about? What format would you use? What would be your unique podcast voice and angle?
In our Fourth Annual Podcast Contest, we invite teenagers to submit original podcasts of five minutes or less. Your creation can be about anything that interests you, in any form that you like. Our favorites will be featured on The Learning Network.
Take a look at the guidelines and related resources below. Please post any questions you have in the comments and we’ll answer you there, or write to us at [email protected]
How to Submit
We will update this post with a link to the submission form when the contest opens on April 8.
Students ages 11 to 19 attending middle or high school anywhere in the world can participate in this contest. If you are 13 to 19 years old in the United States and the United Kingdom, or 16 to 19 years old anywhere else in the world, you can submit your own entry. If you are younger, an adult must submit your entry on your behalf.
Create a podcast that produces a complete listening experience with a clear beginning, middle and ending.
Beginnings often draw the listener in or provide context. Endings often provide a summary, ask a question or tease the next segment.
Your submission can be an excerpt from a longer podcast, as long as you demonstrate thoughtfulness about how you are using time. An ending can be a hard “end” of a podcast, or it can be the conclusion of a segment, or even the closing of an introduction within a longer episode.
You can use any podcast format or genre.
Popular podcast formats include interviews, conversations, nonfiction storytelling and fiction storytelling. Popular genres include comedy, true crime, news documentary, history, radio theater and sports. But you can choose from unlimited choices of format and genre.
Podcasts must be five minutes or less.
Please check the length of your audio file. (Just to be very clear, 5:01 is longer than five minutes.)
Your podcast must be original for this contest.
We want students to be inspired by our contests and have an opportunity to reach a wider audience for their work. If you have already published a piece, then come up with something else to submit.
In other words, if at the time of submission your work has already been published, or selected to be published, by a radio station, another podcast contest, or any other site (not including a teacher’s class page), then do not submit it to our contest.
You are allowed to submit your entry to another publication or contest for possible publication.
Create your podcast by yourself or with a group, but please submit only one entry per student.
If you are submitting as a team, remember to include all the names of those involved. If you’re submitting as part of a team, you should not also submit as an individual.
Use appropriate language.
Assume your listeners are New York Times readers. No explicit language, please.
Be sure to use non-copyrighted sound effects or music, with some exceptions.
If you use any music or sounds effects, please list the sources in a separate field in the submission form. You cannot use copyrighted sound effects or music for the sole purpose of making your podcast sound better. Instead, you can find royalty-free music and sound effects on Freesound and SoundBible, or by doing a web search for royalty-free files. Or you can use audio editing software to create your own music or sound effects. However, there are limited fair use exceptions when you can legally use copyrighted work, such as when you are critiquing a song or reporting on a film. Read more about those exceptions to ensure that your use of copyrighted material does not infringe on copyright protections.
Upload your podcast to SoundCloud to make it easier for our judges to listen to your work.
We suggest that you use SoundCloud to host your podcast. However, our judges will listen to entries hosted on other podcasting sites, including Podomatic, Buzzsprout, Anchor, Spreaker and Podbean. Make sure that the track settings are set to “public,” and that you follow your hosting site’s terms of service. Note: Our judges have often had difficulty listening to podcasts hosted on GoogleDrive, so we strongly recommend you use a different method.
You must meet our eligibility requirements to participate.
Students ages 11 to 19 enrolled in middle school or high school anywhere in the world can participate in this contest. The children and stepchildren of New York Times employees are not eligible to enter, nor are students who live in the same household as those employees.
If you are not sure if you are eligible for this contest (for example, if you’re taking a gap year), please see our more detailed eligibility rules.
Resources for Teachers and Students
A unit plan on writing for podcasts, which includes writing prompts to inspire your work; a mentor text featuring past winners of our contest; a lesson plan that focuses on storytelling, interviewing, editing and producing; and much more.
A live webinar on March 25 on writing for podcasts in which you’ll hear from a school librarian with experience teaching podcasting to students, New York Times podcast producers and previous student winners of our contest. You can watch a recording of our 2020 webinar on YouTube (above).
Our contest rubric.
Two lesson plans on teaching with popular New York Times podcasts: “Using the Modern Love Podcast to Teach Narrative Writing” and “Experimenting With Sound and Story: Teaching and Learning With ‘The Daily’ Podcast.”
