Nadia

Nick Charles: Now that you’ve left The Pitch, I was curious if I might do a Q & A with you, sort of an exit interview?

Nadia Pflaum: What did you have in mind as far as where my comments would run? I’d be happy to talk with you, but I have a ton to do before I’m officially gone here…maybe check back in with me closer to my actual departure (like, the first week of April)?

Nick: Hey – thanx for the quick response! I know you’re busy…what I had in mind was nothing onerous or ominous – I just wanted your take on working at The Pitch: high-lights, low-lights, your favorite people, what you think you’re taking away from The Pitch…and what the hell you did/didn’t do to earn the enmity of KC’s biggest jackass.

Nadia: Sounds fun, actually. Yes, definitely hit me up around the first week of April — you can use this email address: nadiasemailaddy@isp.com, or (call) my cell.

Nick: Will do that, Nadia. I look forward to it.

Nadia

Nick: Hi, Former Working Colleague of Nadia. I’m doing an email interview with Nadia Pflaum -who’s leaving The Pitch – and was looking for other takes on her. Is there anything you’d like to contribute?

FWCoN: Nope, sorry, Nick, that would annoy Nadia to no end. Good luck, though!

Nadia

Nick: Nadia, Good morning. If I can resume our prior conversation, I believe we can do this via an iteration or two of e-mail (though I may later follow-up with a phone call for clarification.) I don’t want to eat up a lot of your time, but I do have a question or two. So let me jump right in… 1 I think that’s it. If you find any of the above unclear, let me know. Obviously as I’ve no deadline there is no rush, but sooner is always better than later, if only so I don’t forget what I was doing. Again, my thanks.

Nadia: Hey Nick, I can answer these questions while I’m sitting around on Sunday, so you should have my answers early next week, does that work?

Nick: Sure – that works. I may bother you w/ a few follow-ups, but nothing too time consuming…

Nadia

Nick: Hi, Former Working Colleague of Nadia. I’m doing an email interview with Nadia Pflaum -who’s leaving the Pitch – and was looking for other takes on her. Is there anything you’d like to contribute?

FWCoN: Thanks, Nick, but I think I’ll stay on the sidelines for this one.

Nadia

Nadia: So I took a spin around your blog and you seem pretty preoccupied with the business end of local newspapers…are you in the industry?

Nick: I blah blah blah…

Nadia

Nick: Hi, Joe (Tone). I’m doing an email Q & A with Nadia Pflaum -she’s leaving The Pitch – and was looking for other takes on her. Is there anything you’d like to contribute?

Joe: Nadia — a fearless and exhaustive reporter. I was always surprised with what was in her notebook when she came back to the office after a day of digging — a quality that will obviously serve her and the community well at the Innocence Project. Also, she left a really awesome mix CD in my stereo one time, full of obscure hip-hop and weird euro dance music. I don’t plan on giving it back. Good luck, Nick.

Nadia

Nick:Nadia -thought I would touch base with you to see how your responses were coming; all’s well?

Nadia: I started to answer and got stuck; I’m just rotten at writing about myself and writing about writing. But I’ll take another crack at it if you aren’t planning on being nefarious or e-vil…!

Nick: Promise!

Nadia

Nick: Hi, Former Working Colleague of Nadia. I’m doing an email interview with Nadia Pflaum -who’s leaving The Pitch – and was looking for other takes on her. Is there anything you’d like to contribute?

FWCoN: Hi, this FWC0N; I’m sorry I can’t answer any email inquiries about Nadia right now, but my scripted reply system should respond within 2 months. Thanks for writing!

Nadia

Nick: Are you having an easier time of it?

Nadia: I tried to talk this high school girl out of interviewing me for some journalism assignment, but she wasn’t having it. She sent me her list of questions and this morning she emailed to say that it’s due to her teacher tomorrow. Since her academic career is at stake here, I’m bumping her project ahead of yours. But answering her questions will help me get moving on your questions, so really, she did us both a favor. Sort of…

Nadia

Nick: Hi, Former Working Colleague of Nadia. I’m doing…

FWCoN: I know who you are. I don’t have anything to say.

