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True Crime and Through the Cracks
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Episode 40
True Crime and Through the Cracks
True crime podcasts are some of the most popular and profitable shows being made, despite (or perhaps because of) its occasional ethical queasiness. This week: a roundtable discussion with Crime Writers On…’s Rebecca Lavoie and WAMU’s Jonquilyn Hill about the appeal, pitfalls, and opportunities of the genre. They also talk about Hill’s new project, Through the Cracks, which both draws from — and challenges — the fundamental true crime mechanics.

True crime podcasts are some of the most popular and profitable shows being made, despite (or perhaps because of) its occasional ethical queasiness. This week: a roundtable discussion with Crime Writers On…’s Rebecca Lavoie and WAMU’s Jonquilyn Hill about the appeal, pitfalls, and opportunities of the genre. They also talk about Hill’s new project, Through the Cracks, which both draws from — and challenges — the fundamental true crime mechanics.

This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Servant of Pod “True Crime and Through the Cracks” Episode 37

Fri, 5/28 2:55PM • 30:22

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

crime, true, podcast, people, laughter, genre, serial, story, women, producer, question, episode, murder, happened, person, rebecca, criminal justice system, media, reporters, watch

SPEAKERS

Connie Britton, Unknown, Keith Morrison, Karen Kilgariff, Nick Quah, Jonquilyn Hill, Georgia Hardstark, Rebecca Lavoie

Nick Quah 00:00

They come as corporate productions.

===Excerpt: Dateline NBC Podcast, Episode “The Mystery at Ascot Estates"===

Keith Morrison 00:03

It seemed to be a simple case of a robbery gone horribly wrong.

======

Nick Quah 00:07

They come as indie productions.

===Excerpt: Morbid: A True Crime Podcast, Episode “The Tragic Story of Cinnamon Brown”===

Unknown 00:09

And that's what Cinnamon Brown thought was gonna happen after she killed her stepmom

Linda Brown. But that's not what happened.

======

Nick Quah 00:15

They're hosted by pairs of women…

===Excerpt: My Favorite Murder, Unknown Episode===

Karen Kilgariff 00:17

That's Georgia Hardstark.

Georgia Hardstark 00:19

That's Karen Kilgariff.

Karen Kilgariff 00:20

We're here to tell you a couple things.

Georgia Hardstark 00:23

Yeah. For example...

Karen Kilgariff 00:24

And then we'll get out of your hair. [Laughter]

======

Nick Quah 00:25

...and men.

===Excerpt: Unknown Podcast===

Unknown 00:26

December 4 2006.

Unknown 00:28

He was alive. That means something happened between December 4 and December 5 of 2006.

======

Nick Quah 00:35

They've even crossed over into television.

===Excerpt: Dirty John, Bravo TV Series Trailer===

Unknown 00:38

John?

Unknown 00:39

John?

Unknown 00:39

Dirty John.

Connie Britton 00:41

Why are you doing this?

======

Nick Quah 00:45

They're some of the most popular--and profitable--podcasts being made. Yep, we're talking about true crime. From LAist Studios, this is Servant of Pod. I'm Nick Quah. This week: expert Rebecca Lavoie and podcast host and producer Jonquilyn Hill on why we love to hate true crime.

Nick Quah 01:29

Jonquilyn Hill, Rebecca Lavoie, thank you both so much for joining me. I'm eager to have this conversation as a person who is intellectually interested in true crime stuff, but who has kind of a hard time sitting with it. So first, let's talk about your personal relationship to the true crime genre. Jonquilyn, let's start with you.

Jonquilyn Hill 01:49

Oh, man, I feel like it started like a lot of kids did, where you watched a lot of Law & Order: SVU with your parents and your favorite episodes were the "ripped from the headlines" ones. So yeah. I think, now, if a show is more about the policing than the victims, it makes me a little squirmy, and I'm more likely to not watch it than things that focus squarely on the victims of crimes. So that has been a thing that has changed for me.

Nick Quah 02:19

So when you say policing, as in like the investigation part of it, like suspect basis would be kind of the...

