Audiences will get a peek behind ‘Serial’ sensation
Julie Snyder and Sarah Koenig will tell their tales
It seemed as if the planets — or at least listeners’ ears — aligned for Adnan Sayed on Oct. 3, 2014, the day “Serial” aired on NPR’s “This American Life.”
Hosted by Sarah Koenig, the podcast kicked off a 12-episode examination of the 1999 murder Sayed was convicted of committing.
“Serial” — through in-depth interviews, scene examinations and narration — shed new light on the Baltimore murder of high-school student, and Sayed’s ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.
Three weeks after the Peabody Award-winning series ended, a Maryland Court of Special Appeals filed a decision allowing Sayed to appeal his conviction on the grounds of the ineffectual council provided by his attorney.
The podcasts’ creators have since become household names in the world of public radio listeners, which is why the Park City Institute will bring “Serial” producer Julie Snyder and Koenig to Park city for a Presentation on Saturday, April 11, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
Snyder said the evening will give the audience a behind-the-scenes glimpse of one of iTunes’ biggest downloadable podcasts in history.
“We will essentially be talking about the making of ‘Serial,’ what we intended when we first came up with the idea and what ended up happening that we didn’t intend at all,” Snyder said during a phone interview from her office in New York.
One of the unintended result was the massive amount of downloads ionthe first
week of airing the podcast.
“Our goal was to have 300,000 downloads,” Snyder said. “That’s a pretty respectable number.”
The podcast hit that goal five days after episode one, and it is still receiving download notifications.
“Between seasons one and season two, we are around 260 million downloads,” Snyder said.
The success of season one took Snyder by surprise.
“When we first started, we had no pressure, and we thought we’d get a grad-school crowd or a crowd of people who knew how to use their smart phones,” she said.
After a moment of reflection, Snyder said she felt the success had to do with the convergence of two different things.
“I think the topic we started with was a very compelling story, and one we felt strongly about doing,” she said. “But what drew us to it was not that the story was a ‘whodunnit.’ We were looking more to use this case to talk more about the criminal justice system and the nature of reporting.”
Snyder also feels technological advances helped.
“We also got lucky because podcasts got a lot easier to access right before we launched,” she said. “You didn’t need to hook up your phone to the computer anymore.”
The success not only raised awareness of the case and the justice system, but also turned the spotlight on a new form of broadcast journalism, something Snyder takes seriously.
“We are journalists in that we feel the same responsibility in terms of truthfulness,” she said. “We’re pretty mainstream when it comes to our intensive fact-checking department that goes through our stories line by line and reviews all of our recordings.”
Snyder and Koenig also look at what they can deem fair or unfair to disclose.
“The response to the show made us feel even a greater sense of responsibility, especially when it comes to the realm of the Internet,” Snyder said. “There was a lot of speculation and name calling, to the point where we felt like we lost control of the story, and that was really scary.”
In addition, other press outlets turned their cameras and microphones toward Koenig, rather than her stories.
Even Saturday Night Life got into the mix and did a parody of “Serial.”
“At times we saw sloppy, irresponsible and inaccurate stories about what we were doing,” Snyder said. “I do think it was a strange experience for Sarah to see and feel the other side of things.
“In some ways, it was incredible, because people were engaged in the story. We saw discussion and debate, which is what any reporter wants. That was exhilarating. But there was a flipside to it.”
The podcast’s second series didn’t spread like wildfire compared to season one, although it did have an intriguing topic: Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who was held for five years by the Taliban, and then charged with desertion.
Snyder said she and Koenig felt a huge weight of pressure going into the season.
“One reason was because we were still trying to figure out what just happened as far as the popularity went with our first season,” she said. “Another is that we found that there are things that we can control. I mean, we can change the way we release episodes or release information, and we can also warn people as to what they are getting into, especially after the first season.
“Because of that, we did come across people who we approached for our second season that opted not to be a part of it. And that’s OK.”
The one thing Snyder wants to clarify is “Serial” isn’t a “true crime” podcast.
“I like criminal court stories just as a person drawn to narrative,” she said. “Trials are stories, and the stakes are apparent and high, but I’m not a private investigator or detective, and neither is Sarah.
“So, when we selected a new story for season three, we asked ourselves what is that question that is burning inside of us enough that we could maybe follow it for the next year,” Snyder said.
Snyder and Koenig will give a preview of season three at their Park City presentation.
“We’ll also talk about where we’ll going in the future,” Snyder said.
The Park City Institute will present Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder, the creators of the “Serial” podcast, at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 1, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd. Tickets range from $29 to $79 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org.
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