Sarah Koenig Is Not About to Crowd-Source Her Stories on Reddit

Photo: Meredith Heuer/This American Life

The New York Times’ David Carr moderated a New School panel of podcast and public radio powerhouses called “Serial and the Podcast Explosion.” The group, which included “Serial“‘s Sarah Koenig, “StartUp” creator Alex Blumberg, and “Invisibilia” host Alix Spiegel, talked about the mechanics of what makes a good radio story, Ira Glass as a “dark overlord,” and the public good. Koenig in particular talked about how freeing it was for her to do a podcast versus traditional newspaper reporting. Koenig said, “I was just like, ‘Podcast, who cares, try it! It doesn’t matter. It’s a podcast. Nobody listens to podcasts.’” During the audience Q&A, one woman asked if she thought about engaging the Reddit community. The short answer? Nope. She “didn’t even know what Reddit was,” but was glad they were there to make sure she brought her A game.

Here is the long answer:

Sarah Koenig: I didn’t even know what Reddit was … I wasn’t reading it. I mean, I just didn’t have time. It freaked me out a lot. Nothing that happened on there became part of the story. There was no information that we got from it that changed how we thought about the actual reporting. I guess the thing that it did, the thing that was good about it, was realizing how closely people were listening. Not everybody obviously, but there was certainly a slice of the audience who was listening super carefully. They were making graphs and pie charts and Excel spreadsheets. It made me as a reporter — I’m a very careful reporter anyway, because I care about it, but I’m too scared not to be, I’m not someone who likes to make an error public — but it just really reinforced like, ‘Oh, we have to be so so careful. We can’t mess up anything because we’re being watched so so closely.’ And I liked that. We were being careful anyway, but it was a constant reminder that any mess-up is going to be caught by this community that’s watching very closely. I haven’t been persuaded that crowdsourcing an investigation is a good idea by this. A lot of people have been like, ‘You should do your next thing and put it to the Redditors and see if they can solve it.’

David Carr: It’s a terrible idea. [audience laughs]

SK: I think that, I think there are creative, interesting ways you can engage an online community. I don’t know what they are myself. Other people may have better thoughts about it. I don’t know what to say about it. It’s hard because as a reporter my thing was so much like, ‘I’m responsible for all this information, and it’s my job to use it respectfully and correctly and fact-check the crap out of every single thing I say,’ and that is not incumbent on the online community. They’re saying whatever the hell they want. It’s hard. It’s hard to see that. I felt … shit. They’re saying things that I wouldn’t say because I can’t and it’s not right to say it. I don’t know how you stop that from happening. It’s a public forum; they can say whatever they want. I can’t. But I also don’t want to encourage stuff that I think is irresponsible. I don’t know the answer. I think it can be a wonderful force for good, but I think there’s a side that I don’t want to engage with.

You can watch the entire discussion here:

Sarah Koenig Is ‘Freaked Out’ by Reddit