Journalist behind hit podcast ‘The Letter’ shares why it’s much more than just a true crime story
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — When Amy Donaldson received a tip for a news story three and a half years ago, she had no idea how much it would fundamentally change her life.
The 30-year veteran journalist was working at the Deseret News when a friend reached out and told her about a letter his aunt had written detailing an experience she had.
“I read her letter and I was in tears. I was actually sobbing. And I was like, I need to know what happened. I need to know the rest of the story,” Donaldson tells EastIdahoNews.com.
That letter led to one of the most downloaded and listened-to podcasts in America right now. It’s appropriately called ‘The Letter’ and is produced by KSL Podcasts and Lemonada Media. The first episode was released Sept. 6 and hit #1 on the Apple podcast chart. It’s remained in the top 10 for the past two and a half weeks.
The 8-part series explores the brutal murder of Zachary Snarr, who was shot and killed in Salt Lake City while taking photos with his friend, Yvette Rodier, on a summer night in 1996. Rodier was also shot but survived.
The gunman was 19-year-old Jorge Martin Benvenuto and ‘The Letter’ weaves together a story of forgiveness, guilt and what happens after the headlines die down.
“We look for why these things happen. We try to make sense of things that don’t make sense. And it was very unnerving for most people in the community because there wasn’t any way to feel better about what happened,” Donaldson explains.
Donaldson has spent her years as a reporter covering courts and criminal justice. She was aware of the Snarr case but hadn’t thought much about it until being shown the letter of her friend’s aunt in 2019. That’s when she decided to contact the families of those involved in the tragedy.
“I got up the courage to call and say, ‘Hey, I feel like I’ve eavesdropped on your lives. But can I know what happened?'” she recalls. “I just basically started interviewing people not knowing what I’d do with it.”
Her interviews eventually led to the podcast, which is not your typical true-crime program. While the story revolves around a crime, Donaldson says it’s really about how people survive, rebuild, become resilient and even heroic after a terrible thing happens.
“The story behind ‘The Letter’ is so powerful. The themes of redemption, the journey through grief and forgiveness are rarely told in a true crime podcast,” said KSL Executive Vice President Tanya Vea in a news release.
Every time Donaldson sat down to work on the podcast, she felt like she wanted to be a better person and she hopes others feel the same after listening to ‘The Letter.’
“One of the things I’ve learned from this is how we’re not really separated by very much. Your experiences feel really unique and different from my experiences … but when you get up close, you realize how much your one decision took you that direction and my decision took me the other direction,” Donaldson explains. “There’s just little diverging decisions that we make that take us to a different life. That’s one of the things I really wanted to examine – the small things, the small comforts, the small miracles and the ways in which people are heroic, but we never talk about.”
Watch our entire conversation with Donaldson in the video player above.
New episodes of ‘The Letter’ are released every Tuesday. Learn more about the podcast and listen to it here.