As an example of investigative journalism, we are listening to the first season of the podcast Serial.

What we're hoping to explore:

  • What is the process behind investigative journalism and investigative research in general?
  • What are the challenges to telling a story truthfully?
  • How can a writer craft a story to maximize readers' interest?

If you need to listen to an episode you missed in class, please find it here and listen to it.

After you listen to each episode, I'd like you to answer a couple quick questions to reflect on what you heard.

Episode 1 Questions

  1. What are the most intriguing details you've heard in this episode? How did Sarah Koenig frame those details to make them more intriguing to you?
  2. What observations can you make about the process Sarah Koenig undertook as a reporter? Please share a few details that describe the kind of lengths Koenig underwent to investigate this story.
  3. What questions did this episode raise in your mind? How has the telling balanced telling a clear story with building suspense, leaving questions unanswered?
  4. How many sources can you recall Koenig citing (and speaking to) in this episode? In what ways are these various sources important?

Episode 2 Questions

  1. What new information did Sarah Koenig share in this episode that you didn't know earlier? How did this information draw you in further and increase the suspense?
  2. What kinds of sources were key to Koenig's story telling in this episode?
  3. How does Koenig sort through this information she's finding? How does she interpret it?
  4. What are you current reactions to the story--what do you think about Adnan and the case?

Episode 3 Questions

  1. How does Sarah Koenig draw you in as a listener with this episode? What sucks you in this time?
  2. Consider the order in which Keonig releases the details to us. What does her arrangement of details do for us as listeners?
  3. This episode is different from the other episodes. What effect does focusing on this one topic have on the overall story? Does it feel like a tangent? Should she have spent all this time looking into this one thing?

Episode 4 Questions

  1. There is a great deal of specific information involved in this case. How does Sarah Koenig make the various complicated bits of information clear for you?
  2. In news, a reporter hopes to tell a story and still respect that the readers should be forming their own opinions. How well do you think Koenig is respecting you as a listener and allowing you to decide for yourself how to think of these people and the situation. Discuss specific examples of how she is or is not allowing you to form your own ideas.
  3. What are your opinions this point about these two central characters to Serial: Adnan? Jay? Discuss a couple specific details that make you feel the way you do.

Episode 5 Questions

  1. How effective and significant for you is Sarah Koenig's re-enactment of the drives? How does it effect your view of the case? How does it effect your trust in Koenig's investigation and telling of the story?
  2. Consider how many hours of diligent research Koenig would have put into the question about the phone booth at Best Buy. Was it worth it? Of what value is it for a reporter to follow trails of details like this?
  3. How does Koenig make the cell phone discussion bearable to listen to (i.e., not boring) and understandable? Were you able to follow it? Were you able to keep attentive during it?

Episode 6 Questions

  1. Sarah Koenig opens this episode speaking on the phone with Adnan, something she does frequently throughout the show. What effect does speaking with Adnan have on you as a listener? How does Koenig view the information she learns from Adnan?
  2. As a reporter, how does Koenig portray the information she finds here? What is Koenig's responsibility in framing the information in this episode? That is, is she responsible for helping decide how trustworthy this information is?
  3. Koenig and Adnan's conversation at the end deals with the bigger questions of what kind of person could commit this crime and why a person should or should not believe Adnan. Are you interested in these bigger questions? What effect do these bigger questions have on the telling of the story?

Episode 7 Questions

  1. In this episode Koenig brings in experts in law to look at Adnan's case. How does an expert's point of view help a reporter portray the topic more fully?
  2. Share something you learned about court or the legal process from this episode.
  3. What new questions does Diedra open up for us?
  4. In telling a story, a reporter (or any kind of writer) needs to maintain momentum, usually through continual or increasing complexity of conflict. How is Serial maintaining or increasing momentum?

Episode 8 Questions

  1. Describe how your feelings toward Jay swing during this episode. Do you think Sarah Koenig is fair in her representation of Jay here?
  2. Consider again the research Koenig puts into this story. Within the first ten minutes we learn she's contacted all the jurors (though not all wanted to speak to her), she's listened to the entire trial multiple times, and hired a consulting detective to help her interpret the information. Was all this effort necessary? What effect does all this research have on your opinion of Koenig's story?
  3. How is all the background information into Jay's life relevant? How does Koenig keep this information connected to her overall goal of finding the truth of this case?

Episode 9 Questions

  1. This episode begins by confusing the details of the case, throwing us even more off kilter in our sense of what might have happened. What effect does opening the day's story like this have?
  2. Good novelists give readers a sense of place, placing the story inside a real feeling place. In some ways, this episode gives you a sense of place, helping us see what the effects have been of Adnan's conviction. How does this perspective on Adnan's experience affect your sense of this story?
  3. Part of Koenig's (and any reporter's) challenge is balancing the various points of view involved. What are two conflicting points of view that Koenig presents in this episode? How well has she portrayed them?

Episode 10 Questions

  1. Part of this episode introduces us to the strange world of courts. How does Koenig help make this confusing world of law procedures clear enough for the listener to follow? Are you able to follow it?
  2. Koenig introduces another character here, defense attorney Christina Gutierrez. How important is it that Koenig give us a full account of this supporting character for the story?
  3. What is your opinion about Gutierrez? How has knowing about Gutierrez altered your previous opinion about Adnan's conviction?

Episode 11 Questions

  1. Rumors are a touchy aspect of reporting. Notice how Koenig did not tell us what the rumor was she couldn't substantiate. How does Koenig attempt to explore these rumors responsibly? Do you think she does this well?
  2. When reporters explore a story in depth, they have to present it at an angle, which means they have to help the reader grasp what is important about it, why it matters. What do you think Koenig is presenting as the core of this story? What is she exploring about human nature? Why does any of this story matter?
  3. Many reporters organize their stories around questions. They pose a question the information brings up, answer it, and then explore another question. Koenig is organizing her material in this kind of way. What questions did she use to frame this episode? How well does this method work to keep you engaged?

Episode 12 Questions

  1. Before listening, share how you think Sarah Koenig should end this story. If we've heard all the information there is to hear, how can Koenig wrap up the story in a way that is satisfying to her audience?
  2. Endings to stories and essays need to do more than simply rehash previously stated information. They need to address the point and show the reader how they should view the story. How does Koenig do more than restate details? How does she frame her judgment?
  3. What is your judgment? Who is lying? Should Adnan have been locked away? Why do you think the way you do?

Final thoughts

  1. We listened to this because it both showed us a good example of investigative journalism and lent us a view inside the process (what goes into putting all this together). What have you learned about the process of investigative journalism? (Name three things.)
  2. We spent a lot of time listening to this. Was it worth it? Should I do it again for another class? Share your thoughts weighing whether you've learned something valuable enough through listening to justify so much time listening to it.