- How did you find yourself as a journalist?
I was in my third year of college and still not completely sure I picked the right major, after switching majors from Psychology, to Comparative Literature, to Creative Writing (much to the chagrin of many, patient department advisors). I could feel something was off – that these paths weren’t going to serve me best, and I wasn’t going to be able to serve others best. In October 2013, I decided I had enough with the romantic yet exhausting life of hustling a couple coffee jobs and barely finishing poetry homework. So I applied for a work-study job with the local public radio station affiliated with the college, mostly because I wanted to sit down and do work rather than stand on my feet all day, and I got it. Working on a brand new, daily news magazine at KUOW Public Radio called The Record showed me that my interests in psychology, comparative literature, and creative writing were necessary to make really good radio. So I decided to switch majors, for the last time, to journalism and pursue a career in public media. Sometimes, things happen for a reason, I think.
- Which of your stories are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the first episode of Tie My Tubes: A Radio Documentary Series. It’s an ongoing project I’ve been working on for nearly two years now and it’s difficult because it’s so personal and vulnerable. In making this series, I’ve learned some unsettling things about myself, and because this is a documentary, I feel like it would be inauthentic not to share those realizations. So it’s slowed down the pace of the project, but it’s coming together. I’ve got the creative and interpersonal support necessary for sharing these kinds of deeply intimate truths.
I’m also proud of my interviews with Jon Krakauer for Yellowstone Public Radio about Yellowstone County’s lack of prosecutions for sexual assault, and more recently, with Wall Street Journal reporters about the failures of U.S. government operated Indian Health Service hospitals in the West.
I’m not religious, but my version of praying works like this: At the end of the day, as I ready my mind for rest after interviews like those, I lay in bed hoping that someone heard that story on the radio and felt something; I hope that feeling is a whisper in the corner of their mind that says, “You can do something about this, do something about this.” I hope that’s what radio stories and interviews do for people. Maybe this is a selfish, self-absorbed desire, but I do hope that my stories can embolden, inspire, and incite purpose within folks who operate day after day within the general, melodramatic humdrum of life.
- What is your favorite thing about your job?
Being able to walk up to strangers and say, “Excuse me, I’m a journalist, can I talk to you about that thing you were just describing?” It affirms my inherent inclination to eavesdrop and, in some ways, elevates that kind of weird and socially impolite tendency into a professional, purposeful action. I guess I just love people, and I love asking people why a half-dozen times in a quest to truly understand them. I want to share that understanding, that truth, with as many other people as possible. I know that seems like a huge task, but I’m in journalism for the possibility of creating a new kind of understanding, a new kind of empathy, through conversation and craft.
- What is your interview style?
I’ve taken queues from the giants – Terry Gross, Ira Glass, Sarah Koenig, and Brian Reed.
For both Koenig and Reed, you can actually hear some of their interview styles in Serial and S-Town. They’re so bare, emotionally, in response to what their interviewees tell them, and that kind of realness and rawness not only makes for good tape, but it actually allows for a deeper conversation, I think. It kind of builds intimacy and trust. Recently, Glass was interviewed on the new Maximum Fun podcast, The Turnaround! With Jessie Thorn, and he said that radio reporter Margy Rochlin is known in the radio realm of journalism for doing this really well. I’ve got a note on my personal calendar this week to go devour as many Rochlin stories as possible because I want to do this well, too. My interview style hinges on the crux of intimacy and reciprocity. How could I ever expect someone to tell me something dark and devastating without offering a morsel of my own experience with all that is difficult to discuss? But intimacy in conversations with strangers is difficult, and, in my experience, can sometimes lead to hostile interview situations if my interviewees are prodded too hard without forewarning. That’s why I like to do this thing Gross talks about in Longform Podcast and set boundaries at the beginning of the interview. I say, for instance, “Hey, so, if at anytime you realize mid-sentence that you wanted to say something differently, feel free to pause and just start over from the top. This will allow me to make a clean edit later when I review the tape. Also, I’ve got some questions about how you feel about things, but I want you to know that my commitment is to making sure that you are comfortable first and foremost. So if I ask you something that you’re uncomfortable answering, you are welcome to tell me to back off. I want to respect what you’re willing to share.”
Setting boundaries like that, assuring my interviewee that I’m committed to their comfort and to representing their voice with honor, helps us ease into a stiff and often remote, over the phone interview situation. Everybody is weird when they know they’re going to be recorded, so setting up the interview with a quick rundown of boundaries is key, for me.
