If you were a fan of the recent podcast Serial, you really need to read the three part series “Jay Speaks,” a three part interview with the Jay in the Serial show, Jay Wilds, conducted by Natasha Vargas-Cooper in The Intercept. The link I have there is actually to part 3 of the interview, but if you scroll to the bottom, you can get links to parts on and two.
If you haven’t heard Serial, this is likely to not make a lot of sense. But of course, I did listen to Serial and I thought was incredibly compelling, probably the first of its kind of long form journalism in the form of a podcast and as a story that evolved as it was reported, largely as a result of particularly active listeners, for better and worse. And this piece is mostly the “for worse” angle of things: basically, Jay feels like he was demonized by Sarah Koenig, which is the main reason why he’s talking to Vargas-Cooper.
A few thoughts:
- Jay is compelling in this interview, but you know what? I’m not sure I completely believe him, particularly in his claims/complaints about being hounded and harassed by Koenig. Maybe that was the case, maybe not, but it does kind of seem like he could have avoided a lot of this by talking to her in the first place. I think things got out of control online with reddit in ways that no one could have anticipated, so I can feel bad for him, but that doesn’t make Koenig the “bad reporter.” And his recollection now about his role in burying Hae is a lot more clear than it was during the trial/what we heard on Serial, which is awfully convenient.
- There’s something kind of weird about the journalist v. journalist undertones here. It’s almost as if Vargas-Cooper was trying to do a “gotcha” piece on the Serial folks. I don’t like that part of it.
- I do think the collateral damage done to Jay via things like reddit is very unfortunate and (assuming he is actually innocent, and he comes across here a whole lot more honest and not guilty than he does in Serial) and very unfair. As a bystander, I have to say I think it’s really fascinating though. I cannot imagine the possibility of the story being so actively taken up by listeners ever occurred to Koenig et al. I can’t ever think of a similar event.
- This is another good example of the disruption possible in immediate rhetorical situations. What happened here is the audience became the rhetors and the subject shifted from Adnan (did he or didn’t he do it?) to Jay (how is he lying about all this?) and Koenig (what can we– the audience– find out about what she was not willing to tell us about this story?) The situation became “immediate” in that the speculation brought an audience together and, because of that close proximity and all the complexities of time here– both in terms of just the speed of things and also the fact that this story was being created by all the participants (including the audience) as it was being reported. And this is a digital situation in that i don’t think this sort of thing would have been possible without reddit and other social media sites.
- And this series of interviews all once again shines a light on the many layers of storytelling here. Adnan told a story about what he thinks happened (or what he wants people to believe), a story that Koenig tells us in the end leaves her with doubt about Adnan’s guilt or innocence. The whole series of Serial is of course a deliberately constructed (fabricated, not in the sense that it was fake but in the sense that it was deliberately made, it didn’t just happen) story. Jay told a whole bunch of stories. Vargas-Cooper shines a light on the different layers of story– sharing the emails from Koenig is a big of a “behind the scenes” look at the story-building. She is presenting a counter-story, one just as constructed/fabricated as any of the other stories here, even though it’s presented as a “true” question and answer. Stories all the way down.