Episode 98: Ask the Hard Questions with Amelia Arvesen of Honing Her Craft


Even though she prefers the written word to communicate, outdoor journalist Amelia Arvesen CRUSHED this conversation! Amelia joins us to talk about what makes a good story, the role of truth in journalism, and why she started the Honing Her Craft newsletter featuring female creatives across all industries. You won't want to miss this episode!


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@hi_amelia

honinghercraft.substack.com

ameliaarvesen.com

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Episode Transcript


Lisa: Hey, what's going on all my outdoor people, journalists, creatives, and marketing managers, brand managers. What's going on? It's just Lisa on this one, and it's seven o'clock on a Wednesday night. I'm at my house. And I am kind of just wrapping up my day and recording a podcast episode today that comes out tomorrow.


Yeah, really mellow vibes. No Iris. She's probably off riding her bike and playing with her puppy Turbo right now because she's off work for the day. So you get me today, No, Iris. And what's been going on at WHEELIE? Well, we're hiring. And that position, the application window has closed. It has really put life into perspective for me, it has put COVID into perspective for me, because I feel like we're a little bit insulated up here in the wilderness and in the woods and in Montana. But the volume of resumes we received for this position and the talent, the sheer talent out there that is available for hire is ridiculous. I almost think we need to do something about it. Do something with all these amazing talented people and connect- start connecting people. I don't know... the... wow. Just like, if you applied to that job, I don't know how we're going to select who to hire because we received hundreds of incredible applications. It's… I'm honored as a person that this little company I started by myself has the level of talent that's interested in supporting this dream and being part of it and helping make wild, rowdy, meaningful creative work for the outdoor industry. So thank you from the bottom of my heart. And if you applied and you don't get the job, my God, please just come back because you're brilliant.


So I got to get that out. Speaking of brilliant, I love this episode. And I say I love it a lot. Like, to everything she says, I'm like, Oh, love that. So I'm a little self conscious about that, but I did come because this podcast guest is very smart and has remarkably cool things to say.


So today on the podcast is Amelia Arvesen, she's an outdoor journalist. We are going to put show notes to her website and social media in the podcast episode and yeah, follow along, sign up for her newsletter, which is called Honing Her Craft. And I think that Amelia is just... It's so interesting listening to people who usually interview people get interviewed because you can tell how much thought she puts into the process and puts into her work.


And we don't often speak to writers on the podcast, as a very huge lover of the written word I couldn't be more personally thrilled to sit here and talk about words. And I think that shows and I think Amelia and I connect on that level in this podcast, which is a fun thing to listen to, and kind of leads to this good interview that is just about life and about being a writer and what makes a good story.


We talk about why transformation is important, the juxtaposition between being a crime reporter and then reporting on like different types of fabric in the outdoor industry and kind of like this beautiful perspective that Amelia brings to it, and kind of, yeah, just the interconnectedness of personal interests being something that you then start writing about and get more work around.


So I enjoyed, I enjoyed this very much. Oh, we also talk about truth. It's some big questions. Think about that. I loved her answer for that. Listen for that. What is the role of truth in journalism? Like, I didn't really go easy on Amelia and she stepped up. So give it a listen and enjoy.




Lisa: Amelia. Thank you so much for being here today and I'm excited to have you on the podcast.


Amelia: Yeah. I've been looking forward to this all week.


Lisa: The very first question we ask everyone is to describe where they are and what they're looking at.


Amelia: So I'm looking at a wall in my new apartment, in Flagstaff, because if I turn around, it's a mess of boxes and things strewn about. So I don't want to look that way cause I don't want to get distracted, but outside my window is a nice tree. It's sunny here. So I'm happy. Happy to be in Flagstaff.


Lisa: How long have you lived in Flagstaff?


Amelia: So we just moved here, like over Labor Day weekend, basically. We were kind of here in August. So not that long. We're new.


