Sarah Koenig is not new to the public radio scene — the journalist joined NPR’s This American Life back in 2004, and she holds multiple awards for her work including a Peabody award and the Women’s Press Club of New York award.
But suddenly, the 45-year-old is in the spotlight as host and Executive Producer of the Serial podcast, which has people all over the world wondering…who did it?
Serial is a podcast that shares the story of a nonfiction criminal case — the murder of an 18-year-old Baltimore student, and the investigation into her ex-boyfriend. With new episodes released each week, Koenig narrates the program, leading listeners through her investigation, conversations with key characters and even her own journey toward what she hopes is the truth.
The podcast ranked #1 on iTunes before it even officially launched, and while Season 1 has concluded, Koenig is working on a second season.
In an interview with Nieman Storyboard, Koenig talked about the power of storytelling, and why she thinks this project has become so popular:
The popularity of this podcast, I was unprepared for. I think a lot of that is the fact that it’s a crime. It’s a murder case. I had not banked on that’s what people are responding to. It’s not our great idea and our wonderful storytelling; it’s just that people can’t resist a murder mystery. I really did not appreciate that until now. I’m afraid there probably is some of that out there, where it’s just a caper. And that’s fine. I think that’s not our interest, though. That’s not our intention. I think our intention is more complicated and probably more subtle, and maybe too subtle.
It’s funny because I keep thinking for all these people who are like, “Does she know the ending? What’s the ending? How’s it going to end?” To me, when I’m watching “House of Cards” or “Downton Abbey,” or whatever it is, I don’t want to know the ending. To me, the pleasure is in the story, right? So I’m always a little bit like, “Wait, don’t you guys just want to stick with me? Why are you trying to get ahead of the story? Isn’t the pleasure in having it lay out? To me, that’s what I like. So I don’t relate, honestly, so much. I really don’t. I’m sad when it gets to the end of those series. I just want it to keep going.
Before spinning Serial off from This American Life, Koenig was a political reporter at the Baltimore Sun, and also worked at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire. She also lived in Russia for three years, working first for ABC News and The New York Times. Koenig is married with two kids and seems to come by her storytelling skills naturally — her father Julian Koenig is a well-known advertising copywriter and her stepfather Peter Matthiessen was, among many things, an author and CIA agent.
And her mother, Maria Matthiessen, joined Koenig on a special episode of This American Life.
What’s next for Koenig? Stay tuned! We will be…