Sometimes my early days at the University of Iowa -- the first of two colleges I didn't graduate before I finally got my diploma from the third -- seems a million years away. Lately, though, I can close my eyes and be right there again, going to concerts at Gabe's and The Union, shopping for candles and incense at Moon Mystique, grabbing a coffee to read a new book at Prairie Lights.
Iowa City was easily the single most important phase of my career, and that's not because of all I learned working at the college newspaper. In fact, I refused to work there. I was a punk and pissed that I was passed over for a scholarship, so instead of accepting an invitation to write there, I started my own newspaper with my then-boyfriend, a musician. Together, we created The Proper Gander, a 'zine covering independent music throughout the Midwest.
It was beyond ambitious for both of us, and frankly, it took a toll, both emotionally and financially. But, man, it really was pretty awesome. We worked our asses off, first from my dorm room college, and then from a shithole apartment above a sub shop in Iowa City's pedestrian mall. The "bedroom" didn't legally qualify as one. We literally had to push the futon one direction to reach the closet, then the other to step into the bathroom. The undoubtedly lead paint peeled throughout the place. The kitchen appliances might have been new when my mom was college-aged. The carpet was so cheap and frayed that it unraveled and, I kid you not, killed my cat.
Looking back, though, we really did pretty amazing work for kids our age, publishing on our own dimes. (If I ever become a millionaire, I promise I'll pay my old partner back for his share, if he'll let me. ) Sure, we sold ads, but at $25 per quarter page, it hardly paid for newsprint. In fewer than 18 months, we grew to 10,000 circulation throughout the Midwest. We drove to hand deliver some of our copies, hitting Minneapolis and Madison on the regular. Other destinations were reached by snail mail, another hefty cost. The work I did with Proper Gander let me leapfrog the usual path of a young journalist. Instead of beginning as a low-paid report, I began at The Cedar Rapids Gazette -- Iowa's second-largest newspaper -- as associate art and entertainment editor. I was 20 years old.
My intention isn't just to self-congratulate or reminisce, though. I've moved a lot over the years, and in one of the more recent moves, my copies of The Gander disappeared. I'd kept them in a tall metal filing cabinet, which I remember seeing in Harper Woods, but which never arrived in Sioux Falls. I was heartbroken to lose this part of my history. So I started searching. I found one through a Twitter follower, which was incredibly cool. (Who keeps 22-year-old 'zines that they didn't create?!) I've also scoured websites and found that somehow, a few issues of the 'zine landed in various college libraries. Only one was available via an online request. The other two, I'll have to drive to get. I can't tell you how excited I was to find the two issues stored at the University of Iowa's college archives, though. The two issues -- Nos. 10 and 11 -- were after we'd hired a page designer, and I admit I never loved how hard to read these two issues were. I also cringe reading a few of the stories. (I was so starstruck by Johnette Napolitano that I could. not. quit. direct. quoting. her, which unfortunately was at the expense of a nicely constructed narrative.) Still, it means so much to me to see these issues again. Next, I have to travel to Bowling Green and Rock Island to see what issues they have stored.
Without further ado, here's a glimpse into my past and at one of the coolest things I've ever done. For now, I'll just upload the covers of the three issues I have, but as I'm able, I'll add the inside pages. If any young adults are reading, know that what you do in and immediately after high school absolutely can shape the rest of your life. Don't let anyone tell you that foolish risks don't ever pay off. (Also, learn from my mistakes as well as my triumphs and, if you feel yourself overwhelmed and anxious, don't take it out on the people who love you. Sap-ass portion over.)
Almost exactly two years ago, a labor of love -- and fuel for my nightmares -- called Accused: The Unsolved Murder of Elizabeth Andes made its debut. On Sept. 8, 2016, the first two episodes dropped, putting on display a full year's worth of work undertaken by Amanda Rossmann and me.
Today, the transcripts of that endeavor hit stores in book form thanks to Diversion Books. Our hope is that compiling the investigation into a new format will help the story reach people who perhaps aren't into podcasts. Our goal, after all, is the same as it's always been: to help solve the case and highlight what confirmation bias and giant, jerk egos can mean to a murder case.
If you've heard the podcast, it's still worthwhile to read it in book form. That's not a sales pitch as much as it's a fact. I wrote the podcast episodes and was still surprised a few times because I'd never sat down to read them back to back. It's nice, too, to have photos and documents included with the text.
The book's innards are owned by The Enquirer's parent company (USA Today Network/Gannett), so we don't make money off of sales -- but know that by buying the book, you're helping to support other projects like ours. The work we put into this podcast is by no means cheap. It not only costs our salaries, but there are myriad other bills attached: microphones, studio equipment, camera gear, computer gear, batteries, travel expenses, etc. Journalism isn't cheap, and without The Enquirer having covered our costs, we never would have been able to shine light on Beth's largely forgotten story.
I have a few copies I can sell directly, but we'd love it if you bought it at your favorite local bookstore. The best prices will of course be at Amazon and other major retailers. That said, whatever is bought here will be signed by at least me, and probably Amanda as well. Thank you for your support. Let's help Beth's story reach even more people. You can order from me here.
