Can Podcasting be useful as an Investigative Tool?

One thing that I really love about podcasts is that they can cover so much ground. From fun fictional stories, to nonfiction documentaries, podcasts offer a diverse amount of content for every listener.

A lot of people see them as just that, content to educate and entertain; lately though podcasting has expanded to include investigative podcasting that doesnt really fall into the category of educational or storytelling. All investigative podcasts generally start the same: “I’m so-and-so and I’m a podcaster from *city.* One day I was online and I came across a cold case from fifteen years ago. I’ve made it my goal to uncover or solve this case through my podcast.” From there the podcaster turns into an investigator and works with experts and witnesses to try to solve the crime. There is no doubt that this is a cool concept and a great listen but that isn’t the question: what I’m really interested in is whether podcasting useful as an investigative tool and in solving crimes.

One thing I can’t deny is the fact that investigative podcasts at least reopen interest in cases, specifically cold cases. In the podcast Someone Knows Something, host David Ridgen takes the plunge on a case that is over forty years old. Nothing comes of his investigation into five-year-old Adrian Mcnaughton’s disappearance and the case remains unsolved, but the attention that David brought to the case can be seen as valuable because it at least brings the case back to the forefront of public spectacle.

Another podcast that does the same thing is Up and Vanished, a podcast hosted is hosted by Payne Lindsay, a documentarian who switched to podcasting. Much like Someone Knows Something, Up and Vanished focuses on a cold case, this one the mystery of vanished beauty queen Tara Grinstead. Mr. Lindsey does great investigative work (in my opinion) but similarly to David Ridgen he comes up empty. Not only that, but the killer was eventually caught by authorities and he wasn’t someone mentioned in the podcast.

If you’re looking at investigative podcasts that had sucessful endings though, you simply can’t skip over S-town. The Podcast is hosted by Brian Reed is still one of my all time favorite podcasts. The only problem (spoilers) is that the crime that Reed ends up investigating hasn’t actually happened. That makes it really easy to solve. That doesnt take away from the biographical aspects of podcast but it’s less of an investigatve podcast and more of a documentary on John B. Mclemore’s life and the mystery behind his death.

S-town
S-Town, as hosted by Brian Reed

I hate to be cynical especially because I enjoy these podcasts so much, but one has to question whether the investigative podcasts are even worth it. In Somebody Knows Something David Ridgen takes months of people’s time, tons of money and a lot of resources to find what amounts to basically nothing. In Up and Vanished one could argue that Payne Lindsey did more to throw the investigation off than to solve it, and once again a lot of people did a lot of work for not much return. I want to reiterate that I’m not questioning the work ethic and integrity of any of the podcast creators. I’m just looking at the potential return.

SKS
Someone Knows Something, a podcast hosted by David Ridgen

Another thing I noticed is that these podcasts have a way of, well, creating suspicion when the truth is actually in another zip code. In Up and Vanished the evidence presented leads you to believe that Tara Grinstead’s ex boyfriend Marcus Harper or married-cop having- an-affair Heath Dykes may have had something to do with her dissapearance. When it comes down to it thouugh the true killers were former students who were never mentioned in the podcast. I undertand that the case being solved vindicates Harper and Dykes, but for a considerable amount of time they were looked upon with unfair suspicion and scrutiny especially after years of nothing.

Up and Vanished
Up And Vanished, a podcast hosted by Payne Lindsey

Now I understand if you’re frustrated like “Mike, these could have been the killers! More in depth investigation was needed by fresh eyes!” And for the most part I agree with you. when it comes down to the aforementioned returns, there are unboubtedly productive sides to these podcasts. Like I said before, these types of podcasts have a way of bringing things to the surface and reveal new information. Sometimes journalists can offer fresh perspective that were missed before. Sometimes people are willing to talk to said journalists more than police, and sometimes the time that has passes makes people more comfortable talking.  Beyond that and our general entertainment though, it doesn’t look like the end result are anything to write home about.

So here is the grand finale; are podcasts good investigative tools or not? Despite the cynacism heaped onto most of the podcasts I mentioned, I can’t help but think they are at least nominally helpful. The reason behind this is because there are several other aspects that need to be taken into account. I’ve already mentioned the whole “crowd info gathering” thing, but there is more. In Up and Vanished, Payne recalls a recording of a criminal who got too close to the case and ended up inciting himself in the murder. When unsolved murders are brough back into the limelight there is a chance that the criminal who commited it will rise back to the surface. In short, bringing the case back to the surface brings more opportunity for a criminal to misstep.

Another reason I think they’re good investigative tools is that like I said, they provide fresh eyes and ears on a case. There is an advantage to having a civilian looking over evidence verses an investigator or police. Sometimes the restrictions that officials have prevents them from performing certain actions while civilians have more wiggle room.

So, are investigative podcasts the perfect solution to cold cases? No. But they do have in important role in being on the front line of trying to solve these cases. Rarely is it the front line who wins the war. Usually you have to go a little deeper to get results and investigative podcasts provide the initial push to get something done long after the case has lost any warmth. So if I ever become part of a cold case (not an asperation believe me) call up an investigative podcaster and then…please call the police.

