Can a podcast help solve a 40-year mystery disappearance of a teenager?

The Devon Live podcast ‘The Disappearance of Genette Tate’ was launched on Sunday.

Looking back at one of Devon’s biggest mysteries, the weekly podcast is an in depth series into the police investigation and theories behind the vanishing of a 13-year-old school girl from a village near Exeter on August 19, 1978.

Here Devon Live’s court reporter Paul Greaves explains how he came about creating the series that launched on Sunday and what he learned from the experience.

Genette Tate

About 12 months ago I was called into the editor’s office and asked if I’d like to help create a podcast for DevonLive.

My mother taught me that when in doubt always say yes. So I said yes. Of course I’ll do it. Love to. Well it’s always nice to be asked isn’t it?

“What’s a podcast again?”

I don’t know why this particular modern phenomenon had passed me by but I suspect like many others it was down to my sheer laziness.

The then news editor (now DevonLive editor) Rich Booth patiently explained to me that what he and the editor had in mind was an episodic series of digital audio programmes which could be downloaded and listened to when they want.

“You had me at episodic series,” I gushed.

The case discussed was Genette Tate, a 13-year-old schoolgirl who had vanished in Devon 39 years before. It is presumed Genette was abducted and murdered but her body has never been found and nobody charged in connection with her disappearance. The case is a fascinating mystery.

When I returned home that night I thought for a while about what I had to do. My first thought was that this was serious. Genette’s disappearance was a national story. It caused genuine heartbreak and human trauma which endures to this day. Her family are still alive, as are her childhood friends, the village of Aylesbeare where she lived has been permanently scarred by the event.

The death of Genette Tate has made headlines for 40 years

All that is before we even get to the police investigation, unprecedented in its size and scale in Devon and Cornwall Police history. I knew there were people out there who had spent decades of their lives researching and investigating this case. What could I hope to achieve with my iPhone 4S and puppy dog enthusiasm?

On the other hand, here was an opportunity I wanted to make the most of. You don’t need me to recount all the changes in our industry over the last 20 years. But here was something new that was also genuinely exciting. I was being given free rein to interview people and tell the story in a way that had never been done before. More than that, I was trusted to take as long as I liked.

The Genette Tate story has been documented in a Shorthand immersive storytelling project too.

What I’ve learned over the past year while producing The Disappearance of Genette Tate is that I could put to good use all those skills which I’d gradually acquired over 18 years as a news reporter. I think of the podcasts I’ve made as traditional pieces of journalism.

Rich (now editor, then news editor) sent me a couple of podcasts to listen to at the beginning of the process just to understand their construction. Initially I wanted to let the people I interviewed tell as much of the story as possible but as time went on I included more exposition. It took a while to get used to the sound of my own voice, now I love it. It’s like a slightly better version of myself, a bit posher but still ‘of the people’.

The podcasts went live over the weekend — on the 40th anniversary of the disappearance. As of Monday morning we have received great feedback and it is sitting at 26 on the news podcast chart. I hope you’ll find time to listen.

When I left the editor’s office 12 months ago my confidence was so misplaced that I thought I’d be done by Christmas.

My sloth-like progress has for once been fortuitous because August 19th marked the 40th anniversary of Genette’s disappearance.

Her story is fascinating, mysterious and tragic. My main hope is that I have done it justice. I can genuinely say I gave it my best. I’d happily spend all my time making podcasts if I could.

So if you are journalist and the editor asks you whether you’d like to make a podcast, take my mother’s advice and think about the consequences later.

PS Thanks to podcast editor Jonathan Bishop for making the final product sound so good.

To listen to the first episode search for ‘The Disappearance of Gennete Tate wherever you normally find your podcasts. A new episode will appear every Sunday.

Click here to read the long-form story

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The stories behind the stories, from the regional press in the UK

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