True crime is among the most popular genres in podcasting. One of the biggest stories in the coming months is the wave of criminal charges facing former President Donald J. Trump.
The result: a boomlet of podcasts dedicated to the criminal cases against him.
MSNBC, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, NPR, Vox Media and The First TV, an upstart conservative media company, have all introduced or are about to start new shows examining Mr. Trump’s courtroom travails as he campaigns to win back the White House.
On MSNBC’s “Prosecuting Donald Trump,” the legal commentators Andrew Weissmann and Mary McCord offer analysis gleaned from their years serving as prosecutors. A recent episode of “Breakdown,” from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, includes a newsy interview with Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney. Recently on “Trump Trials,” the NPR host Scott Detrow discussed whether Mr. Trump could claim presidential immunity.
The criminal charges against Mr. Trump — brought by state prosecutors in New York and Georgia, as well as in two federal indictments — involve allegations of election interference, his role in the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol, his handling of sensitive documents and payments to cover up a sex scandal. Mr. Trump denies any wrongdoing.
Many of the hosts interviewed by The New York Times cited the newsworthiness of the story — a former president and a leading candidate for the office is facing a legal onslaught while battling for the White House — as the impetus to go wall to wall with dedicated podcasts.
“He is the far and away front-runner to the nomination and has a real chance of being president again,” Mr. Detrow said. “That, to me, is an enormous legal story, an enormous political story.”
But there is a significant potential economic upside as well: capturing a slice of the $2.4 billion that advertisers are expected to spend on podcasts in 2024, according to the data firm eMarketer. For years, news organizations have benefited financially from the public’s interest in Mr. Trump — colloquially known as the “Trump bump.”
“The number of users is up, but the number of people vying for those users in terms of dollars is also way up,” said Chris Balfe, founder of The First TV.
Mr. Trump’s legal challenges present an unusual twist on the true-crime genre, which often focuses on grisly murders or dramatic heists. “Serial,” a podcast from the creators of “This American Life,” was a pioneer of the category, which has also included entrants like “Exit Scam” (about a vanished cryptocurrency mogul) and “Last Seen,” a suspenseful yarn about the theft of 13 irreplaceable artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. (The New York Times Company now owns Serial Productions, maker of “Serial.”)
The Trump cases, by contrast, involve complicated questions about the Constitution and democracy. Adding to the complexity: They span state and federal jurisdictions in Florida, Georgia, New York and Washington, D.C.
Podcasts are an ideal format to explain the nuances to the public, because they give journalists the time and space to examine complicated issues at length, Mr. Balfe said. They also allow news organizations to create a listener destination for coverage quickly and relatively inexpensively, with two mics and a simple distribution feed for Spotify and Apple Podcasts, he said.
“You don’t have to go lease a beautiful studio on Sixth Avenue and hire a crew and all this other stuff,” Mr. Balfe said. “A podcast is a low-floor, high-ceiling way to start a new product. And if it works, it can be very successful, very quickly.”
Last year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the largest newspaper in Georgia, dedicated the latest season of its true-crime podcast, “Breakdown,” to the criminal investigation. Since then, it has been all Trump, all the time, with 22 episodes on the topic since August.
This year, the podcast garnered more than one million downloads, making it the newspaper’s most popular, finding audiences in Florida, California and New York, according to a spokeswoman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The newspaper also has three full-time reporters covering Mr. Trump’s case in Fulton County, where he faces 13 felony charges, including racketeering.
Tamar Hallerman, one of those reporters, co-anchors the podcast. She describes herself as a “recovering Washington correspondent.” (She was previously a reporter at Roll Call.)
“All of these legal cases that Trump is in the middle of are already creating a unique set of circumstances for a leading presidential candidate,” said Ms. Hallerman, who covered the 2016 presidential campaign. “This is absolutely not business as usual for the campaign press corps.”
Preet Bharara, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, has dedicated much of one of his three podcasts for Vox Media to the criminal investigations facing Mr. Trump. Mr. Bharara has covered Mr. Trump’s legal issues since 2018, saying, “There’s really been no shortage of legal-based news.”
Yet “the dam broke” in April, he said, after Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, brought the first criminal charges against Mr. Trump.
“Every month or two, there was another one,” Mr. Bharara said. “And it became clear that that was going to be a central focus.”
Political coverage of Mr. Trump should focus on the criminal investigations into the former president, rather than traditional horse-race coverage, said Timothy Crouse, whose 1973 book, “The Boys on the Bus,” about the media’s coverage of the previous year’s presidential campaign, became a classic of the genre.
Investigative reporters like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, not campaign reporters, did the most enduring political journalism of that era, Mr. Crouse said. At the time, many campaign reporters were skeptical of those stories. He added that sustained exploration of Mr. Trump’s criminal charges would probably follow the same pattern.
“Fewer political reporters might be OK, but only if that decrease were to be balanced by an increase in investigative reporters,” Mr. Crouse said.