True crime podcasts are a burgeoning genre. As journalists and storytellers, how do we balance the pursuit of justice and our responsibility to the victims with the demand to tell a gripping tale? As listeners, are we using the pain of others for our own entertainment? In the Dark podcast (Seasons 1 and 2) takes us beyond a vicarious fascination with true crime stories into a forensic and essential look at deep-rooted biases, corruption and systemic failures that prevent justice from being served.
The first season (2016) investigates the 1989 kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling In Minnesota. Season 2 (2018-19) investigates the case brought against Curtis Flowers, a black man from Mississippi who has been tried six times for shooting to death four people in a furniture store, and who has, for the last 20 years, been in solitary confinement on death row.
Thorough investigative journalism is an expensive and time-consuming process. For Season I, host Madeleine Baran and her team spent nine months investigating the story. For Season 2, Baran and four team members spent a full year on the ground, actually moving to the small town in Mississippi where the murders occurred. Whilst there is never any guarantee that an in-depth investigation can bring about real change, it is that key element, unfettered time to pursue a story, that may bring results. One producer sifted through thousands of documents going back 26 years, to show that black jurors were six times more likely to be struck from a trial than white jurors.
Stylistically, the spoken word is paramount in the series. The auditory power lies in the voices that we hear – the narrator, the families of the victims, and friends, the witnesses, static recordings of 911 calls – as well as those we don’t hear, the victim who’s been forever silenced. The use of additional sound is discreet – atmospheric recordings and beautifully composed and constructed music around clear, concise and descriptive prose.
In the Dark pushes out the boundaries of true crime podcasting, raising universal questions about accountability in the criminal justice system and the need for systemic reform.