Serial and Modern Storytelling


Tonight we’re going to UC Davis’s Mondavi Center to hear Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder—the co-creators of Serial—go behind the scenes of their incredibly successful podcast, which Koenig described when receiving a Peabody Award as a “ten hour audio documentary about an old murder that I did not solve.” Like many, Aron and I were swept up in the cultural phenomenon, listening to the programs aloud together by the end. And, like many, we read the follow-up theories, the who-done-it speculations, and came up with our own as well. While of course I do wish tonight’s program could offer up some more conclusive answers, it’s been clear for a long while that those can never be had.

An article in New York Magazine, “Why ‘Serial’ Drives Some People Crazy,” ran while the show was wrapping up discussed the differing reaction people have to this and suggests that Serial can be a bit of a litmus test for one’s “Need For Closure” in general: “someone’s stance on “Serial”’s ambiguity may actually tell you a lot about who he or she is as a person. It likely reflects a deep-seated, extremely important psychological characteristic called need for cognitive closure.” The higher one’s need for closure, the more likely Koenig’s back-and-forth on the case, with no clear resolution, would be maddening! And perhaps even more interesting, it might lead that person to follow up listening to the show with an expression of total confidence on some completely separate subjects, on “subjects that would allow him or her to regain the sense of certainty absent in Koenig’s narrative.”

And that’s just one of the thought provoking tangents that came out of all of our collective listening to this podcast. Isn’t it fun?

Are you a fan of podcasts? Are you listening to any good ones lately?

Without a car commute, I find that I rarely get to enjoy them, but Aron gives me the scoop and often tells me which ones are worth setting aside some time for. Here are some favorites from the both of us…

From Aron…

On the Media. The smartest meta news podcast. I always listen to this one as soon as it comes out. And their spin off—”On House of Cards,” is superb.

Left, Right, and Center. Refreshingly honest, sometimes surprising, and intelligent perspectives from across the political spectrum.

NPR Politics Podcast. I’m not sure why I like these shows better than the actual reports the reporters produce, but I do.

Startup Podcast. You must start with Season 1, Episode 1. The story has such great arc and (spoiler alert) anything from Gimlet media is a sure bet now.

Surprisingly awesome. Episode 6 Broccoli, and Episode 5, Interest rates, but really all the episodes are, well, surprisingly awesome.

Reply All. These guys find all sorts of interest things about the the internet. I love their series “yes-yes-no,” but I also love their range. For example, episode 33 ISIS, episode 31 Bonus reddit explosion explainer, episode 23 exit and return, episode 9 the writing on the wall… I know that is too many, but scrolling through their feed I left way too many off the list.

A from me, these episodes come first to mind as a place to start…

“The Living Room” by Love + Radio (I couldn’t get out of the car!)

“Terry Gross to Marc Maron: ‘Life Is Harder Than Radio’” by Fresh Air

“Musical Language” by Radio Lab

(Also, The Longest Shortest Time, Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, and America’s Test Kitchen.)

Of course we both love almost everything on This American Life, so here are some of Ira’s favorites.

What are yours? And, have to ask: Do you have a high or low need for closure? 

P.S. More on “The Psychology of Serial.” And an interesting talk on what Serial can teach us about being good storytellers. Also, Terri Gross.

[Photo of Sarah Koenig and Dana Chivvis in the studio during season one of Serial by Elise Bergerson, via Vogue UK]

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