Today at the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors (AASFE) conference, St. Petersburg Times reporter Lane DeGregory talked about how her Pulitzer-winning feature “The Girl in the Window” came together. The multimedia project narrated the discovery and adoption of seven year-old Danielle, who had been so neglected by her mother that she was still in diapers, could not eat, and was unable to speak.
DeGregory mentioned that her editor, Mike Wilson, had pushed her to find the child’s mother, claiming she would be “the Boo Radley character: the only person who really knows what went on.” After weeks of putting off his reminders, she ended up at a trailer in the middle of nowhere, recalling that the mother was over six feet tall and wondering if she was safe. The photographer who accompanied her pulled up to park and said, “I think we better back in.”
In the end, the mother told her story and gave DeGregory a green Hefty trash bag filled with all Danielle’s medical records and foster care papers. “Not only did my editor’s insistence that the mother be part of the story make it a better story, but it let me fill in the blanks on all the documentation,” says DeGregory. “And after the story came out, everyone said, ‘The best part is the mother.’”
Something new to add to the checklist: who’s your Boo Radley?