This American Life

Revealing the truth about a teenager's murder... on a podcast

Hae Min Lee was murdered in 1999. Now her story will be told in a new podcast from the makers of This American Life.

IN THE RADIO world, This American Life, an hour-long show that’s also available as a podcast, is a Big Deal.

It’s consistently one of the most popular podcasts in the world, its host Ira Glass is a well-known face and voice in the US, and its nonfiction stories from around America touch a chord with even those of us in Ireland.

(If you haven’t listened to it, you’ll find your life gets infinitely better once you get stuck in – here’s the official website.)

The key to This American Life (or TAL) is that it takes real people, with intriguing, interesting, confounding or incredible stories, and presents these stories to us in a simple and very arresting way.

It’s human. It’s intimate. You’ll learn something from every episode, and you’ll have your favourite contributors (the late David Rakoff, Starlee Kine, Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris and Sarah Koenig being some of my own), your favourite Ira moments, and you’ll ‘meet’ people whose stories will always stay with you.

TV Ira Glass Ira Glass in 2007, just before This American Life began airing. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images


Next week, TAL are trying something new, a project connected to the show that has a different premise. Presented by Sarah Koenig and produced by Julie Snyder, two very familiar names to regular TAL listeners, it’s called Serial.

Rather than one story per episode, Serial - as the name suggests – is a long-running series about one story. It’s a WBEZ Chicago production, just like TAL.

Here’s what we know so far:

On January 13, 1999, a girl named Hae Min Lee, a senior at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, Maryland, disappeared. A month later, her body turned up in a city park. She’d been strangled. Her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested for the crime, and within a year, he was convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.
The case against him was largely based on the story of one witness, Adnan’s friend Jay, who testified that he helped Adnan bury Hae’s body. But Adnan has always maintained he had nothing to do with Hae’s death. Some people believe he’s telling the truth. Many others don’t.

Koenig has been researching this case, and talking to the people involved.

And, she says, has realised that “the trial covered up a far more complicated story, which neither the jury nor the public got to hear”.

Over 12 weeks, she’ll tell us this story on Serial. You can subscribe to it on iTunes, or find out more on the official website. Sounds like it’ll be quite the series indeed.

What are your favourite This American Life episodes? Why not tell us in the comments.

Read: 20 podcasts you need to bookmark for your morning commute>

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