Skip to main content

    Why you need to listen to 'Serial' and what to read once you start

    Why you need to listen to 'Serial' and what to read once you start

    /

    This true crime podcast is a radio play for the mobile era

    Share this story

    Library of Congress

    In the off-chance you’re not already listening to the podcast Serial, this is a PSA: you should start. Not only is the weekly series a gripping true-crime mystery, it’s showing that podcasts can be appointment-listening in a way previously reserved for television.

    For the uninitiated, Serial is a spinoff from WBEZ, the makers of This American Life, but instead of focusing on a single theme each episode, each episode takes you deeper into a single story — in this case, the murder of a high-school senior in Maryland 15 years ago. It gets compared to True Detective a lot, which is fair in that they're both about old murder cases and have attracted feverish fanbases determined to solve riddles before the conclusion. But True Detective is all about good versus secret, mystical evil, whereas Serial is about a real murder in a painfully ordinary world, full of mundane and possibly meaningless details. Its drama comes from Koenig's meticulous examination of all these bits of evidence, the fear that the truth may ultimately be unknowable, and the chance that her conclusion could change a real person's life.

    It’s a radio drama for the mobile era, and it’s showing that people will listen to long, thoroughly investigated stories in podcast form: the show has been at the top of the iTunes chart since it launched and now has a million listeners per episode.

    It’s a radio drama for the mobile era

    We’ve collected some of the best writing on Serial and a few fan sites to follow once you’re hooked. But first, a bit more background and exhortation.

    Serial is hosted by the journalist Sarah Koenig and follows her as she tries to figure out whether Adnan Syed killed his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, a crime he is now serving a life sentence for. Or as Koening says it in the first episode, "For the last year, I’ve spent every working day trying to figure out where a high-school kid was for an hour after school one day in 1999." Koenig was tipped off to the case by Rabia Chaudry, a friend of Syed’s, who believed Syed’s defense attorney botched the case and asked Koenig to look into it.

    As she digs, Koenig finds dubious witnesses, ambiguous evidence, and a justice system that seems to have taken a disturbingly cursory approach to locking someone away for the rest of his life. Koenig says she’s still reporting and doesn’t know how the series will end — with Syed’s innocence, his guilt, or somewhere in the murky area in between. It may not matter for the show. What makes Serial great is its attention to the way memory shifts over time and facts transform when seen in a different light. It’s somehow managed to make a show about the way reality resists narrative into a totally riveting narrative with cliffhanger endings.

    For further reading, here are some of the best stories and fansites about Serial.

    The New Yorker’s Sarah Larson about the making of Serial.

    New York Magazine’s Kevin Roose on Serial and the podcast renaissance.

    The Vulture interview where Sarah Koenig says she doesn’t know how it will end.

    NPR’s Linda Holmes on Serial’s up-in-the-air ending.

    Nieman on storytelling and structure.

    The economics of advertising on podcasts, which you can think about as you listen to that girl fail to pronounce "mail chimp" again and again.

    Of course there’s a subreddit And of course they're sleuthing away.

    And a DailyDot writeup of some of the theories on it.

    Slate has a Spoiler Special podcast about the show, if you want listen to a podcast about a podcast.

    Serial’s own website is full of interactive maps, timelines, and photographs of pieces of evidence discussed in the show.

    Split The Moon is the blog of Rabia Chaudry, the lawyer who brought Adnan’s case to Sarah Koenig’s attention.

    Today’s Storystream

    Feed refreshed 17 minutes ago Striking out

    A
    Andrew Webster17 minutes ago
    Looking for something to do this weekend?

    Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.


    A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
    Thermae Romae Novae.
    Image: Netflix
    J
    Twitter
    Jay PetersSep 23
    Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

    Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


    T
    Twitter
    Tom WarrenSep 23
    Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

    Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


    Welcome to the new Verge

    Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

    Nilay PatelSep 13
    A
    External Link
    If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

    Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

    Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


    A
    External Link
    Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

    Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

    Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.


    E
    TikTok
    Spain’s Transports Urbans de Sabadell has La Bussí.

    Once again, the US has fallen behind in transportation — call it the Bussí gap. A hole in our infrastructure, if you will.


    J
    External Link
    Jay PetersSep 23
    Doing more with less (extravagant holiday parties).

    Sundar Pichai addressed employees’ questions about Google’s spending changes at an all-hands this week, according to CNBC.

    “Maybe you were planning on hiring six more people but maybe you are going to have to do with four and how are you going to make that happen?” Pichai sent a memo to workers in July about a hiring slowdown.

    In the all-hands, Google’s head of finance also asked staff to try not to go “over the top” for holiday parties.


    E
    External Link
    Insiders made the most money off of Helium’s “People’s Network.”

    Remember Helium, which was touted by The New York Times in an article entitled “Maybe There’s a Use for Crypto After All?” Not only was the company misleading people about who used it — Salesforce and Lime weren’t using it, despite what Helium said on its site — Helium disproportionately enriched insiders, Forbes reports.


    J
    Youtube
    James VincentSep 23
    Nvidia’s latest AI model generates endless 3D models.

    Need to fill your video game, VR world, or project render with 3D chaff? Nvidia’s latest AI model could help. Trained on 2D images, it can churn out customizable 3D objects ready to import and tweak.

    The model seems rudimentary (the renders aren’t amazing quality and seem limited in their variety), but generative AI models like this are only going to improve, speeding up work for all sorts of creative types.


    J
    External Link
    Jess WeatherbedSep 23
    Japan will fully reopen to tourists in October following two and a half years of travel restrictions.

    Good news for folks who have been waiting to book their dream Tokyo vacation: Japan will finally relax Covid border control measures for visa-free travel and individual travelers on October 11th.

    Tourists will still need to be vaccinated three times or submit a negative COVID-19 test result ahead of their trip, but can take advantage of the weak yen and a ‘national travel discount’ launching on the same date. Sugoi!


    T
    External Link
    Thomas RickerSep 23
    Sony starts selling the Xperia 1 IV with continuous zoom lens.

    What does it cost to buy a smartphone that does something no smartphone from Apple, Google, Samsung can? $1,599.99 is Sony’s answer: for a camera lens that can shift its focal length anywhere between 85mm and 125mm.

    Here’s Allison’s take on Sony’s continuous-zoom lens when she tested a prototype Xperia 1 IV back in May: 

    Sony put a good point-and-shoot zoom in a smartphone. That’s an impressive feat. In practical use, it’s a bit less impressive. It’s essentially two lenses that serve the same function: portrait photography. The fact that there’s optical zoom connecting them doesn’t make them much more versatile.

    Still, it is a Sony, and like.no.other.