No Brother of Mine

Diane Richard and her husband Todd Melby sure know how to pick a project with a long, uphill road to the finish line. Diane and Todd recently finished a one-hour radio documentary on sex offender policy in the United States. It’s called “No Brother of Mine.” The lengths they went to complete the project are surprising and inspiring.

On this addition of the Saltcast, I talk to Diane and Todd about the insane amount of tape they collected  (150 hours) following offenders in and out of prison over four years, the pittance of pay they received for the amount of work involved ($5k), and the effort they made to protect their safety.

There were a couple of things we chatted about that I couldn’t fit into the Saltcast so I thought I’d post a few notes here.

One of the toughest jobs a journalist will face is leaving your pesonal opinion at home. Whether its your political point viewpoints or, in this case, your distaste for the person you are interviewing — a sex offender. Both Diane and Todd say you just have to dive in, be open, and ask tough questions.

Todd: Just like any other story, there are people that I like and people that I don’t like. As I’m doing the interview, it doesn’t matter whether I’m liking the person or not liking the person.

Diane: I don’t like what these guys did. At all. But, I like them as human beings. (Long pause.) Some more than others.

At one point in the documentary, Todd asks a question that made my stomach churn: “What is it that sexually attracted you to this child?”¬† How do you ask a question like that?!

Todd: It’s super difficult. But we had to get to the heart of the issue. We were interviewing sex offenders. And, as part of that, we needed to have them tell us about the crime they committed… And we needed to figure out why they did what they did… from their point of view. And certainly the acts were reprehensible but we needed to ask those questions. It wasn’t easy.

Diane: We were in prison for almost four hours one day interviewing possible participants and asking that question over and over. And I felt SO numb at the end of it. You could have pierced my eyes with a needle and I wouldn’t have noticed. It was a really traumatic day. So, we went out for French fries afterwards (laughs) which became a pattern of ours. When ever we did a series of tough interviews, we’d treat ourselves to French fries (laughs).

It doesn’t really tax me to ask questions. People at my work make fun of me because they say there is nothing I won’t ask. If someone wants to answer it, I’ll ask. I’m doing it to represent the listener… I’m just kind of the conduit.

Todd: It’s just sort of facing your fear and talking to people. You know, once a person has agreed to be interviewed, you can pretty much ask them anything until they tell you to go away.

Diane – And in our case, since we were wanting to establish a long-term relationship with these guys, if I had let my disgust show in that first meeting. They would never have opened up to us. They would never have wanted to take our calls.

On a different note, Todd and Diane spoke about working together as a married couple. Diane says since they know each other so well, there’s a kind of “pretty dance” they engage in allowing each other’s strenghts to come to the fore. But, they’ve established a few boundaries to make sure work and personal life don’t mix all the time.

Todd: I do rent an office about four blocks from the house so we’ve at least got our little production studio out of the house.

Diane: And little is little! We’re talking about a closet-sized (office). So when we’re together and the dog’s in there, there’s no square footage for anything else in this little space. But there is a physical entity that we talk to which is helpful.

Todd: And then as far as the separation of personal life from radio life, I’ve tried to say “Let’s not talk about it tonight.” We’ve definately had troubles with that at times.

Diane: We just have to be really explicit. When you are working on a story it’s what you’re thinking about. It’s what wakes you up in the middle in the night. And if the person you are working with is right there it’s just hard not to talk about it… It’s really tricky and it’s not for everybody.

And the up side is, when Todd and I are really excited about a project, it totally engages us. I kind of feel sorry for married couples or partnered people who don’t have a common passion. Because what do they talk about? The dog? I suppose there’s things to interest them, but when we’re running on a story, it’s really, really fun.

Check out Todd and Diane’s work at 2BelowZero.org. And, listen to all of “No Brother of Mine” at PRX.

Happy listening, Rob.


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