What Does "Going on the Record" Mean for Critical Media Literacy? Examining Informed Consent in Serial to Trouble Podcasts as Pedagogy

Jason J. Griffith, Joseph D. Sweet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background/Context: Considering that the rise in popularity of podcasts as ubiquitous forms of entertainment mirrors a rise in the use of podcasts as curricular texts, this research explores the need for critical listening practices within and beyond the classroom. Specifically, we draw from our overlapping identities as podcast listeners, teacher-educators, and literacy researchers to trouble how descriptions of the informed consent process in podcast journalism contrast with those of qualitative ethnographic research, which is significant because of how well-produced narrative podcasts resemble ethnographic products, particularly in classroom contexts. We center Serial podcast because of its popularity and significance to the podcast genre, and how clearly the show describes instances for gathering journalistic consent. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Thinking with and through critical media literacy, we address three research questions: (1) How can a discourse analysis of Serial inform critical listening practices in literacy education? (2) What can a discourse analysis of Serial teach us about informed consent? (3) What might an analysis of a podcast reveal about values and tensions in the fields of journalism and social science research? We hope that engaging with these questions might contribute to how we take up critical listening practices that critical media literacy calls for and, in turn, be informative for teacher-educators seeking to enact and encourage critical media pedagogy. Research Design: In this study, we utilize discourse analysis. We identified and transcribed six scenes from Serial, Season 3, and related media. We selected and organized this data, which Brinkmann referred to as "stumble data,"via an abductive method we dub "fortuitous listening and viewing."We then analyzed the data via Gee's discourse organization. Conclusions/Recommendations: Our findings indicate a tension between podcast journalism and ethnographic research, further delineated as a tension between fidelity to the story versus fidelity to the protection of participants. In some ways, podcast journalism well demonstrates the kind of positive difference-making that critical qualitative researchers aspire to. In other ways, podcast journalism could benefit from better protecting sources from harm in the way that university institutional review boards are designed to help protect participants. Furthermore, considering these tensions is a valuable site for critical analysis, particularly by student and teacher listeners in classroom contexts in which podcasts are being used as curricular texts. We invite fellow educators to join us in designing pedagogy that not only encourages and supports the inclusion of podcasts in the classroom, but also helps to foster a critical framework for engaging in the how and why of podcast journalism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-61
Number of pages27
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education

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