Note from the author: I wrote this piece before the conclusion of the investigative journalism podcast Serial dropped on December 18, 2014. I’m leaving it as is, without addressing the ending because it does not change the questions that were raised during its run, nor does it negate the ways we can discuss Serial in relation to public history. I’d hate to spoil it for those who have not yet listened. I’d be happy to discuss some of the new questions the ending does raise in the comment area.
On October 3, 2014, journalist Sarah Koenig premiered Serial, a podcast featuring her investigation of the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee. Almost immediately dubbed the first podcast mega-hit, the series has sparked a nationwide conversation about topics intimately familiar to public historians.
Serial is the number one podcast in the United States with an average of 1.26 million downloads per episode. It is notable not just for the following it gained so quickly but for the very visible and thoughtful discussions it has inspired. There are weekly recaps and reviews, Reddit streams, articles everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to Salon and the New Yorker, numerous blog posts from individuals, and even another podcast to reflect on weekly episodes of Serial. Continue reading