Episode 79: Finding Stories To Tell

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.

In Part III, Pamela Colloff discusses the genesis of her National Magazine Award winning series The Innocent Man. She wrote that piece for Texas Monthly. Colloff is now a senior reporter at ProPublica and a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine.

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. 

Episode 78: Bronwen Dickey

Bronwen Dickey is a contributing editor at The Oxford American and the author of Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon.

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.”

Dickey has written for The Oxford American, Esquire, Outside, Men’s Journal, Garden and Gun, the New York Times, and so many more publications. She’s received the Hearst Editorial Excellence Award in reporting, and a Lowell Thomas Award in travel journalism. 

Her story “Climb Aboard, Ye Who Seek the Truth,” was published by Popular Mechanics, and was a finalist for the 2017 National Magazine Award in feature writing.

Episode 77: New Stories We Tell

This episode features clips from four of the women included in the new anthology, “New Stories We Tell: True Tales by America’s New Generation of Great Women Journalists.” The book was recently published by The Sager Group.

The book is the third in a series of anthologies celebrating women in longform journalism, featuring more than 50 great writers from the 1950s to the present. The first was “Newswomen: Twenty-Five Years of Front Page Journalism,” and was published in 2016. That book was followed two years later by “The Stories We Tell: Classic True Tales By America’s Greatest Women Journalists.”

Four reporters who have been on the podcast are included in the new book: Pamela Colloff, Vanessa Grigoriadis, Janet Reitman, and Brooke Jarvis. Additionally, the book’s editors, Kaylen Ralph and Joanna Demkiewicz, have been guests on the podcast. They helped with “Newswomen,” and talked about that book in 2016. They are the editors of “New Stories We Tell.”

In this episode, you’ll hear from them, as well as clips from Colloff, Grigoriadis, Reitman, and Jarvis. You’ll also hear from Mike Sager, the founder and publisher of The Sager Group.

Clips came from the following episodes:

• Pamela Colloff, Episodes Three and 63

• Vanessa Grigoriadis, Episodes 30 and 55

• Janet Reitman, Episode 10

• Brooke Jarvis, Episode 33

• Kaylen Ralph and Joanna Demkiewicz, Episode 44

Kelley Benham French (2013)

This episode is a rebroadcast of the interview Matt Tullis did with Kelley Benham French in February 2013. They talked about her three-part series “Never Let Go,” which focused on the birth of her and Thomas French’s daughter. Juniper was born at 23 weeks and 6 days, weighing just one pound-four ounces.

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.

Justin Heckert (2013)

This is a rebroadcast of the original episode of Gangrey: The Podcast, featuring Justin Heckert. It originally aired in January 2013. Heckert talked with host Matt Tullis about his story “The Hazards of Growing Up Painlessly,” which ran in The New York Times Magazine in November 2012. The story is about a 13-year-old girl who has a medical condition that makes it so she can’t feel pain. 

Since joining the podcast, Heckert has reported and written a lot of other amazing stories. His story, “Susan Cox is No Longer Here,” ran in Indianapolis Monthly, and was later republished by River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative. It’s a haunting piece that looks at what happens when life, and death, don’t go the way we expect it to. 

In March 2014, he wrote a piece on Puddles the Clown for Grantland. In July 2018, he wrote about the last Blockbuster video store for The Ringer. And in August, he wrote about a year-long quest to save an injured loggerhead turtle. That story ran in Garden & Gun magazine.

Tullis also interviewed Heckert a second time in 2015 when he did an annotation of his Men’s Journal story “Lost in the Waves” for Nieman Storyboard.

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.

Kim Cross (2015)

This episode is a rebroadcast of the interview Matt Tullis did with Kim Cross in September 2015. Cross’s book “What Stands in the Storm: Three Days in the Worst Superstorm to Hit the South’s Tornado Alley” had been published by Atria Books in March of that year. The book is a reporting and writing masterpiece, as Cross went to great lengths to make sure the reporting was accurate, and the writing was compelling.

Since joining the podcast, Cross been included in Best American Sports Writing twice. She was included in the 2016 edition for her story The King of Tides, which ran in Southwest: The Magazine. And this year, Cross will be in BASW 2019 for a story she wrote for Bicycling Magazine. That story is about a prisoner in California who spends his time restoring used bicycles.

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.

Eli Saslow (2014)

This episode is a rebroadcast of the interview Matt Tullis did with Eli Saslow back in September 2014. Saslow, a reporter for the Washington Post, had just won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for his six-part series on food stamps in a post-recession America. Tullis and Saslow talked about that series and much more.

Since joining the podcast, Saslow has continued to write compelling stories that show the big issues facing our country in minute detail. He’s written about the opioid epidemic, how the made-up stories get passed around the Internet as news, immigration, and more. In June 2018, he wrote a story about the school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who didn’t go into the school to engage the shooter.

Saslow’s story about a white supremacist turning his back on the movement was ultimately expanded into a book. Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist was published by Penguin Random House in September 2018. The paperback version of that book will be on sale on September 3 of this year.

Saslow has won more awards than I can list. He won the Pulitzer in 2014, and was a finalist for that award in 2013, 2016, and 2017.