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BEHIND THE SCENES with Phoebe Judge, Eric Mennel and Lauren Spohrer


What is Criminal ?

We're a podcast about crime. We've been describing it not as the "if it bleeds it leads," kind of crime but something a little more complex. Stories of people who've done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle. We began in January of this year and put out a new episode once a month.

Why make a podcast about crime?

We're interested in the topic (really who isn't?). Lauren loves Law & Order and old noir novels by Raymond Chandler and Cornell Woolrich and she suggested we do a show about crime. We realized there are a lot of public radio shows/podcasts doing episodes or segments about crime, but no one is exclusively devoted to the topic. Also, to be honest, it's a topic that pretty much assures that you will never run out of interesting stories and characters.

Mass shootings are so much in the news these days. Why did you choose to tell Will's story from this particular angle?

It was an angle we'd never heard before. Sometimes we hear the horrifying story of "the phone call," or the moment in which you find out an emergency has occurred, but we rarely learn what happens in the following three hours. We'd never thought about the family getting a call from the P.R. department at the hospital, or the role a family has (or often doesn't have) in deciding to release the names of the victims.

We became curious after reading a piece Will had written for Poynter . He talked about handling the media circus, and how his work in TV news perhaps helped him. When we read the piece, we were surprised by how forthright he was. It was only about a month after the shooting, and he was talking about and reflecting on what had happened to his family. Not only was he talking about it, but he approached Poynter , and not the other way around. That felt complicated and unusual. We asked if he'd be willing to expand the scope of that piece and take us through those first minutes and hours and days after the murders.

There's something very meta about Will telling a story about interacting with the media shortly after a crime to the media, shortly after a crime. Going into the interview, what did you want from Will? And what do you think Will wanted from you?

We knew Will didn't want to talk about Frazier Glenn Cross (the shooter) and that was okay with us. I don't want to speak for Will, but it seems like he wants the world to know why he went to the press. He says in the interview that it's okay to release your loved ones' names, or find photographs you like and give them to the media. He seems interested in upending the view that the appropriate response from a family is to go into hiding.

We wanted an up-close look. Maybe that's voyeuristic, but it's rare someone is willing to share that.

Was there any tape left on the cutting room floor during the editing process that you struggled with including?

We spent more time deliberating about this episode than we have about any other. We're talking about a horrifying crime that occurred very recently. We discussed exploitation. We discussed alienating our listeners. For instance, we'd pulled tape of Will's nephew Reat singing the National Anthem, and debated whether to include it. It didn't make it into the final mix because it felt like too much.

Can you expand on this? What would it mean to be exploitative in this case, or to alientate your listeners? In what way would Reat singing the National Anthem be "too much"?

We all realized that this episode was going to sound different than others we had done in the past. For starters, it was a recent event. Frazier Glenn Cross, the shooter, had not been found guilty. We were going to be talking to someone who had very recently lost two family members in a violent, terrifying way. That necessarily means that during the interview Phoebe was going to take a different tack. We were aware of wanting to be respectful to Will's family. At the same time, we know that we wanted the episode to sound "of a piece" with what we'd done in the past. We're a narrative show that places a lot of value on detailed descriptions of scenes. Those are hard questions to ask of a recent victim, but they're necessary to get the full effect of the story.

The anthem debate was a good example of this. We'd talked about ending the episode with tape that demonstrates how Will and his family tried to represent their loved ones in the media. A YouTube clip of Reat singing the National Anthem had been all over the news in the first days after the murders, so this felt like a good example. But when we mixed it in, it was horrendously sad. It felt like a giant neon sign flashing, "this is so sad.

We think it speaks to an interesting difference between TV and radio. When you watch the YouTube video and see Reat there on stage singing, your brain has more to do. When you listen to him sing and have only your imagination and his voice... it's so dark. Sometimes dark can cross over into something overdrawn, and the emotional resonance is lost. That's what we mean by alienating the listener. We struggled with it, and sought advice from smart friends. In the end, we played tape of the news anchors talking about the singing, but not the singing itself.

In the piece, you say that a reporter's job is "to make someone else's private life public." Do you think that hearing Will's story will change the way you report in the future?

I don't think this is the job of every reporter. We were referring to the local news trucks following the family around. Will talks about getting calls from rude producers who wanted him to agree to an interview because that's their job. We're lucky that we don't have to make those calls in our real radio jobs and we don't chase those same-day crime stories for Criminal . We hope we're always conscious of what people are and aren't comfortable discussing.