KU alumna Mandy Matney sits to record for her podcast, Murdaugh Murders. Photo submitted by Mandy Matney.

A University of Kansas journalism alumna is hosting one of the most popular podcasts on Apple Podcasts right now.

Mandy Matney’s seventh-ranked show, “The Murdaugh Murders,” centers around a South Carolina family covered in mystery. The family was most recently in the news when one of its members hired someone to kill him. 

He survived and has since been arrested. His wife, son and housekeeper had all been recently murdered after years of controversy surrounding the family.

Matney, who graduated from KU in 2012 and is from Shawnee, first became involved with the story in February 2019 when she was working as a breaking news editor at The Island Packet newspaper. At the time, one of the sons in the family was involved in a boat crash that killed a 19-year-old woman.

“I immediately just realized that this case was so much deeper than a boat crash and there was going to be corruption, and I started working with sources from Hampton County,” Matney said. 

Matney’s interest in the story followed her through her time at The Island Packet and carried into her current job at FITSNews, a news-based website. 

“[The story] immediately just kind of swallowed me. I became so obsessed with finding answers, and I kept working on different angles of that story,” Matney said.

The success of the podcast was something unexpected, she said. Currently, the show sits at No. 7 on Apple Podcast Top Charts, with a 4.5 star rating and over 15,000 reviews. Earlier this fall, the podcast sat at No. 1 on the charts. Matney began releasing episodes of “Murdaugh Murders” in June and has 12 episodes so far.

“It’s crazy. We’ve been above the New York Times for three weeks now, which is just absurd,” Matney said. “I never in a million years imagined anything close to that. I just kind of wanted to get the story straight and have people hear it from my reporting and my words and my own voice. That was my goal of the whole thing.”

The audience reaction and interest is not unexpected, said Michele Cobb, executive director of The Podcast Academy, a national organization of podcasters.

“We like murder and mayhem in general,” Cobb said. “I still like the journey of what could’ve happened. What made someone snap? What made someone go down that path? It’s so anathema to what happens to people on a daily basis”

Much like Cobb, KU junior Mia Estivo has fallen down the rabbit hole of true crime podcasts and started listening to “Crime Junkie” after a friend’s recommendation. 

“ I’ve always been into crime things,” said Estivo, a business major from Wichita. “Growing up, me and my siblings would always watch murder documentaries or the investigation Discovery Channel just because we always wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery.” 

The general interest in binging a podcast on morbid topics is driven by fear, Estivo said.  

“I feel like podcasts make it so much more real because you’re forced to picture it in your head. There’s no movie you’re watching, there’s no show of it playing out,” Estivo said. “You’re forced to listen to someone speak the audio and then you have to piece together the image of it, which I think is very interesting.”

Although the intrigue is what keeps people listening, it is important to remember the efforts taken to receive the information, Matney said. In one instance, she filed four Freedom of Information Act requests to help her reporting on the topic.

“We’re in this area where we really have to show people why journalism matters and that we’re really just doing more than copying and pasting press releases,” she said.

In doing the podcast, it has become clear that nothing comes easily, Matney said, but there have been many rewarding moments in her time uncovering the Murdaugh case. 

“Talking to the victims who I’ve known for years now and them telling me how much they appreciate the podcast,” Matney said. “It’s sad but they’re not sure that the justice system is going to give them any justice in this, but they feel at least like they’re being heard, which is some sort of justice at this point.”

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