– M

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Big News!

Hey guys, we’ve officially launched the Podcast Fanatic Twitter! So please, check us out and follow us! Also, tonight will be my first podcast theory. Tonights topic, does the Rabbits universe work using the same concept as the Donnie Darko universe? I have some convincing evidence to support my claim so don’t forget to check it out at 7:30 live on Twitter! See you all later!

-M

Diving Into the Twisted World of Rabbits

There are many good podcasts out there to listen to. There are few however, great podcasts to listen to. The upper echelon of podcasts are reserved for those who make you tingle and really feel something rather than being a voice you listen to while driving or doing menial labor. For these reasons I believe that Rabbits is one of these great and unique podcasts that come around once in a lifetime.Now I’m not saying that no podcast will ever stand up to Rabbits. What I am saying is that it is the only podcast so far that made me pull off the road to make sure I didn’t miss a single word. Yeah thats right, I sat in the parking lot of a Burger King for an hour to listen to this thing, just to make sure that the simple action of driving didn’t take any precedence over this amazing story.

 

 

 

Rabbits starts simply enough when the best friend of podcaster Carly Parker  goes missing under mysterious circumstances. Carly recalls her friend (Yamiko Takada) “losing time” while watching a mysterious video and considers that this may be the reason behind her friend’s disappearance. It turns out that the video Yamiko was watching is much more than simply an internet anomaly. Rather, the video is a portal to a exciting worldwide game known as Rabbits, where the rewards are unknown and the consequence for losing can be death.

 

 

 

Right from the beginning I was hooked on this concept. It was new, but not necessarily original. There have been stories about reality games before, and technically these games exist in real life (think LARPing and Geocaching.) Rabbits isn’t about fitting into one of these boxes though, and takes these concepts and turns them on their heads by introducing new aspects to the game. One such aspect that I really enjoy is the tying in of the Rabbits with early video gaming.

Right from the beginning, early video games hold a spot of importance as the vehicle that moves you through the story. At the beginning Carly even explains her and her brother’s obsession with video games, and how they had almost every game system through the 80s and 90s. A lot of the games mentioned like Defender Stargate and Space Ace were titles I had never heard of, but rather than being a turn off  from the podcast, they persuaded me to to do some research into early video gaming which is much more exciting than the traditional pong and tetris that people are used to hearing about. Needless to say, I enjoyed this aspect of the podcast and it has even driven me to get my hands on some older gaming systems in real life.

 

 

 

Beyond the unusual aspects the game focuses on, Rabbits is also a success because of its characters. The reason I like the characterization of figures in the Rabbits universe is because they aren’t tropes like stereotypical story characters are. In the case of Rabbits anybody can be a hero and anybody can be a villain depending on how you look at them. The secondary protagonist (Jones) fits into this category by being a guide through the game but also as an arbiter. He isn’t sitting in the center controlling everything, but he seems to know more than most people when it comes to the game. Equally mysterious, are characters known as The Magician (a tracker of the game) and the elusive billionaire Alan Scarpio (a rumored former winner of Rabbits.) The fact that there is a perspective third enemy in the gray clad Wardens adds another layer to the complex yet pleasing character list.

 

The real stand out concept with Rabbits though is the concept of alternate reality. Rabbits (as a game) seems to be based off an alternate theory hypothesis where contestants enter an alternate universe to play the game only to return to the normal universe later. I say this only as an avid Donnie Darko fan, where Donnie’s universe is a split from the actual universe. Donnie then must solve a puzzle to get the universes to fall back together and well, it’s complicated. Complications aside though, Rabbits feels very similar to this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the creators took some creative liberties from Donnie Darko to form Rabbits. (Side note, if you haven’t watched Donnie Darko, it’s totally worth the watch although I’d listen to Rabbits first.)

The final thing I like about Rabbits is the replay value. I have been able to listen to rabbits again and again, and find something new every time. Things that I wouldn’t really have noticed before (such as mentions of the painting Christina’s World and Dog Lover in Hell, guess which one of those is a real painting) really jump at you upon second listen. It doesn’t matter whether they’re obscure (or made up) paintings, locations or a simple video game reference, Rabbits always has more in store.

 

The first season of Rabbits is out in its entirety now. You can listen online, or on podcasting apps such as Stitcher Radio, Podcast Republic and Apple Podcasts. Do you want to talk about this post? Subscribe to my wordpress or on the Podcast Fanatic twitter (I’ll be posting the web address later) and as usual, stay safe.

 

Rabbits

A Journey Into S-town

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. What about a name though? Can the name of a book foreshadow its quality? For instance, if a book was named S-town would you be intrigued enough to pick it up? For myself and 16 million others, the answer was “yes” and the reward was spectacular.

Despite all the illusion to books, S-town isn’t a book at all. Rather it is a podcast created by This American Life and hosted by Brian Reed. To break it down simply and as to  not give away too many clues about the podcast (although if you haven’t listened to it yet you’re a little late) S-town is a story about John B. McLemore, a murder and a secret life. And while these seem like pretty generic descriptions, there is nothing generic about S-town.

