“I’m often toggling between environmental justice, between the history of race and racial organization in America. And to me, they’re all one story, and I’m trying to tell the story about how the conditions of marginalization in America have made and shaped the present. That’s it. That’s one story.”
Roxanna Asgarian is the law and courts reporter for the Texas Tribune. Her new book is We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America.
“Every once in a while, I'll have someone just freak out at me. And it keeps you honest, in a way, because they don't owe you anything. People don't owe you anything as a journalist. ... But everyone reacts to trauma differently and some people really do want to talk about it. And I think the families in this book really wanted to talk about it and it felt like no one was even paying attention to them.”
Mary Childs is a co-host of the podcast Planet Money and the author of The Bond King: How One Man Made a Market, Built an Empire, and Lost It All.
“I love aberrations. I love when things go wrong. You get a high stress situation, you get all of the manifestations of personality. We're our most selves, if not our best selves, at those times. I like the [stories] that have embedded in them all of those conduits of power and that reveal the greater system.”
Laurel Braitman is a science writer, the author of Animal Madness: Inside Their Minds, and the founder of Writing Medicine. Her new book is What Looks Like Bravery: An Epic Journey Through Loss to Love.
“My life was becoming unmanageable, in a way. I was using success in many ways like a drug, and I’d say like an analgesic on the sorts of difficult feelings I hadn’t wanted to face truly since childhood. And we are rewarded in this culture for these kinds of outward forms of success that often have nothing to do with what’s going on inside of you.”
Sam Fragoso is a writer, filmmaker, and the host of the podcast Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso.
“We have an hour together. We may not have another. We're here for a brief moment and then, you know, we die. And I want this thing to be as good as it can be. If if it's anything less than that, I'm just not interested. … And that, to me, is why you keep doing it: because that feeling when you really feel like you've put someone's life on the record in a way that is beautiful and painful and idiosyncratic and triumphant… when it goes well, it's like I lost 20 pounds. I am never a nicer or happier person than immediately after a taping. I'm kind of goofy and silly and delirious and grateful to be doing this. Like, so fucking grateful.”
Eric Lach is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he covers New York. His latest article is “The Mayor and the Con Man.”
“I think about my own trajectory, my little generation of journalists—it was easier to get jobs reporting on national politics than to get a job reporting on something that you could see and go to and that is a really strange thing, the relief and the joy that I feel like when I can just take the subway twenty minutes to go see something interesting for a story or talk to somebody interesting or explore physically and not just feel like I’m making phone calls and Googling. It’s a very different kind of work, but it’s just not something that was super available.”
Willa Paskin, a former TV critic, is the host of the podcast Decoder Ring.
“I want it to feel like a trap door. When you push on a trap door, there’s like a little spring. If it’s the right idea, you start to look into it, and you’re like, Oh, it’s giving a little.”
Abraham Josephine Riesman is a journalist who writes often for New York and is the author of True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee. Her second book, Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America, will be published in March.
“You’re sure that there’s a level of unreality, but you’re not sure that it’s all fake. There’s stuff there that seems either plausible or sometimes you go ‘there’s no way you could fake that.’ And sometimes you’re right, and a lot of times you’re somewhere in the middle. It’s not as easily distinguished as saying this is fact and this is fiction, this was scripted and this was improvised, whatever. You can’t make those distinctions easily, and one of the things I sort of hope comes out of the book—if it has any impact at all—is to try to get us past this false binary of true and false.”
Jonah Weiner is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and co-author of the newsletter Blackbird Spyplane.
“It's a version of myself. It's a hyperbolic version of myself. And I think it keeps it fun for me. It doesn't feel like a job. Ideally, it keeps it fun for readers. And I think that there actually is this function where X out of 10 people coming to it, their eyes are going to cross and they're going say, I'm out. No thanks. And that's fine, because the Y out of 10 who stick around feel that much more in on something and it just makes it feel like a funky, special place.”
Delia Cai is the senior vanities correspondent for Vanity Fair and publishes the media newsletter Deez Links. Her debut novel Central Places is out this week.
“This was in like, 2011, where I think actual journalists were still trying to figure out ‘Is it gross to be a brand?’ And at least in school, they were all about it. They’re like, ‘You need a brand, you need to think about what your niche is going to be, you need to think about engaging your audience.’ We had to make websites, we had to blog, and of course, all of us being college students, we started using our blogs to write about each other. We used Twitter to talk shit about each other in a very thinly veiled way. So really, it was the best training for being online.”
Peggy Orenstein is a journalist and author. Her latest book is Unraveling.
“The challenge is… to not want to say, I need to know what the book is about. I need to have my chapters. I need to know what exactly I'm looking for. Because it's really scary to just go out and report and have trust that there's going to be interesting things and that if you just keep going, you're going to find them. So to not foreclose possibility and options and ideas is the biggest reporting challenge for those sorts of books for me.”
Jonathan Goldstein is an audio producer and the host of Heavyweight.
“I wasn’t taking myself very seriously, initially. I liked working with my friends and family because I think I was a little more comfortable with them. Then in the second season people were writing in with real problems, and they were looking at me as a kind of expert. It was terrifying to meet with these people and see the look of hopefulness in their eyes. ... I realized I need to step it up and even if I didn’t feel like an expert—an expert in an invented field that doesn’t really exist—that I’d really have to take that on with seriousness.”
Katy Vine is an executive editor for Texas Monthly.
