My saddest and most viral tweet

by Gregory Korte on January 7, 2013

I remember one of the first stories I was assigned as a reporting intern in Lorain, Ohio was the death of a 9-year-old boy. All I remember is that he had a brain tumor, and that he loved baseball but couldn’t play because of his illness — and yet still attended every game of his Little League team. As I interviewed his father for the obituary, he started crying, and I started crying. It was one of the toughest stories I’ve ever written.

I spent most of the afternoon of last December 14 pretty numb. The shooting deaths of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School affected me more than any news event since — and possibly including, September 11. My wife is a teacher, and our 3-year-old is in preschool. It hit me like a sucker punch.

Toward the end of the day, I spoke with colleagues about the unfathomable horror of what happened in Connecticut. I thought about that obituary I wrote 20 years ago, and I couldn’t imagine having to make those phone calls and knock on those doors. I knew it was important reporting that had to be done. But the writing — what would you say about their accomplishments? Their ambitions? Their survivors?

I wrote the tweet on my iPhone on my way out the door.

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C-SPAN and the art of the broadcast interview

by Gregory Korte on October 5, 2011

As a print reporter, I can usually get away with long, rambling questions that start out heading one direction, take a few detours down blind alleys of irrelevance, and end up somewhere else entirely. I can be conversational, even to a fault. I can interrupt without appearing too rude. I can even ask the proverbial stupid question with impunity — since I’m both interviewer and the writer, and your question isn’t the story anyway.

But broadcast Q & A’s  – especially “live” interviews — have a completely different dynamic. You want your questions to be short, but you also need to establish a context for the viewer. You want to let the guest have his say, but you also want to keep him off his talking points. You want to be prepared, but also allow the interview go wherever it leads.

That was my thought process last weekend, when C-SPAN asked me and Roll Call’s Steven T. Dennis to interview Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., for its signature “Newsmakers” show:

This was my first appearance on C-SPAN, a sort of rite of passage for Washington reporters. (And frankly, I wasn’t their first choice for the Van Hollen interview.) I’ve been watching C-SPAN since I was in college, and I like to think C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb has been an influence on my career.

Lamb’s interviewing style,especially on shows like “Booknotes” and “Q & A,” was straightforward and non-confrontational: “Where were you born?” “Who are your parents?” “Why did you write this book?” “Who do you admire?” Those may seem like simple questions, but sometimes those are the most revealing (e.g. Roger Mudd: “Why do you want to be president?”).

At the other extreme is the late Tim Russert, of NBC’s “Meet the Press.” His well-prepared questions and follow-ups were meticulously designed to probe every inconsistency, ferret out hypocrisy and  demonstrate a candidate’s thoughtfulness and mastery of the issues. I have all the respect in the world for Russert — and my Sunday mornings aren’t the same without him — but I tend think a good interview should be more conversation than cross-examination.

I tried, with varying degrees of success, to pin down Van Hollen on who’s lobbying the “supercommittee,” the closed-door negotiations, where he’s willing to compromise and whether President Obama is responsible for the state of the economy. Alas, I don’t think the interview made much news.

Next time, perhaps, I’ll bring just a little more of the Russert.

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John G. Cole, 1949 – 2011

February 26, 2011

For one night in 1993, it seemed that my newspaper reporting career would be tragically short-lived. If not for John Cole giving me a second chance, I probably wouldn’t still be in journalism and certainly not at USA TODAY. Cole was the editor of the first newspaper I ever worked for. Earlier today, friends and colleagues [...]

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Story behind the story: ‘Earmarks to Nowhere’

January 10, 2011

Last week, USA TODAY published an investigation into orphan earmarks — the $13 billion in highway spending directed by members of Congress to pet projects but never spent. In all, we found that nearly a third of highway earmarks over the past 20 years have gone unspent. First, let me give to Cezar what is [...]

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Hamilton County Auditor precinct map: Rhodes vs. Brinkman

November 9, 2010

Despite the Republican wave, Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes held on to traditional Democratic strongholds to win re-election.

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Journalism students: Please don’t do this

November 2, 2010

A short rant about the misuse of e-mail by journalism students.

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