What Is The ‘Serial’ Podcast, And Is It Okay To Be Obsessed With It?

Serial is an interesting podcast — and a current online obsession. With a normal piece of investigative journalism, the reader is usually only given the information after its author has looked over the evidence in its entirety. A conclusion has usually already been drawn, and the case usually either resolved or marked as unsolved from the get-go. This isn’t the case with Serial — a serialized podcast where a nonfiction story is unraveled week by week over the course of a given season — which may ultimately result in a dead end. Serial‘s host Sarah Koenig reveals this concept to Vulture while discussing details of the current season of the podcast, which opens up a fifteen year-old case involving the murder and potentially wrongful conviction of the victim’s ex-boyfriend.

“I do not know how this is all going to turn out. I just read a piece on Slate that insisted I have some tricks up my sleeve and am manipulating the audience in some way, and that really couldn’t [be] farther from the truth… I’m not far ahead of you. Episode Five just aired, and I just did a first draft of Episode Six this afternoon, so I am pretty much creating this thing in real time now. Yes, I could say, there was a point where I thought I knew the truth. And then I found out that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, and I did more reporting, and now I don’t know what I don’t know again… I don’t know that I’ll ever be at peace with what we find or that there will be a definitive verdict.”

All in all, Serial seems like quite the risky podcast, potentially stringing listeners for months only to (possibly) come up with nothing. But the response has been incredible, with each podcast episode having been downloaded or streamed 1.2 million plus times (via the Washington Post). With this incredibly ambitious podcast, have the creators of Serial effectively turned investigative journalism into a prime time HBO-esque piece of storytelling? And is this okay? The Atlantic reported on how creating this sense of narrative in Serial may have, in fact, created a layer of desensitization that allows the audience to distance themselves from the podcast’s real nature.

“Serialized nonfiction in the Internet age means that conversations that might have previously happened around the watercooler are now being published themselves. Which means Serial‘s audience is producing its own stories full of sleuthing, critique, and conspiracy theories. Slate even recaps the [Serial] podcast the way it recaps Mad Men.”

In an age where every piece of fictional media is analyzed in every possible way, is Serial destined for the same treatment, and is it something the general media will decree is acceptable by moral standards. We will no doubt see the result in the months to come as others either try to mimic’s Serial‘s success, or ignore the podcast altogether.

Thought’s on Serial‘s success? Does its popularity show a lack of empathy on the part of its listeners?

[Image Credit: Meredith Heuer]