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Subverting true crime: Connie Walker on the ethics of storytelling

Connie Walker is an award-winning Cree journalist, and the host of CBC's true crime podcast, Missing and Murdered. She's thought a lot about not sacrificing ethics for storytelling.
"There is a way to to tell a respectful, ethical, true crime story about a mystery that doesn't forget the humanity," said award-winning Cree journalist Connie Walker. (CBC)
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Connie Walker is the host of CBC's true crime podcast Missing and Murdered, an award-winning investigative series that has been downloaded more than 24 million times. 

But Walker didn't set out to make a podcast, she said.  

After years of reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Walker felt that important context was often left out of shorter news stories. 

Walker, who is Cree, worked on the groundbreaking CBC database which complied names, photos and histories of more than 230 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. 

"There was so much emphasis on the number of missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls. And we really wanted our coverage to help tell a bigger story, to show how every single woman or girl has a family that loves and misses them," explained Walker.  

"So, when the opportunity to do a podcast came up, we jumped at it."  

The database led to the Missing and Murdered podcast series, a format that allowed Walker and her team to include critical context. 

"With the podcast you really have the space to ... not only focus on the mystery of someone's death or disappearance, but to really help people understand how that's connected back to Canadian history and how that's connected back to the legacies of residential schools and colonization in Canada."
 

Using true crime to tell a bigger story 

The "insatiable appetite" for true crime podcasts allowed Walker and her team to "attract a much bigger audience that didn't even know they were interested in Indigenous issues until they heard the podcast." 

But in Missing and Murdered, Walker and her team were "actively trying not to focus on the violence that often resulted in the deaths or disappearances of women and girls," she explained. 

Instead, they used the true crime genre as a tool, as a way to tell a bigger story. 

"We've tried to subvert the popularity of the true crime genre, to really tell a story about history and to tell a story about Indigenous lives in Canada."

Journalism and trauma 

There are important ethical considerations when working on true crime stories, and when working on "any story about Indigenous issues," Walker said. 

"There are so many things that journalists need to be aware of when reporting in Indigenous communities. And the biggest one for me is the role of trauma." 

The field of trauma-informed journalism is growing, explained Walker. 

"I hope that's a conversation that keeps going, because I feel like I've seen firsthand how it can really make a difference."