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Sep 1, 2021

Streaming the Truth

Barry Kaufman

Photography By

M.KAT Photography
Since the beginning, FITSNews.com’s Mandy Matney has been knee-deep in the most explosive case to ever hit Beaufort County. Her new podcast digs deeper into the facts.

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Mandy Matney doesn’t know who killed Paul or Maggie Murdaugh. She doesn’t know who killed Stephen Smith. These are things she admits right off the bat during episodes of her “Murdaugh Murders Podcast.”

These are things she doesn’t know. But it’s the things she does know that make her podcast such an addictively thrilling experience.

“I was seeing that other people were making podcasts about this, and I know the story better than any reporter because I’ve been on it for so many years,” she said. As news director for the independent online news outfit FITSNews.com, she has reported on the Murdaugh family’s comings and goings for years, well before the boat crash and subsequent double homicide that put them in the national spotlight.

And it was when those “parachute journalists” jumped in from the national outlets and unleashed a torrent of error-prone coverage that Matney decided her voice was needed more than ever. “I could tell that a lot of national reporters didn’t care on the level I did,” she said. “I can listen to another podcast’s episode about this for five seconds and just say, ‘wrong.’”

As a professional, Matney is upfront with her audience about what she doesn’t know. But there’s plenty she does know that national reporters don’t (for example, how to pronounce Murdaugh, which ends with a hard “k” sound). Starting a podcast added another dynamic to her coverage.

Creating it required a little help from her fiancé, David Moses. As her producer and biggest fan, he’s played an integral role in getting the podcast off the ground.

“What Mandy is so skilled with is collaborating on pieces and structuring content so it makes sense, either in a chronological or contextual order,” Moses said. “She’s the most magnificent author and writer I’ve ever known. But more than that, she has an unequivocal commitment to exposing the truth, wherever it leads. That helps us know what’s important to telling the story.”

The story so far
The story surrounding the Murdaugh murders isn’t just about the frantic 911 call Alex Murdaugh placed on the night of June 7, 2021, after finding his wife and son murdered. It isn’t just about the February 24, 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach. It isn’t just about the July 8, 2015 death of Stephen Smith.

It’s the story of a family’s influence, built over decades working alongside South Carolina’s power brokers, and how that influence can bury the truth. And that story is far from over.

Across the seven episodes of the podcast released as of press time, Matney has examined each of those three tentpole stories, devoting two episodes apiece to the murders of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh, the 2019 boat crash, and the 2015 death of Smith. But the real value in what she brings to the podcast lies in her deep knowledge of each incident, the players involved and the often-obscured connections between each one.

She approaches each incident with a reverence for the facts, eschewing any sensationalism and giving expertly laid out reasoning into any asides that could be taken as conjecture. It’s an old-school journalistic approach but packaged in a way that draws you into the labyrinthine story, as the best true crime podcasts do, with the actual audio from 911 calls adding to the narrative.

“It’s been interesting. When the 911 call came out, I realized this is just a totally different medium for telling this story,” she said. “My mind is thinking differently about how to tell stories now.”

“I think it’s Mandy’s commitment to truth, and the failures in the investigation of Stephen Smith’s and Mallory Beach’s deaths, and the current investigation into Maggie and Paul’s horrific end. It has all the elements. It really captures people’s attention,” Moses said. “We just try to do that justice.”

The podcast format gives Matney new tools for storytelling. But ultimately, it’s just another way to pursue the truth, even if that means taking a closer look at how these events were investigated and adjudicated. And while that pursuit might mean putting herself in the crosshairs of law enforcement, the legal system, and the entire good old boys’ network, for Matney, that’s just part of the job.

“I didn’t get into journalism to be scared of something and walk away,” she said. “No one should ever be afraid to tell the truth. this. I’ve been in this since the beginning, and nothing is going to stop me at this point.”

Listen in
For better or worse, the Murdaugh murders and the almost operatic drama that surrounds the story have put the Lowcountry in the national spotlight. With the ears of the world listening, Matney’s podcasts have given everyone a chance to share her unique insight into the ongoing story. And it turns out, people have responded.

“We were just flabbergasted by the amount of interest in this new format,” Moses said. Depending on where you get your data, the average podcast can expect to attract a few hundred listeners in its first 30 days. “We had 140,000 listeners in our first 37 days. And then Apple says there have been 500,000 plus streams. It’s crazy.”

These numbers represent a legion of news consumers, but in a greater sense, they show a different future for journalism—one where the pursuit of the truth remains at the heart of every endeavor, even if the format shifts to meet those consumers online where they live. Already, FITSNews has proven to be a poster child in the industry for a sustainable news source built on solid reporting and flexibility in delivering it to the people.

Through this podcast, Matney is not just covering a story. She’s showing an industry that can often be stuck in the past a better way forward.

“People really believe independent news is the future,” Matney said. “The future is online, and when you’re an independent news outlet, you care more about the stories you’re doing.”

The Murdaugh Murders Podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts.

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