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Sound judgments? How true crime podcasts shape public opinion

Dr Collin Bjork (photo: supplied)

Dr Collin Bjork from Te Kunenga Ki Pūrehuroa Massey University will explore how true crime podcasting encourages us to make judgments, and how this is shaped by public discourse


Published on 2 Whiringa-ā-rangi November 2023

With nearly one billion downloads globally, the skyrocketing popularity of true crime podcasting has sparked intense debate. Some condemn the genre’s perpetuation of racist stereotypes, harmful misrepresentations of Indigenous peoples, and misogynistic narratives. Others celebrate its potential to expose systemic crimes against racial minorities and Indigenous communities, and to advocate for social justice. No matter how you feel about it, this polarising genre clearly has powerful potential for influencing public opinion.

‘Sound Judgments?’ proposes that true crime podcasting can offer new insights into the complex process of making collective judgments in an age of online communication. In this Marsden Fund Fast-Start project, Dr Bjork will survey approximately 1,200 hours of audio from high-profile true crime podcasts produced in “the golden age of podcasting” between 2014 and 2022. This research will delve into famous and popular podcasts including Serial, S-Town, Caliphate, Ear Hustle, In the Dark, 74 Seconds, The Teacher’s Pet, Someone Knows Something, and The Trojan Horse Affair. Dr Bjork will focus on how podcasters use the audio medium to create judgment, and how that judgment is further shaped by public discourse. His findings will be compiled and presented in the form of a book, but also as an innovative, peer-reviewed podcast miniseries.

By recounting real life stories that pass judgment on criminals, victims, and society’s values, the narratives presented in true crime podcasting both strengthen and divide communities. This project will ultimately shed light on the perplexing, yet fundamental civic process of making collective judgments in a digital age.


Dr Collin Bjork (photo: supplied)