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August 2007 - Interview with Pat O’Connor, Editor of Crime Magazine

Mr. O’Connor has a great deal of experience with true crime being the editor and publisher of Crime Magazine, which contains a variety of stories ranging from organized crime to serial killers. He was also a reporter and bureau manager for United Press International, editor of Cincinnati Magazine and an associate editor for TV Guide. In addition, Mr. O’Connor was editor and publisher of the Kansas City New Times, an alternative newspaper. He has a new book, The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, coming out in 2008. We decided to ask him for some of his expertise regarding true crime and our nation’s obsession with it:

You are the Editor and Publisher of Crime Magazine. Please tell us a bit about your job and experiences.

I have a degree in English Literature from the University of Missouri. Getting my degree in English Lit was the best choice I've ever made in terms of career development. I have a minor in Latin which has been invaluable in terms of grammar and usage. I began as a reporter for United Press International in 1970 and two years later was bureau manager for UPI in Topeka, Kansas. I became editor of Cincinnati Magazine in 1975, and was subsequently hired as an associate editor of TV Guide at its headquarters in Radnor, Pa., in 1980. In 1995 I became editor and publisher of the local alternative newspaper (The New Times) in my hometown of Kansas City, Mo. In 1998 one other person and I launched Crime Magazine (www.crimemagazine.com), and I have been operating it since then. Earlier this year Chicago Review Press purchased the rights to publish my first book, "The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” which is scheduled for release in 2008. That book grew out of my interest in innocence cases, a specialty of Crime Magazine.

My job as editor is to work with the many freelancers who write for Crime Magazine. Often it can take eight or more drafts to get the article ready for publication. One of our goals is to write the definitive account of any subject we take on, so our articles tend to run quite long. Our writers do exhaustive research and cite their sources within the text itself (no footnotes). I like articles to have a viewpoint or edge to them -- to go someplace, to have a reason for being written -- but to be written in a fair, unbiased manner.

Crime Magazine is all about true crime, from serial killers to organized crime. Why do you think people are so drawn to reading about such graphic material?

I'm not sure. We've never done a survey of our readership. My impression is that our audience is slightly more female than male and it probably tends to be post 40 years old. That massive numbers of people are attracted to violence is shown by the success of "The Sopranos," and all the movies and TV shows that make violence a main staple. Perhaps it has to do with fear. Perhaps the novelty of it, since most people do not encounter real violence in their lives. Most of our articles, by the way, do not deal in violence, and certainly we never glorify it. We portrary serial killers, for example, as psychopaths. A good portion of our site is dedicated to innocence cases and government corruption.

Editing a magazine of this nature must bring you in contact with some very disturbing stories. Does it ever affect you on a personal level?

Yes, particularly the innocence cases. I've been working on trying to get a new trial for the five defendants wrongfully convicted in The Firefighters Case in Kansas City for the last 10 years. My interest in the wrongful conviction of Mumia Abu-Jamal caused me to write a book on that case, which is scheduled for publication in 2008.

Do you feel it is important for authors to have tangible experience with their material in order to write it convincingly?

I'm not sure what "tangible" experience means. It is important that the writer does exhaustive research and knows the subject backwards and forwards.

It is not critical that the writer personally know the people he or she is writing about, although such knowledge can be a major help.

There is a stereotype that true crime writing is merely sensationalistic, focusing on violence rather than on the victims. What would you say to this?

It's certainly not true in our case. We go the other way every time. The perp is scum.

How have your experiences as a reporter had an impact on your view of true crime books?

Very much. Most true crime books -- certainly not all -- are sensationalistic, meant to shock, not inform.

What advice would you offer to authors who wish to try their pen at writing true crime?

There's no substitute for research. I've found that when you've done an adequate amount of research that the story almost writes itself. The research tells you what there is to say.

Finally, what recent news story in this area has affected you the most?

Several states, including Florida, have recently suspended executions due to so many lethal injections being botched. Capital punishment is a stain on the United States justice system. Second, DNA exonerations now amount to more than 200 cases, casting grave doubt on the way prosecutors do their jobs. John Grisham's book put the subject of wrongful convictions before a broad portion of the U.S. public. The public is finally getting used to the notion that justice in the United States depends a great deal on how much a person can pay for it. Most of the DNA exonerations, for example, involved indigent, often black, men represented by court-appointed attorneys.

We would like to thank Mr. O’Connor for taking the time to answer our questions. His website is Crime Magazine: An Encyclopedia Crime

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