This afternoon, Sarah Koenig spoke in Salomon about her career in radio and journalism, and on the power of storytelling. The lecture was presented by the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, as one of the final events celebrating Women’s History Month. Koenig, a journalist and radio producer, has worked at The East Hampton Star, ABC News, The New York Times, and This American Life. Perhaps most notably, she hosted and produced Serial, a spin-off to This American Life. Serial debuted in October 2014 at No. 1 on the iTunes charts, and was the fastest podcast to reach 5 million downloads.
Serial, a 12-part weekly non-fiction podcast re-investigated the murder of Hae Min Lee, a teenage girl who disappeared in Baltimore, Maryland, on January 13, 1999, and whose body was found a month later in Leakin Park. Lee’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested and convicted of her murder. The podcast closely reexamined the details of Lee’s disappearance and Syed’s subsequent trial through interviews with many of the relevant persons to the crime, including Syed, and painstaking review of relevant phone records and court documents.
Although Koenig originally expected a modest 300,000 listeners, Serial erupted into a cultural sensation. It gained an ardent fan base, prompting a popular subreddit of listeners debating possible theories, as well as a December Saturday Night Live parody of the podcast, starring Cecily Strong and Amy Adams. To date, Serial has amassed 6.5 million listeners, a number completely unprecedented in audio storytelling and podcast industries.
Now Here This, co-founded by Sophie McKibben ’16 and Liza Yeager ’17, is an online platform for student-produced audio stories. New pieces will be released weekly, “featuring memoirs and interviews, investigative journalism and live storytelling, slam poetry, and more,” on the website designed by Emma Funk ’16.
The concept of Now Here This originated this past fall, when McKibben and Yeager realized that Brown was missing a platform – “an audio platform to host all kinds of the audio stories they loved to listen to.” The idea of creating such a project caught fire, and soon enough, a team assembled to make this dream a reality. Now, the organization has grown through collaboration with Brown Storytellers and support from the Dean’s Office, the Transformative Conversations Initiative at Brown, advisors Professor Beth Taylor from the English Department and Alex Braunstein from the Swearer Center, as well as from the Brown community at large.
Audio stories on the site will tap into a variety of formats and topics. Some “Features” pieces will perhaps remind listeners of podcasts like This American Life or Radiolab, featuring personal stories and investigations into science topics, for example. Some stories will have producers narrating, in the style of 99% Invisible, and others, such as the “Creative Nonfiction” pieces, may remind listeners of recordings by David Sedaris. Though inspired by the podcasts McKibben and Yeager grew up listening to, Now Here This is “not quite a podcast and not quite a radio station,” while aiming to carve out its own genre of audio content. The platform hopes to combine all different kinds of audio storytelling, not limited to a specified format or subject.