How to True Crime
What CBC podcast producers look for in true crime stories
Arif Noorani, executive producer of CBC Podcasts, co-founded the department with Leslie Merklinger in 2015. The podcast unit now has over 20 shows, including Someone Knows Something, Uncover, and Hunting Warhead, with more than two dozen seasons across all genres.
Here are Noorani’s four guiding pillars for true crime audio series on the CBC:
1. Are the family, friends, or victims on board?
Family, friends, and victims need to be placed front and centre in the story. It’s important that they are looking for answers and open to talking to reporters. “Our motto is do good, not harm. So we don’t want to re-traumatize families,” says Noorani.
2. Are there unanswered questions?
“We won’t take on a case that’s already closed and shut,” he says. Someone seeking answers to an unresolved mystery or digging deeper to find clarity is key. They want to pursue cases that need more investigating and spark bigger questions.
3. Are there enough layers to make multiple chapters?
A more creative and editorial pillar, this one hinges on storytelling potential. Sometimes a story could be done in an hour-long documentary. Noorani and his team look for lots of room to explore—six to eight chapters worth.
4. Can it go beyond the case itself?
The crime case should be a way of getting into a larger, in-depth issue or a significant trend. “One of the things that guides all of our series is it has to be more than about just the case. It has to be about something else. So uncovering social history, uncovering an injustice in the system, uncovering the human heart and soul of the story,” he says.
About the author
Emily Latimer is a senior digital editor at the Ryerson Review of Journalism. Last year she shelved half-finished screenplays to pursue journalism. She has interned as a web writer at CBC Halifax and worked as a reporter and editor at CBC Cape Breton.