How do some of the best narrative journalists find the stories they report and write about? This episode focuses on how four different reporters landed on stories that are still read and talked about today.
In the first part, Luke Dittrich talks about how he ultimately decided to head to Joplin, Missouri, to report and write a story for Esquire that won him a National Magazine Award.
In Part II, Eli Saslow of the Washington Post talks about how he landed himself in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, for the first piece in his Pulitzer Prize winning series on food stamps.
Finally, Part IV is a snippet of a TedX Tampa talk that Michael Kruse gave, in which he discusses his story about Kathryn Norris, a woman who disappeared and was missing for 16 months, before someone found her body — in her own home.
The first three parts all come from Gangrey: The Podcast archives. As usual, you can listen to every episode of the podcast, for free, on the website.
In October 2019, her story “The Remains” was published by Esquire. The story looks at forensic anthropology, and one case in particular.
“The story is about a young man named Christian Gonzalez, who came to this country when he was very, very young with his family, and grew up in East Texas and considered himself, as did his friends and family, to be American,” Dickey says. “And then he was deported after kind of a weird conflagration of events, and he was deported to Mexico. He really did not know his home at all and felt very lonely there. He tried to get back into the United States, and he died in the South Texas desert.
Dickey opens The Remains with a scene that is very detailed, showing the forensic anthropologists doing their work on the remains of Christian Gonzalez. That work was done many years ago, though, which means Dickey had to recreate the scene through solid reporting.
“Recreation is one of the parts of writing that I enjoy the most,” Dickey says, “Because it’s kind of like going on a historical scavenger hunt a little bit, trying to find the details that’ll fit into the puzzle of the picture you’re trying to build.”
The series was a hit. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2013. And it was expanded into a book, which French wrote with Tom. That book is titled “Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon,” and was released in September 2016.
Kelley Benham French is currently a professor of practice at the University of Indiana. She recently reported and co-wrote a piece for the USA Today titled “The Long Road Home.” It was about a woman who believed she was a descendant of some of the first slaves in America, and who was trying to figure out who they were.
Heckert has written for dozens of magazines, including Esquire, GQ, ESPN The Magazine, Men’s Journal, and Sports Illustrated. He has twice been named the City and Regional Magazine Association’s writer of the year.
Cross has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Society of American Travel Writers. Her work has appeared in Outside, Southern Living, Cooking Light, SB Nation Longform, Bicycling, Runner’s World, the Tampa Bay Times, ESPN.com, and many more publications.