Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Serial

A couple of weeks ago, my consumer seminar teacher walked in the classroom raving about a podcast called Serial that she had just started listening to. I thought it was a little odd that she was listening to one, since I couldn't remember the last time I had heard of anyone listening to a podcast. The week after, at least three students in the class mentioned that they had started listening to the podcast as well and had immediately become obsessed with it. When I researched this further, I found that each episode of Serial has over 2.2 million listeners. Now I was intrigued; what is this podcast? And why does it attract so many viewers? 

Serial is a non-fiction story that has released one episode per week since October, produced by the public radio show This American Life. The podcast follows the story of reporter Sarah Koenig's year-long investigation into a 1999 murder case of former high-schooler Hai Min Lee. Koenig revisits the case, talking to family, friends and Adnan Syed, the man found guilty of the murder (Lee's high school boyfriend). The podcast has been surprisingly successful, which brings me back to my previous question: why are Americans so obsessed with this murder case?

The article states that the podcast may have such high ratings for many reasons, but one main reason is that listeners want to know if Syed is guilty or not guilty. The story is also non-fiction, which adds to the attraction, and you can download and listen to it whenever you please. In today's world, accessibility is key. I think another main reason is the fact that it's about a murder. As Americans, we are infatuated with crime television shows. In addition to it dominating the news programs, television seems to be flooded by shows like Law & Order and too many CSI's to count. In fact, 42% of jobs on network television dramas are related to crime and punishment. Is the podcast so popular right now because of our criminal obsession? Will it be as successful next year if it's not about murder? In my opinion, I don't think it will be as popular next year if it's not about a murder. I think viewers would not be as interested in the story without knowing it involves someone dying or going to jail. 

I also wondered about the style of the storytelling, and if that had any impact on the popularity. As I mentioned before, a new episode is released once a week, and Koenig chooses to release certain information each episode. She wants to make sure viewers keep coming back to listen to her story. "Koenig is not just a journalist trying to get to the heart of a story — she is every one of us listeners at home." I find this really interesting because although I have not listened to the podcast (yet), it explains how great of a story teller she is. She is a journalist, but she appeals to viewers, and makes viewers identify with her. The more we like the storyteller, the more likely we are going to listen. 

There seems to be a combination of factors that make this podcast be the "it" show of this year. The intrigue of a non-fiction crime, the popularity and convenience of the podcast, and the exciting story telling of the narrator all make for a riveting show. However, I think our society's morbid fascination with murder is a little frightening. 

So what do you think? Will this podcast maintain its high ratings next year with a different story, possibly one not about murder?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Digital Girl Scout Cookie

While babysitting over Thanksgiving break, I came across something I hadn't seen in months - Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies. I couldn't believe it; I thought Girl Scout cookies in my area were a rare sight most of the year. I only ever had the cookies when my old neighbor would ring our doorbell once a year offering us the brochure. Sometimes I would see their booth set up next to the local grocery store, but that was still fairly rare. So when I was reading The Week recently and I saw an article about Girl Scouts, I was immediately intrigued, especially when I read the title: "Why e-commerce for Girl Scout cookies is a bad idea". Girl Scout cookies have taken to the internet. 

The Girl Scouts announced that starting in January, they will begin to selling and delivering their products online, calling it a "digital cookie". The program expects to have over one million scouts using the digital cookie, instead of selling it "the old-fashioned way". The article I read argues that the digital cookie won't teach Girl Scouts the same business lessons they received by physically selling them. The Girl Scouts Corporation, "the digital program will teach scouts the value of e-commerce". The girls will have to invite and contact relatives and friends in order for them to be able to place an order on their website. Even better, there's an app for that. 

I think that there are many benefits to this, but ultimately I think there is also a big loss. I can see why Girl Scouts wants to make the switch to technology, because it's more modern and accessible, but I think it changes the image of the scouts. In the article, I think the author makes a great point when she mentions that young girls already know how to use the internet; they've grown up with it, and their arguably better than adults. So when the Girl Scouts of America say that they are trying to teach girls how to do something online, it doesn't mean much. It won't be hard for these girls, and they probably won't learn as much as they did by having to budget their time and figure out how to raise a certain amount of money. The scouts are being lazy. They have to create their own website and email their relatives, but in comparison to actually physically selling the cookies it's a lot less work.  Don't get me wrong, I'm excited to be able to order my cookies online instead of having to wait for someone to show up at my door, but I don't think this is the best idea for the scouts. 

What do you think? Does it change the scout's values by making the cookies available to buy online?