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New College alumna Sarah Turney finds her calling as a true crime podcaster

Portrait of ASU alumna Sarah Turney.

ASU alumna Sarah Turney hosts the podcast "Voices for Justice."

November 16, 2022

If you turn on any streaming service or visit any bookstore, you will undoubtedly come across dozens of true crime TV shows, movies, podcasts and books. 

As the true crime genre continues to grow in popularity, the question of ethicality has risen to the surface. Does this content do more harm than good? Many are now taking a critical eye to the true crime content they consume, with an emphasis on advocacy and a departure from sensationalism.

One podcast host who is leading the charge in ethical true crime is Sarah Turney, an Arizona State University alumna who graduated from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2012.

Although Turney didn’t initially set out to become a podcaster after graduation, it was her personal experience as the sister of a missing teenager that changed her trajectory. Turney’s sister, Alissa, went missing in 2001 at 17 years old. Nearly two decades later, the case had gone cold and Turney was determined to find justice for her sister.

“At a certain point in her investigation, the police told me that my best course of action to help her was to get media attention. And I went all in,” Turney said. “This caused a lot of problems with my career. When I was told to get media attention, I was working at a nonprofit in events and fundraising. My boss expressed concern that my fight for my sister would impact my career, so I left my position.”

Turney started a podcast, "Voices for Justice," in 2019. Over the course of 25 episodes, Turney broke down and detailed every aspect of her sister’s case. She also took to TikTok in the hopes that the case would gain additional media exposure. Her podcast and videos began going viral, and with a renewed public interest in Alissa’s case, an arrest was made in August of 2020.

Today, she continues to host "Voices for Justice" and now covers other cases in need of justice. The podcast has over 500,000 monthly listens and has gotten approximately 20 million downloads since 2019. She also partnered with Spotify and Parcast last year to launch "Disappearances" — a podcast that explores the reasons people disappear and the impact their absences have on those left behind.

In September, Turney was a guest speaker at New College’s inaugural Cold Case Symposium, an event that is meant to bring awareness to local cold cases and explore some of the work being done to address the cold case crisis.

Turney shared more about her Sun Devil story, her career and how she hopes to shape the future of true crime.

Question: Why'd you choose ASU and what drew you to New College?

Answer: New College was the closest to home. I worked my way through college to avoid student loans, so I needed a convenient option. ... It was a much better fit for me as a working student. Growing up, I was told to go to college for what I love, and that was reading and writing. I took a lot of creative writing classes and wanted to eventually become a professional writer. 

Q: What have you been up to since graduation? Tell us a bit about your current position and what led you there.

A: After I graduated, I transitioned out of retail management and into marketing and events. I worked with children in the foster care system, for USA Today and in the nonprofit sector. After I was laid off at the beginning of the pandemic, I went all in on podcasting. Now, I run my own company, Voices for Justice Media. I specialize in creating media, primarily podcasts, that focus on those at the center of true crime cases, victims, survivors and family members.

Q: What was a pivotal moment in your career path that helped you get where you wanted to go?

A: I was working in marketing at the start of 2020, and I was laid off at the beginning of the pandemic. That was a huge wake-up call for me. It motivated me to take the leap and focus all my energy on my own business. Also, as my online presence and personal podcast began to grow, I was slowly realizing that creating true crime media in a way that had never been done before was my passion and my calling. It's all I could think about and all I wanted to do, so I made the leap. 

Q: How did New College and the university help prepare you for success?

A: My program helped prepare me greatly for my career. Learning how to write and tell a story in an effective and meaningful way is a huge part of my job across everything I have my hands in. Storytelling is at the root of my career and company. I write over 100,000 words a week. I couldn't do that as effectively as I do now without the experience I gained at ASU.  

Q: What’s your favorite part about the career you have chosen?

A: Helping people. While I've always gravitated toward positions that I hope could help someone, now that I own my own business, I can be more in control of who and how much I help. I know exactly where the money is going and how it's used to help. While I make media, I consider myself to be an advocate above all. So being able to donate more than I ever have and speak with families who are fighting for a loved one in the true crime space is everything to me. 

Q: What has been your biggest motivation to succeed professionally?

A: My sister. Even before I was told to get media attention for her. We grew up in west Phoenix; I was the first woman to ever even graduate from high school in my family, let alone from college. I wanted to make her and our deceased mother proud. 

Q: What advice would you give to new students or what do you wish you had known coming into New College?

A: Life is always changing. Be flexible, work hard and diversify your income. If you can start any type of side business, do it. Etsy, eBay, Amazon, a podcast, freelance work — whatever it is — create some type of safety net to shield you from the ups and downs of traditional employment and the economy. 

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in 10 years?

A: I want to change the way true crime content is made to benefit those who are most impacted and to spark real, relevant change. In 10 years, the plan is for my media company to expand beyond podcasting and into TV, film and books. I want to give true crime back to the victims and survivors.

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