If you’re like me and spent Christmas 2014 binge-listening to the dramatic podcast, Serial, then I’m sure you’ll have heard the exciting news! That’s right – Adnan Syed, the subject of the podcast, was last week granted a new trial, which could potentially see the overturning of his 1999 murder conviction.
For those of you who aren’t part of the Serial world, what’s really unique about this story is that what led to the dramatic turn in events was unquestionably the power of the podcast.
Podcasts are by no means a new medium. People have been recording and streaming audio content since the start of the century and the birth of the Apple iPod. While outlets such as The BBC and The Guardian published and promoted a range of podcasts, supplementing their everyday content, for the last decade the medium remained reasonably niche – we all had the podcast app icon on our iPhone, but probably utilised it about as much as we do the stocks app.
Everything changed with the arrival of Serial in 2014. Over twelve tantalising weeks, former journalist Sarah Koenig shared intriguing puzzle pieces of the story of Adnan and the 1999 murder of his high school girlfriend, Hae Min Li, of which he was convicted aged 17. Koenig’s masterful storytelling reeled in a worldwide audience of millions. She remained impartial, presenting both sides of the argument, telling the story through muffled calls to Adnan in prison, excerpts from his murder trial and eerie visits to the crime scene.
Serial confirmed the potential of the podcast as a medium. Both entertaining and intriguing, the story translated seamlessly onto social media, creating a global conversation and a movement to #FreeAdnan.
The podcast gave Koenig a platform to compose a riveting piece of investigative journalism, the likes of which is often marginalised in today’s newspapers. Serial engaged with massive social media audiences and had a clear real-world impact, which poses the question – are podcasts the future of journalism?
Podcasts are cost-effective and give creators ample time and space to explore subjects they are passionate about, speaking to an ever-growing audience. There has already been a slew of new podcasts following the Serial format. A recent personal favourite is the UK podcast Untold: Murder. Endorsed by none other than Hugh Grant, the podcast explores the as yet unsolved murder in 1987 of private investigator, Daniel Morgan, and calls for listeners to share their own information and theories online – taking the essence of Crime Watch into the 21st century.
Podcasts are also creating a new space where marginalised groups can have their voices heard. Several feminist podcasts are currently among the most popular in the UK charts including The Guardian’s What would a Feminist do? and Emma Gannon’s Ctrl, Alt, Delete. Through their podcasts, these hosts are creating a space for feminist discussion and directly engaging with their audience.
So while some people might think podcasts are a thing of the past, just like the iPods that spawned them, they have been evolving both in terms of content and reach. Check out your podcasts app and you’ll find a podcast for everything from sports and movies to politics and economics. There’s also lots of fun to be found through the podcasts, with many comedians taking to the medium, such as the hilarious My Dad Wrote a Porno and The Adam Buxton Podcast.
Podcasts present an untapped resource to the communications world, with opportunities for professionals like us to engage with produces, pitch interviews and set up brand partnerships.
Half of podcast listeners are aged 12-34 and 54% are male. Therefore engaging with the shows they subscribe to will help the brands we represent engage with these typically hard to reach demographics. And with 92% of podcast listeners active on social media, the opportunities are huge.
If the podcast has the power to potentially free a man from prison, then just think of the possibilities it has for brands.