Once again, it all comes back to Serial.
Martin Spinelli, a senior lecturer in media and cultural studies within the Media, Film and Music School at the University of Sussex in Great Britain, was talking with young student journalists and audio producers during an event at Reuters’ international headquarters in London back in 2014 and all the students could talk about was the first season of Serial.
“Almost every table I stopped at, they were enthusing about Serial, which had just launched,” he said. “These kids were super enthusiastic. I went home, downloaded all the available episodes and binge listened. There was something new happening. It was a new kind of journalism, in my mind, and it was a new kind of engagement. That’s how I got excited about it.”
Podcasting has considerably lowered the bar to entry for media production and engagement, but it’s also a form of media that’s nearly inextricably linked with social media. That’s how people find out about new podcasts – from the recommendations and likes of their friends (in addition to word of mouth) on Facebook, Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Instagram.
He discusses this phenomenon in his new book, Podcasting: The Audio Media Revolution, written with Dr. Lance Dann. One chapter looks at the interconnection of podcasting, social media and the role both play in a new era of journalism.
Another chapter of the book is dedicated to Serial.
In “The Truth about Serial: It’s Not Really About a Murder,” Spinelli argues that the blockbuster podcast was more about host Sarah Koenig’s relationship with podcasting and a new form of journalism, more than whether a man convicted of killing a young woman in 1999 was guilty or innocent.
“She’s trying to figure out what it can be, what it should be and how much baggage she’s going to take from her old career,” he said. “Maybe that’s too academic a thing to say, but it’s not about (the two men and the murder), it’s about Sarah.”
Part of that calls into question whether journalism ethics have shifted in some or many ways that would be unacceptable in other outlets; whether the methods used by Koenig and her co-producer, Julie Snyder, opened them to libel accusations and whether they lost objectivity in the pursuit of a good story told in a new medium.