S-town is the kind of podcast that really drags you around in unexpected ways. You know something is wrong from the beginning but you aren’t sure how. The narrator, Brian Reed, begins by describing how difficult it is to fix an antique clock and you’re suddenly whisked away to a small town in Bibb County Alabama to meet John. B. Mclemore; a pessimistic horologist with a dislike for tattoos and a disdain for small town Alabama. According to Brian he is there to investigate a murder, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that the murder is really a secondary plot and bibb county leaves a lot more to be uncovered.

At the beginning John is simply the character driving the narrative. A secondary narrator in his own story that he himself helped facilitate. Soon after however, you realize that the story is about John. B. Mclemore and that he is an anomaly; even in his own little world. Sure each of the characters have their quirks, but even among them, John sits on a different level from the rest of his associates.

First of all John seems to be very intelligent, sometimes to a fault. He is certainly more intelligent that his fellow Alabama citizens and is quick to point that out. While driving around the small town, he talks about trying to convince people that S-town is rotting from the inside out but “The first thing you’d have to convince them of is that the world isn’t 5000 years old.” He is also highly critical of religion, despises climate change critics and is suspicious of wealth despite there being rumors of his having a cache of gold hidden somewhere. Like I said, John isn’t your typical Alabama resident. He is something different; uncatagorizeable and with a staunch refusal to be put in a box.

When it comes to the narrator, Brian Reed seems to take it all in stride as well as any journalist could. Even when John gold plates a dime to remind him of his trip using cyanide, (a deadly gas) he stands by and tries to understand this man who doesn’t seem to fit into any pre existing social circle. He draws many conclusions from his observation, but it isn’t until the climax of the story that John B. Maclemore becomes less of a background voice and more of the central part of the story, that Brian really sees what he’s been looking at the entire time. For the listener and Brian alike, it’s like looking closely at a large painting really close then stepping back to encompass the bigger picture.

Arguably the best part of the podcast is the fact that until I looked it up, I wasn’t sure whether I was listening to a fictional or non fiction story. Sure, This American Life focuses on nonfiction stories, but there were times where the descriptions were so fantastical that I had to figure out what I was listening to. I’m not going to tell you which genre it is simply from the point that I believe Stown is best experienced blind. You’ll actually have to do some research. In the end I think you’ll be happy that I didn’t give it away.

Anyway,  that’s all for me on S-town. Check it out online or on your favorite podcast app then come on back and we can talk about it! I love hearing from you!

M. Taylor

Welcome to Podcast Fanatic

Hello, and welcome to Podcast Fanatic! I started this website to blog about, discuss and recommend my favorite podcasts avalible this very minute.

I have to admit that I was a little late to the podcast game. It wasn’t until I graduated college that I really got into the podcast world and began exploring exciting podcasts like The Black Tapes, Rabbits, Lore and Tannis. That wasn’t what got me into the world of podcasts though, what got me in was a little more…depressing.

I was originally drawn into podcasts when I began to listen to NPR during the 2016 election. (shiver) I would listen to programming every morning on the way to work and on the way back. You could say it was the best part of my day; sitting there in the seat of my old chevy malibu, sipping coffee and listening to commentarty from political commentators. At the time I was glued to anything that came out about election and I followed information like a crack addict searching for a fix. NPR was for the most part, my go to source. It was unbiased, informative and it felt really good to be able to start a sentance with “you know what I heard on NPR this morning?” Soon though, morning NPR wasn’t cutting it. I needed more.

The first app  I downloaded wasn’t a podcasting app at all. Well, it kind of was. It was the NPR One app. Now since I’m a huge NPR fan I hate to rag on NPR products but their app was…substandard. I deleted it in like ten minutes. Then I looked at the cluster that was soundcloud and a couple areas before I discovered Podcast Republic.

Podcast Republic is the main podcast app that I use to listen to my favorite podcasts. I hate to do free advertising but this app deserves it. The layout was so clean, they had all genres of podcasts as well as “hot” lists and my favorite feature, the download button. Now I could listen to my favorite podcasts on the road without a wifi or mobile connection. I even found an NPR podcast that was an hour long so that I could binge between morning shows. Oh I found so much. But I also discovred something else: a lot of people didn’t know about podcasts.

Now I understand being on the the wrong end of pop culture. I never watched The Walking Dead or binge watched Game of Thrones. I never even watched Breaking Bad whch was all the rage for months. I was a pop culture noob. In the absence of the pop culture obscession though I gained another interest. Docudramas. These are stories that sound like radio shows combined with investigative journalism and a thrilling story. (Think if Spotlight was narrorated.) This is where I want to start.  Discussing the best docudrama podcasts. I could start with politics but nobody wants any more political information thrown at them. Instead I want to start with a serial known only as S-town. Ill be releasing my review and insights on it tomorrow night so keep up!

This is where I sign off podcast style:

This is Podcast Fanatic. Keep up.

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