Jonquilyn Hill 02:24

Yeah, yeah, I'm more likely to be drawn to a story if I'm hearing it from the perspective of, say, a journalist who covered it, or the person who experienced it, just because learning about different policing techniques, knowing that... and you know, I'm a Black woman, knowing the relationship that policing can have with the Black community, I get a little more squirmy now. And I find myself asking questions that kind of distract from the story itself. Because I wonder like, how do we go about this? Like, how is this framed? Oh, an interrogation. This person made the decision not to ask for a lawyer. Do they not know that they could ask for a lawyer? So that sort of stuff sticks with my head more. And then when it comes to podcasting?

Nick Quah 02:24

Yeah.

Jonquilyn Hill 02:25

I have always been a big This American Life fan, listened to it on the radio. It was the first podcast I ever downloaded. So I was familiar with Sarah Koenig. And I remember, they played an old episode that she produced and said, like, "Oh, she has an upcoming podcast." I'm like, "Oh, interesting." So I knew about Serial before a lot of other people knew about it. I'm not trying to sound like a podcast, true crime hipster.

Nick Quah 03:34

You caught it on the way up, you caught it on the way up. [Laughter]

Jonquilyn Hill 03:38

And the next thing I knew I had co-workers--I was working in television at the time--who were like, "I binged this podcast called Serial!" And I think Serial really changed the game, both for podcasting and true crime podcasting.

Nick Quah 03:51

How about you, Rebecca? Because for you this is like a biographical question, right?

Rebecca Lavoie 03:55

I've been thinking about this a lot, because I get asked this question a lot. And I think my old answers were unintentionally dishonest and kind of lame. So I'm gonna give you the honest answer now. I was a child of the 80s. I lived through a lot of serial killers. A lot of child abduction, like sensational child abduction cases. And really, the threat of being kidnapped or murdered was real for me in my childhood. I think, for a lot of people my age, I mean, really, it guided so much of the type of scary messaging we got from adults. I think that's sort of where it was seeded. In the early 90s there was an incredible two-part scripted show about John Wayne Gacy, starring Brian Dennehy, called To Catch a Killer. And I remember watching that and being like, "Oh, I'm really into this." So I think it goes way, way, way back. Of course, then I ended up co-authoring a bunch of true crime books with my now-husband, Kevin, who was a former reporter. He was reporting a story in that genre, and then we just got a contract and had to sort of keep doing it. But, going along with what Jonquilyn said, in addition to Serial, before that, I worked in public radio starting in 2010. I never, ever talked about my true crime reporting or writing at work, because there was this fine hard line between real journalism, and quality quotes, and true crime reporting. And it was kind of like embarrassing to me. And I remember people at work sort of denigrating it a little bit. And then when Criminal came out, which was like, I think 10 months or so before Serial...

Nick Quah 05:26

Criminal, the Radiotopia show by Lauren Spohrer and Phoebe Judge.

Rebecca Lavoie 05:30

Yes. And Eric Mennel was an original producer on it as well. When that show came out, I was like, "Oh my God, public radio has finally gotten on board with this thing that is actually a thing that everybody is interested in, but nobody wants to admit it." I got on the show Criminal, I pitched them hard, and my husband and I ended up on an early episode of Criminal. And that was it. And then of course, Serial, and my podcast, Crime Writers On, launched as a review show about Serial. So that's kind of all those threads come together.

Nick Quah 06:00

Jonquilyn, as a fan of the genre, have you ever felt that embarrassment that Rebecca is talking about?

Jonquilyn Hill 06:05

So my embarrassment is kind of twofold. Because, one, true crime is something that's considered trashy by a lot of people. Like, I will watch the documentary about a serial killer in a heartbeat, Mindhunter in a heartbeat...

Nick Quah 06:20

Good show, good show.

Jonquilyn Hill 06:20

I think, also--we don't think of these as true crime, but--I love shows about cults and that kind of thing. And then the other side of embarrassment. For me, it's just sort of like, ooh, how do I feel about the fact that our criminal justice system is so flawed? And I'm finding like, quote-unquote “entertainment” in it? Like, those are two things that I'm constantly battling within myself, despite the fact that if you turn on my TV right now, it will be on Investigation Discovery? [Laughter]

Rebecca Lavoie 06:52

But don't you think... Jonquilyn, don't you think that Serial, like the biggest thing it accomplished was shifting the conversation to a conversation about potential wrongful convictions?

Jonquilyn Hill 07:01

Oh, yes.

