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Making a Killing: The ethics of true crime

24 October, 2019
Venue: The Old Rum Store, Chippendale

With roots that can be traced back to the crime serials of Victorian London, 1980s network TV movies of the week, and of course the public’s enduring thirst for tabloid news, the true crime boom hasn’t exactly occurred in a vacuum. 

We might not like to admit it, but we’ve been fascinated by tales of real-life for forever.

Serial. Making a Murderer. Teacher’s Pet. These series have been streamed and downloaded by millions of avid listeners. This latest iteration of true crime is widely accepted as more than entertainment. Due to its capacity to influence public opinion and alter the course of justice, we’re convinced that it’s meaningful content.

But is it?

The genre has established its own formula – the victim who was “loved by everyone”, the dogged detective, the slick-grimy production values – and viewers are beginning to find themselves in an ethical quandary.

When content makers use real people’s lives and deaths to drive audience numbers, questions of accountability and exploitation become harder to ignore. Are these tragedies and crimes ultimately just grist to the mill? Why are we drawn to stories that prioritise criminals over victims? Should watercooler content have this much influence over legal proceedings? Join us as we investigate true crime.


  • Students/Staff — $15  
  • Alumni — $20 
  • Friends — $25 

*ticket prices include drinks and catering

Our experts

Associate Professor Rebecca Scott Bray, Criminology

Associate Professor Rebecca Scott Bray

I am a criminologist concerned with death, including how we wrestle with and make sense of sudden death on many levels: how it is a deeply personal experience, and also a social, cultural and legal event, raising profound questions about truth and justice. There is a huge industry that now follows crime, and ‘true crime’ is a substantial part of this; whether that be documentary films, books or podcasts. Eventually, any discussion of true crime turns to questions of ethics, of responsibility to victims, and to the vexing issues of consumerism and entertainment amid the principled, and often dogged, pursuit of justice. How do we balance these? Can we? Must we? I am interested in how we navigate these sorts of issues.

Rebecca is a graduate of the University of Sydney (MCrim(1996)).

Dr Samuel Shpall, Philosophy

Dr Samuel Shpall


I unwittingly became a philosopher in my teenage years, when I came to realise that I couldn't accept many common answers to the questions about love, work, and meaning that I found most important. I sought better answers in the histories of philosophy and literature. My main intellectual interests are still in ethics and aesthetics, and especially in their interactions. This means I get to read novels and consider it homework, which is a great argument for becoming a philosopher. The True Crime genre is the site of many fascinating issues about how morality's demands relate to the production of art. I have no pithy thesis about these issues, but many questions. 

Gina McKeon

Gina McKeon


I’m a multiple Walkley Award-winning journalist and producer with an interest in social affairs and looking at new ways of telling stories in the media. I was digital editor on ABC Unravel True Crime’s Walkey Award-winning series, Blood On The Tracks, and host and reporter of season three, Last Seen Katoomba. True crime podcasting has exploded in recent years and become a powerful global platform for journalists to investigate and draw attention to unsolved crimes. As a journalist, there are unique ethical concerns and challenges particular to each story that need to be considered. 

Gina produced and reported the Walkley, Webby, and SXSW Award-winning SBS interactive documentary 'My Grandmother's Lingo'. Gina was also the 2014 ABC Andrew Olle Scholar and won the 2012 Walkley Award for Young Australian Radio Journalist of the Year.

Banner image by David von Diemar on Unsplash