Lisa: Oh, why'd you pick Flagstaff?


Amelia: So my husband is in a graduate program at the university here. So we were doing van life before this, and then he got accepted. So we quit van life and moved here, but before van life, we were in Boulder for several years.


Lisa: Oh, nice. And now you get to mountain bike and be warm. So that's cool.


Amelia: Yeah. Yeah. It's nice. I'm excited to explore all the trails and the crags and all the mountains here. So. And we get snow, which is exciting. There's also a little ski hill.


Lisa: Nice. Well, I'm so curious - we've never met in person - and so for our audience and also for me, I'm so curious to learn what's what's your story and how did you become an outdoor journalist?


Amelia: Yeah, so I started basically right out of high school in journalism. I got an internship at a newspaper and that kind of set me on my way to work at various publications in Kansas, where I went to school. And then in Boulder I was primarily a breaking news and crime reporter, which was not what I was hoping to do, but set me on a really interesting path to learn about the courts and crime and also local reporting and diving deep into a certain city and area.


So. Meanwhile, I'm reporting for the newspaper, I also am passionate about the outdoors and was always looking for freelance opportunities to contribute various adventure stories. My editors at the newspapers I was working full time at will tell you that I was always pitching, you know, the local runner, the local hiker, “oh, somebody’s hiking across the city, let's cover them.” And sometimes it was yes and sometimes it was no. And then toward the end of... I want to say 2017, an opportunity came about for me to work at SNEWS, which is S-NEWS. It actually stands for Specialty News because we covered - they still cover - outdoor specialty retailers.


So my friend, Kassandra Cloos, who's a journalist, was leaving and she said, “I think you'd be a great fit.” She knew I was looking for an outdoor reporting position. And so I was hired there and I spent the next two years writing about all things outdoor industry and gear and all the different figure heads in the space.


And then just earlier this year I went freelance. So I'm hoping to write still about the outdoors and outdoor industry. And then also branch out a bit more into my other interests. Maybe get back to justice, courts reporting. We'll see where it leads me, but I'm excited.


Lisa: That's really cool. Do you, like, how does that all connect for you? Do you find that you write about things you're interested at that time? ‘Cause like, I find, even in my creative agency, I somehow attract brands that like work on subjects that I'm interested in at that time. And it always feels like coincidence, but I don't think it is. Does that happen to you too?


Amelia: Yeah, definitely. I've actually put out a few feelers and pitches to interior design publications. And I'm also interested in that. So I feel like, you know, your passion, especially in writing and creative jobs, can also be your job. So yeah, all those things can converge and I like a lot of different things and so hope to write about a lot of different things, but mostly, like my path has been in some ways chosen for me, like there were breaking news reporter positions open, so that's how I fell into them. And same with SNEWS even. And so now that I'm on my own, it's like I can kind of carve out different spaces, of course, depending on which publications pick me up. So yeah. I'm excited, it’s a whole new adventure.


Lisa: Oh man. I'm happy for you.


Amelia: Thank you.


Lisa: Are you scared going out on your own or excited? Like, does it feel liberating or terrifying or both?


Amelia: [laughs] Yeah. In one minute it can feel both, one day can feel one, another day it can feel the other. So it's a mix of things. And especially during such an anomaly year with a pandemic and budgets at publications being cut, it makes it really hard. Especially for a first timer who doesn't have long standing contracts with publications. So... it's okay though. It's giving me space for some other opportunities and passions. And I know that that fire's under my butt to do something. So I'll find something to fill the time.


Lisa: Absolutely. I guess that's a good lead-in to your newsletter, Honing Her Craft.


Amelia: Yeah. Yeah. So that definitely came about in pandemic era. And I started it because I've always wanted to just interview people I like. I mean, that's why I'm a journalist. And at the same time, I was really missing connection. I'm an introvert. And so it was a really welcoming space for me when I was told I had to stay home and couldn't see anybody, I was like, “sweet, sounds like a good deal to me.”


