Looking back on lessons we’ve learned, new relationships we’ve forged, and brilliant writing we’ve had the privilege to publish in our time as Pursuit’s editors.
Happy New Year, Pursuit friends! If you follow our Twitter feed and Facebook page, you may have noticed that for the past month, we’ve been sharing some of our favorite articles from the past decade. Really though, a #DecadeInPursuit is slightly misleading; we took over Pursuit from the inimitable L. Scott Harrell in Oct. 2012, so we’ve focused on the archives from that point forward, since those are the stories we know best.
Although it’s impossible to whittle down to a 10 Best Stories list — and we fear we’ve overlooked some excellent pieces in scouring the archive — poring through seven years of material has been pretty rewarding. It’s reminded us of all we’ve learned, and the relationships we’ve made with PIs around the world.
A proper highlights reel should begin with our earliest attempts to figure out what kinds of stories a magazine for PIs should publish. In our first year as editors, we tried lots of experiments — some of which did not succeed. Others did: Two of the first pieces we ran were by journalist friends, e.g. this excellent investigative journalism how-to by Theo Emery, a story by Bill DeMain on the iconic noir novelist Dashiell Hammett, and a two-part profile by Claire Gibson on a man whose wrongful conviction was overturned. Overall, we think 2013 was a pretty strong year.
We soon learned that certain topics were surefire hits: Readers loved stories about the myths and misconceptions surrounding our profession by Keith Owens, Brian Willingham, Steve Koenig, and Barry Maguire. Articles on deception detection and polygraphs spurred debate and dispelled myths. But the most popular topic by far is always surveillance. Our contributors have covered this subject exhaustively and creatively, with articles on foot surveillance, deep-woods stakeouts, using loaner vehicles, and what a real pro should never do. But the most popular of all are tip lists by veterans who know their stuff, like this list by Barry Maguire and this one by Joe LaSorsa.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to colleagues who’ve shared their wisdom again and again as regular contributors: Brian Willingham on business development and open-source intel, Colleen Collins‘s notes from the field and book recommendations, Keith Owens on best practices as a decent human, Chris Borba‘s Street Education series, Joe Stiles on bail enforcement, Ruben Roel on marketing, Kevin Goodman‘s deep dives into science and sociology, Keven Macnish on ethics, Scott Fulmer on professionalism (and trash pulls), Eli Rosenblatt on tech, and Rachele’ Davis on entrepreneurship and adoption searches.
In 2016, we had the bright idea of hosting an essay contest, which brought in top-notch submissions by criminal defense investigators across the country. Winners included Boston PI John Nardizzi, Bay-Area PI Mike Spencer, and NY public defender investigator Oliver Mackson. (See the full list of winners here.)
Other favorite recurring themes and departments include:
The Pitch — Marketing, networking, professionalism, and business development advice from the school of hard knocks. Two creative gems in this dept. are Willingham’s piece on marketing like a dominatrix and Ruben Roel’s stunner, “What I Learned When My Wife Recognized the Signs of Infidelity … in Me.”
Investigator’s Notebook — Essays about lessons learned on the job. Some of the most profound pieces we’ve ever published fall into this category — including Steve Morrow’s The Foundling and Chasing Easy and Susan Waller Lehmann’s The Process Service. Also in this department are two of our all-time favorites, about PIs who volunteer their skills for good causes: Chris Borba on working cold missing persons cases and Steven Mason on his pro bono work for the Arizona Innocence Project. Kudos to them both for giving back.
In hindsight, here’s what we’ve learned about the stories people want … and the ones we need. For sure, how-tos on surveillance, research, interviewing, FOIA, and tech are our bread and butter. But we have a soft spot for the WHY-tos — personal stories about what drew us to this work, its perils and rewards, and what keeps us going. We love it when contributors go deep and get vulnerable, because ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. Since we aren’t gonna get rich in this game, we may as well find meaning in the work, whether it be truth, justice, helping people in trouble, or the thrill of the chase.
Also, we made a podcast — check that out. Occasionally, we amused ourselves and made absurd lists. Along the way, we hope you’ve found something in our virtual pages to enjoy and maybe even learned a little something.
Massive thanks to our generous contributors for keeping the lights on with their good words and shared wisdom. We apologize to anyone who’s written for us who didn’t get a name check here. We, the editors, appreciate you all and would not be here without you. To all of you, and anyone with expertise to share, please submit anytime.
In 2020, we’re trying out a new editorial calendar. We’ve tentatively mapped out articles and webinars on monthly themes: January will focus on marketing and business development, February’s theme is ethics, and March will home in on criminal defense. We’re still accepting pieces on all PI-related topics, but these monthly themes might inspire you to try something new. Here’s to another great decade ahead!
For more clickable goodies, see these yearly wrap-ups: