The timing could not be better.
As I prepared to write this preview of Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder, the creators of the medium-changing podcast Serial, and their appearance at Park City Institute this weekend, I found their their new podcast S-Town was just released today. And you can bet I’m listening.
Let’s start with Serial. Koenig and Snyder teamed up with bonafide Radio God Ira Glass (who spoke on the same stage they will be on Saturday as part of last year’s line-up) to create the pop culture phenomenon—an investigation into the 1999 death of Baltimore teenager Hae Min Lee and the subsequent conviction of her boyfriend Adnan Syed for her murder.
Of course, as these things go, the story was full of twists and turns, shady characters and, perhaps most compellingly, gross failures of the justice system. The podcast was revolutionary in its delivery, too. In a world where we have become accustomed to binging entire television series on Netflix, Serial cruelly made us wait a week between one hour episodes, harkening back to the golden age of radio.
In the end, we were a divided nation. Some of us thought Syed was innocent. Others thought he was guilty. But to be honest, most of us just didn’t know what to think. And, really, isn’t that what good investigative journalism is supposed to do? There were so many questions at the end that even the court agreed Syed needed a new trial.
Admittedly, the second season of Serial had a lot to live up to—and as it covered the mysterious case of Bowe Bergdahl, runaway soldier—it fell flat.
But today we have S-Town, a seven-episode audio southern gothic novel. It’s the story of a small town in Alabama, mystery, murder, bird dogs and southern drawls. Flannery O’Connor wishes she had written this story. I’ve already fallen in love in the time it’s taken me to write this blog.
Now, I just need to listen to all episodes before Saturday night, when Koenig and Snyder will be speaking on the Eccles Center stage about the power of investigative journalism, character-driven storytelling, harnessing a new medium and hopefully answering some of the growing list of questions I have about S-Town.
Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder speak at the Eccles Center in Park City, Saturday April 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available here.