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.
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.
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.
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.