True-crime podcasts and that delicate line

Vaaka Media
3 min readJan 31, 2023

Associate Producer, Ashrita Achar tells us what she’s been binge listening to and why.

Hi! Since this is my first time writing here, here’s a little bit about me- I’m Ashrita, and my Apple podcast queue is normally a mixed bag of narrative non-fiction stories from history, culture and global politics.

But given that this seems to be the age of true-crime podcasts, I thought I’d hop on the bandwagon and see what all the fuss is about. So naturally, I turned to the first season of iHeart radio’s The Turning.

Listen to Episode 1 of The Turning — The Sisters Who Left.

The 10-episode season follows the story of Mary Johnson, previously a nun superior at the Order of the Missionaries of Charity (MC). From the time she receives the call to serve Jesus, her coming to terms with the life she had vowed to lead, navigating doubt, guilt and loneliness in the establishment, to why she finally decided to leave.

As true-crime takes on the world of film and television, I found myself one of many beginning to feel dangerously desensitised to whatever I was consuming. I’d seen it all. I needed the story to be darker, more gruesome, more shocking if it was to keep me entertained. Careful what you wish for, because mine came true. I got people play-acting horrific crimes in docuseries, I got the Jeffery Dahmer story that re-traumatised the survivors and romanticised his crimes, I got YouTube videos of people discussing active court cases over slices of pizza with a side of scathing judgement.

I must disclaim that The Turning, too, isn’t a walk in the park. But it was in these darker alleyways that I was shown by example how to take care of the people who choose to tell their more difficult stories.

In an episode at the middle of the series, Mary Johnson is audibly distressed and requests a break. She takes a whole minute to compose herself before the host Erika Lantz in a tender moment asks her how she’s been doing these days to which she talks about the nightmares she’s been having off-late. At another time, when a guest struggles to speak about a violent experience, the narration switches to Erika instead choosing to summarise the incident from a reading of journal entries.

Erika Lantz on her Twitter calls this project one that she’s “poured herself into”, but I see so little of her here. It’s not often that true crime content makers can stay this uninvolved and unbiased, but she manages to remain a sensitive listener, allowing her characters to drive the story rather than herself.

The show also brings in other former nuns who share their stories of their time at the MC and why some of them chose to leave. It also takes a small detour for a few episodes to re-approach Mother Teresa’s leadership hoping to recognise her as a human being rather than the saint she is declared to be.

A co-producer on the show Elin Lantz says in the first episode “It’s just hard to keep all the beautiful stories and all the dark ones in my head at once. And so I’m constantly changing how I feel about this.” The whole series lives in a grey area that feels both upsetting and compassionate. And as someone who’s still learning the delicate lines that exist in true-crime storytelling, this undefined position brings me a lot of comfort. And I hope it will do the same for you as well, should you choose to listen to it.

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