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Tackling The Tough Stories. Some tips on how to

Some tips on how to do interviews in emotional or contentious stories, stories that often are the

Most have to do with interviewing people in highly emotional situations — a person who’s experienced a

I remember knocking on the door of a woman whose son just murdered two people and committed

Or calling on the sister of a man who’d died from Agent Orange

Or approaching a member of a crime “family” whose straw corporations had been bilking the federal government

During my career, though, I worked with colleagues who did it better than I did

Kymberli ascribes some of her skill to her dad, who died when she was nine, and who

Sounds like a line in a song, but it’s the truth nonetheless

He taught us to be respectful because so many people he dealt with were grief-stricken

She’s no longer at the Beacon Journal which, like so man news organizations, has laid off

Hers was one of the most unusual applications I’ ever received at the Beacon Journal, winner of

But something stood out about her stories, most of which dealt with community controversies and tragedies: Not

To fulfill a promise to her mother, Kymberli worked low-wage jobs wherever she could to feed and

Recently we chatted about her career and how she has always, or almost always, been able to

I always was the person that my mother told to shut up, that my teacher told to

Actually, it is her — her approach, her preparedness, her attitude, her persistence

If you think, ‘This woman just got raped, and, oh my God, she’s not going to

But if you think they will talk to you, you have a better chance they will

At someone’s door she identifies herself, tells them why she is there

“People are like rusty engines, you can’t just turn them over and have them … start talking

“A lot of times I ask them if they’ve eaten; it’s a stupid question, but

If I’m at the door, I might ask them if there’s anybody else in the

A lot of times you’ll get somebody or at that point they just invite you in

And I end up sitting at the kitchen table looking at a scrapbook

“I get all the documents that can be had … They help you know what to ask, what

Because the targets of the story “don’t want to talk with you

… I tended to know as much as could possibly be known about a thing before I called

Her mentor at the Beacon Journal, Keith McKnight, was a brilliant writer and editor

She asks them: “how does that work?” or “I’m not sure I understand

With public officials, Kymberli makes sure they see her often, that they know who she is and

She happened to know every morning he went running with his wife

“I knew if I caught him on that run with his wife, he wouldn’t say anything

She believes that a story — or an angle — that most people don’t want told is important

Is this person the victim or a family member? Is the person the instigator or source of

Approach every story as if you are ignorant — because you are

Find out as much as you can before approaching the difficult interview

Before making the approach, understand your own feelings or reticence

When you talk to people in emotional or controversial stories, remember just to get the conversation going

Kymberli and I agree on this: It is a privilege to be able to enter people’s

Neither Kymberli nor I have ever had too many doors slammed in our faces; if there’s

The most difficult stories are often the best and most important stories you can do

Your community is better off from the knowing than the not-knowing

And if you do tackle a tough story, please share the url of your piece in the

And if you’ve tackled difficult interviews for nonfiction narratives, what are some of your tips? What