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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. In addition, sound effects like explosions and gun shots are trauma triggers for some people.

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 and needs, so that is what I’m using 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 a text warning in the episode description of the show notes.

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. Exact times are given in the show notes .”

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.

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). I do 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?

 

Examples

These detailed examples of good content warnings show how a content warning can be adjusted to fit the aesthetic of a particular show while still taking itself seriously and treating the people who benefit from it respectfully. I’m giving a bunch of detailed examples here to help people get a sense for the different ways they can be worded and how content warnings can be adjusted to fit specific needs.

 

Null/Void

This podcast has a standard content warning in the audio at the beginning of each episode. This is a great strategy for shows with a lot of intense content as it avoids spoilers for those who want to avoid them. Here is the transcript of that audio.

This episode contains content that may be alarming to some listeners. Please check the show notes for more detailed descriptions and take care of yourself.

The content warnings in the show notes are detailed. Here is an example from episode 101. This content warning is repeated at the beginning of the transcript with page numbers also given.

Content Warnings: Mentions of Death, Suicide. A brief but deadly traffic incident and descriptions of its aftermath occurring from 13min20sec to 15min20sec.

Here is an example from the show notes of episode 105.

Content Warnings: General discussions of violence against minorities. Specific discussions of violence against minorities from 10min15sec to 10min45sec.

I put Null and Void first because I think it is one of the best examples of content warnings. The audio content warning is short, caring, and avoids spoilers, while the text of the content warning strikes a good balance between being specific without delving too deep into the details of the content. In addition, specific times are given for things people may want to skip.

 

Caravan

This is another podcast with a general content warning at the beginning of each episode. This warning is repeated in the show notes.

Before we jump in: a note on our content. CARAVAN is created for adult audiences only. We advise listener and reader discretion for graphic depictions of violence, frank portrayal of sexuality, discussion of mental illness and existential struggle; and some downright filthy language. It gets mighty dangerous in the Canyon, but if you need a breather—we’ve got your back. Whenever you’re feeling ready and able: we hope you’ll join us.

Halfway through the first season the audio content warning gets shortened to this, while the text one remains the same.

CARAVAN is created for adult audiences only. Our show notes include content warnings and other helpful info. Welcome back to the Canyon. Let’s jump right in–

Most episodes use this same general content warning, but a few episodes have specific content that goes beyond what is standard for the show and additional messages get added into both the audio and text content warnings. Here is an example of this from the audio episode 1.10.

CARAVAN is created for adult audiences only. Our show notes contain content warnings and other helpful info. As an extra heads-up, this episode involves discussion of depression and self-harm, we do our best to hold these topics with intention and sincerity, and we hope you’ll join us whenever you feel ready and able.

I put this example second because I particularly love the closing to these content warnings, “we hope you’ll join us whenever you feel ready and able.” This specific phrasing emphasizes that people who struggle with the content of this show are welcome.

 

Y2K

This audio drama has episodes that vary from light to ones containing extremely intense and upsetting content. It has a general content warning near the bottom of the show notes and additional audio and text warnings for episodes with intense or upsetting content. Here is the general text warning.

Please note that Y2K features themes of violence, cursing and descriptions of sexual acts and desires, and is not suitable for listeners under the age of 18. Some episodes also contain themes which may be triggering, and feature content warnings. Please take care of yourself, and don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it.

Episode 49 has a depiction of abuse in it, so this content warning has been added in close to the top of the show notes. Because this is such an intense, detailed depiction of abuse, a resources page has also been put together to help anyone who needs it.

**CONTENT WARNING** This episode contains a scene with emotional abuse and homophobia, from 5.20 to 9.10. Please take care of yourself, and if you need to, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Resources can be found at y2kpod.com/resources

In the audio of episode 49 a character gives this content warning.

OLIVIA (a little shaken) So this week we have content warnings for emotional abuse and homophobia. We have a resource page on the website, where we have tried to list as many hotlines, info-pages and support things we could find. So if you feel you need any resources like that, go to y2Kpod.com[slash]resources and hopefully you will find it there. Please take care of yourself, and if you need to, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.

 

Middle: Bellow

This horror comedy audio drama incorporates the Motion Picture Association film rating system into this short content warning that they have in the beginning of each episode.

Middle/Below is rated ’PG’ and contains mild threat, and mild language.

 

The Far Meridian

Episode 2.6 of this audio drama contains a content warning that is in both the audio and show notes. This content warning is both specific and brief.

A quick warning: This episode contains discussions of PTSD, and the depiction of traumatic events, including sounds of an explosion. Listener discretion is advised.

 

Rusty Quill Gaming

This actual play podcast currently puts detailed content warnings near the top of the show notes for each episode. Here is a random example from episode 182.

Content Notes:

Ghosts

Collective auditory hallucinations (inc. SFX)

Past trauma & grief

Intrusive telepathy (malevolent)

Discussions of: death & afterlife

Mentions of: mild language, pandemic & disease, human remains

SFX: high-pitched drone

Episode 174 is a special case where there is both intense content followed by some important events at the end of the episode. Because of this additional detail was added to the content warning in the show notes.

NOTE: This is a heavy episode, but we strongly urge listening to the episode fully as the ending is very important to the context.

Content Notes:

Falling

Aircraft failure (inc SFX)

Graphic injury

Character deaths

Grief / Loss

Trauma

In the past they only used content warnings for episodes with content that goes significantly beyond what is standard for this show. This content warnings was placed in the audio at the beginning of the show for episode 44.

Now, on to a second and slightly more upsetting note. Today’s episode carries a trigger warning for body horror. Don’t worry, we don’t go into too much detail, but if you are uncomfortable about that kind of thing, you may want to avoid the second half of the episode. So, with that in mind, we hope you enjoy it, the Rangers certainly didn’t.

And here is the text warning that they added to the show notes for episode 44.

Today’s episode contents elements of Body Horror. If you don’t want to hear it, skip the second half of the episode. Better yet, get somebody to listen to it for you then tell you what happened.

 

Inn Between

The second season of this audio drama introduces a character who is a guard. Because people are especially sensitive to depictions of cops right now, a content warning that includes a discussion of how this issue will be handled in the story was placed at the beginning of this episode. Addressing these issues directly is a great choice for any show that includes sensitive topics.

Hi everyone. Hannah here. A quick content note before we begin. You’re about to meet Knowles, who is a sergeant in the guard, the same guard that Sterling becomes captain of at the end of season two. The guard is a body of law enforcement under the direct orders of the throne, which makes Knowles a fantasy cop.

I realize it’s a lot to ask for many of our listeners to call a character like this a hero without question. I could talk about how I didn’t write this story to make a greater political statement, but politics are borne of ideology, and no art is free of politics, and furthermore, calling the current issues with law enforcement a political issue is a pretty privileged position anyway. I could talk about how the worldbuilding of this particular story does not require a body of law enforcement based in racism, but the guard was created by the monarchy to protect their interest and the interests of the nobles, and classism isn’t better.

Here’s what I will say. These ideas are not going to go unaddressed. It will take a while in the story, but it is going to happen, starting in season three and coming to a head in season four, God willing and the creek don’t rise. Knowles will, through the lens of individual character development, have to consider exactly what their power means and who it is used to protect, and they will have to take action. In the meantime, I encourage you to continue thinking critically about this show. I wouldn’t want you to just [unthinkingly] accept what I say anyway.

Thank you for listening, and please take care of yourselves. Let’s go.

 

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