True crime podcasts act as memorials for tragic losses

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True crime experts have expressed their desire for other listeners to respectfully remember victims as they consume true crime content. 

Hannah Johnson, BYU Cold Case Club president, said that last spring she attended Crime Con in Las Vegas, and that it opened her eyes to seeing true crime media as a form of advocacy, not just entertainment.

Johnson said the Cold Case Club was originally meant for people who enjoy true crime, but it goes a step further in order to advocate for victims of crimes and their families. Some of the things she said the club will do in terms of advocacy work include educating themselves about cases in Utah and doing volunteer work for families.

“Our team purpose is to strive to give a voice to the voiceless and find justice for victims of crime and their families,” Johnson said. 

Chad Mortenson, the host of “Saints and Sinners: True Crime and the History of the West,” said he doesn’t record podcasts to provide entertainment out of someone else’s gory story; instead, he thinks these podcasts can honor the dead. 

“I think stories need to be told, even if they’re not always super calming or favorable,” Mortenson said. “It’s better to stop to tell a story about a crime that happened in August 1974, even if it’s grisly, than to just let it go by the wayside and have most of the people in Utah not even know about it.” 

Mortenson also said true crime stories can remind people to treat others better. He said people need to be kind and just say hi to others when walking into a store. 

“I don’t necessarily approach it from a sense of helping families financially or that type of thing, but more on a broad scale and a macro scale of those that we come across in our daily lives and treat them well because you never know,” Mortenson said. “You never know what somebody’s going through.”

Johnson said true crime listeners shouldn’t listen to podcasts to make light of topics or try to get into gory details. 

“I don’t care about the murders, I care about the victims,” Johnson said. “I think the biggest part about being a respectable true crime fan is just being able to have empathy (for) those who were affected.”

Quint B. Randle, associate professor in the School of Communications, said true crime listeners who are seeking to be more respectful in their podcast consumption should choose shows that are either seeking justice, truly remembering people or keeping their names out there. 

“When Podcast Met True Crime: A Genre-Medium Coevolutionary Love Story,” by Line Seistrup Clausen and Stine Ausum Sikjaer, provides statistics on true crime podcasts. Experts on this type of media hope consumers remember victims with respect. (Made in Canva by Emily Morford)

Randle said true crime podcasts are so popular because no matter how sophisticated society is, there is always evil in the world. He said true crime allows people to work through fear.

Randle also said that interest in true crime stems from compassion for people who are different. He described this as learning to have empathy. 

“That’s what we want to do with true crime, with our Cold Case Club, is just taking that next step,” Randle said. “So people have personal engagement and have empathy and love for others, because that’s the place you want to end up if it’s done properly.”

Johnson said people want to be scared, or want to know about strange or occult things, which is why they listen to true crime podcasts. She said because true crime is scarier than a fictional horror movie because it is about real things that happened to real people. 

Mortenson said people are interested in true crime because death is a commonality that all humans share. He said these stories are many people’s tie to the afterlife, which feeds the general lack of knowledge regarding that mystery. 

This graphic lists the top 10 True Crime podcasts according to Apple Podcasts. True crime experts have expressed their desire for other listeners to respectfully remember victims as they consume true crime content. (Made in Canva by Emily Morford)
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