The creators of the most listened-to podcast in history will take audience members backstage to explore this new form of modern storytelling, using some of their favorite tape to narrate personal stories about the the creative process, during a live presentation at the Moss Arts Center on May 5, at 7:30 p.m.
Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder, co-creators of the podcasts “Serial” and “S-Town,” will talk “Binge-Worthy Journalism” during the event, which will be held in the Moss Arts Center’s Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall.
The award-winning podcast “Serial” became an internet sensation, downloaded more than 300 million times since it launched in 2014. Koenig and Snyder were colleagues working for the public radio show “This American Life” when they decided to try something new — make a show that does not follow the usual format of a different story every week, but instead covers one story over the course of an entire season.
At the time, smart phone technology was making podcasts more accessible for the public and the on-demand nature of podcast listening meant people could follow a story in a serialized way, following each chapter of the story as it unfolded week by week. The format was appealing to Koenig and Snyder because it meant they could use all the tools of narrative journalism to report an in-depth story that featured twists, turns, tangents, and suspense along the way.
“Serial” tells one story — a true story — over the course of a season, with Koenig serving as host and reporter and Snyder as editor. The first season focused on the death of a high school senior from Baltimore County, Maryland, and her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, who was arrested for her murder and sentenced to life in prison. Koenig sorted through thousands of documents, listened to trial testimony and police interrogations, and talked to everyone she could find who remembered what happened between the couple and discovered that the trial covered up a far more complicated story than the jury — or the public — ever got to hear.
This first season of “Serial” is credited with bringing mainstream attention to the podcast format and has won several awards, including the Edward R. Murrow, duPont-Columbia, and Scripps Howard, as well as the Silver Gavel Award for Media and the Arts. “Serial” won the 2014 Peabody Award, marking the first time the award has been given to a podcast.
Koenig and Snyder released a second season of “Serial” in 2015, which told the story of a U.S. soldier who had been a prisoner of the Taliban for nearly five years before being released.
The duo also teamed up to create “S-Town,” a seven-part nonfiction podcast hosted by Brian Reed, which premiered in March 2017. “S-Town” was downloaded more than 10 million times in the first four days of its release — setting a new record in the podcasting world.
Koenig began her career as a newspaper reporter — her first reporting job was at her weekly hometown paper. She lived in Moscow, Russia, for several years, where she worked for The New York Times. She also did stints as a crime reporter and a political reporter at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire and the Baltimore Sun.
In 2004 she became a producer at “This American Life” and has produced and reported some of the show’s most popular episodes, including “Switched at Birth,” “Dr. Gilmer and Mr. Hyde,” and “Habeas Schmabeas,” a Peabody Award-winning show about Guantanamo Bay. In 2015 Koenig was named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.”
Snyder began working at “This American Life” in 1997 — almost from its inception — and along with host Ira Glass, has set the editorial agenda for the program, winning four Peabody Awards along the way. She has produced many of the program’s most entertaining and memorable episodes and headed some of its most ambitious and topical programs, notably episodes covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care reform, and urban violence in Chicago.
During their visit, Koenig and Snyder will participate in an informal question-and-answer session with Virginia Tech students studying journalism and English.
Tickets for the performance are $25 for general admission and $10 for students and youth 18 and under. Tickets can be purchased online; at the Moss Arts Center’s box office, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; or by calling 540-231-5300 during box office hours.