In case you have been living under a rock for the past year and a half, Sara Koenig is responsible for the creation, production and presentation of the hit podcast Serial, which encapsulated audiences with Koenig’s brilliant narration and engaging style. Combining off-hand humour with in-depth and concentrated investigation, Koenig weaves a story whilst courageously bringing the American government to task for its failures and mistakes which it so desperately attempts to cover up. Alas, they did not count on the eagle eye and sharp tongue of Sarah Koenig.
In taking small-time case studies, such as the relatively unreported murder of Hae Min Lee in 1999 which occupied Series 1, Koenig highlights gaping flaws in the American justice system in so subtle a manner that you could miss the details if you fail to consider them. Upon first listen, the podcast seems like a glorified Miss Marple: female investigator, murder of a young woman, boyfriend thrown in jail, blah. But in Koenig’s hand, this case becomes metonymic of the larger failings of the American justice system; she reveals the police’s failure to investigate properly, their assumptions about Hae’s boyfriend Adnan that led to his imprisonment without full justification, and, most worryingly, the justice system’s failure to act upon the maxim of democracy, ‘innocent until proven guilty’.
In Series 2, Koenig delivers a far more direct jab at the Land of the Free, this time aiming her devilishly sharp wit at the U.S. military by examining the case of Bowe Bergdahl, a military deserter in Afghanistan. Koenig, a sole woman in a sea of men, single-handedly battles huge institutions: the Taliban, the Department of Defence, and the CIA all fall under her critical eye.
Koenig co-creates, produces, writes and researches Serial. She is a walking wonder woman. Her creation was the first podcast ever, in the decade since podcasting became a thing, to be downloaded a million times. She found a way to personally contact the Taliban – yes, the Taliban – for an interview. She has, in every sense of the phrase, made it big time. This is even more significant given that there are so few women in journalism who are as high-profile as Koenig. She is making waves for herself, for political broadcasting, and most importantly, for women.
Sarah Koenig brings a freshness and effervescence to journalism that is much needed in this modern age of digital technology, which has depersonalised our contact with each other to such an extent that people would now gladly spend more money on phones than food. It was not the intriguing plotline of Serial that endeared it to global audiences, nor the frequent plot twists that kept us on the edge of our seat: it was Koenig herself, bringing a shining humanity to the dull grey-faced, grey-suited, grey-tied world of political journalism.
Words by Jemima Skala
Art by Zia Larty-Harty