Rebecca Lavoie 07:02

You know, that sort of happened. I mean, there's so many podcasts out there about people who shouldn't be in prison, about people who were screwed by the police. I don't think any of that content would exist, either on TV, or Netflix, or in the podcast space, without Serial being such a juggernaut.

Jonquilyn Hill 07:18

Oh, for sure. I think maybe the way we think about true crime is different now. Like we look at wrongful convictions, we look at different kinds of victims of the criminal justice system. And I think that's really important. I also think, like, I considered the first season of... oh, my gosh, I'm forgetting it. It was the podcast about pyramid schemes.

Rebecca Lavoie 07:44

The Dream.

Jonquilyn Hill 07:45

The Dream! I think of the first season of The Dream as a true crime podcast.

Rebecca Lavoie 07:48

Same.

Nick Quah 07:49

Well, it is literally true and a crime, right? Like, I feel that the association of true crime only being about murder is kind of a misnomer, a little bit.

Rebecca Lavoie 07:56

Yeah, agreed. I mean, a lot of the podcasts that are coming out now that are really, really strong are about cons, and about other ways that people have fleeced people. And of course, also people just doing things to other people that you can call a criminal that don't have to involve, you know, blood, and murder, and all that stuff.

Nick Quah 08:13

So, Jonquilyn, why do you think we're so interested in true crime as entertainment?

Jonquilyn Hill 08:19

I think that the appeal for true crime, it does the same thing that anxiety does for you, but in a way that is less upsetting for yourself. And that, you know, it's like, "Ooh, how can I prepare for the worst-case scenario?"

Nick Quah 08:38

As an Asian person, I know this intimately.

Jonquilyn Hill 08:41

And so I think it's a mixture of things. It's, you know, like, I'm a kid of the 90s. And so we had helicopter parents who were also like, "Stranger danger! You will get snatched! Do not make eye contact with a person you don't know!" And of course, you know, that, like a lot of crimes against--not just children, but crimes in general--they happen within your community, they're someone you know, but it was just this thing of like, "Do not get kidnapped. This is the way that you like, can release yourself from the trunk of a car, like use a zip tie to like, release yourself."

Nick Quah 09:11

Yeah.

Jonquilyn Hill 09:11

So I think, particularly for women, it's this thing of like, "Okay, what can I learn to keep myself from being a victim of the crime?" And then I think, especially as a person of color, and a Black person in particular, looking at the ways the criminal justice system has failed? And it's like, "Ooh, how can I keep that from happening to me or a loved one?"

Nick Quah 09:31

Oh, so it's like a... it's self-sufficiency in the face of a failed state, basically, right? You can't depend on these people to help you, so you got to help yourself.

Jonquilyn Hill 09:40

Yes. I think it's like, these are these different ways that we try to look at the genre and keep these things from happening to ourselves or people we know.

Nick Quah 09:49

Hmm.

Rebecca Lavoie 09:50

I have a follow-up on that. Because one of the things that--and I'm not disagreeing with anything you said, Jonquilyn--because that is like... And I think a lot of people feel the way you feel and I've, as somebody who is asked this question all the time, I've never thought to ask, why do we care about true crime as entertainment? I mean, it's like, there's just this acceptance of everything as entertainment. But when you talk about crime as entertainment, it takes on a special kind of guilt. Although if it weren't entertaining, nobody would watch it or listen to it. So I don't think that's necessarily like a terrible word to use around that. I mean, I share a lot of Jonquilyn's misgivings about cop stuff, having written four books in an era where publishers would only accept a book if there was a hero cop in it, like I now would write those extremely differently. And even Serial failed in this way. Serial didn't think it was telling a wrongful conviction story, because they just took the police at their word for much of the podcast. But I do like that we're at least even thinking about it. I mean, to me, that's huge amount of progress.

Jonquilyn Hill 10:52

Yeah. And I think part of the reason maybe that is their hesitancy of like, feeling bad, true crime is a genre that women like, and when women like things...

Rebecca Lavoie 11:02

Yes!

Jonquilyn Hill 11:03

...we demonize them. I love Real Housewives of Potomac. And everyone's like...

Rebecca Lavoie 11:07

Same.

Nick Quah 11:07

Big fan, big fan.

