Today’s podcast is a conversation with longtime members of the team at This American Life and co-creators of the podcast series Serial – Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder.

The conversation was recorded as part of a series of classes that I taught at The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Each week I would host an artist for a discussion that would help us better understand their values and aims as storytellers in the world of crime and justice. In addition to discussing the works and artists who shaped their creative thinking, we zeroed in on one particular piece of their work. 

With today’s guests, we chose season three of Serial… a deep dive into the criminal justice system in and around Cleveland Ohio. As I started listening to this season, I became obsessed with it, and worked very hard to secure an interview with Sarah and Julie. They joined the final class of the semester… and only then by Google Hangout. (That’s why their voices sound a bit filtered.) 

Why did I care so much about interviewing them? 

Well, allow me to quote something that Sarah says about 5 minutes into episode 1 of Season 3. “Our first season was about a murder case in Baltimore. Ever since that story aired, people ask: ‘What does this case tell us about the criminal justice system?’ I don’t think we can understand how the criminal justice system works by interrogating one extraordinary case.  Ordinary cases are where we’d need to look… for at least a year.”  

This struck me as a profound insight into the nature of crime and justice storytelling, and has been very influential in my own understanding of how you get at truth in telling stories about today’s American system of justice. And that is why I sought out Sarah and Julie… for an opportunity to dig deeper into the insights that they gleaned from reporting season three. So without further ado, here is that conversation.