It would be the explosion of the true crime podcast Serial that changed the landscape for media storytellers in 2014. With This American Life producing the series from investigative journalist Sarah Koenig, the program would document the Hae Min Lee murder investigation from 1999, an event that would lead to the conviction of Adnan Syed.
The work by Koenig in conjunction with This American Life won widespread acclaim and tens of millions of downloads across the globe, with some arriving years later to the phenomenon.
It was an event that was not just groundbreaking for the career of Koenig, but for media storytellers and their connection to the podcast format. What was considered quite a niche activity soon went mainstream, opening up new opportunities for reporters and investigators at large.
The great news for media storytellers with the podcast format is that it is an open forum that can be designed and produced in any type of fashion. Serial followed a week-by-week look into the events that led to the arrest and trial of Syed, but outlets like The New York Times will release their program The Daily that offers a concise 15-20 minute look at the daily headlines from their paper.
A lack of commercial interests ensures that the podcast does not have to be interrupted and the story can remain on course. Fortunately these platforms are still open to business backing with sponsorship opportunities and some paid advertising breaks, but reporters and podcast hosts have the opportunity to expand on any number of topics they wish. Some will keep their content condensed and focused while others can expand to 3-4 hours per episode.
This is where the likes of Joe Rogan, Russell Brand, Marc Maron and others have tapped into a medium that opens up conversations with public figures. It is not limited by commercial breaks or television tropes that restrict the type of honest access that the podcast enjoys. That principle translates to media storytellers who can set their agenda and narrative the way that they see fit.
The sheer volume of access to a podcast is made possible when taking stock of the providers in the marketplace. With iTunes, Spotify, Podbean, Audible and Buzzsprout, there is a range of hosts and outlets that will offer this content for iOs and Android users respectively. Some media outlets will develop an exclusive deal with one of these hosts like the lucrative deal Joe Rogan secured with Spotify in 2020, but others will be open to a range of providers.
Although there are paid subscription options with a podcast series through services like Patreon, this is essentially free content for the user. Media storytellers can be hidden behind a pay wall through a major broadsheet newspaper or a cable news provider. In this setting, they are free of editorial constraints and broadcast their reporting and their stories direct to the consumer without requesting fees.
Listeners who are scanning for a podcast that would peak their interest can easily identify a series that works for them. This form of content is categorized according to the genre, sorting them out from sports to politics, news to lifestyle and movies to technology.
With approximately one in three Americans downloading a podcast at least once per month and upwards of 850,000 podcasts available to download around the globe, this is an industry that is only increasing at rapid speed. Media storytellers have the autonomy with this format to create and broadcast how they see fit, breaking down the walls of convention that have dictated how they operate for generations. Thankfully that dynamic is changing.