Jonquilyn Hill 11:09

"...Garbage!" Like, is it because women like it? Probably. That's usually majorly a factor. That's likely a factor. [Laughter]

Nick Quah 11:16

Big fan of Salt Lake City right here.

Jonquilyn Hill 11:19

Ooh, man. Last season.

Nick Quah 11:20

Yeah, that's... Let's leave that for after the show. So, okay, Rebecca, there's a bit of like a historical arc here that you seem to be sketching out here. So how would you characterize the difference of how we think about your career right now, not just podcasts, but like, in general, because I think it's not lost on me that a lot of really sort of meaty Netflix phenomenons are at least variations on the true crime genre. Tiger King, I guess, is also like a variation on the true crime genre.

Rebecca Lavoie 11:48

Yes.

Nick Quah 11:48

How would you sort of like, having sort of been a publisher of these books--or an author of these books--over a stretch of time, how has it changed?

Rebecca Lavoie 11:57

Well, I think the reason why those things, I think, can be called true crime, even if they aren't technically, but they certainly were born of it, is because of the structure of stories. You have somebody who thought to do something bad, and there's a lot to unpack there, about how they got there, then they did the bad thing, and there's a lot to unpack there. And then there is an investigation with twists and turns, and then there's, you know, maybe justice at the end. So it's a real arc, like an operatic arc. And the thing that that I think Serial really did, and like other really great true crime podcasts have done, not that I'm saying there are thousands of great ones, because there certainly aren't, is that idea of, "I cannot wait for the next chapter." Right? So that is like the story structure that I think a lot of storytellers in audio have adopted directly from true crime storytelling. But I also think that, you know, in the long, sordid history of true crime, which has been forever, it has been a strong divide between the male quote, "literary true crime" writers and reporters, like Truman Capote, or really anybody who wrote an article about any kind of crime.

Nick Quah 13:03

Yeah, any sort of New Yorker feature that's about somebody dead. Yeah, yeah.

Rebecca Lavoie 13:06

Yep, it was all men. And then you had, when women did it, they were relegated to paperbacks in airport bookstores--Ann Rule would be a good example of that, that sort of juggernaut... I mean, she owned the true crime book brand for decades, and it was firmly marketed as trash. So I mean, I think there really is something there. It's sort of the gendered stuff. And you know, I think the reason why, perhaps, women like it so much is because it's like the cycle now. We've been told, like, this is a woman's thing. All the advertisers in every true crime podcast are all like, directed toward women. So that's something that I think about a lot for sure. But I do think it is the storytelling, the richness of the story, and the epic and operatic nature of the story that is what makes it appealing, and is what makes other kinds of writing now, basically borrowing from the genre.

Nick Quah 13:57

Jonquilyn, do you agree?

Jonquilyn Hill 13:58

Oh, for sure. I think that's definitely it. You know, I think of all of the like GQ articles that are like deep dives on crimes, and how it's like, "What a great piece of journalism. Wow." [Laughter] And it is! They are great pieces of journalism, but when it's marketed to women, are we getting that? For a long time we didn't get those same articles in say, like, a Cosmo. Why is that? Especially when this is a genre that appeals to women so much.

Nick Quah 14:29

Okay, so, here's part of my uncomfortable relationship with true crime: it feels weird to enjoy a show that commoditizes this, you know? I'm thinking about those shows that just plow through different stories about murder. Like if you cobbled together, you know, it's kind of what I think about when I hear true crime was at a time, which is unfair. Because when I think about all the other kinds of stories that true crime encompasses, I realized that I'd been a big consumer of those shows. Do you think this is a branding problem for the genre in some way?

Rebecca Lavoie 14:57

I think a lot of it comes down to--and I'm sorry, Nick, please take this with a loving intention, which I mean it...

Nick Quah 15:03

Please stab me in the face.

Rebecca Lavoie 15:04

A lot of it comes to being precious, and snobbery in media, generally speaking.

Nick Quah 15:07

Let's go! Let's go!