Nadia

Nick: When you first got to The Pitch, was there ever a moment where you seriously thought you might be over your head?

Nadia: When I first got to The Pitch, it was September 2003, and I’d just graduated from college in Chicago with a degree in sociology. So yes, I think it’s fair to say I felt in over my head. For my first six months at The Pitch, I was working as an editorial fellow, meaning that I had a six-month period to get “sourced-up,” learn the city, and publish two cover stories. I think I might have had a harder time with it than subsequent fellows did, but most of them came in with J-school degrees and/or having worked at a daily or weekly paper prior to joining our staff.

Nick: Did you edit your college paper?

Nadia: I edited my high school paper, but not my college paper. I did make my college newspaper’s editor cry, though.

Nick: Let me guess: because you could/were right/out of spite, right?

Nadia: Well yeah, I told her that you can’t change the facts in a story just because you don’t like them.

Nadia

Nick: Hi, Public Face of Loyola University. I’m doing an interview with past alumnus and onetime Phoenix reporter, Nadia Pfaum…

Ironmail: Your e-mail has been rejected for….

Nadia

Nick: Which piece(s) still sings for you, still makes you feel great about writing it?

Nadia: This is going to sound like a total cop-out, but since I was always responsible for pitching my own stories, I chose stuff that I was going to have fun writing about (for the most part). That doesn’t mean that I think they’re all masterpieces (far from it), but I liked different stories for different reasons.

It’s funny when issues raised by stories from years prior start to re-emerge in the national news. Like air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job. Or the phenomena of “Tiger Moms,” a pop-culture term that hadn’t yet been coined when I wrote about Esmie Tseng.

The stories that probably got the biggest reaction in my years at the Pitch would probably be one of these.

I was really proud of the last story I wrote, on the death-by-stomping of the amazing program at the Southwest Early College Campus. And it felt really good to stand up for a cop who I feel is doing good work under perilous circumstances, especially after the KCPD’s attorney warned this officer that he should deny my requests for comment because nothing good could come out of granting the Pitch an interview.

Honestly, I loved working on every single story so much that I could go on and on…

Nick: …the last one, on Southwest High School: what made you write that? Education items hadn’t been your forte in the past.

Nadia: I avoided stories about the KCMSD previously because arbitrary authority is my biggest pet peeve. But hearing about the successes of the program at SWECC had me thinking, “Finally, some one’s getting it right over there.” And then to find out that the powers-that-be were taking pains to shatter the one thing that has made any positive headlines regarding the school district in years made the decision to write about it a no-brainer.

Nick: Which piece makes you cringe?

Nadia: When the body of my college friend Amber was discovered, unceremoniously dumped in the back of her boyfriend’s Jeep in the River Market in June 2004, I was sure she’d been murdered.

Our friends back in Chicago were shocked and wanted answers, and I did, too. I interviewed her father, her ex-boyfriends, her ex-girlfriends. I interviewed her drug treatment buddies and drug dealer buddies. I interviewed people who’d served her coffee at the cafe across from her apartment. I interviewed the cracked-out ex-girlfriend of the much-older guy she’d been dating. Her parents were convinced that he’d murdered their daughter, and when the medical examiner’s toxicology tests showed that she’d died of a drug overdose, they told themselves that he must have forced a needle into her arm. The truth that slowly and painfully emerged was too raw for her parents to handle.

The investigation that I’d launched in June of 2004 culminated in a cover story five months later, and I struggled with the knowledge that the facts I was going to publish were not going to be what Amber’s family wanted to hear. I didn’t even know that the stress of it had made a bunch of my hair fall out, until months later, when it started growing back.

I cringe for the circumstances that befell Amber and the awkward position I put myself in, as the friend-turned-messenger, but I don’t regret the story itself.

