True crime fans gathered at the Joseph F. Rice School of Law Monday to hear journalist Mandy Matney speak on her new book, "Blood On Their Hands: Murder, Corruption, and the Fall of the Murdaugh Dynasty," and the chain of events that inspired it.
The book, which was released on Nov. 14, 2023, details the process of Matney's investigation into the crimes and suspicious circumstances that surround the Murdaugh family in South Carolina.
Matney started reporting on the Murdaugh while with The Island Packet, a newspaper in Bluffton, South Carolina. Three years after she started at the paper, Matney reported on a boat crash involving Mallory Beach and Paul Murdaugh, the youngest son of Alex Murdaugh. Matney said this sparked her desire to pursue the broader story, despite pushback from her editor, so she eventually left the paper to go to FITSNews, an online news outlet.
Matney said that the process of learning how to create a podcast once she moved on from The Island Packet was difficult, and learning how to divide her time between working at Fitz News and working on the podcast was a challenging task. Matney said that she received many comments from her listeners, some of which helped her grow, and others of which had a more negative impact.
“This is hard because I don't think a lot of people understand what it's like to have an inbox full of strangers that are critiquing your work and your every move, and I am constantly getting feedback there," Matney said. "Nobody has criticized me as an amazing person in journalism, or an amazing author, or a podcaster or anything."
Matney said that her experience working in newspapers greatly shaped her view of what journalists should be working toward. Through pushback from critics and other challenges, Matney said she learned what she believed are important journalistic skills, such as following important stories, even if they are not the angle major media companies are following.
“I still am critical of mainstream media, and I'm very vocal about that. Mostly just for not asking basic questions. I think our jobs as journalists — we're not supposed to be rewriting press releases," Matney said. "We're supposed to be putting the big pieces together. And I get frustrated when media is just kind of all recycling the same narrative over and over and not really stopping to think about it.”
The crowd that gathered to listen to Matney’s discussion of journalism and the Murdaugh case included members of the local community and many USC students. Maggie Harrison, a fourth-year retailing student, said she admires Matney's work, so she attended the event to get her book signed.
“I have been listening to her podcasts since they came out," Harrison said. "I've also gotten into reading very much so in the past year, so this is a good combination of continuing my reading as well as listening to someone who I look up to. I've been very into the Murdaugh story, and my mom listens to the podcast. I wanted to come for her, get a book signed by her and just listen to what she has to say.”
Matney said throughout many episodes of The Murdaugh Murders Podcast she has gained a large group of fans that have shared their input and wisdom through comments and conversations.
She said she learned many valuable lessons from her first podcast episode, and has been able to take those lessons and grow since then.
"I learned that you don't have to be perfect to put something out, and people will still listen to it if you're a good storyteller and if you have a good story to tell. It does not have to be perfect, and I made it a point to not rerecord those episodes because I want to hear where I started and where I am now," Matney said. "But I'm proud of it because it's a part of the journey."
The evening also included a discussion from local lawyer and friend of Matney's, Eric Bland. Bland, who represented multiple families suing Murdaugh, joined Matney on one of the later episodes of her podcast to discuss legal issues in the case. Bland said the importance of investigative crime reporting cannot be understated.
“The truth of the matter is, if we did not break these true crimes cases, I think that Alex possibly could have gotten away with killing his family, but this woman sitting right here (prevented that)," Bland said. "There's journalists out there, students here — we train for that one moment in our life, where if something's going to present to us, we're going to stand up and walk through the door. That's where she was. She had that moment."
Matney said that her mission for the podcast is to speak the truth and help provide a platform for those who do not have one of their own. She said she is proud of fulfilling her goal and realizing professional growth at the same time.
"We stuck to that mission, and we stuck to doing that. And we got an audience to listen to that. And that was the most amazing part. It's like we not only were doing really great work and work that truly mattered, but the world was listening," Matney said. "And I think that that should be a lesson to everyone that you can do it, and the world will tell you otherwise, but don't listen."