The True Crime Frame of Mind, Again


I decided, after sleeping heavily (and dreaming that Jack White told me he’d discovered how to teleport between various buildings, as long as those buildings had drop ceilings) that I would give in to the impulse to blog about crime again. I am not certain I’ll create a Medium Collection for crime posts, or just put them under my name. I’m uncertain about a lot of things. But I’ll do it.

I made a ton of mistakes the first time I did it, when a handful of other bloggers and I established crime blogging as a thing to do. Some of those mistakes were obvious, others only clear to me. Of the latter category, one of my biggest mistakes was giving in to the love of clicks. In 2004, 2005 — hell, right up to 2009 — having your blog post blow up was a kick it’s hard to describe. Drudge, Digg, Reddit, etc. linked several stories I wrote for online publishers over time and that was thrilling to me and to the person who paid me, but when it happened to sites I was running on my own, that was a different kind of buzz all together.

This led to writing about things that didn’t interest me much as stories, merely because I knew they might pull in pageviews. Once I stopped prioritizing an inner spark of interest, I began to lose some kind of vital thread connecting me to the research, reporting, and writing.

I tried be some things I’m not without any knowledge of how to really be what I wanted to be. I’m not a great reporter. This is a skill I can improve, that I know how to improve now. Over time my regard for journalists who go into the field, who knock on doors, who burrow to the heart of things, has made me want to emulate them. My respect for real journalistic practices is far greater than it was 10–11 years ago.

My weakness as a reporter, I think, is rooted in the fact I was trained to be a performer. To entertain. As someone noted in commentary on the Brian Williams debacle (I don’t have a link to the specific comment), entertainers want to be liked. It’s part of the deal. Journalists don’t care, or they shouldn’t, because how are you really going to get to the truth sometimes if you’re everybody’s pal?

I am a very good researcher. I can dig, and dig again. I discovered my skills at gathering and synthesizing a huge amount of intelligence kind of late in life and hate that, as they would’ve helped me be a better student, but what are you gonna do? Anyway, that hasn’t changed and will still be the skill I lean on more heavily than some others.

In addition to being weak on the straight-up reporting aspect of things sometimes, I tried too hard for too much content, too fast. It’s tempting to just say I’m a ‘slow’ writer — I do better if I take time and pace myself — but it isn’t that simple. I can write quickly and meet a deadline, but for a time I felt the 3 to 50 posts a day to keep that content a-churning thing was gospel, and I was a failure for feeling harried by it and hating the work I turned out when I had to do that.

I’m never giving into that again (though let’s be real, if the money was right I might try), at least not with a project I’m doing just because I want to. If I write two or three posts a day, great. If I take 3–5 days to write one, also great. Maybe better.

That doesn’t mean I won’t go after breaking news. Some of the most exciting coverage you can do in any journalistic capacity is breaking news. It’s also some of the most perilous. So I intend to be choosy and careful, but I won’t stay away from that all together.

And I don’t know why I’m writing all this out, much less doing it with little economy. Perhaps just to get it in front of me, but also to finally get a couple of mea culpas off my chest after briefly reviewing some early work I published in 2005.

Another mistake may be to set aside a space and call it “true crime” whatever. I still want the freedom to not cover crime all the time, too. That shit wears you out, if you’re not careful. Perhaps that’s an argument against a separate collection. I’m not sure, at the moment.

Whatever the case, here goes. I’ll work it out as I go along.

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