Rebecca Lavoie 15:08

I mean, there... [Laughter] There are a million basic cable channels and many of them have shows on them that you just confessed to loving, right? Podcasts are no different, right? There are some very thoughtful, highly journalistic, deeply reported, I call "public radio style”, of podcasts that a lot of us in the industry like to think are the only things that count as, quote, "real podcasts," right? There are 500,000 other podcasts that like you might look at--even not in the true crime genre--but you're like, "That's not a real podcast. That's not a real podcast." But what that really comes down to is, you know, maybe it's not for you. But also we, as media folks, have kind of decided that there's a hierarchy and class structure within audio storytelling the same way we did when there were books in the same way we did around magazine articles. And I think that's what it points to. But I do think, in terms of the branding, certainly the sort of glut of true crime podcasts being made by amateurs reading articles, all of that kind of stuff, hasn't helped. But it's in its infancy. I mean, a lot of things started this way, with a lot of people trying it out and failing, and a lot of people trying it out and just doing okay, but I really do think that there's sort of a classist media thing there that is not new.

Nick Quah 15:57

After the break: the gold standards of true crime media.

Nick Quah 16:52

So, Jonquilyn, you're now a true crime podcast host of your show Through The Cracks. Could you tell me more about it?

Jonquilyn Hill 16:58

Through The Cracks is a podcast about the gaps in our society and the people who fall through them, so, looking at the systemic inequities, the things that were put in place to keep them from happening, and how they have not necessarily worked the way they're supposed to. The first season tells the story of Relisha Rudd, who is an eight-year-old girl who disappeared from a homeless shelter in DC and was missing for 18 days before anyone realized something was wrong. And it looks at her family, it looks at the social services that touched her life, because there were quite a few. It also gets into things like eviction, the state of the shelter, how the person who she was seen in the care of last, who was a janitor at the shelter, came into her life and sort of got her family to trust him. So it looks at all these different systems. And the way I explain it is that it's less of a whodunit but a "howdunit." It's asking the question, "How could something like this have happened?"

Nick Quah 17:57

And your show does all the things you were talking about that you value in good true crime media. It's victim-focused, but you're also drilling down on how the systems in place failed Relisha. When you sat down to map out the story, how did you think of it fitting into the bigger true crime genre? Did you kind of have to like work against those common tropes?

Jonquilyn Hill 18:17

Yeah, so I knew from the very beginning that this was a true crime podcast, because, you know, I consider In The Dark a true crime podcast, and that's like some real deep investigative stuff. Or Missing and Murdered from the CBC I consider true crime, and that was another story highlighting crimes that happen to women and girls of color. When we were sitting down to think of structure and all these things, I was very nervous, because there were so many tropes that I was afraid of falling into, especially with Relisha's story. Like, there was one instance where we were sitting down and we were like, "Okay, what are podcast shows, books that you think of that you want to be, and that you don't want to be?" And one thing that I didn't want to be... I don't know if you guys ever listened to A Very Fatal Murder from The Onion?

Nick Quah 19:06

Oh, yeah. [Laughter]

Rebecca Lavoie 19:06

Yeah.

Jonquilyn Hill 19:07

And I was like, "Please don't be..." I mean, and it's, you know, a parody, but I was like, "Please don't be A Very Fatal Murder. Please do not be A Very Fatal Murder." [Laughter] Like that was something that was always in the back of my head.

Nick Quah 19:18

Did you encounter what Rebecca was saying, about this sort of like snobbishness around the station? Not that not to put you on the spot, but like, I'm curious as to what the dynamic was.

Jonquilyn Hill 19:27

I mean, I think it was the first like... This is the first investigative podcast we've done, period, so while there may have been some of that, I think it was just the fact that it's so new. And we're all novices. Like, this is the first time I've done a big investigative project, every single producer with a hand in it, it's the first time we've done this. So there was... I think we were too paralyzed by our own fear of inadequacy to get snobby about it. [Laughter] So I think that's where we landed on that.

Nick Quah 19:58

Rebecca, have you heard the show?

Rebecca Lavoie 20:00

I have heard the show. In fact, I think it's great. You're lucky that you are too busy to... We definitely experienced that when we were making Bear Brook at NHPR. Like the reflex of Jason Moon and Taylor Quimby, who did most of the production on it to say, "This isn't a true crime podcast," I'm like, "Stop saying that! That's what's gonna make it successful! What is the matter with you?" [Laughter] But yeah, there's definitely that that's the thing. But no, I think the work you're doing is great, and I am surprised to hear that this is the first investigative narrative thing that you've done, because it doesn't sound like it.

