Opinion: When it comes to entertainment, what are the limits?

Cassie Follman

By: Cassie Follman ’16
Section Editor

The podcast Serial has completely redefined how podcasts, and forms of entertainment, are viewed. While some people may have been reluctant to listen to a podcast before because they believed it was tedious, Serial entices its listeners and draws them into the story of a murder that took place fifteen years ago. While I was immediately hooked by Sarah Koenig’s impressive journalism and story that always left the listener wishing for more, critics have voiced their concerns on whether or not this broadcast is considered moral because it has transformed a very true murder case into a form of entertainment. The question begs to be asked on whether it is possible for journalism, especially in this form, to be both entertaining and respectful at the same time.

The podcast is centered on the death of Hae Min Lee, a high school senior who disappeared in Jan. 1999. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested for her murder despite the complete lack of physical evidence. Sarah Koenig’s ultimate mission was to discover the truth and share her experiences along the way.

My English class was assigned to listen to Serial, and then discuss our opinions in class. We talked about the validity of the statements and also Koenig’s tactics through her investigative reporting. Serial was an instant phenomenon, which is somewhat of a shock considering that most podcasts do not draw the international audience that Serial managed to achieve. What sets Serial apart from prior podcasts lies with Sarah Koenig. Although some criticize how the story was still being formed while it was broadcasted, I believe that this gave a unique insight into the world of journalism that is usually not exposed to the general public. The audience goes on the investigation with Koenig, and one of my favorite aspects of listening to the podcast is how she expressed her thoughts process as she collected evidence and tried to figure out what actually happened the night Hae Min Lee was killed. In addition, I think that her different approach to reporting reaches out to a different audience while also prompting important discussions about the justice system.

However, there has been some criticism over the story and whether the audience, who is so captivated by the podcast, view the murder case as a form of pure entertainment. Even though I think the Serial podcast brings awareness of issues and is captivating journalism, it is still a valid opinion that the podcast takes the exploitation of the murder case too far. It exposes those involved in the story, and also makes real people seem more like characters. Despite this, I believe that the podcast ultimately has a positive effect on society.

My experience with listening to Serial has been one that has transformed my views on reporting. Due to these developments, I think that this podcast in particular has given me an important opportunity to discuss the justice system and the way it is handled in this case in particular. Although there are some disagreements over the morality of the choice to tell such a serious story, Serial provides an insightful and positive shift in how stories are told in our world today.