10: Transmedia Storytelling in Podcasts

One of the first things that came to mind when thinking about transmedia storytelling was podcasts. While there are podcasts that are entirely self-contained, there are many that expand the conversation or narrative to other platforms or media. The podcasts themselves are often created in order to expand an already existing franchise; many YouTubers, authors, and celebrities now have their own podcasts. Jenkins’ article notes that “reading across the media sustains a depth of experience that motivates more consumption” (96); by expanding their franchise and giving their audiences more to engage with, individuals or groups can maintain a high level of interest in their personal brand. 

The first example of a podcast that utilizes transmedia storytelling that popped into my head was the show Welcome to Night Vale. The podcast began in 2012, and is in the format of a radio show broadcast from the fictional town of Night Vale, a desert community where “all the conspiracy theories are real.” As the podcast grew in popularity and the fictional universe expanded, the show’s creators branched out into other formats. Two novels, Welcome to Night Vale and It Devours, have been released, as well as illustrated transcripts of the first two seasons of the show. 

Jenkins argues that “in the ideal form of transmedia storytelling, each medium does what it does best” (96); the story should be adapted for each medium, so that each format can be used effectively. The Night Vale podcast and novels provide an excellent example of this. The podcast episodes, which are released on the first and fifteenth of every month, are interconnected segments of a serialized and ongoing narrative. Novels, however, do not lend themselves as well to this segmented format, so the plots are self-contained and separate from the narrative taking place in the podcast. There are references and connections between the two that enrich the experience for those who have both read the books and listened to the podcasts, but each piece of media can be consumed separately without depriving the audience of any vital information. 

Speaking of serialized narratives, another podcast that utilizes transmedia elements is Serial, a podcast in the style of a long-form journalistic piece. Host Sarah Koenig incorporates research and interviews in each episode, but the podcast’s website also provides additional information and interactive features for listeners interested in learning more. For season one of the podcast, which investigated the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee and the conviction of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed, included cell phone records, timelines based on information from various witnesses, and lettered that Adnan exchanged with a potential alibi witness. For season two, which covered the capture of US soldier Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban, the website included interactive maps, interview transcripts, and clips from news reports. Unlike the Night Vale novels, in this case the extra material is very much dependent on listener’s familiarity with the podcast, although they can listen to the podcast without viewing the additional online materials. 

These podcasts, and many others, utilize transmedia storytelling in order to expand and enrich the narratives they create. They do so in ways that carefully consider how each medium can be used most effectively and what kind of content it is best suited for, and how it can continue to keep their audience engaged and coming back for more. 

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Works cited: Jenkins, Henry. Searching for the Origami Unicorn: The Matrix and Transmedia Storytelling,drive.google.com/file/d/1YyRvp3wvhMQ3st0BhpPim6edaTotciCz/view.