Jonquilyn Hill 20:31

Oh, thanks. That means a lot. I say this all the time, and my colleagues will be like, "It's not a risk!" But I just know... I mean, like, I'm pretty upfront when it comes to talking about race, and gender, and these things, and not a lot of true crime podcast hosts look like me, specifically at legacy media organizations. And also, when I'm not doing this, I'm a producer for 1A, I'm not typically like out in the field reporting. They are skills I have because of previous jobs I've had, but it is not lost on me that you get a high reward when you take a high risk, and people aren't taking that many high risks on Black women public radio producers, because one, there's five of us. And then like they have us stay in a particular lane. So none of that is lost on me.

Nick Quah 21:16

What do you think is like the gold standard, North Star true crime podcast that you want your show, and other podcasts, to aspire to be?

Jonquilyn Hill 21:24

Hmm, I would say... I would say In The Dark. In The Dark, is, you know, like, first season, second season, out of this world. I remember my friend told me... and you know, I'm like, I'm carving my own lane. I'm doing my own thing. But she was like, "This is like a Black In The Dark!" And I'm like, "That's actually a really great compliment. I will take it." [Laughter]

Rebecca Lavoie 21:50

That's your logline!

Jonquilyn Hill 21:51

Yeah! [Laughter] "The Black In The Dark!"

Nick Quah 21:54

What about you, Rebecca?

Rebecca Lavoie 21:57

Well, In The Dark, season two, honestly, is the best example. Because...

Nick Quah 22:00

We probably have to put a moratorium on In The Dark. [Laughter]

Rebecca Lavoie 22:03

Well, no. No. Well, here's why. Okay, so they overcome a lot of obstacles in making you buy into that story. The first huge one is that it's a bunch of white people who came from Minnesota down to Mississippi, and my first question, when I heard the very first episode, is why are they telling this story? Right? They overcame that in four minutes, when they told me that they all moved there, and had been living there for a year, and had completely immersed themselves in the community, and really struggled to understand what made the community run. That is a huge barrier to overcome, because the thing that I usually look for when I'm looking for a really great show, or what makes a great show, is, why is this person telling the story, because that matters in audio more than it matters in any other medium, because that person's in your ear, they're your guide. And In The Dark, the team came at it with such a strong journalistic point of view, where they were so transparent about the fact that this was journalism, not advocacy. And like, as a listener, I bought that, I bought everything that they put in because they showed us all their work. So that is the standard for me.

Nick Quah 23:07

What about outside of podcasts? What is your gold standard of true crime media in general?

Rebecca Lavoie 23:13

My real North Star for true crime media, period, is the original first episodes of the documentary The Staircase, which I thought is the Citizen Kane of true crime.

Jonquilyn Hill 23:25

That is an excellent choice.

Rebecca Lavoie 23:27

But the reason that is so fantastic is that, as a viewer, in those first episodes, the first series--second series kind of goes off the rails--you are completely immersed in the defense, they also interview the prosecution. And at the end of every episode, I remember at end of Episode One being like "he did it," and in Episode Two being like, "no way he did it," Episode Three, "he did it." The viewer is taken along sort of the doubt journey that the jury should have been taken along, but wasn't because of all the failures in that court. But I just think it's spectacular in almost every way, because it's immersive, it makes you care about people you shouldn't care about and it makes you wonder all the time whether or not this guy did it. And that's that's really suspenseful.

Nick Quah 24:07

Jonquilyn?

Jonquilyn Hill 24:08

Okay. Do I have to pick just one?

Nick Quah 24:10

Yeah, let's go with two. Let's go with two.

Jonquilyn Hill 24:12

Okay, we're gonna go with two. Um, I would say, even though there are some things and it's been a while since I watched it, I would say, I think The Jinx, from HBO, was done exceptionally well. And then impact-wise, I would say Surviving R. Kelly. I think that was done very well. It's a very upsetting watch, but I think it just opened eyes for a lot of people, and it started a conversation about something that had been whispered, been an open secret. Like, we know this has happened and it was like, okay, we're gonna tell you to the extent that this has happened.

Nick Quah 24:48

I'm glad you brought up the impact part of this, because I think there's like this subgenre of true crime shows whose purpose is to affect the outcomes in these cases. What kind of impact do you want a true crime show to have on you? And then maybe like, on a larger scale?

