True crime is one of the most popular genres in podcasting. One of the biggest stories of the coming months is the wave of criminal charges filed against former President Donald J. Trump.
The result: a slew of podcasts dedicated to the criminal cases brought against him.
MSNBC, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, NPR, Vox Media and The First TV, a new conservative media company, have all featured or are about to launch new shows examining Mr. Trump’s judicial duties as he makes campaign to win back the White House.
On MSNBC »Sue Donald Trump“, legal commentators Andrew Weissmann and Mary McCord offer analysis gleaned from their years as prosecutors. A recent episode of “Breakdown,” from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, includes a news interview with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Recently on “Trump’s trials“, NPR host Scott Detrow discussed whether Mr. Trump could claim presidential immunity.
The criminal charges against Mr. Trump – brought by state prosecutors in New York and Georgia, as well as in two federal indictments – involve allegations of sensitive election interference, his role in the January 6 attack at the US Capitol, his handling of documents. and payments to cover up a sex scandal. Mr. Trump denies any wrongdoing.
Many hosts interviewed by The New York Times cited the news value of the story – a former president and a leading candidate for that office faces a legal attack as he fights for the White House – as the incentive to go hand in hand with dedicated podcasts. .
“He is by far the favorite for the nomination and has a real chance of being president again,” Mr. Detrow said. “For me, it’s a huge legal story, a huge political story. »
But there’s also significant economic potential: capturing a share of the $2.4 billion that advertisers are expected to spend on podcasts in 2024, according to data firm eMarketer. For years, news organizations have benefited financially from the public’s interest in Mr. Trump — colloquially known as the “Trump bump.”
“The number of users is up, but the number of people looking for those users in terms of dollars is also up sharply,” said Chris Balfe, founder of The First TV.
Mr. Trump’s legal challenges present an unusual twist on the true-crime genre, which often focuses on grisly murders or dramatic heists. “Serial,” a podcast from the creators of “This American Life,” was a pioneer in the category, which also included newbies like “Leave the scam” (about a missing cryptocurrency tycoon) and “Last seen“, a suspenseful tale of the theft of 13 irreplaceable works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. (The New York Times Company now owns Serial Productions, creator of “Serial.”)
The Trump cases, on the other hand, raise complex questions about the Constitution and democracy. Adding to the complexity: they cover the state and federal jurisdictions of Florida, Georgia, New York and Washington, DC.
Podcasts are an ideal format for explaining nuance to audiences because they give journalists the time and space to examine complex issues in depth, Balfe said. They also allow news organizations to create a listener destination for fast, relatively inexpensive coverage, with two mics and a simple distributed feed for Spotify and Apple Podcasts, he said.
“You don’t have to rent a beautiful studio on Sixth Avenue and hire a crew and all these other things,” Mr. Balfe said. “A podcast is a simple, high-ceiling way to start a new product. And if it works, it can be very effective, very quickly. »
Last year, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia’s largest newspaper, dedicated the final season of its true-crime podcast, “Breakdown,” to the criminal investigation. Since then, it’s been Trump all the time, with 22 episodes on the subject since August.
This year, the podcast has been downloaded more than 1 million times, making it the most popular news outlet, finding audiences in Florida, California and New York, according to a spokesperson for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The paper also has three full-time reporters covering Mr. Trump’s case in Fulton County, where he faces 13 criminal charges, including racketeering.
Tamar Hallerman, one of these journalists, co-hosts the podcast. She describes herself as a “recovering Washington correspondent.” (She was previously a reporter at Roll Call.)
“All of these court cases that Trump finds himself in already create a unique set of circumstances for a leading presidential candidate,” said Ms. Hallerman, who covered the 2016 presidential campaign. usual for the campaign press. »
Preet Bharara, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, devoted much of one of her three podcasts for Vox Media to the criminal investigations facing Mr. Trump. Mr. Bharara has covered Mr. Trump’s legal troubles since 2018, saying: “There’s really no shortage of legal information.”
Yet “the dam broke” in April, he said, after Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, brought the first criminal charges against Mr. Trump.
“Every month or two there was another one,” Mr. Bharara said. “And it became clear that this was going to be a priority. »
Political coverage of Mr. Trump should focus on criminal investigations into the former president, rather than traditional horse racing coverage, said Timothy Crouse, whose 1973 book, “The Boys on the Bus,” on media coverage of the previous year’s presidential election. campaign, has become a classic of the genre.
It was investigative journalists like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, not campaign reporters, who did the most enduring political journalism of that era, Mr. Crouse said. At the time, many campaign reporters were skeptical of these stories. He added that a sustained exploration of Mr. Trump’s criminal charges would likely follow the same pattern.
“It might be acceptable to reduce the number of political journalists, but only if that decrease was offset by an increase in the number of investigative journalists,” Mr. Crouse said.