2022 Excellence in Audio Digital Storytelling, Ongoing Series finalist

The Daily: The Fall of Afghanistan

About the Project

The Taliban had just seized full control of Afghanistan. What would happen to the Afghans caught in the middle? To answer that question, Lynsea Garrison, senior producer of the New York Times podcast “The Daily,” introduced listeners to a trapped citizenry.

Like a teenager whose family, fearful of retribution from the Taliban, asked her to protect them — by marrying a Taliban fighter.

Lynsea, who is based in New York, could not get into Afghanistan. So she developed innovative tactics to accomplish what nobody anywhere else did: She documented the story of desperate Afghans, in their own voices, as they made life-or-death decisions.

She relied on recorded memos exchanged with Afghans whose internet could not support voice interviews or whose situations were too precarious to speak for long. Voice-memoing became a form of door knocking for Lynsea, as she sought out Afghans who would talk under such stressful conditions. Lynsea and the teenager “N” created a kind of code to allow N to communicate without her family’s discovering. Because N’s brother sometimes monitored her communications, she gave Lynsea an Afghan name, and told Lynsea to respond only if she called her by that name first.

Much of that episode is structured around whispered calls from her basement using a borrowed phone.

In their calls, N discloses intimacies rarely heard in journalism — how she would rather kill herself than marry into the Taliban and of a failed attempt to do so. Within the episode, she is transformed from university student to prisoner in her own home to — after refusing her family’s wishes — isolated revolutionary.

In the first episode, Lynsea created an innovative form of audio documentary, asking a woman in Kabul to document her city’s fall in dozens of voice memos, sent at all hours. She was a woman saying goodbye — to her home, her family, her freedom and her country.

In the second episode, Lynsea chronicled the experience of Afghans whose sense of betrayal perhaps ran the deepest: three interpreters for the U.S. military, now marked men at risk of being murdered, whose applications for evacuation to the U.S. were never approved. In the same episode, Lynsea spoke with U.S. soldiers who had served alongside those interpreters, tried to evacuate them, and grew increasingly disillusioned by the cruel and arbitrary calculations by which the United States determined who should be saved.

By the third episode, the question asked around the world was what would happen to the country’s women. That’s when we meet N, the teenager refusing to marry the Taliban fighter.

The fall of Afghanistan was a story of such enormity that it risked becoming an abstraction. With human tragedy of such scale, unfolding from such a distance, it seemed impossible to fathom. The innovative storytelling in “The Daily” helped the world better understand.