Sunday, May 19Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Serial Binge Listening

Many people have been lured into the “Serial” podcast hype under the premise of a real life murder-mystery: in the 12-part podcast, acclaimed journalist Sarah Koenig examines the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, an 18 year old school girl found buried in the woods in Baltimore, Maryland. Despite Hae’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, being convicted of first-degree murder in 2000, Koenig makes it evident that his sentence is mostly based on presumption, with only one questionable witness testimony and no DNA evidence to solidify the claim. Koenig has seemingly presented a chance for us, ordinary, run-of-the-mill podcast listeners, to solve a crime that has imprisoned a potentially innocent man for 15 years! And so, invariably, you are hooked, only to find that this could not be further from the truth: instead, it provides so much more. Not only is the series highly entertaining and intriguing, it raises many questions about the ethical implications of crime reporting and the pitfalls it can encounter.

The podcast’s popularity is congruent with the growing relationship between media and crime, with contemporary technologies making it ever more accessible to the general public. Daily broadcasts and publications are often plastered with offences of varying degree, ranging from local misconduct to national scandals involving public figures. Repeatedly, the rapid turnaround of news bulletins ensures that many details are often excluded, and can lead to a flurry of judgement towards the suggested perpetrator, even before conviction. For example, long time Coronation Street actor, William Roach, was accused of rape of a minor in 2013: although acquitted of all charges, the permanent tarnishing of his reputation is evident and is a key example of how damaging crime journalism can be.

So how does “Serial” relate to this? Clearly, reporting of crime is not a new or particularly revolutionary pursuit, however, through the medium of podcast and Koenig’s style of reporting, Serial certainly could be considered so. Much credit is owed to Koenig’s skill as a journalist: she remains as objective as possible throughout, and when it is evident her neutrality is being compromised, she brings in other’s perspectives in order to allow the listener to form their own decision. All the facts are presented, the 12-part series allowing for a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the case which offers many angles, not directing the blame on to one perpetrator and instead offering a range of theories.

In addition, the medium of podcasting also serves in humanising all effected by the murder: oddly, the least attention is put on Hae Min Lee herself, which seems to be the norm in other news reports. Instead, Koenig interviews those surrounding the case, such as old school friends, families of the suspects and Syed himself, showing the impact the murder had on the community as a whole, and the effect the conviction had on the supposed murderer. Perhaps, if all cases were treated with the dignity and respect Koenig gives the case, there would be less of a culture of ‘manhunts’ and judgement directed against those convicted who could still possibly be innocent. “Serial” has the potential to revolutionise how the public receive crime presented in the media, with this case showing how many convictions are rife with inconsistencies and questions: if Syed, who has been imprisoned for 15 years is innocent, how many other ‘murderers’ are also blameless and have wrongly faced public wrath?

What this podcast series does so wonderfully is open the minds of the listeners beyond the case itself, and going far further than simply working to solve the case. Being equal parts enlightening, entertaining and frustrating, Serial will have you hooked, and is well worth the 8-hour binge you will inevitably encounter.