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Photograph of a microphone being held up in a stand with a pop filter in front of it. In the background is the top of a computer screen displaying an audio editing program.

Photograph of a microphone being held up in a stand with a pop filter in front of it. In the background is the top of a computer screen displaying an audio editing program.

 

Why Content Warnings Are Important

The purpose of a content warning is to warn audience members about types content in the episode that are unusual for the show which they may find harmful or disturbing.

Delving suddenly into things like body horror, gore, disturbing violence, bereavement, intense depictions of oppression, abuse, sexual assault, sexualized violence, suicide, drug use, and explicit sexuality can bring up painful personal struggles and trauma from people’s lives.

Content warnings help build trust with audience members by giving them the tools they need to make effective choices about when and how they expose themselves to content which personally impacts them.

Keep in mind that content warnings don’t necessary mean that people aren’t going to listen. It might just mean that a listener with insomnia chooses to listen to an episode with intense content on their way to work rather than when they are trying to calm down for bed.

Note that different communities favor the term “content warning” and others favor “trigger warning.” Both are equally valid. I personally prefer the term “content warning” because I feel that it is inclusive of a wider range of experiences, so that is what I’ve used here.

 

How to Do Content Warnings

For podcasts, content warnings are usually given in the introductory portion of the podcast, before the main content starts. In addition, it is often good to place them in the episode description text.

Typically content warnings give an overview for the type of content without going into much detail. A content warning for disturbing violence might go something like, “Please note that this episode contains depictions of violence that some people may find disturbing.” It can also be helpful to let people know what portion of the episode to skip if needed. For example, “If you want to avoid this content, skip the second half of the episode.”

Content warnings need to be specific enough that audience members can figure out whether the content of this episode is likely to impact them and make effective decisions about how they want to engage with that content. At the same time, the content warning needs to be broad enough that it doesn’t strongly evoke the disturbing content itself. This also helps prevent the content warning from becoming a significant spoiler for the show. The ideal level of specificity depends on what is normal for a particular podcast series. For example, a content warning of “Violence” would be specific enough for a humorous high school drama, but wouldn’t be specific enough for a Dungeons and Dragons podcast that has violence in most of its episodes.

Here are three examples of well done content warnings: Episode 2.6 of The Far Meridian, Episode 44 of Rusty Quill Gaming, and Episode 5 of Middle: Below. These examples show how content warnings can be adjusted to fit the aesthetic of a particular show while still taking the content warning itself seriously and treating the people who benefit from it respectfully.

For those with audience members that are particularly sensitive to spoilers or those situations where the content warnings are significant spoilers, there are several options. You can simply start the content warning with a spoiler warning (another type of content warning). For example, “I’m about to give a content warning for this episode which contains mild spoilers. If you would like to avoid this, you can skip forward one minute.” However, if this is an ongoing concern for your podcast, you could choose to put the content warning at the bottom of the show notes with a statement like, “Content warnings for this episode are listed at the end of this show notes page,” written somewhere near the top of the show notes. The Penumbra Podcast does this very effectively (I believe that their full show notes can only be viewed on podcast apps), though I would recommend stating somewhere in the show audio that content warnings can be found in the show notes.

 

Conclusion

I’m going to end on the reminder that content warnings are about empowering audience members with the knowledge they need to make healthy decisions about how they engage with podcast content. This helps ensure that each time someone listens to a podcast episode it is a positive experience. And isn’t this what we all want our podcasts to be, a consistently positive experience for all of our listeners?

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