“Serial” Captures the Art of Oral Story-Telling

Currently, the world of podcasts appears to be a niche interest for some, and that some is not often college students. The widely acclaimed podcast/NPR radio show This American Life recently introduced Serial, a free podcast revolving around the alleged 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee in Baltimore Maryland. Already gracing the iTunes podcast charts as #1, surpassing its own producers, the podcast is wildly successful.

Unlike other podcasts featuring one-hour stories, however, Serial expands one story into a long-form masterpiece, leaving listeners furiously binging on episodes totaling 14-16 hours. This addiction to long-form storytelling could quite possibly revive community interests beyond social media and pop culture amongst college students. Not only are podcasts great for college students, but storytelling podcasts are even better as they bring a new, invigorating and shared community interest.

Stories were originally shared by word of mouth but as the printed word came into popularity and print technology become more accessible, the oral form dwindled, only to be revived by the radio. This has carried into today with books on CD, public radio shows and podcasts. However, a lot of this culture, for some reason, seems to get lost in the college campuses. Why is this exactly, and how can story podcasts find their way into these campuses?

Our brains have slowly diminished in long-term attention capabilities due to the instant gratification of social media. Podcasts require time and much longer attention to fully enjoy. Long-form podcasts like Serial, seem to challenge listeners even further to truly appreciate a good, long story. If students listened to podcasts like this, concentration capabilities could possibly be strengthened. We’d might be able to get fully enveloped in the moment of a story without the desire to check our Facebooks or Instagram accounts. As an avid public radio and Serial podcast junkie, I find it very hard to do anything else when I listen to these shows; I have to put all other devices aside and simply listen. I find that I am definitely a better auditory learner than I was before. Who else would love that skill during lectures in class? Story podcasts offer a mentally engaging challenge and opportunity to bring back the original spoken nature of these stories.

In addition, podcasts bring a new and exciting general interest to campus. Although television is, without a doubt, a sure fire way to bring extremely different people together, I feel that long-form podcasts can continue discussion and bring people together in a similar format. Serial in particular allows people to binge-watch and discuss so easily because of it’s  accessibility! This American Life released a good handful of episodes for free, and discussions around me, “Have you listened to that podcast Serial yet?” And boom: either yes and people talked of how great it is to listen to a podcast told week by week, or no, and one highly encouraged the other to check it out. Either way, people sparked discussion, and I feel that podcast stories can do the exact same thing, and create a positive, engaging set of discussions in a college environment.

The Serial podcast could become a way to bring back the original idea of storytelling to the college campus demographic. Hopefully it will challenge us as we struggle to retain attention in a world of instant gratification. May the long-form podcasts continue to thrive!


Katrina Yentch is a 4th year literary journalism major. She can be reached at kyentch@uci.edu.