Digital technology has democratised the audio storytelling space in a quite profound way. This article compares two major podcast investigations produced by established Australian newspaper mastheads: Bowraville by The Australian, and Phoebe’s Fall by The Age. Bowraville examines the unsolved murders of three Aboriginal children in the 1990s – all of whom came from the same small town. Phoebe’s Fall investigates the bizarre death in a garbage chute of a luxury Melbourne apartment building of 24-year-old Phoebe Handsjuk and her troubled relationship with her much older boyfriend.
In depicting what have been described as the three essential ingredients of a successful podcast – story, character, voice - these podcasts employ different approaches. Bowraville was structured chronologically, hosted by Dan Box cast as the sleuthing journo in true crime style. As co-hosts of Phoebe’s Fall, Richard Baker and Michael Bachelard deployed conversational banter, with episodes arranged thematically. Importantly, Bowraville had superior access to the main players in the drama and was strongly tethered against place. In contrast Phoebe’s Fall had limited access to the players and was tightly constrained by defamation laws.
For the audio journalist, the interview is partly a performance piece. Audio story telling exists as a series of dramatic events unfolding through compelling characters against a story arc. It has to have the appearance of sweeping simplicity. It needs scene-setting, relevant facts. It has to break across the listener like a good wave.
Partly as a result of Bowraville, legal changes are afoot. Phoebe's Fall left its mark, too. Public pressure has prompted a review of the Victorian Coroner’s Act, examining whether there ought to be more ways of revisiting a coronial finding. There’s never been a better time for long form audio investigative journalism.