Justine Harman is the host of KILLED

576. KILLED: A story has to die to be on this podcast

Justine Harman never really considered herself a journalist, but more of a “chronicler” thanks to a strong memory. 

“I was a late bloomer in the journalism space,” she says, spending most of her career in magazines. It was at Glamour that she stumbled across an opportunity to combine her strong memory with a love of storytelling and the desire to have a “robust multimedia career.” 

Harman was in a daily story meeting when her friend, Liz Egan, mentioned a story she’d heard about, “Two white women who drove their four adopted Black kids off a cliff in Mendocino County. Our editor in chief, she came from CNN, she said ‘OK, do it.’ We were like, ‘Do what?’”

Harman and Egan were given the green light to investigate the story more, working with a reporter in California named Lauren Smiley who helped piece together the events at the end of those women’s lives and try to get a sense of what caused them to make such a terrible decision. When the story was nearly finished, another person at Glamour, digital editorial director Laurel Pinson, realized the story was a perfect set-up for a podcast. 

“Because it was Conde Nast, we were able to sell this idea mid-editing process. We started capturing decent tape on our new Zoom H5 recorders,” Harman says. “We got a crash course from HowStuffWorks, which was our partner. We learned from a producer who came up from Atlanta, Jason Hoch. He taught me everything I know.” The podcast was the first non-narrative audio series Conde Nast ever released and it was the number one podcast for two weeks. 

Right before the pandemic, Harman left Glamour and embark on a new career path that wasn’t limited to one medium.

KILLED is a marriage of all those interests,” Harman says. “I’d always had this idea in the back of my head. I loved the name KILLED as a double entendre on a crime network.”

Over two seasons, Harman has examined the process and reporting behind 20 stories that were pulled from publication or broadcast after they were fully reported and ready to go. 

When the idea was approved by the Ashley Flowers, founder of the distribution platform Audiochuck, Harman says she was unsure whether Flowers “understood how in the weeds dorky it was going to get about journalism and how the sausage was made.”

There are many factors that go into a story being killed, and oftentimes there are many people involved in making that decision.

“It’s something people keep under lock and key, or it’s vague to the people who make the decisions themselves,” she says. “I wanted to bring in the idea that I’m going to do my best, but I’m just one person trying to muck around. I liked the idea of it so much. Trying to have frank conversations about what happens when someone’s trying to put together a publication.” 

Harman points to a recent headline in the New York Times about stories pertaining to the #MeToo movement that were reported but not published by the Guardian in the UK. Sometimes the stories that were killed by one publication ultimately were published by another, a fact her listeners like to point out and question whether that means the story is actually pertinent to the podcast.

“I guess people thought every episode would be an entire story that had already been written and fact checked. That premise is a little flawed. But as more newsrooms shut down and more magazines shutter, I imagine I’ll keep hearing more stories. To get (a story reported) all the way to the end, to never have it run anywhere, and the writer just gave up and put it in a drawer, that’s the dream. But it’s hard to find.” 

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