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Reporting true crime without the cringe

It’s no secret that true crime is a popular genre. It’s evident from the countless documentaries, podcasts and crime specials on TV that many people are fascinated by true-crime stories.

“If you watch an old ‘2020’ or ’48 Hours’ documentary, there might be some really cheesy graphics like artificial prison doors closing,” said Haley Butler one of the hosts of “The Orange Tree.” “That kind of just makes it a fantasy, and it’s pretty distracting.”

Butler and her co-host Tinu Thomas feel that made-for-TV elements such as reenactments of crime scenes make those true-crime stories “cringey.”

Cringey crime stories “would have a narrator with a really deep voice in a dark room, and they would just be talking about things they possibly couldn’t have known,” Thomas said.

Butler and Thomas saw a need for a true-crime podcast without the sensationalism. They took a more journalistic approach when telling the story of “The Orange Tree” and worked to humanize the people involved in the story.

This idea became the topic of their panel at the 2020 South by Southwest Festival: “True Crime Without the Cringe.”

Butler and Thomas invited Tony Plohetski, reporter and podcast host for the “Bomber” podcast, and Saki Knafo, reporter and host for the podcast “Conviction,” to be on the panel. They were going to discuss the reporting process behind each of their podcasts, how difficult it was and going the extra step to report crimes sensitively.

The main message for viewers of this panel was supposed to advise caution when reporting on the true-crime genre. As the demand for the content grows, it can be easy to generate sensationalism.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this panel was canceled. However, through “The Orange Tree,” Butler and Thomas prominently displayed their intent to report stories fairly and accurately.

There’s no dramatizations or reenactments. Every line was scripted to tell the story without sensationalism.

“The reason we’re doing (the podcast) like this is because we wanted something very obviously journalistic,” Thomas said.

Mikayla Mondragon is a rising junior Journalism major at UT Austin and is pursuing a double certificate in Creative Writing and Elements of Computing. In her free time, she loves doing colorguard with the Longhorn Band, reading and sewing.

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