Rebecca Lavoie 25:03

You know, I want to learn something that surprises me. One of the reasons why I love The Staircase so much is because it brought a lot of that stuff to light insofar as that it did something about sort of underground hookup culture, it did something about blood spatter evidence being B.S., and how evidence labs are, you know, really in bed with the prosecution and are not working for the defense, and it also just sort of looked at how a defense works when you have money, and in all these other stories we see like how it works when you have no resources. So I asked questions, I found myself really like wanting to get to know the lawyer a little bit better and wanting... So, to me, that's what makes it work. I mean, there are advocacy podcasts that have had a huge impact. I mean, the best example of that is Undisclosed.

Nick Quah 25:50

Undisclosed, yeah.

Rebecca Lavoie 25:51

Full disclosure, I do work with that team. But there are three lawyers specifically doing advocacy in their own very, very detailed--boring for me, but it's very popular--way. And they've helped get 10 people out of prison. I mean, how can you say that that's not good. Even if you don't like listening to it, it is doing something that is real.

Nick Quah 26:12

What about you, Jonquilyn? What impact do you hope to have with Through The Cracks?

Jonquilyn Hill 26:16

I would say just like the learning aspect, I think, and I think that's what I want people to take away from Through The Cracks. I want them to come away having learned something, even, you know, especially if you do not live in DC, learning about how does the fact that DC is not a state impact our homelessness services, or even saying, "Hey, Black girls tend not to be cared for? Are there any Black girls in my life that I could be looking out for and making sure they're okay? What are some steps that could be taking? Or children in general in my life? Is there anything weird I see that I don't speak up about? Maybe I could speak up about the weird thing." I think that's what I really want people to walk away with.

Nick Quah 26:54

Last question here: where do you want to see the genre go from here on out? Rebecca let's start with you.

Rebecca Lavoie 27:00

I want to see more great podcasting companies unabashedly doing more of this work. I really do. I really want there to be a show like that has the muscle of something like Wind of Change, or, you know, the next big thing coming from Gimlet, if it ever happens, or whatever, kind of unabashedly saying this is a true crime investigation. This is a criminal justice investigation. What I don't want to hear anymore is host and reporters apologizing for not being a quote, "true crime person, or a true crime reporter, but I just found this story really interesting, and I wanted to tell it." Guess what? You are doing true crime. So I really would like to see sort of a deeper commitment, because these stories are, A, popular and they help you get subscribers and listeners and really can do a lot in teaching people how journalism works. So I would really like to see big studios who are making great work like my favorite producers, like triple down on this, and do it fearlessly, and push a lot of the junk down on the true crime chart.

Nick Quah 28:07

Jonquilyn, how about you? What do you want to see more of from the genre?

Jonquilyn Hill 28:10

Yeah, I think more resources. I hope more news organizations and podcasting companies take the genre seriously, because that's how you get good work, and I think the investigative part is really interesting because I was interviewing a former Metropolitan Police Officer, and he was saying, you know, there was this reporter who I felt like I was working the case with like, there is not a lot of difference. A lot of times between an investigative reporter and a detective, the major difference is access because the police department isn't going to necessarily always answer your questions. As reporters, you're an investigator, and I think if we just lean into that, more and more journalists will become comfortable with the true crime genre and realize, "Oh, I've been doing this all along anyway."

Nick Quah 29:02

Alright, I'm convinced I'll be... I'm gonna get off of being an asshole about the true crime genre. I appreciate the both of you and this conversation, and I'm excited to listen to the rest of Through The Cracks and dive more into the true crime world. Thank you so much for for joining me today.

Rebecca Lavoie 29:16

Thanks for having me.

Jonquilyn Hill 29:17

Thanks for having me.

Nick Quah 29:30

Servant of Pod is written and hosted by me, Nick Quah. You can check out more episodes at laist.com/servantofpod. The show is produced by Andrea Asuaje, James Trout, and John Perotti at Rococo Punch. Web design by Andy Cheatwood and the digital and marketing teams at Southern California Public Radio. Logo and branding by Leo G. Thanks to the team at LAist Studios, including Kristen Hayford, Taylor Coffman, Kristen Muller, and Leo G. Servant of Pod is a production of LAist Studios.

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