“The State of Podcasting,” a recent series from The New York Times that includes articles on teenage podcasters, “podcast voice,” stories of people overlooked by the medium, the future of the industry and more.
Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to your questions about writing, judging, the rules and teaching with this contest. Please read these thoroughly and, if you still can’t find what you’re looking for, post your query in the comments or write to us at [email protected]
QUESTIONS ABOUT PODCASTING
What is a podcast?
Simply put: Podcasts are audio programs that can take almost any form. They can be a news report or a one-act play; a formal interview or a friendly conversation; a personal narrative or a book review. Some podcasts are informative, others are entertaining, and others try to persuade. They can be funny, serious, thought-provoking or emotional. In short, your podcast can be pretty much whatever you want it to be.
How can I make my podcast stand out?
We are primarily looking for thoughtful pieces with a clear beginning, middle and ending. Here are a few tips to get yours noticed by our judges:
Choose a topic that matters to you. Not only will your passion sustain you during the creative process, but it will shine through in the final product. Remember, though, you have only five minutes, so make sure you choose something that you can do justice in that time. For example, you probably won’t be able to take on all of climate change, but you can focus on a small aspect of it, like food waste in your community.
Use a format that brings your topic to life. Ask yourself: What is the best way to tell this story? Is it appropriate to tell the story from your own point of view or should you conduct interviews? Does it make sense for the podcast to have a rigid structure or should it be more of a free flowing conversation? Should it be a nonfiction account or could a fictional story be more entertaining or meaningful?
Prepare. Before recording your podcast, create an outline or a script. Having a plan will both help you make the most use of your five minutes, and make it easier for your listener to follow along.
Make sure your audio is clear. You don’t need to have high-grade recording equipment to make a great podcast, but do be mindful to speak clearly and to eliminate background noise as much as possible.
Use sound thoughtfully and intentionally. Spoken word, music, sound effects and environmental noise can all make for a compelling listening experience. Consider how you might use them strategically to provide context, create structure for your podcast and engage your listeners’ emotions.
How do I come up with a topic for my podcast?
Your podcast can be about anything. To get ideas, start by browsing our list of 1,000 writing prompts, which includes questions on everything from video games and fashion to smartphones and parenting. Try responding to a few prompts that interest you. Then, you might choose one you enjoyed writing about as inspiration for your podcast.
If you’re thinking about sharing a personal story, take a look at these prompts for personal and narrative writing. If you want to assert an opinion or engage in a debate, look at this list of prompts for argumentative writing.
Can someone else produce or edit my work?
You are welcome to get feedback on and suggestions for your podcast, but the work you submit, including the editing and production, should be fundamentally your own.
Where can I find examples of podcasts in The Times?
You can find all New York Times podcasts in the Podcast column. Here are a few of our favorites:
“The Daily,” a 20-minute morning news program powered by New York Times journalism.
“Still Processing,” a weekly show about all things culture, from television and music to dating and the internet.
“Modern Love,” stories that explore the complicated love lives of real people.
“Popcast,” a podcast by the The Times’s pop music team on music news, new songs and albums, and artists of note.
QUESTIONS ABOUT JUDGING
How will my podcast be judged?
Your work will be listened to by producers and journalists on the New York Times podcast team as well as by Learning Network staff members, professional podcasters and educators from around the United States. We will use this rubric to judge entries.
What’s the prize?
Having your work published on The Learning Network.
When will the winners be announced?
About six to eight weeks after the contest has closed.
My podcast wasn’t selected as a winner. Can you tell me why?
We typically receive over 1,000 entries for this contest, so, unfortunately, our team does not have the capacity to provide individual feedback on each student’s podcast.
QUESTIONS ABOUT TEACHING WITH THIS CONTEST
I’m a teacher. What resources do you have to help me teach with this contest?
Start with our unit plan for creating a podcast. It includes writing prompts, mentor texts and lesson plans that can support this contest. To learn more about how to teach with this unit, join our live webinar on March 25.
Do my students need a New York Times subscription to use these resources?
No. The Learning Network is completely free.
How do my students prove to me that they entered this contest?
After they submit their podcasts, students should receive an email from The New York Times with the subject heading “Thank you for your submission to our Podcast Challenge,” which they can forward to you to show their entry has been accepted.