And then over time I was really tired of myself and wanted to branch out and not only call my friends and talk about inspiration, but also people I was following on the internet. You know, people I am social media friends with. And so it was, I was kind of like making my own excuse and giving myself permission to call these rad people and ask them about money and their inspiration, what their office looks like, all these different things. So yeah. Honing Her Craft.


Lisa: Yeah. How would you define Honing Her Craft?


Amelia: So Honing Her Craft is a weekly newsletter and it features female and female-identifying creatives in different industries. And so I've interviewed women from the journalism world, the tech world and marketing world, and then also painters and textile artists. And, yeah, hopefully more to come.


And so I've sent, at this time, I’ve sent two newsletters so far. And I hope it just keeps going and picking up speed and people seem to be liking it so far. So I hope they keep liking it.


Lisa: Yeah. I think they're really well done. And where can, where can people sign up for them?


Amelia: It's hosted on Substack, which is a platform that a lot of journalists are using nowadays. So you can find it on honinghercraft.substack.com and you can dive into the two interviews that I've done so far.


Lisa: Very cool. We will definitely put a link to that in the show notes.


Amelia: Awesome. Thank you. Yeah. I'm excited to just interview all sorts of people. I know you understand that having talked to so many rad people in the outdoor industry.


Lisa: There are so many, so many cool people doing really interesting things. So, yeah, it's really fun.


Amelia: Yeah. My list is very long.


Lisa: Oh, I bet. So why, why do words resonate with you? Like why are you a writer and kind of, why do you express yourself through words?


Amelia: That's a really good question. I would even hone it down more to written words, because I don't consider myself a great speaker. I say like a lot, I say um a lot, I'm not, you know, a public speaker.


And I mean, I guess this is different because it's conversation. But if I were to be asked... like at times I would be asked by my editor on the scene of a crime to dictate a story, and that just does not come naturally for me. So written word is more my thing. And I think... I don't really know. I feel like I've always been a reader, I've always had a journal. I'm going through my stuff as I'm unpacking and I found my first journal from when I was in elementary school and it's got all these like plastic gemstones glued to the front. And it says things like, “my mom doesn't like me.” And I just think that that was the earliest way that I was describing my feelings.


And so feelings have turned into sharing other people's stories. And I just always remember picking newspapers up and wanting to be in them, but not featured, more as the writer. I want to be writing those stories and talking to people. And I mean, it's a common language for a lot of people. Like we all, we all learn to read and write. And so that's how we communicate and it's spread more than just calling your friend on the phone or... I guess the internet has changed the game nowadays, but yeah, I just love sharing people's stories.


Lisa: That's really cool. I love writing as well. And I always kind of compare it to like painting... I always compare everything to snowboarding. And painting and photography and the more visual arts are just like riding powder where it's just very experiential. And then I love writing because it's got this precision to it, just like riding rails. Where you can move your body ever so and pick just the right word choice and just like precision accuracy. And I find that to be quite fun about the written word.


Amelia: Yeah. I was talking actually for a Honing Her Craft interview today, to an artist. And her name is Jordan Craig. And she said that her art is like a puzzle. And that just struck me because that's always how I... that's always how I referred to putting articles and pieces together. Because it's like, I have this really good chunk of a couple of sentences, but I don't know yet where it goes. And so finding the good spot for the quote and the lede and all of those things. So yeah, I think it's really similar in a lot of ways to other crafts, whether it's physical or, yeah, painting a picture.


Lisa: Yeah. What to you makes a good story?


Amelia: I think rawness and emotions and transformation. Yeah. Not necessarily happy endings, but, I like to read about other people learning things. And I like to write about that as well, whether it's about themselves or the world. And I would hope people think the same of my stories. So yeah. I feel like that's a simple answer, but I read a lot of different things that I think are really good. So.