- What do you look for in a story?
In radio, especially news radio, we have all kinds of different ways to tell a story. From a two-way interview that sounds conversational to a spot news cut-and-copy of audio bites or quotes that are 45-90, newsy sounding seconds, to a produced feature that follows the conventions of narrative beginning, middle, and end– for each of these kinds of story formulas, I’m first looking for a good idea. But the idea is not enough – and I think that’s what separates radio from print media. I read many news features that are all based on idea-nouns (an interesting person, an interesting place, an interesting thing). But what I need in a radio story, a good radio story, is an interesting idea that has a beginning, middle, and end narrative arc with tension and surprise. The surprise portion is really the most important for me. I want to tell a story that not only educates and informs, but I want listeners to think, “Oh, wow.”
- What is your day like at your job?
I start working as soon as I wake up. I rise around 5:30 a.m. and scan national news headlines, regional news headlines, and Twitter. I go for a run to wake up while listening to NPR or a podcast. I’m thinking about what I could report on when I roll into work at 9 a.m. I pitch to my News Director, and then I get going on a story for that day. I spend about four hours reporting before breaking for lunch and heading home to pet my cat and stretch. When I head back into work, I trade my reporter hat for a news anchor blazer as I prep Associated Press copy to broadcast during All Things Considered. In addition to being a reporter, I’m also YPR’s local ATC host. I try to make sure that I sound the same every day no matter how I’m really feeling, and that’s hard because it’s basically the opposite of my interviewing style – that realness and rawness I aim for. But when I’m hosting, and I’m reading regional news copy for the most part, I know that there are people who count on me to be consistent, clear, and professional. I give myself permission to sound like myself, lively and engaged, but I leave everything else at the door when I step into the studio to record (our afternoon news is pre-recorded, and I load it into our automation system). Hosting takes about an hour and a half for me to do it well. When I wrap up, I’m usually back jamming on a story, aiding in web production, or working with the news team’s work-study student. I guess the only consistent thing about my job is what time I start and going through that mindful meditation thing prior to news anchoring. Everything else is different each day. I thrive creatively in that kind of varied routine, but I have to have structure nonetheless.
- Who do you most look up to in the journalism industry?
My mentor, Arwen Nicks. She recently accepted a job managing the podcast annex of KPCC in Los Angeles. She also created the regional storytelling show, kind of in the style of This American Life, for KNKX Seattle – it’s called Sound Effect. She also created and hosts The Sub Pop Podcast and created and co-hosts How’s Your Day? for KUOW Public Radio. I look to her for how to balance such a creative and highly social career with a rewarding personal life. The older I get, the more I’m mindful of people I love and trust warning me about burnout. But when I see Nicks doing all that she does with style, wit, and perpetual energy, I know that I can reject those notions of burnout. I can work hard, make great radio, and be good at taking care of myself. For me, that means a significant amount of time spent alone, not being afraid to ask for help when I need it, and drinking a lot of water.
- What is your favorite news outlet?
I’ve got many: Washington Post, New York Times, High Country News, Wall Street Journal, regional newspapers across Montana like The Bozeman Daily Chronicle and The Billings Gazette, The New Yorker, National Geographic, Outside Magazine, and, of course, NPR. It’s Been A Minute with Sam Sanders is my favorite NPR news podcast nowadays.
- Fill in the blank:
- If I am not reporting, I am…Reading, hiking around southeastern Montana, drawing, figuring out a really good workout routine (suggestions welcomed), or hanging out with my cat Jacque doing stuff around the house.
- If I could interview anyone, it would be…Oprah or Ellen, maybe? Or maybe even that one girl with the nosebleed fascination from cycle 12 of America’s Next Top Model. I don’t know, I suppose I don’t really have one person in mind that I’d like to interview. I want to interview as many people as possible. Terry Gross has conducted something like more than 13,000 interviews since 1975. I admire that kind of commitment to all kinds of people, to all kinds of narratives, to the greater community, and to the world.
- What is your guilty pleasure?
Watching a lot of “reality” TV. And making the Dear: The Letters Between Two Friends podcast with my pal Davis Land. I guess I feel kind of guilty for sharing so much of myself with strangers in that podcast and not calling my family as often as I think I should to talk to them about those things, too. Sorry, Mom and Dad. I love you!