When the two-hour season premiere of “Dateline” airs on NBC Friday at 9 p.m., the focus will be on the story of Matt Podolak, a 31-year-old who died and was found to have been poisoned by antifreeze. And the story came straight from the newsmagazine’s Facebook page.
Older brother Mark Podolak posted a message on the “Dateline” Facebook page, which drew enough attention to cause “Dateline” to follow the resulting trial and devote an episode to the story.
AllFacebook spoke with Dateline Digital Senior Producer Susan Nalle about how Friday night’s episode came to be and Facebook’s role:
AF: How does “Dateline” usually screen its Facebook page? Are every comment and message seen by someone?
SN: Someone from the digital team — usually our social media producer, Stephanie Haberman — is monitoring and engaging on our Facebook page throughout the day. I would have to say almost every comment is seen by some member of the digital team. But to be honest, there are an awful lot. I can’t imagine we don’t miss one or two. We do read every private message, which is how we came upon Mark Podolak.
AF: With all of the noise, spam, and garbage comments that appear on Facebook and other social networks, how were you able to tell that Mark Podolak was telling a legitimate story?
SN: Laser focus! Although in this case, it was fairly easy, because a trial was one month away, so we could look on the Internet and confirm. Then we had a producer reach out to Mr. Podolak. In other instances, we would probably bring it up at one of our daily story meetings with the senior staff. If the topic was intriguing, an associate producer or producer would be assigned to research the story a little further before reaching out.
AF: What was Mark Podolak’s message to “Dateline” like? Did he include extensive details about his story in his initial message, or just enough to draw your attention?
SN: There were enough details for us to do some research, but the part that grabbed our attention read like this: “I believe that I might have a story that could be of interest … Almost seven years ago, my younger brother, Matt Podolak, was killed with antifreeze.” It was hard to resist.
AF: I am certainly not trying to minimize the horror and sadness of losing a younger brother, or any loved one, but what about Mark Podolak’s tale drew your attention? Sadly, murders occur every day. What was so compelling about this one?
SN: People find it easy to just say that many “Dateline” episodes are about murder. But that’s not really it. “Dateline” is about relationships and justice. And while the core story may often involve a romantic relationship gone wrong, so many other relationships are highlighted in the process. In this case, we were touched by the story of one man reaching out for justice for his little brother.
Readers: Have you ever tried to submit a potential story to a news outlet via Facebook?