Nadia

Nick: Okay – I gotta ask. What is it with tkc‘s enmity toward you?

Nadia: Who?

Nadia

Nick: Does your taking a position with Midwestern Innocence Project reflect any dissatisfaction with journalism?

Nadia: Absolutely not. I hope to continue contributing to The Pitch if they’ll have me, if time permits, and in a capacity that wouldn’t pose a conflict with the work of the MIP.

Nick: Midwestern Innocence Project – if I’ve got your time line since university correct, this is your first real “straight” job. What most surprises you about the day-to-day differences? And are there similarities to working for the Pitch?

Nadia: Well, it’s my first job that doesn’t involve a byline or an apron. Our office space is generously donated by the awesome folks at Stinson Morrison Hecker, so we share a floor with lots of Important People doing Serious Work. The atmosphere is not as laid-back as The Pitch, but I broke out the grown-ass-lady shoes and am getting used to it.

I’ve written a lot of records requests so far, and in that respect it is like what I would do at The Pitch. And the stonewalling tactics by the records-keepers are familiar as ever, only now, the stakes are higher.

Nadia

Nick: Hi, Anonymous Person Drinking @ the recordBar. I’m doing an Q & A with Nadia Pflaum. She was one of The Pitch’s best investigative reporters, won a couple of awards here and there? The 2007 ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for “Horn Dog”? She was included in Di Capo’s Best Music Writing 2008. I wonder if you might…

APD@tRB: Hey! Old guy -are you lost? Davey’s is on the other side of Westport…

Nadia

Nick: Some folks offered up some nice words concerning you, but others were a little leery of commenting. I got the sense that they were afraid it would irritate you or worse, even though they knew I was just doing a brief, straight ahead q & a – no hit piece, no snark. So…I guess, why the hesitation? Enemies or frenemies reluctant to speak out?

Nadia: I had no enemies or frenemies at the Pitch that I’m aware of — it’s a ridiculously harmonious office, as far as I could tell. I did poll a bunch of my friends to ask them whether they thought it would be a mistake of me to participate in answering these questions, and — I’m not saying this to hurt your feelings, because I’m sure it’s not personal — every one of them advised me not to.

My colleagues and friends have seen how some of the nastier things written about me on the ‘net affected me, and are probably being protective. I’m going against their advice because I think it’s probably good for my mental health to put the last seven years in perspective as I move on to another chapter, and it’s flattering that anyone is interested (even if it’s just you…haha). 2

Nadia

Nick: Where do you see local journalism heading, and does it (direction) matter?

Nadia: I don’t believe that the state of local journalism is as doom-and-gloom as some of your fellow bloggers gleefully predict. The problem has been identified: advertising dollars are hard to come by and nobody’s really figured out the secret to monetizing the content offered on the Internet. But the criticisms that local folks have about the Star, for instance, arise because people recognize the importance of a strong, locally engaged source for news, and they miss what the Star used to be.

I think that people get the quality of local media that they deserve, which is to say that people have to support the news sources that they appreciate. It’s not always possible for a small business owner or a regular working stiff to buy an ad, but it’s easy to patronize the business that do advertise, and let them know that their ads are being seen. National Public Radio can come right out and ask for individual contributions, as a non-profit, and I wish people would start thinking about advertising on TV, radio and in print the same way for for-profit news outlets. I know Kansas City would miss the Pitch if it ever went away.

Nick: What was the impact of CJ leaving The Pitch?

Nadia: Her announcement about leaving The Pitch was tough on everyone. CJ first became my mentor back in high school, when she was the managing editor of the Denver Westword and I was their high school intern for a semester in ’99 (I think). When I reconnected with her here after college, I learned so much about investigating and reporting and writing that we jokingly called it ‘grad school.’ She turned a totally immature, sloppy, disorganized and rambling wanna-be into a competent reporter. And she had that same level of impact on anyone who came to her staff with the desire to become a better writer. I feel sorry for the newer folks who missed the chance to learn under the CJ era.

