Serial Podcasts: A New Medium for Journalists?

Photo courtesy of flickr user Patrick Breitenbach

Photo courtesy of flickr user Patrick Breitenbach

As people drive around in morning rush hour traffic, they are probably twisting the car radio’s knob.  One man is trying to listen to music; a woman is struggling to find a traffic update.  Radio consists of both entertainment and news.  Is it possible to blend the two?   Considering a new podcast called “Serial” attempts to blend journalism and storytelling, it seems to be a possibility.

Sarah Koenig, a reporter and a creator of the podcast, made “Serial” as an attempt to re-investigate the 1999 murder of high schooler Hae Min Lee.  Adnan Syed, Lee’s boyfriend, was convicted of killing her and was handed a life sentence in prison.

One of Syed’s friends contacted Koenig and asked her to go back to reinvestigate the crime. Koenig’s podcasts air weekly, featuring her latest findings as she retells the crime as a story, complete with cliffhangers and an opening theme song.

Critics have pointed out that by using a podcast as both an entertaining drama and journalistic venture, Koenig is going against certain ethical standards of journalism. By ending with cliffhangers, does this mean she’s hiding important information? Is she being sensitive when reporting about Lee’s family? Is she biased in her narrative?  Is she too focused on trying to prove Syed’s innocence?

But at the same time, many people consider journalism a “dying” industry. (Whether or not this claim rings true is yet to be seen.) Could narrating news stories through podcasts be a viable way to keep an audience’s interest? Evidence seems to support this: “Serial” is the fastest-selling podcast in the history of iTunes. It’s also sparked several podcast parodies.

All in all, one thing is certain:  journalism is changing and serial podcasts are just one direction the industry may be headed.

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10 responses to “Serial Podcasts: A New Medium for Journalists?

  1. I think it’s really interesting that the “Serial” podcast is the fastest selling on iTunes, and that really attests to its success. Maybe it’s not the best way to report the news, but I think it definitely attracts more people because most of the population probably views the news as boring and dull in more standard methods of informing the public. I would be really interested to listen to this podcast to see if the information is still being conveyed accurately and not exaggerated, and in terms of if she’s being sensitive to the concerns of the family, I hope she asked them before she decided to make the murder of their daughter into a mystery story for her listeners.

    • Do you think the public is going to care about the accuracy when it’s played similarly to a crime drama?

      Also, based on its popularity, do you think that it might create more of a need for this sort of “journalism?”

  2. I think this is an interesting topic to bring up–I have never heard of such a thing. Like Sarah said, I would like to listen to it and see what they actually do and say. The podcasts could draw more listeners if there is a dramatic feel, but I think it is important to stick to facts, too. Like I said, I don’t know how these work, but do they exaggerate anything to make more of a “story?” Do they build suspense for things that aren’t really there? Even if it’s all factual, it’s still a little iffy for me. I’d have to take a deeper look into it, but I think this is a unique way to share information.

  3. This new Serial podcast sounds to me like a new CSI or Law and Order. People love crime shows, and being able to listen to one on your way to work each morning would be very new and exciting for most. I know I would enjoy it, especially being left with a cliff hanger, as well as knowing what I am hearing is true. I think with the way media and journalism is changing today, this podcast is not too out there or weird. I think it is great. People are switching things up, and the way people receive news is so different than it once was. I don’t even watch TV anymore for news, I use twitter and the internet. I do think that there may be a few issues with Serial though, because it is a true story. I wonder if Koenig has more of an aim, other than searching the murder. Does she want fame too? Because this is a smart way of doing so, but very unethical and a bit rude.

  4. This is a very interesting idea that I have never heard of before. I think it is a good way to get people interested in journalism and general storytelling. I have heard time and time again that journalism or storytelling is going to be extinct in a couple years, but with new innovative technologies like Serial that statement is becoming more and more false everyday.

  5. I think this is an interesting, but intriguing idea. Some people get bored easily with news, but with this type of twist, people may tune in more. To me, the cliffhangers are a good idea because they potentially will keep the listeners tuning in each day to find out what else happened. But on the other side, I could see listeners getting annoyed because news today gives you most, if not all, the information at once. If it is something news breaking, people are going to want the full story, but if it is a case such as Hae Min Lee that can be drawn out into multiple podcasts, people may be interested.

  6. Journalism is not dying, just rapidly changing. These are changes that are worrisome to those watching newsroom layoffs and exciting to those of us who love the field. However, with these changes, I agree that the ethical standards of journalism must be upheld. “Serial” and podcasts are totally invigorating the delivery of news and I can support that as long as the idea of “minimizing journalistic harm” is upheld.

  7. I’m conflicted about this to be honest. While I understand the point that people feel she may be biased or insensitive towards the family, I don’t really see how this is any different than many TV programs such as “60 Minutes.” It’s interesting and a great way to get people to listen, but I see it working best for investigative stories such as the one in your post.

  8. I don’t know how I feel about this. I think it’s a great way to get people engaged in news stories, but at the same time, telling it in a story format with a theme song gives the impression that it’s not real. There’s also the problem that if the story doesn’t involve someone getting murdered, people may not be interested in whatever the serial podcast happens to be covering. I do agree though that it’s an interesting and innovative way to get people involved in what is going on around the world.

  9. This is a fascinating idea. I’m skeptical that it will ever break into mainstream journalism- nobody wants cliffhangers in their news- but it could be an interesting way to present feature stories. There are a lot of different ways you can utilize podcasts, and I’m interested in seeing which directions journalists take the medium next.

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