What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as a reporter?
Listen. Sounds basic but in the hustle to get out the news, sometimes it gets lost. It’s OK and even a good habit to allow long pauses in an interview. Quiet moments give the subject a chance to reflect. It’s hard to stifle the impulse to fill that space with a follow-up, clarification or comment, but sometimes that moment produces a deeper response. I learned this essential lesson while working with my colleague, Dave Killen, a film editor, on a documentary series. He needed people’s answers to trail off naturally. As the interviewer, that meant less give-and-take in favor of a more intentional effort to allow more space between questions. Some of the richest responses emerged from those pauses.
What’s been the biggest surprise of your reporting life?
It’s humbling to be trusted with someone’s story, especially if it involves sexual assault. I’ve written a lot about victims of sex crimes and other crime victims still coping with deep trauma and an unsatisfying criminal justice system. Their faith in institutions and in people is often shaken or even shattered. Trusting me, a journalist and stranger, with their accounts is a big leap of faith and a reminder of the critical role we play as truth-tellers.
If you had to use a metaphor to describe yourself as a reporter, what would it be?
I’d say my career has been a dark mirror of sorts. I’ve spent most of my 26-year career reporting on crime and justice. I’ve written about white supremacists, bad cops, predators and serial killers. The dark side of human nature — greed, rage and power — intrigues me. I chalk that up to growing up in Rhode Island in the 1970s and 1980s where public corruption and organized crime were always page one news.
Noelle Crombie is an enterprise reporter at The Oregonian. She has reported extensively on crime and justice. She reported and wrote “Ghosts of Highway 20,” a 7,000 word narrative and 5-part documentary series focused on the victims of serial killer who targeted vulnerable women along U.S. 20 in Oregon. From 2012 through 2016, she led The Oregonian‘s groundbreaking cannabis coverage, which focused on government accountability. Before coming to The Oregonian in 1999, she was a reporter for The Day in New London, Connecticut. She grew up in Rhode Island and received a bachelor’s degree in government from Smith College.
Craft Query: How would you answer these questions?
May the writing go well.
Photograph by Beth Nakamura/