That said, it isn’t always easy to work for someone you hold in ridiculously high regard. So there were a lot of refreshing changes that came about after she left. I had a lot of fun working for Joe Tone. No doubt he’s kicking ass in Dallas already.

Nick: Village Voice Media and the sale: really? No one had any idea it was happening? Not even Tone? No rumors, vicious or otherwise?

Nadia: If Village Voice Media was going to put one of its papers up for sale, it was going to be us. The numbers gave it away, simply because the size of the market in Kansas City is so much smaller compared to NYC or L.A. or Houston or Miami. And I’m sure it wasn’t all that critical (at least, not to a couple dudes in Arizona) to keep two papers in Missouri.

But no, nobody had any idea what would happen, or when. We were bracing for the other shoe to drop after experiencing layoffs in ’09. It came out of nowhere, but it wasn’t a huge shock, either, if that makes any sense.

Nick: What story from your days at the Pitch will you still be telling 20 years from now?

Nadia: Maybe the one about Nathan Dinsdale getting maced at Stretch’s huge Mardi Gras shindig? Or the one about him running in circles around the office in a full-body prairie dog outfit, honking a clown horn, while I was on the phone with the Jackson County Sheriff?

Or the time that Justin Kendall and I asked the owner of the liquor store next to the International House of Prayer if we could have the giant, stuffed catfish behind the counter, then leaving it on CJ’s desk for her to discover the next morning? Or Peter Rugg hurling a rocks glass at…yeah. There will be many.

Nick: What was the most unexpected change in yourself that evolved from working at the Pitch?

Nadia: I don’t know if I have a good answer for this one. I think I trust my instincts more than I used to because of it, but that might also be the result of growing seven years older.

Nadia

Nick: So…Royal wedding?

Nadia: Nah. But I’ve been following the NBA playoffs; though now that my Nuggets are gone…

Nadia

Nick: Thank you for agreeing to do this.

Nadia: I hope I don’t sound like some self-indulgent, narcissistic asshole…

Nick: Not a chance.

Nadia: I just know that no one will ever ask me this stuff again, so I should answer now, while anyone still cares. Thank you for your interest and your patience.

Nadia

Show 2 footnotes

  1. And here we’ll just assume Nick posed an enormous amount of presumptuous and thoroughly jejune queries.
  2. Ouch. That’s gonna leave a mark.

14 Replies to “Nadia”

    1. Nadia was as open and generous as anyone I’ve interviewed, and with absolutely no cause; showed some fortitude I thought. But then, reading her, you knew that, right?

      And, yes – I might have asked about a book. But, dude – really? I’m writing a book, old Packed Ham in NYC is writing a book, you’re probably writing a book – I assumed that Nadia’s writing…something.

      ; ‘ )

  1. I wondered why I hadn’t read anything under her name lately. Thanks for this. Nadia sounds thoughful and engaged, something you can’t always say for reporters at the Star.

  2. Inquiring about secrets assumes that secrets exist. For those who have secrets, questions present the most danger.

    The other thing that Nadia might not have known (or even recognized?) was the tremendous impact her position at The Pitch had on other people. I once saw a grown man run frantically up two flights of stairs, bar the door, and (while panting) announce that Nadia was coming and for everybody *else* to go ahead and start panicking. He had no solution, only panic.

    That was, I think, the first time I met Nadia – inside a fireproof stairwell, with a panting man who was desperate to bar her entry into a dirty, smoke-filled room of *nothing special*.

    People who have secrets seem prone to panic; I just wanted to admire her legs.

  3. tick tick tick tick tick tick
    Brrrrinnnnggg! Ring! Bing!

    Time for the Pitch to wakie wakie…

  4. This was impressive – the simple fact that Ms Pflaum agreed to talk with you astounded me. After all you’ve harshed on the Pitch in the past my man. And then you really DID run it straight. Maybe you should do interviews more? Good work.

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