Serial: The Power of a Podcast


During a lengthy drive last week, I decided to tune into the super popular podcast that has been sweeping the news for the past year: Serial. Run as a spinoff of This American Life, Serial aired once a week for 12 weeks and ran about 45 minutes to an hour per episode. The series is about a 1999 murder case that took place in Baltimore. Prior to the publicity generated by Serial, the case was closed and the suspect – Adnan Syed was sentenced to life at Baltimore Correctional Facility on the outskirts of Maryland.

Serial can be tough to follow simply because of its nature: a 15 year old murder trial can definitely get tricky to follow, and Podcasts require the complete absence of visual footage – making it easy to get distracted or lost in a jumble of facts, names, and theories. Despite all of this, Sarah Koenig’s Serial has taken the country by storm and formed a huge, dedicated following that is counting down the days until the premiere of Season 2. This wild fandom be attributed to the employment of powerful rhetorical strategies that keep audiences engaged and hungry for more.

Serial always precedes a new episode with a brief synopsis of the previous ones, allowing listeners to recap quickly on all the important details of the case. Also, Serial producer Sarah Koenig includes voice clips of those she is interviewing, allowing the podcast to stay interesting and not become monotone. Another helpful tactic that is used to keep audiences hooked is the intergation of infographics and blog posts on Serial’s website. Though it is strictly a podcast, listeners wasted no time scouring the internet for more content to get their Serial fix between episodes. NPR sponsored a website that includes infographics that outline in clear detail exactly what happens within episodes. These infographics are very viewer friendly, they are short, color coded, and only feature the most important events of each cast. See the below for an example that takes viewers through the timeline of Jay, Adnan, and Hae on the day of Hae’s murder in 1999.


Serial was so effective in its use of audience grabbing, rhetorical concepts, that it led to the re-opening of Adnan Syed’s case. Previously sentenced for life, the podcast brings up some serious doubt as to whether or not he is the true murderer. For more information on Syed’s case, check out this link:


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