The power of the podcast

If you’re into podcasts and live in Australia, the US, Britain or Canada, then there’s a high chance you’re one of the twelve million who has downloaded the series The Teacher’s Pet – a 15-part series by The Australians investigative journalist, Hedley Thomas.

Not only has it captivated the attention of the public, it created a stir in the Police HQ. That’s right, this podcast series – based on the unsolved story of a woman who disappeared 36 years ago – has caused the police to dust off the old files and reopen the cold case.For those who aren’t aware of details behind The Teacher’s Pet series, here’s the lowdown. Lyn Dawson was a loving wife and mother living a typical Australian lifestyle on Sydney’s northern beaches – nice house, good looking husband and two young children. That was until she caught her husband, Chris – a PE teacher at Cromer High School – having an affair with their nanny. That nanny was also his student. Lyn disappeared, and the nanny/student moved in 24 hours later.

Based on those facts alone, most people would think the situation sounds fishier than the Sydney Seafood Markets. Chris was always the key suspect, but even after two separate coroners found him guilty, he still wasn’t charged. Both times it was ruled that there was insufficient evidence and he was never convicted.Thanks to Hedley’s hard work finding new evidence and key witnesses since the 80s, and his decision to adopt podcast technology to deliver his investigative piece, now almost 40 years later the case has come back to light. But why have so many people been interested in this case? Why has The Teacher’s Pet gathered such a strong following, which ultimately saw the police force act? By act, I mean to go back to the family home and conduct a dig in four new areas that were missed last time.

So how did this podcast become so powerful as to cause such a reaction with the public and the police?

Below are three theories to crack the case of the power of the podcast, and how it filtered into the NSW Police HQ.

Theory 1: Females are key players in podcasting and the cold case

The ABC revealed current stats on podcast listeners, and 58% were female (ok, it’s not far from being even in the genders, but that’s still a lot of female listeners). What’s more interesting is a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science detailing that women are more drawn to true crime than men. They believe one reason is the fear of crime – or more accurately fearing becoming the victim of a crime.

The female theory takes into consideration one more aspect – the hierarchy of victimization and representation in the news. Because victims are defined as those who are more vulnerable, defenceless or worthy of sympathy – children, women and the elderly are represented more.  As The Teacher’s Pet series is based on the disappearance of a wife and mother, it’s easy for Australian women to feel a strong connection with the case.

Theory 2: We demand ‘on demand’

Backyard Media conducted a survey that focused on podcast popularity and its growth in the last five to ten years. The results? A whopping 70% of respondents cited the need to have audio “on demand” as the major draw card for listening to podcasts. Take a moment and think about our media options today. From Foxtel to Netflix or Stan – we have media on demand.

Our devices are built for it – we have smartphones with larger screens and portable devices such as iPads to tap into our media of choice whenever and wherever we like. Podcasts are no different, allowing you to listen to “what you want, when you want, where you want and how you want”. Has letting audiences learn about the case when and wherever they want, for as long as they want, been the key to Hedley’s success?” No longer are you restricted to sitting down with the paper and dedicating time to read the article; you can now get informed and involved while walking the dog or taking a road trip.

Theory 3: The relationship between the Media and the Police

The media has long been responsible for keeping organisations, such as the police, accountable for their actions. This is yet another great example. The crux of the investigative story isn’t anything new, but the medium it was delivered in is. The Australian has been successful in using podcasts as a way to share the outcomes of Hedley’s investigative work rather than print. It has been a timely change, with a decline in print newspaper readership but increase in digital.

The police may not react to every investigative story printed or recorded, but perhaps the profound following and coverage by The Australian, is what caused the police to consider the case again.

While the Dawson case remains unsolved, as no new evidence was found on the recent dig, perhaps we’ve cracked the case on the power of the podcast. It’s got motive (targeting females), plenty of opportunity (on demand), and the tools (digital format) to win big with audiences.




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