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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Boston Globe reporters speak about ‘Murder in Boston’ podcast at Journalism event

On March 7, journalists Evan Allen and Adrian Walker spoke at Brandeis in a talk sponsored by the Brandeis Journalism department. Walker is an Associate Director at The Boston Globe, having worked there since 1989. Allen is an investigative reporter for The Boston Globe, currently working on their Narratives team. Allen previously spoke at Brandeis in 2021 with The Boston Globe’s “Blind Spot”. This talk focused on Allen and Walker’s work on the “Murder in Boston” podcast. This podcast is about the murder of Carol Stuart by her husband, Charles Stuart, in October 1989 in Boston. Charles Stuart originally claimed it was a Black man that murdered his wife, which set off a chain of racist investigations by the Boston Police Department. Over 30 years later, Allen and Walker re-investigated what happened, with new information being discovered, and tried to reshape how this story has been perceived in Boston.

This talk was moderated by Journalism Program Director Neil Swidey and Professor of the Practice Ann Silvio. The talk began with how Allen and Walker got into this story. The two had very different introductions to how this story began. Walker had just begun his career at the Boston Globe when this murder happened. He explained that, “This story always felt suspicious to me.” On the other hand, Allen was three years old. Nevertheless, she grew up in the Boston area, so it was a story that she felt she always heard about. As time went on and as she got deeper into the story, she saw there was a lot more information than what people knew. “There were so many opportunities to not drag the city through this drama,” Allen stated. She also noted, “The disappearance of the truth was a deliberate choice.”

The two also explained the process of their reporting and how they set out to tell an honest story. Through this investigation, they would find faults in old investigations and try to make improvements on what had been done. One thing that Allen noticed was that Carol was previously not made out to be an important character in her own story. “The thing I got angry about as the project dragged on was the permanent misogyny,” she said, “Carol the woman did not matter. Carol the symbol mattered.” Walker agreed, saying “I was thinking of how little we knew about this woman.” The two wanted to do this story right, which they would do by really showing Carol’s story.

Along with the gender element, they also wanted to look at race as an element of this story. With Charles Stuart accusing a Black man of murdering Carol, it put the Black community of Boston, specifically those in Mission Hill where the incident happened, under watch. “We wanted this to be close to Mission Hill,” said Walker, who is a Black man. People like Willie Bennet, who was wrongfully arrested for the murder, were hurt by what happened, and that topic cannot be ignored in an investigative report like this one. Allen continued, “We went into this story thinking the police investigation did a bad job.” Allen and Walker looked into the racial injustice that occurred through poor police work, and they wanted to highlight those problems with their podcast.

Podcasting was somewhat new territory for these journalists, as their previous work was in written form. Walker joked that before this podcast, “I had barely listened to a podcast.” They both talked about what they learned from making a podcast. They explained the difficulties that come with making a podcast, such as all of the sound bites needed. “If you don’t have sound, you don’t have anything,” Allen explained, which meant they needed people to talk. They can work with past quotes that have been written down for a written-out article, but they need actual sound for podcasts and recorded quotes. “You really need people to tell their stories,” Walker remarked on this topic. The podcast was a nine-part series, with a recent bonus episode. That meant a lot of material was needed for this audio medium, and Allen and Walker learned a lot about what they needed to do during the making. Based on the success of the podcast, they learned well.

There was a lot that went into the investigation for this podcast. Allen and Walker had to do several interviews, take a deep look at everyone involved and comb through hundreds of documents. “We have the benefit now of amassing everything that we could,” Allen remarked. She also joked, “I now know everything that everyone ever did in October 1989.” Some of the more difficult parts came from interviews, which Allen and Walker gave tips on how to do through their experiences. The main thing they emphasized was building trust. “These are painful interviews, they are painful for people to relive,” Allen explained. That is why they had to be careful with how they carry out these interviews and why trust is needed. Walker said that “People often want to really tell their stories,” emphasizing that it may take work to get these interviews, but they can be done.

Allen talked about one interview she did that lasted over five hours (with three bathroom breaks). That experience demonstrates how important a proper interview can be, which is why interviewees need to know that their interview will be taken with care. There are two statements Allen explained that she likes to say to reassure her interviewees. “I tell people you need to think about yourself and protect yourself,” and “I can’t promise you a good story but I can promise you a true story.” These sentiments are used to help the interviewees feel more comfortable so that they feel that their truths and stories are being respected. That is how a journalist can make sure they are doing their stories justice. Allen and Walker were explaining their own experiences in investigative journalism and podcasting in order to help potential future journalists learn about what they should do and how they should carry out a story. Towards the end, Allen emphasized the importance of journalism by saying to all of the attentive students in the room, “As a journalist, you have a very cool ability to say, this is what’s wrong and I want to do something about it.” In Allen and Walker’s work on the “Murder in Boston” podcast, they both acknowledge that power and make the most of it.

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