Lisa: Mmm. Rawness and emotions and transformation! How cool. Why do you think transformation is important?


Amelia: Well, I think that we, at a certain moment, are a certain person. And, you know, if I were to meet that person in their moment, um, and just talk about the moment, it would be interesting. They would be great. You know, I would be able to write about that. But I think that hindsight and learning from your own lessons is... makes for a complex, layered story that resonates with other people. So if I met somebody who did something completely different than me, but they’d never talked about how they also write and they also journal, it's just a different level of connection.


And I feel like as a storyteller, being able to show the person as... or the subject, as a layered person or topic becomes more interesting.


Lisa: I love that. How, how do you…. how do you find the layers when you are writing an article and you're interviewing someone, do you like research them first and go in with loaded questions or just sort of like, let it happen organically? What's kind of your creative process there typically?


Amelia: Yeah. So I definitely look them up on all of the platforms and I... yeah. Find out their job. It's kind of like, I online sleuth. I'm sure you can relate. And I formulate questions around that, you know, so if I'm writing about a certain topic, I obviously stick to that.


But I'll have a list of questions and I will start with that. And then I've really been trying to stay off of that list. And, like, if the conversation flows off the list, kind of just rolling with what they're talking about. Unless it's a specific story in mind. And like I'm thinking of Honing Her Craft. But if I'm doing a specific story, I'll usually stick to those questions. Ask follow ups. And ask the hard questions. I think that's something we learn as journalists in the very beginning, and it's easy to get away from that and become comfortable or phrase it in a way that's like sensitive and soft - at least that's how I've trended toward - When really like, just asking the questions as simply and clearly as possible will yield the best answer. So even if it's a sensitive question about money or somebody's past, yeah. Realizing that it's a privilege to ask that question as a journalist who they've trusted their story with.


Lisa: Mmm. I like framing that as a privilege. I love that. That's so cool.


Amelia: Yeah. I feel like me in my personal life, I really, I pad my questions for my friends and really empathetic and sensitive. And it comes across really clearly in my questions. But then when I put my journalist hat on, I don't necessarily leave those behind, but it gives me more permission and agency to ask the hard questions. I feel like. Yeah.


Lisa: So as an introvert, ‘cause you mentioned that you were totally stoked on working from home, as an introvert do you find that to be a challenge or that to be like a... I don't know, how does that land with you?


Amelia: Yeah. I mean, there's some days I wake up and I have an interview scheduled and as great as the person might be in the story, you know, I'm excited about the story, I might just not feel like talking to anybody. And I just sit with that, you know, I still have to do my job. But it's definitely harder some days than others. And yeah, I think it's putting that journalist hat on that gives me that permission for not only them realizing my role, but myself realizing that role too. Like, I have a job to do. I'm going to go up, you know, in non-pandemic times, like at a concert or at a rally or something like that, I would just go up to a person and ask them a question with that journalist hat on. But as Amelia in my personal life, I would like, never do that. I don't know. It's a weird tension between the two… the two different roles that I have.


Lisa: Do they ever overlap where you find you’re like interrogating your boyfriend or something or your husband?


Amelia: [laughs] Oh yeah. Yeah. A lot. I’m like, “I can ask this question. I've interviewed CEOs and police chiefs. Like, this is a great question.” So yeah, it definitely overlaps. I like carefully crafted questions, no matter what, when.


Lisa: That's hilarious though. I enjoy that about you. I like that fun fact a lot. Well, here's a tough one.


Amelia: Ready.


Lisa: What do you think is the role of truth in journalism and sub question, how do you ascribe meaning to things that you... like when you're listening to someone talk, how do you ascribe meaning and know that that's going to go into the article?


Amelia: Well, I think that as a journalist, our role is truth. And so if those two go together, it's to tell the most accurate story that there is, you know, like... like if somebody's not telling me the truth, I don't necessarily know that in the moment, but my goal is to seek that out, right? Like fact checking has become so important in media nowadays with the different outlets that we have, the different voices that are in positions of power.


