All hail the power of the podcast
Earlier this week police in New South Wales began digging up the garden of the house where Lyn Dawson used to live.
The Australian mother-of-two went missing in 1982 and hasn’t been seen since – prompting 36 years of speculation about her whereabouts.
If police do find the 33-year-old’s body a lot of the credit will go to a cult podcast called ‘The Teacher’s Pet’ by the Australian newspaper and their investigative journalist Hedley Thomas, which raised the profile of the cold case to a point where it couldn’t be ignored. The Teacher’s Pet was released in May and has already been downloaded more than 12 million times - bringing the case to the attention of a whole new audience.
Investigative journalism podcasts have grown in popularity since the success of the ‘Serial’ podcast in 2014.
The podcast, described as a mix of investigative journalism, first-person narrative and dramatic storytelling – poured doubt on Adnan Syed’s conviction for murdering his former girlfriend Hae Min Lee.
Serial’s 12 episodes were downloaded a world record 175 million times and contributed to Syed being granted a new trial.
In the changing world of technology, podcasts are rapidly becoming the go-to medium to investigate possible miscarriages of justice.
They’re also becoming a crucial tool in attracting new audiences – which is why they’re attracting millions of pounds of investment.
Podcasts have assumed the space once occupied by television and they’re a powerful and agile medium.
I can’t remember the last time I watched TV because I’m never at home for long enough but I’m always listening to podcasts in the car, in the gym or on the side of a football pitch.
One that was recommended to me was ‘Untold’ and related to the 1987 slaying of private investigator Daniel Morgan, who was found dead in a London pub car park. It was a particularly grisly as an axe was left embedded in the victim’s head.
Despite five police investigations nobody has been convicted of his murder and Morgan’s brother Alastair joined forces with investigative journalist Peter Jukes to produce the crowdfunded ‘Untold’ podcast.
Untold topped the iTunes charts and made sure the case couldn’t be forgotten – even after 30 years.
Another US produced series that I’ve just listened to is called ‘In The Dark’ and investigated the remarkable case of Curtis Flowers, who has been tried for the same quadruple murder six times in Mississippi.
It’s not for me to comment on the guilt or innocence of the main protagonists in the podcasts but what the shows have in common is great content. What’s equally clear is the authorities ignore the power of the podcast at their peril.
- Chris Maguire is currently compiling a list of the best 101 podcasts. Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org