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Recently, in this grade 12 English course, we learned about different types of media. I’m quite familiar with media, such as television, movies, radio and books. However, there is one medium that I am not very familiar with – and that medium is podcasts. Before this week, I had never listened to a podcast before. Yes, I had the pre-installed purple app on my iPhone, but that seemed as useless to me as the stocks app! However, podcasts are not useless. It is a very interesting medium that can deliver a message to it’s audience. I was skeptical of just how powerful a podcast could be, so I decided to listen to one.
The podcast that I listened to is the first episode of a series entitled Serial, hosted by Sarah Koenig. In the podcast, Koenig explains how she has spent the past year searching for answers to what happened between Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed. Lee had been manually strangled to death on January 13, 1999. Just 6 weeks later, her ex-boyfriend, Syed was arrested for the crime and sentenced to a life in prison. However, there is no solid evidence to prove that he is guilty. The main reason why Syed was convicted of murder was because his friend testified against him. Syed claims that he did not murder Lee and that he would never do such a thing. Someone is clearly lying, and Koenig brings the audience along on her journey to find out who is not telling the truth.
However, it is important to note that Koenig began her research nearly 13 years after Lee’s death. This means that some of the interviews and statements are made 13 years after the incident. The story is bound to become twisted as time passes. To illustrate the challenges of memory, Koenig opens the podcast by asking people what they did on a specific day six weeks prior. Koenig includes recordings of the interviews so that the audience can hear the uncertainty in their voices as they struggle to remember the details of that day. It seemed that most people were just guessing what they did based on their usual routines. The only time that people seemed to remember, was when something significant happened on that day. However, their memory was still a bit blurry. It is understandable. If you were to ask me what I ate on my 16th birthday, I would be able to tell you because that was a memorable day filled with significant events. Yet, I can’t even remember what I ate for dinner yesterday. Since nearly all the information about this case is based on memory, I am concerned about the accuracy of the story being told. “Memory isn’t like a file in our brain, but more like a story that is edited every time we tell it. To each re-telling, there are attached emotional details. So, when the story is altered, feelings are also reshaped” (Schiller). No matter how determined Koenig is to uncover the real story, it will never be completely accurate.
Although the details of the story may be inexact, I still enjoyed listening to Koenig narrate her search for answers. I think she is a great host for this podcast. Since Koenig is “like a bloodhound on this thing” (Koenig) and does a lot of personal investigative work, she speaks very passionately about the topic. Koenig is not afraid to share her personal thoughts and feelings towards the case as she openly explains her frustrations by swearing and sighing. I really appreciate how Koenig is not afraid to share her light-hearted personality with the audience whilst speaking about a very serious case. Without her entertaining narration, I think that the podcast could become too daunting and grim.
However, the story of Lee’s death is daunting and grim. It is easy to forget that this is a REAL story that deals with the lives of REAL people. I can’t imagine how Lee’s family feels about this podcast. It must be extremely difficult to relive the horrors of Lee’s death through the narration of someone that didn’t even know her. In February of 2016, Lee’s family released a statement regarding the podcast:
“It remains hard to see so many run to defend someone who committed a horrible crime, who destroyed our family, who refuses to accept responsibility, when so few are willing to speak up for Hae. […] We are grateful to the media for respecting our privacy, but we ask that everyone remember who the criminal is and who the victim is” (Lee).
Not only does the podcast raise awareness for the case, but it also provokes listeners to “pick a side.” Lee’s family is struggling to accept the fact that many of the podcast’s listeners support Syed and believe that he was wrongfully convicted. From the statement made by Lee’s family, it is clear this podcast has come as a hardship to them. Personally, I feel that this is one of the downfalls of presenting investigative journalism in such a public format.
Investigative journalism in the form of a podcast can have many negative outcomes. Online journalism tends to promote discussions within its comment section. Those grieving a loved one may find it difficult to read the opinions of those who are on the outside and looking in. Personally, I feel that this podcast has become more like entertainment, rather than a fight for justice. There are even sponsors for the podcast! If this podcast was created for strictly for justice, it should not be used to generate profit. In my opinion, investigative journalism in the form of a podcast can be easily publicised and can hurt the the families involved in the case.
Despite its negative effects on Lee’s family, I really enjoyed listening to the Serial podcast. I thought that Koenig was very engaging and passionate. I applaud all of her hard work; she spent a great deal of her time trying to find out what really happened to Lee. As this is the very first podcast I have ever listened to, I am very impressed with the level of communication through this auditory medium. If all podcasts are of such high quality, I will be spending a lot more of my time exploring this medium.
If you are interested in listening to ‘Serial’, click here for season one episode one.
Schiller, Arthur. “Your Memory Isn’t What You Think It Is.” Psychology Today. Sussex
Publishers, 16 July 2013. Web. 21 July 2017.
“Serial.” Serial. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2017.
Wills, Robinson. “Family of ‘Serial’ victim Hae Min Lee say her convicted killer Adnan Syed ‘destroyed our family’ in emotional letter that slams the podcast’s fans for running to defend him.” Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers TM, 08 Feb. 2016. Web. 21 July 2017.