Anyone who likes strong reporting, good storytelling and true crime will absolutely love Serial, a 12-part serialized podcast produced by This American Life, a popular radio program and hosted by reporter Sarah Koenig. In its first season, Serial investigated and told the story of Adnan Syed, a young man who was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. In true serial fashion, this murder mystery unfolds over the course of 12 episodes, each covering a different aspect of the story.
Incorporation of Natural Sound: In the episodes I covered: Episode 1–The Alibi, Episode 2–The Breakup, Episode 4: Inconsistencies and Episode 7: The Opposition of the Prosecution, I don’t recall any distinguishable instances where they used natural sound. However, I am also not sure any was really needed. This podcast felt more like Koenig reporting and sharing what she learned than a true “broadcast”.
Engaging voice of host: This is perhaps one way in which Koenig really excels and draws her audience in. She has a great voice and her tone is conversational. I enjoyed listening to the podcasts because it felt more like I was listening to her tell me a really good story than listening to a reporter covering the news.
Tightness and clarity of script: Again, this is another way in which Koenig (and her team) really excels. Each episode seemed true to its title and told (in my opinion) a stand-alone story. For example, Episode 2: The Breakup seemed fundamentally devoted to the story of Lee and Adnan’s break-up. Similarly in Episode 7: The Opposition of the Prosecution, we hear this amazing story about Deidre Enright and her team. It never seemed overdone, nor did I have any questions.
Incorporation of a number of different voices: Another aspect of this series I thoroughly enjoyed were the many different voices used in each episode. Koenig used a combination of interviews and recordings to illustrate different aspects of Syed’s case. For example, not only do we hear pieces of her conversations with Syed, but we also hear the recording which alerts both her and Syed to the fact that their time is up. This helps to illustrate the barriers between Koenig and Syed. It also serves to reinforce the fact that Syed is locked up. Koenig also uses interviews with friends of Syed and Lee in addition to police interviews, which makes for really fascinating storytelling.
Personality that comes through: Koenig is, essentially, a character in this story and it is absolutely fascinating to be in her head and get a sense of what she is thinking at each stage of the overall story. She is funny and engaging and it was refreshing to hear her thoughts–a fact which is really unusual in the world of reporting. It really felt as though Koenig was taking the audience on the journey with her.
Transparency: Koenig brings her audience on every aspect of this journey. For me, this was exemplified in the Episode 7: The Opposite of the Prosecution when she shares her conversations with Enright and they talk through some concerns about the case. Although I haven’t completed the entire serial, I appreciate how much Koenig in the episodes I consumed.
Overall: This was such a captivating, engaging and easy podcast to listen to. I felt as though I were sitting at a table with Koenig (even with the music) listening to her tell me a story. For me, it combined the best of old-fashioned reporting and great storytelling. I kept wanting more, so she definitely held my attention throughout.