Serial was a riveting, record-breaking, 12-part podcast series that re-investigated the murder of Baltimore teenager Hae Min Lee. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted of the crime, but he has always insisted he is innocent.
As a fan, I’m in awe of the show’s reporting, which revealed deep flaws in the criminal justice system, as well as its deft storytelling that hooked listeners.
As a journalist, I have questions: Has Serial changed podcasting forever? Does its success mean all the wonderful things I want it to mean for investigative reporting? And on the flip side, was it worth it to reexamine a murder case if it wasn’t obvious in the end whether Syed did it?
In advance of Serial creators Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder‘s live presentation Thursday night at the Kimmel Center (details here), I interviewed Koenig. Our questions have been paraphrased her responses have been edited lightly for clarity.
Ticket: Serial was the most popular podcast in the world. Now that some time has passed, why do you think it caught fire?
Koenig: We had no idea why, we had like no idea, and now with a little bit of time, we’ve kind of started to think about what just happened and why did that just happen. And I think it’s a bunch of things. It’s funny, none of the elements that we did are new, you know what I mean? To re-investigate a murder case is not a new idea. A serial is not a new idea. Podcasts are not new. But there was something about the combination of all the elements that we chose to put together in one medium that felt really new.
And I think people weren’t used to hearing journalism in that form, in a sort of serialized audio podcast where you had to stick with it week to week, where I was a very strong narrator, so I’m leading you through almost like a character. And I think all of that felt new and I think that’s what was interesting for people. And then crime stories are unfortunately very, very popular for people, which I also weirdly had not understood going in. I didn’t get that, oh, it’s a murder story and people are going to be interested. I didn’t foresee that. Because I’m an idiot [laughs]. Read more »