Jason Moon is a senior reporter/producer on New Hampshire Public Radio’s Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of misbehaving police officers. His work includes Bear Brook, which has been downloaded more than 21 million times and received acclaim from The New Yorker, The Boston Globe, Buzzfeed, The Verge, Vulture, MPR, and others. Before working on longform podcast series, he was a beat reporter for the NHPR newsroom covering politics, education, and health. Jason grew up in Remlap, Alabama and is a graduate of Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont.
I just finished making Bear Brook Season 2: A True Crime Story with my colleagues at New Hampshire Public Radio. One theme in the series is the impact that true-crime storytelling can have on the cases it focuses on – the blurring lines between media that covers events and media that causes events.
Now that we’ve wrapped up production, I’ve had a chance to finally listen to some great recent examples of just what I mean. It’s also, frankly, been a relief to listen to some investigative true crime that isn’t mine!
Here’s a list of investigative true crime podcasts that have shaped – or are now shaping – my tastes in this genre.
The work of Madeleine Baran and her team might be the gold-standard of investigative true crime for me. Meticulous, methodical, courageous. The impact of their work speaks volumes. How many podcasts directly contribute to a case being reviewed by the Supreme Court?
Gilbert King and Kelsey Decker have filled the space left by the unexpected and puzzling cancellation of In the Dark. In this series, they do more than simply cover the workings of the criminal legal system – they carry out the work of justice themselves, after the system repeatedly refuses to.
Motive, from WBEZ, is a great podcast all around, but I particularly love the fourth season. It’s a kind of true crime storytelling inside Illinois prisons that ultimately forces you – gently and without lecturing – to wonder, “Why do we do prisons again?” I will never forget episode six of the fourth season – it’s a fun historical romp that’s somehow also chilling and massively educational.
I love the concept behind the third season of Serial: It rejects the natural tendency of true crime to focus on unusual cases, and instead takes you inside the everyday cases that are much more representative of our criminal legal system. In that way, I think it’s some of the truest true crime there is. The third season’s biggest achievement is how they show you why those normal, everyday cases are actually incredibly compelling, too – and probably the ones we should really be paying attention to.
When I grow up, I’d like to be a reporter like Josh Baker. He investigates a family’s journey from Indiana to the Islamic State group’s caliphate and back with such apparent fearlessness, competence, and also compassion. And he has a powerful talent for describing what he’s seeing in the moment, using his off-the-cuff descriptions to take you there with him in a way that would have taken me weeks to write.
Another in the noble category of journalists-solving-cases-the-police-should-have, this one in the Civil Rights era Deep South. The reporting, the talent at getting sources to open up is up there with the best of them. But I also loved this series for its artistry – the writing, sound-design, and scoring all made me jealous.
Here’s a new series from my friends and colleagues at the Outside/In podcast. Outside/In has long been a home for top-rate narrative storytelling about the natural world. But this special series dives deeply into the true crime genre with a mystery about world-class sled-racing dogs and the owners who abandoned them. If you like mystery stories set inside a fascinating subculture you knew nothing about, don’t miss this.