Video produced by Liz Dufour. Images provided by Dufour, Meg Vogel and Cara Owsley. Words and narration by Amber Hunt.
For the better part of a year, I traveled the country reporting on gun violence. Four of the eight episodes of Aftermath involved mass shootings -- one at a Jewish center, one at a high school, another on a street corner and the last at a concert. I, more than most, am well aware they can happen anywhere, at any time.
And yet, when it happened Thursday in Cincinnati, I still wasn't quite prepared. My brain and heart just didn't want it to have happened in our own back yard.
What makes that even sillier is that it has happened here before. Not that long ago, even. In March 2017, we had the Cameo nightclub shooting. With 16 injured and one killed, it was one of the largest mass shootings of the year. Even still, it didn't make huge national headlines. Yes, the tally of injured was high, but with "only" one fatality, it paled in comparison to the Pulse in Orlando, to Virginia Tech, to Sandy Hook, to San Bernardino. (I never met you, but I remember you, O'Bryan Spikes, no matter how "low" the body count that day.)
Fast forward to Sept. 6, 2018, and "only" five people were shot at Fifth Third Bank. Three died. A couple of news alerts went out on the national scale, but the story was barely a blip beyond Ohio.
There's nothing minor about it, though. We in Cincinnati are getting back into the rhythm of our lives, but there's a sense that something's different. You carry on because you have to, but I want the victims' families to know that even here in the newsroom, their loved ones' names are still on our minds and in our hearts.
I was tasked with figuring out who those victims were -- not in terms of names, exactly. As I wrote on Facebook to friends and family as I tried to explain how I can stay focused on such a heartbreaking story:
I found one Luis Calderón whose age matched that provided by the coroner, and whose address trail included Cincinnati and Florida. I called the first number I found and got voicemail with his voice still attached. I called another number. No answer. When I called the third, a young voice answered. When he told me Luis was his father, I started to cry. Here's the story that resulted: https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2018/09/07/cincinnati-shooting-miami-man-luis-filipe-calderon-shot-dead/1221805002/
I share this here not to make it about me, because it absolutely isn't. But I do want to intimate that even those of us who are simply tasked to chronicle these events are indeed affected by them. When I say in Aftermath that the ripple effects are never-ending, I include reporters, first responders, coworkers, even bosses who work in other cities. It goes on and on. I went home Thursday and read to my child before bed, as I do every night. I snuggled him as he fell asleep, as I do every night. After he drifted off, though, I didn't sneak out like I usually do. I held him tighter, until his little body got subconsciously annoyed and twisted out of my grasp. I smiled and whispered, "Okay, okay," and kissed his forehead.
As I wrote in the piece featured atop this post, we move on because we have to -- not because we forget.
It might seem shocking to podcast aficionados, but the truth is, not everyone loves to listen to stories in audio form. As such, Diversion Books is releasing the transcripts for season 1 of Accused as a book. It'll be a handy way to check out documents and photos that weren't easy to navigate on the web, and I've written a foreword to shed some light on the behind-the-scenes work that went into our year-long project.
Amanda and I are both considered co-authors, but know that we don't make money off of sales. It goes to the parent company that made Accused possible, and its success will help fund future investigations such as ours. Huge thanks for the ongoing support! Even if you feel you know Beth's story front and back, I think you'll find some stuff you missed by reading it at your own pace. (Seriously, my editor did.)
The book hits shelves Sept. 18.
One of the truly unexpected outcomes from creating the Accused podcast has been the influx of invitations I've received to speak about my work. As a journalist, standing in front of a crowd talking about myself is never going to be a totally comfortable experience, but the crowd was awesome Saturday at the Crime & Corruption program hosted by the Ohio History Connection.
There, I got to walk people through Beth Andes' case and highlight the importance of an openminded prosecutor. I also met the friendly guys who host the Columbus-based podcast True Crime Garage. They focused on one of Ohio's most enduring murder mysteries: the Sam Sheppard case. (Learn some basics here: http://www.famous-trials.com/sam-sheppard.) Overall, the whole thing was very cool, and if you're ever in Columbus, I highly recommend checking out the Ohio Village. What a cool way to walk back in time. Organizers of the program tell me they hope to make it an annual event, so keep an eye out at OhioHistory.org to learn if it's green lit for next year.
My latest project is the fruition of an idea I’ve had for nearly a decade (but which, coincidentally, has been more front and center of a national debate in recent months). As a reporter, I’d cover shootings routinely in Detroit, but if no one died, I’d often have to keep the tale to a brief. That always bothered me because I knew that even if everyone survived that incident, lives were changed — and not just the survivors’. Their family members and friends would be affected, too.
To tell the stories presented in AFTERMATH, I’ve been traveling the country interviewing various survivors chosen because their backgrounds and circumstances differ so we could talk about many different issues survivors face — PTSD, ongoing disability, guilt, repression. Some were innocent bystanders. Some picked up arms after their shooting in retaliation, and today, a few have blood on their hands.
If you've heard and liked the segments of My Favorite Murder that focus on the bad-ass survivors, this is for you. It's rawer, no doubt, because there are of course some dark issues that linger after someone has had a bullet enter their body. But these people's tales are as inspiring as they are harrowing.
