MDIA2003_19 Tues3.30 (2019)

Women are fuelling their murder obsessions with true crime podcasts

True crime podcasts are surging the world with females’ growing thrive on real crime tales.

By Sze Ching, LAM

We are in the midst of a ‘true crime storm’ that creates on the ground of those miserable criminal cases. The popularity of true crime podcasts like Serial, The Teacher’s Pet and In the Dark, may give you a hint of how nutty is the surge. Maybe it is somewhat surprising to know that the female dominating listenership is at the eye of the storm. According to the survey by ABC News, true crime podcast listeners account for almost half of the total listenership, and two-thirds of them are women who see themselves as an active podcast audience. ABC original true crime podcast series, Unravel: Barrenjoey Road, also recorded a bold woman listenership.

ABC survey indicates the female domination in podcast listening.

If you have a true crime podcast junkie friend who not yet fatigues you by endlessly talking about the phenomenal series, Serial, you should feel free to ask her about it. After the first season of Serial was aired in 2016, this well-loved series soon became a ‘national obsession’. The marvellous true crime writing contributes a lot in constructing this addictive podcast, “I really enjoy the way she tells the whole story, it’s like she visualised the whole situation,” describes passionately by Coco Wang, who grows into a die-hard fan after her friend talks her ear off about the series.

The popularity of Serial later precipitated the re-investigation of 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee and alarmed the public of the unfairness in the legal system. The case is going through a new trial at U.S. Supreme Court after the conviction on Adnan Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend, was vacated under the influence of Serial. As a loyal follower of Serial, Coco is delighted to know the case being resurfaced, but it is more fascinating to see people awakening from the inequality in public system, “it’s a really serious problem, it happened before, and it shouldn’t happen in the future.”

Zooming in the scope on Australia, the first of the kind local produced true crime podcast, Casefile, receives huge recognition among the community all over the world. Having 2.5 million listens over the achieve in the past week, Casefile can be seen as the biggest podcast in the true crime category. But who can imagine this dominating series is starting from scrap as a one-man brand by Mark Saunokonoko, who always has an ingrown desire to launch his podcast after the well-known production of Making of Murderer and Serial. His love of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History lays the ground of Casefile’s inveterate style, “I wondered if there was room for a true crime podcast inspired by the Hardcore History format, using in-depth, factual and respectful storytelling, it all grew from there.”

Casefile provides some picture evidence for their latest episode, Belanglo murder.

The journey is tough. It is overwhelming for Mark to handle everything on his own when he is still struggling in podcast production. “I quickly copped a roasting from listeners about how bad the audio quality was,” Mark comes to realise the awful audio is a big turn off to the audiences that he reaches out to professionals for help in haste. He then has Mike Migas on board, who is the in-house producer of Casefile until these days, they work collaboratively in creating a high-standard quality podcast for his growing listenership. His team expands along with the audiences, more freelance writers join his board for perfecting the quality of narration writing.

The true crime storm continues to sweep the spectacular metropolis, Hong Kong, in another format. Talker: Crime, a Hong Kong produced true crime talk show that always ranks at the top among the programs broadcasted by ViuTV. Different from what you may have tasted about crimes in Hong Kong from the eminent movie, A Better Tomorrow, Talker: Crime discloses the details of those dreadful criminal stories and interviews someone connected with the cases. Natalie Mitchell as a newcomer of hosting true crime program, who are experienced in interviewing Hollywood stars and now hosting for Talker: Crime, attends her first trial at the High Court to familiarize herself with the environment. “I need to view that, I need to know the whole process … I need to know how it works,” her first trial visit is not only an unforgettable experience but makes her realises that criminals are just ordinary men before they committed some wrongdoings, which affirms her to maintain an unbiased stance when the production crew invited the actual murderer on the show later.

It is already terrifying enough for us to only picture sitting next to a murderer, not to mention talking with him. Filming the episode with Peter Shum, the life-sentenced murderer who received parole after years of serving, it is Natalie’s responsibility to act in a professional manner, not seeing him as someone guilty but a normal person, “he is just as same as us now, we can’t look at him like anything different,”. Neither the team and she can be affected by personal emotion in this circumstance. Natalie admits that being fair with an unbiased stance but not losing her style is her toughest task on the show, “we try to do it as from your own kind of touch, but there isn’t a lot that we can act,” she acknowledges that nature of true crime talk show shares no similarity with her past experiences. Considering the factual character of Talker: crime, she cannot add much of her colour in hosting.  

The crew takes picture with Peter Shum (middle left) after filming for the episode.

Yet, dealing with hardcore true crime materials is something suffocating without occasionally distance yourself from it. “As these cases do weigh heavy, it’s vital to take breaks,” Mark genuinely says it is critical for him to switch off from the scene and zone out his mind. Just like the old saying, taking a break is for accomplishing a longer journey. In the journey of producing true crime content, Natalie sees things differently, she sees the other side of society. After the episode of serial prostitute killer, she discerns the ignorance of the society on the weak, “this makes me realized that being a prostitute in Hong Kong is legal but everything around them is illegal, so how do you expect them to live, to have a living?” she questions sincerely.

Spotify, one of the largest streaming platform, just announced their acquisition of Parcast, the podcast studio specializes in crime and mystery content, famed for their signature true crime podcast, Serial Killers. Nowadays go-to TV shows platform, Netflix, features various kind of true crime content. Just in this year, they have launched the true crime documentary, The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, and the TV series, Dirty John, which is a recreation based on the podcast hosted by Christopher Goffard in 2017. Both of the productions receive positive critics and response within their audience community.

So, I think we can be quite sure we cannot see the end of this true crime storm sweeping in the near future, right?

Please see Sze Ching’s piece-to-camera here.