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Kurt Nagl is the breaking news reporter at Crain’s Detroit Business. He covers a wide range of topics and handles daily breaking stories, primarily for the website.
Can you tell us what types of stories, trends or issues are on your radar now?
Southeast Michigan is an ever-interesting place, so there’s a lot on the radar constantly, especially as a breaking news reporter. Of course, Detroit’s resurgence has been one of the primary over-arching story lines. As a business publication, we cover everything from the big stuff (Ford redeveloping the train station, FCA relaunching a plant in Detroit) to the smaller-scale stuff, such as a small business opening in a Detroit neighborhood. More importantly – and our beat reporters do a wonderful job with this – we look at what it means for the region and its people in terms of economic impact, equity and long-term sustainability.
Describe the craziest or most fun story you have written.
Well, the perk of being a reporter is that you’re placed in all kinds of interesting situations. One of the most memorable for me was landing in northern Iraq on my 23rd birthday to cover the Kurdish Peshmerga’s fight with ISIS. My first assignment was to go to the front lines in a contested village called Makhmur and profile a guy my age who had left the U.S. army and traveled from California to fight alongside the Peshmerga. The first thing I asked him was, “What are you doing here?” and he quickly turned the question around on me. I spent the next half year figuring that out. I met great people and learned a lot about some amazingly welcoming cultures. The experience helped shape my worldview and laid a foundation for my pursuit of impactful reporting.
What story or stories are you most proud of?
The stories I’m most proud of – pause for the cliché – are the ones that give voice to the average person – the small businessman over the billionaire, the voter over the politician. Powerful people already have a pulpit. I think it’s a lot more important to listen to the average “joes and janes” to get a pulse of what’s really going on in a community. I found that out in refugee camps in the Middle East, demonstrations in Flint and community meetings in Detroit.
What elements or characteristics do you look for in a story?
There are obviously a ton of different elements that make for a good story. Typically, I look for a topic or issue that’s going to appeal to a lot of our readers – the mission is to serve the audience. But also, I feel it’s important to look past the obvious headline and ask questions. How is this program or policy really working? What’s the intention vs. real impact? I also find that some of the best stories focus on issues that affect many but are understood by few. Unrolling complicated subjects takes a lot of work but is almost always worth it. Knowledge is power – said someone much smarter than me.
How long have you been in journalism and how did you get started?
I started down the journalism path by writing for the student paper at UDJ High School. I then worked for the paper at my college, Central Michigan University, starting when I was a freshman. I graduated in 2014 and have been in the field since, working for media outlets in Michigan and abroad.
Finish this sentence: If I am not reporting, I am …
If I am not reporting, I’m kind of bored, really, or playing golf.
What advice do you have for PR people that want to pitch you?
My advice to PR people pitching me is to have a good story that would resonate with our audience, and to call me to talk about it. Selling a story means understanding the consumer.
Any pet peeves with PR people?
We’ve all got our quirks, right? One thing that frustrates me is when I receive a news release and can’t get ahold of anybody to ask questions. I always have questions.
Tell us a little about yourself (family, interests, hobbies, background, etc.)
I’m 26, a native of SE Michigan and a big fan of the region despite, and sometimes because of, the weather. I love music and playing stringed instruments. Hugely into the blues, from Elmore James to Slow Hand. Also enjoy exercise and eating – one more than the other depending on the day. Kurt Vonnegut’s probably my favorite writer for obvious reasons. I’m a pretty regular dude, I think.
You can follow Kurt on Twitter at: @kurt_nagl