If there is one thing public relations pros and journalists learn to master – it’s storytelling. In her article for PR Strategist, Melissa K. Flynn, APR tells us how NPR’s “Serial” and Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” soared to record-breaking ratings last year. The key, Flynn says, was good old-fashioned journalism. First she considers, “Serial,” a podcast created by reporter Sarah Koenig with the intent of sorting through the potentially wrongful murder conviction of Baltimore high school student Adnan Syed. This was no average podcast. Instead of merely telling listeners what she discovered during her reporting, Koenig provided the inside scoop on the process. The podcast included live and unfiltered interviews with detectives, and a narration of Koenig’s thought process as she sought out answers to her questions.
In the same way, Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” allowed interviewees to tell the complex story of Steven Avery, a small-town father of five questionably convicted of murder. Without a polished narrator to guide the series, viewers were left to draw conclusions themselves based on the evidence provided. This approach opens the door to traditional journalism techniques – lengthy processes that require time and focus. In the era of fast-paced media and 24/7 news, people are craving this slower story-telling process. “If this genre survives, it will be because the public wants a particular relationship to news that has to do with working through complex sets of facts together to reach a collective understanding,” said University of Southern California professor Henry Jenkins in a January article for Adweek. Flynn predicts that the public’s interest in traditional journalism is due to the participatory nature of media today. Social media allows the public to question authority, piece together evidence and draw on their own understanding of an issue, rather than being told what is true and what is not.
In the first month after its debut, Syed’s case landed in People magazine, and is presently being considered for retrial in part due to the stir generated by “citizen” journalists on social media. Uncertainty and unanswered questions were key elements to what made “Serial” and “Making a Murderer” feel authentic. Consumers crave being able to participate in the reporting process, playing the role of journalist and exercising their critical thinking skills. PR pros would do well following the lead of Koenig and Netflix’s producers. Learning how to engage your audience and allowing them to participate in your content is the key to developing a strong and authentic relationship.