The true-crime podcast genre is beginning to have a very defined structure. The regular notes that hosts hit seem as natural and lived in as the formulaic outline of a Law & Order episode. Convicted, a new podcast that has no NPR connections feels exactly like a Serial-esque production, right down to the ambient noise during conversations. What makes Convicted interesting is the podcast out hipsters the hipsters. Meaning, Brooke Gittings, the show’s host, tackles the story of a man’s innocence without the backing of a large media organization. While podcasting has always been an alternative media, Convicted feels different than all the others.
Broadcasting “Live” from a Walk-in Closet
All closets are not created equal, but sometimes you have to improvise…. pic.twitter.com/JThdKc6Xk0
— Brooke Gittings (@BrookeGittings) May 23, 2017
The amateur feel to Convicted is undeniable. Gittings confesses to recording in her walk-in closet during the first episode. The confession left me smitten. I like the idea of people seeing an injustice and working tirelessly to see the wrong righted. To sacrifice your time, talents and closet space (at the very least) is admirable. There are plenty of excuses to devise that would talk many people out of this endeavor.
The set-up isn’t the only “amateur” move. Gittings is learning as she goes. During her first meeting with her subject, she has a steep learning curve in regards to the prison’s dress code. The requirements are tailored to the way women can dress, right down the wire in their bra. The rule wasn’t even mentioned in the prison’s requirements, but is still something that visitors are expected to know. The underwire rule is one of the many things that had to be learned through trial and error.
The Comment Section
While the beauty of the podcast is that it isn’t over-produced, there is still some room for growth. Some listeners have made comments about Gittings’ voice. I had no issues with her voice. (The premise that someone should alter his or her speech seems ridiculous. What are people supposed to do? Autotune their segments? Hard pass.) What the episodes need is editing. Sometimes, the transitions wander. Where more produced podcasts use musical cues as transitions or more seamless turns, Convicted corners like an 18-wheeler. The story is also paced slower than I would like. In episode one, Gittings promises, “the biggest injustice you’ve ever seen.” I am four episodes into the series and the big injustice has yet to be revealed. For the most part the iTunes reviews are positive. One commenter explains that they “couldn’t handle the high school essay feel.” I wish high schoolers turned in essays this good. The podcast doesn’t have to be perfect to get its point across.
Richard Nicolas is the actual subject of the podcast. Nicolas was found guilty of murder when his two-year-old daughter, Aja, was found dead in his car. Like most podcasts, when you hear his interviews he seems like a perfectly “normal” guy. Gittings addresses Nicolas’ stutter, his past and his relationship with his daughter. There are still a few holes in Nicolas’ back-story that need to be filled. In the first panel episode, Nicolas’ sister explains how she never doubted that her brother committed the crime. While her testimony is compelling it still doesn’t completely explain the defendant’s innocence.
One of the more stereotypical moments in true crime podcasting is the “ride along.” During these segments, the host takes the recorder and drives the alleged route that the convicted took on the night in question. It’s some real, modern day, gumshoe reporting. While Gittings’ post-movie route review isn’t as hard-hitting as Sarah Koenig’s Best Buy adventure, it still hits all the right notes. Nicolas’ steps are traced with the best intentions and as thoroughly as possible.
Questions of Privacy
Throughout the whole podcast, Gittings consistently asks for privacy for Aja’s mother and Nicolas’ daughter. Her plea is ironic. A podcast that spends hours outlining, discussing and evaluating a man’s life is asking for privacy from the audience. When the creators lay out evidence and shine the spotlight on the convicted, there is an inevitable invasion of privacy. The innocent have a right to privacy. I’m not sure if Gittings has the right to ask the audience to not pry into their private lives, even though she is correct.
Convicted is created by a small fish and put in a big pond. There are many true crime fish in the Podcast Sea. More than all the others, Convicted adds another angle where non-professional creators try their hand at the trade. As long as there are stories that need this level of scrutiny there needs to be podcasts to tell their story.
Keep the structure.
Keep speaking in your closet with a coat on your head.