BOB GARFIELD: Thursday the Los Angeles Times ran the final installment of a five-part series titled, "The Girl." In it reporter Kurt Streeter chronicled the exploits of child boxer Seniesa Estrada who was ten years old when the reporting began. It's an extraordinary portrait of an intense child overcoming social pathologies, gender stereotypes, her own emotional problems, and opponents in the ring to win a dramatic rematch. But it's also an unusual piece of newspaper journalism because it is largely devoid of sourcing and attribution, at least in the main body of the text. Kurt Streeter is here to discuss his series. Kurt, welcome to OTM.
KURT STREETER: Thank you for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Let's start with where this enterprise began. How did you find Seniesa?
KURT STREETER: Well, middle of 2002 I was covering transportation here for the L.A. Times. Even though I was covering a fairly bureaucratic beat, probably to keep myself sane, I was always looking for a good story to tell that wasn't necessarily transportation related. And that's what I was doing up in East L.A. I wanted to just kind of chronicle a teenage boy going through training before the Olympic trials. And I stumbled upon Seniesa Estrada, and I just was quite taken with her.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, you hit the mother lode.
KURT STREETER: [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD: Or more like the daughter lode because the series actually follows her and her father, a guy who had been in some trouble with his fists.
KURT STREETER: Yeah, exactly. Joe Estrada's, you know, kind of a typical story, in a way, the guy who was a gang leader, really, here in East L.A., and a two-time felon. He was also a two-time junkie, a heroin addict, for the most part, but really, over the last several times was really--worked hard to try to put his life back together piece by piece. And the fact that he's heavily involved in his daughter's life, I think, has really helped him. And that's what the story shows.
BOB GARFIELD: It is a very dramatic narrative and it's rendered in a most unusual way. One of the techniques you use is the reconstructed quotation, approximation of speech of interior monologue that you clearly were not present to witness and to write in your notes. You had a novel way of handling that.
KURT STREETER: Well, what we did was in reconstructing scenes where I was not on hand, but where I'd have at least two sources verifying that something happened in a particular scene or helping me reconstruct a scene, if I used a quote during that scene in the story, it appears in italics, instead of using quotation marks. That means then that the quotes, where you do see quotes, you can be assured that I was there and that I witnessed the people say what we're presenting in the paper.
BOB GARFIELD: The other thing in this piece starkly different from most newspaper journalism is the absence of the traditional attribution. I mean, you don't say, "according to so-and-so who was standing there at the time," you do something else. Tell me about that.
KURT STREETER: Yeah, I just basically avoided it in a lot of cases. Not always. We wanted to make it read like a fine piece of non-fiction. So as much as possible, we kind of took out the rather clunky "he said, she said" types of attributions. We handled that through a series of footnotes that we put at the end of each part of the series, where we call them chapters, almost like an academic text in a way. The reader can, at the end of the story, look at each scene and see how it was reported, when I had the interviews that helped support that particular scene. They know that they're not reading a story out of the White House, or a story out of city hall where traditional attribution is pretty much necessary. And I just feel that when you're really trying to write a piece that just carries the reader along, it's in the writer's best interest to try to be able to take out those kind of attributions. And I think the readers really appreciate that.
BOB GARFIELD: Now we've seen some of this before, in Bob Woodward's book excerpts in the Washington Post, for instance, but also notably three years ago in the L.A. Times with the series called, "Enrique's Journey."
KURT STREETER: And also in that case the brainchild of John Carroll who's our editor in chief of the paper. "Enrique's Journey" was the model for our use of footnotes, the story of a young boy who travels from Central America to the States by train and by foot and donkey. And that was a, I think, a six-part series. And the footnotes were maybe even more detailed than the ones that I used. And I think it certainly pays to be as transparent as possible, you know, to lay all your cards out on the table. And I think readers are interested in seeing how a reporter goes about his or her work, and it helps us because journalists are in a lot of ways not really thought too highly of in terms of truthfulness these days, unfortunately. And when you can really be open, I think that just helps our cause.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, the mechanism didn't do "Enrique's Journey" any harm. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and may you be so fortunate. You know, obviously, for many reasons, you can't do this kind of footnoting and attribution for regular daily journalism. I mean, it's impractical to footnote stories done on the run and on deadline. Do your colleagues, when they see what you've done here, kind of roll their eyes and say okay, okay, I sure wish I had the benefit of a separate box for attributions, but unfortunately, I've got use all the clunky "he said, she said"?
KURT STREETER: I think that they understand it. And I feel that, you know, maybe just in the future for big stories--it's not every day that you get a five- or six-part series--maybe this will be something that's used just in the future for all these kind of big takeout stories. Perhaps in the future we'll see more use of the Internet for coming up with ways to be transparent. You know, maybe it'll be links on every story where the readers then can go and see a blog from a reporter on how they did the story, or links to how to get government documents that pertain to the story. So maybe it's kind of opening up new ground.
BOB GARFIELD: Well Kurt, thank you so much for joining us.
KURT STREETER: Well, I appreciate it, Bob. Take care.
BOB GARFIELD: Kurt Streeter is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. His five-part series, "The Girl" can be located on latimes.com.