Looking forward to the future of journalism

Reporter’s notebook: When talking to neighbors pays off

Profile of Joey Estrada Jr.
Profile of Joey Estrada Jr.
Scott Huddleston covered the shootings at Fort Hood last week and helped write an amazing profile of Kimberly Munley, the police sergeant who, along with Sgt. Mark Todd, opened fire on Nidal Malik Hasan and stopped the rampage.

Scott talked to one of Munley’s neighbors and learned a revealing anecdote about Munley’s no-nonsense attitude:

As military wives on Munley’s street cared for families while their husbands were deployed, Munley would keep an eye out for them and let them know of any criminal activity, said Erin Houston, a neighbor.

One night, Munley shooed away a couple of men trying to break into her house, telling them, “If you try to come in, I’m going to shoot you,” Houston said. “After they went away, she walked the neighborhood — by herself — to make sure they were nowhere around.”

Interviewing neighbors is something reporters always do, and many times the effort doesn’t turn up gems like Scott found. We’ve all read about neighbors who have no clue they’ve been living next door to a serial killer. There’s always a neighbor who says, “He seemed like such a nice boy.” Even the Onion poked fun at these interviews with the classic article: “Neighbors remember serial killer as serial killer.”

Read more about journalism: Telling stories with data: Police chases and drug smugglers on the Texas-Mexico border

But talking to neighbors can sometimes pay off. Last week Joey Estrada Jr., the young man accused of killing restaurateur Viola Barrios, was in the news because his trial is going to be held in Victoria instead of San Antonio.

Lomi Kriel and I profiled Estrada last year and the first thing we did was talk to neighbors. Most of the people we talked to didn’t know much about Estrada. But we found someone who had heard that Estrada used to work at Hollister Co., a clothing store at the Shops at La Cantera. Thanks to that tip, we were able to learn Estrada had been accused of rifling through employees’ purses and even stealing a car. It was part of a pattern of alleged thefts leading up to the burglary and arson of Barrios’ home.

So talk to the neighbors. Even if they don’t know much information, maybe they can lead you to people who do.