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Investigating Our Obsession With True Crime Podcasts

True crime podcasts are incredibly popular. What's behind the obsession?
True crime podcasts are incredibly popular. What's behind the obsession?

Once a niche medium, podcasts have been steadily gaining popularity over the last decade. From “Serial,” to “Pod Save America,” to “Song Exploder,” the 2010s were banner years for digital audio content.

And often at the top of the charts? True crime podcasts. To this day, listeners can’t seem to get enough of the criminal and macabre.

But with such intense subject matter comes important questions about ethics and coverage. Many have pointed out the genre’s problem with whiteness — in the subjects and the storytellers.

Writer Elon Green unpacked the issue in The Appeal:

Think about what it means to have white writers tell the world about crime that, most often, affects Black peopleor that white editors get to choose what crime is worth a book, a feature, a podcast. Think about how this skews some people’s perception of what even constitutes a crime.

It’s hard to overstate how inaccurate and damaging the results and perceptions created by so much whiteness has been. Generations of readers have been led to believe that murder victims most often are women killed by men and that Black serial murderers are rare. Neither assertion is true. According to the FBI, the majority of homicide victims are men killed by other men, and the race of serial murderers is commensurate with the racial makeup of the U.S. as a whole.

Rachelle Hampton. “It very much sets up a neat line between us—people who are not incarcerated—and them, people who are incarcerated.”

How should podcasters cover true crime? And what’s behind the popularity of true crime podcasts?

We talk with 1A senior producer Jonquilyn Hill about the podcast she hosts, “Through The Cracks,” which investigates the disappearance of second-grader Relisha Rudd, and our other guests about those questions.

Eight True Crime Podcasts Recommended By Our Guests

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Michelle Harven