A killer like us? AP reporter evokes inmate’s humanity

Last week, I railed on the Journalism of Narcissism.

Specifically, I critiqued a first-person account by a writer who said he hid in a church bathroom and pretended to be a true believer while reporting on Brazilian evangelicals in New York.

That post prompted regular reader FW Ken to comment:

How can you write at any depth if people don’t open up to you, and how do people open up if you don’t engage with them. I’m not suggesting extensive self-disclosure or getting overly personal, but if your subjects are really people to you, you have to be a person to them.

My quick reply:

Totally agree, FW Ken.

Now for something totally different: How about a first-person piece that actually works?

I’m referring to an Associated Press reporter’s story over the weekend recounting her experience covering a recently executed murderer. In a striking way, AP’s Dena Potter demonstrates the power of — believe it or not — high journalistic integrity and compassion in gaining a source’s trust. That’s opposed to, say, deception and tricks.

Potter wrote a straight news account last week of Robert Gleason Jr.’s death in Virginia’s electric chair. But her weekend essay — headlined “A killer like me” by one news organization — highlights the flashes of ordinary humanity she glimpsed in the cold-blooded murderer:

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