And so yeah, that's… that's definitely a tough question. But if I see myself as a seeker of the truth than it is to publicize the truth, the role of the truth is to be publicized. And then I forgot the second part.


Lisa: How, when you're, when you're interviewing people or researching, like how do you ascribe meaning to things or how do you like, “Oh yeah, I'll note that. And I'll put that in the article.” Yeah.


Amelia: Yeah. Well, so my process, when I'm interviewing somebody and recording it is to just have that conversation and like, listen fully to the person. And usually if it's a meaningful question, then I listen to that hoping it's a meaningful answer. And then I hang up and we're done with the interview and I kind of forget about the interview for a bit. And then I come back to it. And some people use transcription apps, but I like to go through the interview a second time. And so it seems like a waste of time. Sometimes they feel like it is. And then I'll note like what stuck out, you know? So if I'm writing a feature about somebody and they're talking about a pivotal moment in their past… I mean, it really just depends on the story, right? And the direction that I want to take it. But, yeah, that's kinda my process. And I feel like I'm struggling with this in Honing Her Craft because I want to ask a million questions and I don't necessarily want to cut my questions down, but I kind of just want to listen.


And so that goes back to how I've been able to like, have that list in front of me and kind of be flexible and flow with the conversation too. And when I'm telling somebody's story, it's like, what did they want? What do they want to say? So, yeah, I feel like if it's a story that is assigned, I stick within the guidelines of that. If it's a pretty open story with a lot of flexibility, such as a feature story or just a Q and A, yeah. I flow with it and I listen to what they find meaningful, if that makes sense.


Lisa: Yeah. And then how do you kind of decide where to take it? You just kind of keep doing followup questions on what they say and bounce off of what they say?


Amelia: Yeah. Basically. And if they don't give me an answer to the question, I try to listen to that. You know, like, especially when I'm interviewing like a CEO about a controversial topic and they'll deflect the question, I'm trying really carefully to listen if that's a meaningful answer, if that's like, what people want to hear from that CEO in this situation, or if they don't answer me, I'll ask it in a different way. But yeah, poking more.


Lisa: You know, what you would like? Have you seen Masterclass on hostage negotiation?


Amelia: No!


Lisa: Well, it's awesome.


Amelia: You’ve taken it?


Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. The Masterclass, you know, that company Masterclass that’s always advertising on Instagram.


Amelia: Yeah.


Lisa: There's one on hostage negotiation that sounds a lot like you interviewing dodgy CEOs.


Amelia: What made you want to listen to that?


Lisa: I was like, “that would be fun. That'd be a great skill to have.”


Amelia: Yeah. Yeah. I'm definitely into… I mean, just having a background in crime reporting. I'm definitely into that. I like that. I'll look it up.


Lisa: Definitely. So you started in crime reporting, now you've shifted into outdoor. Like, do you find outdoor to be... I don't know, because you have this like really heavier perspective that you're bringing into it. Do you find outdoor to be interesting or kind of like, “okay, you guys pull it back” or like, you know, is it kind of like... I don't know. How does, how does that work for you?


Amelia: Yeah, I mean, it definitely feels fluffy some days, you know, when I'm writing about like, polyester versus wool or something like that, you know, but I also think that it's, in some ways, even more challenging, which motivates me because I know that there are stories under the surface of that press release. And it's just a matter of figuring those out. And so it takes a lot of conversations, which for me is tiring, but it's almost like when I come up empty handed, it just makes me want to go farther with the next press release that I get, like how far deep under this can we get and who has a really interesting story?


I was on a call with a brand and we were talking about their new spring 2021 line. And they just mentioned something about how they haven't been able to take photos of models. And because they haven't taken photos, they had somebody on their staff paint watercolors of the models and the clothing on the models.


