Critique of the podcast Serial 

Serial on the screen of a phone. Source: Casey Fiesler, Flickr.
Serial on the screen of a phone. Source: Casey Fiesler, Flickr.

Before our Bootcamp class, I had never heard of Serial or any other podcast for that matter. To me podcasts were boring, expensive and disconnected from my technological routine. But Serial is crack for my ears. Why doesn’t it has its own hashtag? #serialandchill #recorderstotheready Are there shirts? When will there be a streaming-only Netflix production on this journalistic Nancy Drew?

I listened to season one, episode one: The Alibi. In this episode the listener hears Sarah Koenig, the host, interview many people. Koenig also inserted clips from a police interview and a hearing, and natural sounds like prisoners talking and a gate opening. All of these elements, plus the information Koenig tells the listener brings the story to life for Koenig’s audience. Audio lets the listener imagine the day Hae Min Lee died his or her own way, but it also humanizes Adnan Syed for the audience. His voice and his words shape his face differently for every listener.

I like how Serial used the natural sound of Rabia Chaudry’s gate opening to begin this story.

I think the different sets of audio (interviews, recordings, natural sounds, music and narration) were beautifully stitched together in this episode. Even though the recorded volume of the cell phone conversation with Asia McClain was jarring, the overall blend of the different room tones and natural sounds throughout the episode went well together.

In this episode Koenig used music during narrated transitions to move the episode along. Music also emphasized different narrated segments of The Alibi.

In one of Koenig’s interviews with Syed she faded out his voice and narrated over it to expand on what he just said. This fade may be a simple audio trick, but I thought it was cool to hear both voices at the same time while keeping the interview going.

I am glad Koenig told Lee and Syed’s stories via podcast, because a podcast lets the interviewees be themselves in an anti-Muslim world in a way that video might prejudice certain listeners.


One comment

  1. Nicely done. Sarah’s NPR/TAL experience really shows in the best of class production techniques used in Serial. The layering of sounds, story pacing and revealing of the messy news gathering process seems much easier than it is to actually do.


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