Truth Isn’t Stranger than Fanfiction: The Serial Podcast and Citizen Journalism
Lopez Coombs, N.A.
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When the blockbuster podcast Serial became famous it was seen as the proof that this relatively recent medium, podcasting, was worthy of mainstream attention. Sarah Koenig's story drew in record numbers of listeners as she explored the case of Adnan Syed, a young man convicted of the murder his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, but who insisted on his innocence. However, the popularity of this true crime story led to an outcome only possible in our social-digital age: listeners, connecting over the social news networking service Reddit, began to investigate the crime themselves. This activity falls into the category of citizen journalism, where non-professionals participate in journalistic activity. Literature on citizen journalism tends to focus on the technological, political or procedural aspects of the phenomenon. However, approaching the Serial case study from a fan studies point of view, as I do in this thesis, draws to the fore a number of parallels between this investigative community and fan communities. The Reddit users engaging in this investigation can be better understood by looking at the social aspects that motivate fan communities. Through that lens, it becomes apparent that this group is driven both to solve a crime and to prolong the interaction of its socially connected members. This contradiction, as well as the other social aspects of citizen journalism, ought to be thoroughly explored if we wish to truly understand this emerging field of participatory culture.