As this project dropped, I was amazed (I shouldn’t have been, but still ...) at how many people assume that if we tell survivors’ stories, we must be pushing gun control. The project intentionally steered clear of politics, aside from exploring survivors' beliefs when the shooting resulted in that becoming a big part of their lives. On the whole, this isn’t a policy project. It’s an empathy project.
One person told me that telling these stories is manipulative and indicates I have an agenda.
All I can say is that the stories are honest. They’re at turns brutal and infuriating and hopeful and inspiring. No matter your stance on gun control, I think you should understand what survivors go through. Wherever you land on the issue, you owe them to at least be informed and, more importantly, empathetic.
Those accusing me of having an agenda are right, and my agenda is simple: I aim to tell human stories to help people understand the aftermath of gun violence.
This is the second time I've been part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning newsroom. Both times, I helped cover the topic at hand, but this time, I'm officially one of the winners. We couldn't be prouder of the work we produced. Learn more here.
Here's a story explaining why:
Originally posted at Cincinnati.com.
The Cincinnati Enquirer’s first foray into true-crime podcasting became a podcast hit that’s so far been heard nearly 4 million times and is appearing on year-end “best of” lists nationwide.
On Dec. 14, the series’ creators, Amber Hunt and Amanda Rossmann, will meet with listeners to discuss how the podcast unfolded behind the scenes – and reveal what’s been done since the show’s finale.
“The response has been unbelievable,” said Hunt, reporter-turned-podcast host. “We thought we’d created something that was good journalistically, but we never had any clue it’d reach so many people and raise so much awareness.”
Accused appeared for more than a week on iTunes’ list of top U.S. podcasts. It also reached No. 1 on the iTunes list in the United Kingdom. Hunt and Rossmann, the show’s producer, have received countless messages from all across the world, including New Zealand and Japan.
The Dec. 14 event is meant as a thank-you to the series’ supporters and will be recorded for use in a possible upcoming podcast. Seats are limited and must be reserved at tickets.cincinnati.com. In addition to Hunt and Rossmann, Enquirer lawyer Jack Greiner – who played a key role in the podcast’s development – will be on hand to answer questions, as will Enquirer editor Peter Bhatia and Accused editor Amy Wilson.
What: Live Q&A with the creative, editorial and legal team behind one of the most popular podcasts of 2016
Where: 1421 Main St. Cincinnati, OH 45202
When: Doors open at 6:30 p.m., event begins at 7:00.
Here we are. We've been here a week.
We had two goals when we set out: to ensure Beth's story wasn't forgotten and to help police solve the case. With more than 1.5 million downloads to date, I feel comfortable we've accomplished one of the two. Now I'm setting my sights on goal No. 2.
It's been interesting hearing the response. Some people love the series, as evidenced by the plays and the tweets and the Facebook messages I've received. I can't even keep up with all the notes, so apologies if you've sent one and I haven't responded yet. Know that I read them, but that I simply get overwhelmed so some of them are being catalogued for the short-term.
There of course has been criticism as well -- that I'm too aggressive, that we're exploiting Beth's story. I take it in because it's interesting and insightful. Yeah, I'm aggressive. It's my job, and I'm pretty good at it. Not perfect, mind you, but pretty good. And, yes, I'd even agree that we're exploiting Beth's story, but we're doing so to help highlight how a system that gets tunnel vision helps no one. But I hope that doesn't sound defensive, because I really appreciate the feedback. I didn't do anything differently on this reporting project than I'd do on one for print, so I usually only get feedback on the process from sources. I'm self-reflective enough for this to have been really cool to hear how I come across to strangers, for better and worse. That said, I wouldn't do much differently next time. Beth's story deserved to be heard -- read by some: exploited -- to expose problems within a system, and I'm a journalist because I push for answers. That's what I do. "News is something somebody doesn't want printed; all else is advertising," said William Randolph Hearst (a version of which is sometimes credited to George Orwell). If someone doesn't want it printed, it should go without saying that journalists wanting to write news sometimes are pulling info from less-than-willing sources. Accused is simply transparent about that process.
We're being asked a lot whether we plan another season. We're not sure yet as we're just now coming up for air after this one. We're also making a point to catalogue all of the incoming tips and suggestions so that hopefully there's an Ep9 on Beth's story. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Meanwhile, I'd like to send a big thanks to the crime pods that came before us. I hadn't listened to many of them before we recorded ours, to be honest -- I didn't want to be too influenced in how we rolled out our story, so a lot of my podcast research was in different genres (shout out to "How Did This Get Made" and "You Must Remember This," two of my staples). But now that mine is done, I've explored "In the Dark," "Criminal" and "Someone Knows Something." I recognized a lot of my own experience as a reporter with the latter especially -- feeling like shit sometimes, worrying about opening old wounds, questioning my reasons for being drawn to the case to begin with. I'm grateful these podcasts exist and that they seem to be created by kindred, truth-seeking spirits.
My hope for them is the same as my hope for ours: May we all help solve the cases we cover. Anyone who's spent time with the victims' families know they deserve that much.