Everything Old is New Again

is adnan guilty or a just a young victim?

was it jay, did jay do it?

what about the anisha call?

and finally, will the law professor’s theory prove true?

if you haven’t figured out what i’m talking about, you’re not participating in one of the hottest whodunit discussions right now. what is it? serial, the podcast.

maybe you saw the dead-on spoof on snl a couple of weeks ago and binge listened to the podcasts after that. if you still haven’t downloaded and listened to the podcasts, i’m warning you right now that this blog post will do one or both of the following: spoil some of the story and/or experience or pique your interest and get you to listen.

serial is a 12 part podcast from sarah koenig at npr about the 1999 murder of hae min lee for which seventeen year old adnan syed was convicted of the crime and is currently in jail serving a life sentence. in the words of the prosecutor of the case, “it’s just another run-of-the-mill domestic violence murder.” and i have to admit that when my daughters told me about the podcast it didn’t strike me as all that interesting. but i listened anyway. me and about 1.26 million other people around the world.

why did this podcast capture such a huge audience?

there has been quite a lot written about serial, all reaching a similar conclusion that the popularity of the podcast is because the story was presented in a serialized fashion, in twelve bits meted out to the audience over many weeks. not a new idea, since serialized stores were a regular part of newspapers and magazines throughout history, but maybe a fresh idea for a podcast.

what is new for serial is that it exists in this age of rapid information, fans of serial were only able to download an installment weekly but in between they were able to facebook, twitter, reddit and otherwise endlessly discuss the latest installment for days before more information surfaced. to say that the audience became very much engaged is an understatement.

it also proved one of my favorite sayings – that there is no conclusion people are unwilling to jump to.

many have written that koenig’s serial is a primer on investigative reporting, but i wholeheartedly disagree. koenig’s style is scattered, a bit disorganized, inconsistent, not terribly thorough and at times just plain loopy and not in a columboesque kind of way.
others wondered why serial garnered such a big audience when the documentaries on crimes have been a mainstay for years. the difference is that koenig doesn’t know the conclusion before the end. she doesn’t even have an ending at the end. and that feeling of “live” resonates with the audience.

the appeal of serial for me is that it turns the entire form on its head — investigative reporting and podcasting. it doesn’t feel canned, or scripted because there are mistakes and dead air and dead ends and endless sidebars and each podcast is not even the same length of time, all of which all very live and sincere. it feels as though you are moving through the discoveries with koenig rather than being fed what has been carefully scripted.

the other appeal of serial is an inside glimpse of how our criminal justice system really works. what we have been taught to believe about the system is candy coated and white-washed –the real story of the justice system in america is that it follows the line of expediency and least resistance. just look at the statistics from the innocence project and try not to get sick.

you know how judges give instructions to the jury to disregard some evidence or not draw any conclusion based on whether the defendant testifies or not? yeah, well it turns out that juries just disregard what judges say and some of the jurors in this case explicitly said that they thought adnan was guilty because he didn’t testify. so much for taking your juror’s oath seriously. i used to think that the justice system is really only about money, but not even money can compensate for case overload, laziness, prejudice or incompetence – one or some of these that may be at play here.

serial is over now, but the sensation it created continues and in its wake there may be chapters to add to the story of adnan syed and hae min lee.


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Filed under civil rights, crimes, law

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