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Serial is a popular investigative journalism podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig. The woman is one of the producers of the podcast and the narrator of nonfiction stories. This paper analyses the podcast, paying attention to the case of Hae Min Lee’s murder in 1999. It provides the overall impression on the episodes, discusses the potential perpetrator, and evaluates the techniques used in the podcast.
When I was listening to the podcast, I had the feeling that Koenig was sympathetic about some of the characters and did not want to believe that they had participated in a crime. For example, when she described her first meeting with Adnan, she noted his big brown eyes and his innocent look, saying that he looked like someone who could not strangle another person (“Episode 01: The Alibi”).
At the same time, it is impossible to say that Koenig’s attitude towards characters was biased because she double-checked their claims and stories they told her. However, the way the woman told the listeners about the case and presented her conversations with the people involved in it showed that she wanted to prove that Adnan was not guilty of killing Hae. Such an approach is understandable because the court had already found the man guilty and there would be no reason to investigate this case if there were no suspicious details about it.
According to the court, Adnan was the person who killed Hae Min Lee. However, I do not agree with this opinion because there are no significant facts that allow making such a conclusion. From the podcast, it is evident that there was a lack of physical evidence on the crime scene; there were no DNA samples, no fibers or hairs. Adnan’s fingerprints in Hae’s car were the only related materials on the case but he had been in it several times, which means that they may not be related to the crime. In addition, Asia saw him in the library but her testimony was not analyzed in the court.
Jay’s claims may be considered a lie because some of his friends noted that he had a habit of telling lies and no evidence could support his words. In addition, it is necessary to mention that Jay’s testimonies were different from each other. For instance, his story during the second interview had unmatching time points and did not correspond to the cell phone records. Moreover, Jay lied about several details. For example, he claimed that Adnan’s phone was with him in the car at the time when calls to Nisha were made. Also, none of the calls made around 3 P.M. were made from the place where Jay claimed they were driving at that time (“Episode 05: Route Talk”). These facts do not allow me to believe that Jay’s words were true and that Adnan was the murderer.
It is also necessary to mention that Adnan seems to have no motives for killing Hae. The court stated that the young man had to sacrifice everything and betray his religion to be with the girl but it is possible to say that Adnan was not an overly religious person. He participated in unlawful activities, such as smoking weed, and had sexual intercourse while not being married, which is forbidden in Muslim. In addition, Adnan noted that he did not feel angry with Hae and only wished her happiness; his claims sounded adamant and reliable.
In my opinion, Ronald Lee Moore could be the person who killed Hae. The reason to suspect this man is that he is guilty of many deaths caused by strangulation; some of the victims are women of the Korean origin too (“Episode 12: What We Know”). He had been released from prison less than two weeks before Hae was killed. Because there was not enough evidence showing that Adnan was guilty of murdering Hae, it is possible to say that Moore is the real perpetrator.
The perception of Sarah’s feelings affects my opinion on this issue as well. As a person who talked with Adnan several times during the podcast, she seemed entirely sure that he was not the person who killed Hae. As mentioned above, her claims were not biased and were based on the evidence that she was able to collect during the investigation of the case. If Sarah were suspicious about Adnan, I would probably be less confident in my conclusions as well.
Techniques Used in the Podcast
It is possible to say that to keep the listener interested, Koenig uses several techniques that make her podcast outstanding. For example, she discusses real-life cases and shows her sincere interest in the story and in finding the person who is guilty of the crime. In addition, the woman used a novelistic approach to broadcasting. A listener has to start from the first episode to understand the whole story.
Koenig is truthful with her audience; she shares her opinions bluntly and it is possible to see that the development of the story surprises her at times, just as it surprises the listeners. The woman is dedicated to analyzing this previously unknown and unpopular case, which can also enhance people’s loyalty to the podcast. To make the podcast more engaging, Koenig could try to ask the audience’s opinions on the cases she discusses. For example, she could ask the listeners to share their perspectives on the cases she features and respond to them in the podcast.
I found the exercise interesting because it was not similar to other academic projects I have done. It was exciting for me to discover new details on the story; the case was intriguing because it seemed like the court had a biased opinion about the situation. In addition, I was amazed at how Koenig paid attention to all details that did not look significant at first sight. She carefully connected people’s claims and found contradictions in them. It is necessary to mention that while listening to the podcast, I had an opportunity to feel like a detective. I am hoping to complete more projects like this one in the future.
The only challenge of this exercise I can outline is that some people featured in the podcast did not speak clearly; it was hard for me to understand their claims without using a transcript. As some of the conversations were recorded over the phone, it was difficult to recognize the words. However, this challenge was insignificant, as it did not prevent me from understanding the story.
It is possible to say that listening became easier as the series progressed. At first, it was hard for me to understand the connection between characters; I had to write all of the names down and outline particular facts to remember their role in the story. However, as the story progressed, it was easier for me to recognize people’s voices and even analyze their emotions as they talked with Koenig. After several hours of listening to the podcast, I realized that I acquired an in-depth understanding of the case and related aspects and started to enjoy learning about it even more. It is possible to say that the quality of the audio was overall good throughout all episodes, which also made listening easier.
To be able to listen to the podcast better, I established a good environment for it. First, I was listening to it in complete silence and had asked my family not to distract me during the process. Second, I ensured that I made pauses between episodes and did not listen to all of them at once because I wanted to have time to reflect on the information and to avoid tiredness. In addition, as I mentioned above, some of the phone conversations featured in the podcast were of slightly worse quality; to manage this problem, I used professional headphones. Finally, I re-listened some parts that were not clear to me and made notes on all the issues that required clarification.
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In my opinion, various factors have made the series so popular. First, Koenig investigates real cases that happen in the world every day. She talks about the issues that can be associated with criminal stories, such as lies, betrayals, love, and many other factors that can affect the development of situations. In addition, the episodes are like digital novels but it is impossible to look at the end of the book to learn how the story will end. Koenig’s narratives are created while the audience is listening to the podcast; the woman does not know what her investigations will result in. In addition, Koenig collaborates with various composers, whose music makes the episodes more engaging.
Applying the Skills
In this exercise, I have developed and practiced several skills. First, I had an opportunity to use deductive reasoning to find the connections between characters’ claims, feelings, and actions. I was able to analyze their words in details, as well as evaluate potential bias or dishonesty. Moreover, the exercise allowed me to learn how to take notes while examining new material and how to create information maps to enhance my understanding of the data.
I can apply these skills in various areas of my life. For example, the capacities I have practiced and acquired are significant for my academic performance. I can use them to memorize new materials for my courses better by creating short but clear notes with all the necessary information. It is possible to say that this exercise was not only entertaining but also beneficial for me as it allowed me to learn a lot about documenting information and noting important aspects of it.
Koenig and her team managed to create an outstanding podcast that captivates the audience’s attention. It is notable because it features a real-life case and investigates it in detail, providing evidence and involved individuals’ claims. Koenig’s attitude and perceptions revealed in the podcast show that the woman is truly dedicated to understanding the background of the story. Her approach makes her works engaging, interesting, and entertaining.
“Episode 05: Route Talk.” Serial, uploaded by Sarah Koenig. 2014. Web.
“Episode 01: The Alibi.” Serial, uploaded by Sarah Koenig. 2014. Web.
“Episode 12: What We Know.” Serial, uploaded by Sarah Koenig. 2014. Web.