What we learned from Sarah Koenig’s in-depth ‘Serial’ interview

Are you in deep Serial withdrawal right now? Yeah, us too. After all, the incredibly popular podcast just wrapped up last week. Meaning that yesterday was the first Thursday since October (minus Thanksgiving) that there hasn’t been another installment in Sarah Koenig’s exploration into the death of high school student Hae Min Lee and her accused killer and ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed.

But here’s something that might help tide you over until the next season comes along next year: Sarah Koenig did a long interview with Fresh Air host Terry Gross about Serial, and it was pretty fabulous. Here are a few things we learned from the interview — a behind-the-scenes look at the podcast we loved SO much.

1. Koenig was editing the final episode up until the very last minute.

“Julie and I were making changes to the final episode the morning that it ran, like at 1 in the morning, to be released at 6 a.m,” she told Gross. “That was just hard in terms of the workflow of it; [it] was hard on everybody.”

2. Adnan has been reading transcripts of the podcast in jail.

“I don’t know how many transcripts he’s read and I don’t know who is sending them the transcripts, because we’re not, but I think he’s read a bunch of them,” Koenig said.

3. The popularity of the program changed the way that Koenig was reporting.

“At times it made me feel very vulnerable about my reporting or it felt like I had people looking over my shoulder into my notebook before I was ready to tell people what was in my notebook,” Koenig said. “But that’s also what was good. We did that ourselves . . . The great part was that it made us able to be really responsive to new information — and that’s what we wanted.”

4. Ira Glass, who oversaw production of the podcast, wanted Koenig to be able to solve the case by the end.

“I was having a meeting with Julie Snyder, the executive producer, and I think Dana [Chivvis], who is also a producer, and Ira Glass came in, who’s like, our boss, and Julie said, “Ira says he has some ideas about the ending.” We were like, “Oh! Great. Let’s hear it.” He came in and more or less said, “So I think it would be great if you guys, like, solved it.” We were like, “Wait, that‘s your idea? Uh, OK, we’ll do our best.”

5. Koenig and her team worried a lot about the podcast being treated as entertainment instead of reporting.

“Just the larger fact that a public radio podcast would intersect with that world, with that Internet world of armchair sleuthers and people who throw out accusations. Never in our wildest — it’s not the usual combination. It was worrisome. I fretted a lot about it, about this stuff flying around,” Koenig said.

6. At first, Koenig read all the press about Serial, but she stopped after it got too overwhelming.

“I mean, doing this work, you would think that I should be able to get as good as I give, but . . . I take criticism personally, and so that was sometimes hard.”

7. She hopes that Serial hasn’t dredged up painful memories for Syed and Lee’s families.

“I wasn’t — and we weren’t — trying to create problems where there were none,” Koenig said. “Obviously I don’t want anyone to suffer because of the work I’m doing, but I also feel like there’s a strong tradition of doing these kinds of investigative stories. And we weren’t doing anything differently than we would do in any other stories.”

We highly recommend the full listen.

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