From Robert Durst To Adnan Syed – Can Journalism Break The Rules To Tell A Story?

Robert Durst, Photo Courtesy of HBO.

Robert Durst of The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, Photo Courtesy of HBO.

In the final minutes of the 2015 HBO miniseries The Jinx, Robert Durst seemingly confesses to two murders after being caught out by Andrew Jarecki and his team in a stunning moment of gotcha journalism. It is the payoff that people had been waiting for over the course of the 6 episode series, but it arose in an awkward manner. As Professor Jane Kirtley discussed with Time Magazine, the issue was that Jarecki confronted Durst with the evidence before telling anyone else about it, at least in the eyes of the viewer. As Kirtley put it; ““In traditional investigative journalism, you wouldn’t play ‘hide the ball’ from the reader.” This leads many to wonder whether Journalism can bend rules when it needs to tell a story in a specific manner.

A recent case study in this is the podcast Serial, itself a spinoff of the Journalism based program This American Life. Serial told a story based heavily in investigative journalism over a 12 episode season, with each episode being like a new edition of a television show. However, Serial was heavily berated in the media for being “shoddy reporting” as suggested by Josie Duffy. However, articles from establishments like The Atlantic rejected these claims, asking “What broadcast journalism show is telling these stories better? How many broadcasters are telling them at all?”

The fine line between keeping the audience informed and telling a good story is a major issue in journalism today. For some people, like Miguel Macias, there is a “fundamental incompatibility between storytelling and journalism” and this will cause each piece produced with both in common to be naturally flawed. As the discussion flows to online forums such as Reddit, more journalists are starting to form their own views as to what is acceptable and where the line is drawn when telling a story in regards to basic journalistic principles.

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