“This is a huge state. There’s so much, and it’s different everywhere you look. You just go to Houston and there’s worlds within worlds within worlds just within the one city. You go to San Antonio and you’re in a different country, and you go to Dallas, you’re in a totally different country. … It’s wild to me. It’s endlessly fascinating.”
David Wolman is the author of six books and a magazine features writer who has written for Wired, Outside, and The New York Times. His latest article is ”Vanished in the Pacific.”
“I feel like conversations about characters, character development, strong characters gets a little nauseating in my field sometimes because it’s like, of course — you need that like you need periods at the ends of sentences. Do we really have to keep saying it? But in this conversation it’s worth saying, because there are great ideas out there where the sources or the characters just really weren't there and then you’re tucking your tail in between your legs to look for the next one.”
Clint Smith is a poet and a staff writer for The Atlantic. His most recent book is How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America and his latest feature is “Monuments to the Unthinkable.”
“I've been to a lot of places that carry a history of death and slaughter and murder. I've been on plantations. I've been in execution chambers. I've sat on electric chairs. I've been on death row. But I have never experienced anything like what I experienced walking through the gas chamber in Dachau. I mean, there's reading books about the Holocaust, and then there's that. And that is something that I hope to continue doing for the rest of my life: putting my body where these things happen. Because it completely transforms your understanding of what it was like.”
Grant Wahl was the founder of Fútbol with Grant Wahl, a longtime writer for Sports Illustrated, and the author of The Beckham Experiment and Masters of Modern Soccer. He died on December 10, covering the World Cup in Qatar. This interview was recorded in January 2016.
“I never would have predicted I would do soccer full time. And that’s happened. I’d love to say that this was all planned and inevitable but it really wasn’t.”
Ryan O’Hanlon is a soccer writer for ESPN. His new book is Net Gains: Inside the Beautiful Game’s Analytics Revolution.
“It wasn’t just that I was burned out from two years at The Ringer, it was being burned out from nine years of just freakin’ bobbing up and down to keep my head above water, and changing the water every year.”
Bradley Hope and Tom Wright are former journalists at The Wall Street Journal, the co-founders of journalism studio Project Brazen, and the co-authors of the book Billion Dollar Whale.
“We’re a little bit skeptical of just jumping into the big story of the day with something that doesn’t feel differentiated. It needs to have character, storytelling—it can’t just be a great topic, or an important topic, even.”
Audie Cornish is a journalist and the former host of NPR’s All Things Considered. Her new CNN Audio podcast is The Assignment.
“I think there is journalism inherent in an interview. Like the interview itself should be considered a piece of journalism. It isn't always. Sometimes the vibe is that it’s a little window dressing or that it's personality driven and I don't subscribe to that. I think that it has its own journalism. It's my journalism.”
“I took the cast out to dinner … And the way they began talking to each other, which was very intimate, was like a punch in the stomach. Because I had always thought that I got people to open up to me [in celebrity profiles]. And I was like, Oh, no, I got them to answer questions differently than maybe they had before. … And that was a little devastating to me.”
Nancy Updike is a founding producer and senior editor at This American Life. Jenelle Pifer, a former Longform Podcast editor, is a senior producer at Serial. Their new three-part podcast, hosted by Updike and produced by Pifer, is We Were Three.
Updike: “I say it’s a story that’s a bit about COVID, but really about a family, and that’s the closest I’ve gotten to a short version. I don’t know. Why is that? I never have a short version of something I’m working on—never.”
Pifer: “We were doing a lot of talking about, for Nancy, what are the driving questions you tend to be attracted to? There were a few things we came up with, one of which was that you tend to gravitate toward stories where somebody is in the middle of something that they don’t know what to make of yet, and you kind of just want to sit with them and see what direction they walk in, or what they say, or what meaning they put onto something.”
Andy Kroll is an investigative reporter for ProPublica. His new book is A Death on W Street: The Murder of Seth Rich and the Age of Conspiracy.
“I think a book has ruined me for writing hot takes and spicy Twitter dunks and all of these other one- and two-dimensional bits of ephemera. I wasn't really a big fan of it in the first place, but I can't do it anymore. A book forces you to look at the world in a much more fine grained, humane, empathetic way, and there's no going back from that.”
Erika Hayasaki has written for The New York Times Magazine, Wired, and The Atlantic. Her new book is Somewhere Sisters: A Story of Adoption, Identity, and the Meaning of Family.
“I don’t subscribe to the belief that it’s our story because we’re the journalist that wrote it — especially when people are sharing these really intimate, deep, painful moments. That is not my story. That’s their story that they've collaborated in a way with me to share through these interviews.”
Rachel Aviv is a staff writer for The New Yorker. Her new book is Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us.
“I used to feel that if I knew everything, that was a good sign. And I've become more aware that if you know everything you want to argue, that's not such a good sign…. Do I have a genuine question? Is there something I’m trying to figure out? Then the story is worth telling. But if I don’t really have a question or if my question is already answered, then maybe that should give you pause.”
Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa are reporters for The Washington Post and co-authors of the new book His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice.
“Looking at George Floyd's family history, looking at the poverty that he grew up in, looking at the schools that he attended, which were segregated, looking at the opportunities that were denied to him and the struggles he had in the criminal justice system—it's an extraordinary American experience, in part because it's so outside of the norm of what we think of when we think of the American dream…. And so we wanted to be able to showcase that that kind of extraordinary American experience is ordinary for so many people.”