And I was like, “that is a fabulous story!” And so, yeah, definitely less exciting at times, I’m not going to the scene of a SWAT call or going to jail court, but at the same time, I think it's better for my mental health too. And more of a challenge, which I like. I'm down with that.


Lisa: You seem really curious just in general.


Amelia: Yeah, I think I am. I'm always looking out my window. I... looking for something interesting. I think that's a good way to describe me, that I don't usually use to describe myself.


Lisa: Yeah. Was crime reporting, like super intense? Boing to all those scenes? I guess I've never really thought about it.


Amelia: Yeah. It was hard. Yeah. I think the way I framed it when I was in it was that it's giving me a window into different side of the world that I normally wouldn't come into contact with, or at least at the frequency that I was coming into contact with it. So, you know, sitting in jail court next to the mother of a victim or survivor is intense. And I am obligated- I was obligated to talk to her and the other family members. And it's just like, man, I'm such a compassionate person. And my heart was spilling out for all parties involved, which is tiring. And to do that every single day… I really liked it in some ways, and I don't... maybe I’ll go back to it somehow.


But I also don't think I can do the daily beat again in that capacity.


Lisa: That is something I've definitely never thought about.


Amelia: Yeah, it's wild. I mean, daily reporters have it really challenging, especially nowadays. And then add on crime as the beat.


Lisa: Certainly. Oh, wow. Yeah. I see why switching to SNEWS was probably like a pretty huge shift all around when you did that.


Amelia: Yeah, definitely. In some ways there were still some stories that came up that I was able to flex my breaking news muscles, but, yeah, less frequently. I would say like twice a month, maybe even once a month that, that there was something big happening. But it wasn't going to jail. So a different kind of energy for sure.


Lisa: I really appreciate that you bring that perspective to the outdoor industry.


Amelia: Yeah. Thanks. Yeah, I hope that it's come in handy and I hope that I've been able to storytell in a new way through that perspective.


Lisa: Yeah. Well, I could talk to you all day because you're really fun to talk to. Yeah, it's fun. I love being able to talk about the creative process and just kind of like all the special nuances that go into every role out there.


Amelia: I do too. Yeah. I'm so glad that I've been introduced to your podcast because let me tell you, I've been diving in deep and meeting all the outdoor industry people through it. So, yeah. Yeah. I think there are a few people we will also both have interviewed, which is really cool.


Lisa: Oh, cool. Yeah. And if you want any intros to anybody on there, let me know.


Amelia: Cool. Thank you.


Lisa: Cool. Well, where can people follow you online? Where's the best place to send them?


Amelia: Maybe to my website, which is my first and last name .com and then also to the sub stack for Honing Her Craft. And I would love it if people subscribed to that or even just took a look at it and shared it with people they think would like it.


Lisa: Cool. Well, yeah. Thank you so much for your time today and all your thoughtfulness and your non-written words. That was really fun.


Amelia: Yeah, that was fun. I'm excited to flip it and interview you someday.


Lisa: Yeah.




Lisa: Thanks so much, Amelia. I think it's pretty clear that I had a good time interviewing you. And I hope that our listeners also got a lot out of the richness and craft that you put into your wordsmithing. So while it wasn't written and it was verbal, I really think that was a beautiful interview. And thank you so much for your time.


And to our listeners, you can follow Amelia on Instagram, it's @hi_amelia, and you can also go to her website, ameliaarvesen.com. And check HoningHerCraft.substack.com. Again, these are all in the show notes on your podcast app.


Speaking of your podcast app, if you'd like to give us a review, good, bad, positive, negative. I don't care. But if you can do us a solid and give us a review on iTunes or Spotify, wherever you listen to your podcasts, that helps us get into the years of more human beings. And that's kind of the goal. We don't monetize the podcast. We do it for fun and we're almost at a hundred episodes. So thank you so much for sticking around this long.


Thank you for being on the ride and talk to you next week. Bye.

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