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Ask Anything: 10 questions with WRAL Crime Reporter Amanda Lamb

WRAL Crime Reporter Amanda Lamb answers your questions about crime scenes, murder cases and her dream of being an author. Plus, Funeral Director David Heckel is now taking your questions.

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Amanda Lamb
Amanda, what story (or stories) that you've covered in your journalistic career have been the most interesting to cover? – Aaron, Middlesex

It's hard to name just one. Early on in my career I had the opportunity to cover the 1992 presidential election and had the opportunity to interview then President Bush (George Herbert Walker) one-on-one which was pretty exciting for a 20-something-year-old.

I have flown with the Blue Angels (and didn't get sick), jumped out of an airplane for a skydiving story, been wreck diving off the North Carolina Coast, swam with sharks in the North Carolina Aquarium in Manteo, and covered the moving of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

I've also covered every hurricane since Hurricane Hugo in 1989, including Hurricane Mitch in El Salvador and Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf states.

But six years ago, when I started concentrating on crime, I knew that I had found my beat. I am fascinated by the criminal law and the inner-workings of the justice system. Even more important to me, however, are the connections I make with victims' families. They are ordinary people put in extraordinary circumstances and I am always amazed and humbled by their strength.

When you investigate murder cases, does it ever get you sick on your stomach when you see the murder scenes? If so, how do you deal with it, if you have to be there reporting on it? – Chrissy Holland, Micro

You do get used to seeing and hearing disturbing things when you cover crime. That's not to say that you are hardened by it, but you have to have some detachment from the material in order to do a professional job.

What are the limits when it comes to reporting autopsy and crime scene information? Are journalistic standards of decency going to continue to evolve? If viewers have a problem with coverage, who should they contact first and how? – Wayne Uber, Chapel Hill

At WRAL, we are very careful to have conversations about what pictures and words are appropriate to include in our newscasts. Autopsies and other public documents are often scanned into our Web site so that visitors can decide for themselves if they want to view the information in its entirety.

With the evolution of the Web, we are definitely seeing a shift in what we disseminate to the public through the Internet. However, on the air we still have very strict FCC guidelines and WRAL policies that govern what we put on the air.

I believe that crime should not be sanitized, but at the same time we should not say or show something disturbing unless it is integral to the story.

Amanda, I read your book "Deadly Dose" and thought it was well written. Do you plan to write a book about the Michelle Young case after the trial? – Carol Padgett, Creedmoor

I am currently in the process of deciding the topic of my next book. There are clearly a lot of interesting local cases to choose from. I keep good notes on all of the cases I cover. But I did learn from my "Deadly Dose" publisher that crimes must be solved before you can write a book about them. This is for two reasons – one, legal liability, two, the reader needs some satisfaction, some closure to the story.

In emotionally charged cases where a particularly offensive crime has occurred and guilt of the accused seems certain, how do you remain impartial and objective in reporting the case? Do you struggle with suppressing or overcoming your own emotions and instincts at such times? And do you find that difficult to do? – SmorgasOfBorg, Apex

It is difficult to stay objective and balanced in these cases. I am a human being first and a journalist second. Especially when the victim is a young mother, it is difficult as a mother to see what the family is going through. That being said, I believe that on the air it is my responsibility to be as fair and objective as possible. I make every effort to do so and have good editors who help re-direct me when my words may appear to be unfair or unbalanced.

How did you become a "crime" reporter at WRAL? Was it something you evolved into? – Kay Green, Knightdale

I was asked to cover the Wake County crime beat when one of our reporters left about six years ago. I always had an interest in covering trials, so it was a natural fit.

When I was growing up, my father was the district attorney in our county. I think I watched my first murder trial at age 13. I was drawn in by the drama of the stories and the juxtaposition of this against the backdrop of the formality of the criminal justice system.

I began to develop good sources and a knack for following the public records paper trail through the court system. All of a sudden I decided there wasn't anything in broadcasting that I wanted to do more than investigate and cover these fascinating cases.

I'm looking forward to reading your new book, "Deadly Dose." Have you ever been granted an interview with Anne Miller? – Alice, Raleigh

I asked several times while I was covering the case and she declined. My guess is at this point she would have no reason to grant me an interview based upon the fact that the book was written from the state's side of the case.

How did you get into writing? I haven't had the opportunity to read your books, but I am on a list at the library to get it soon. – Teresa Parrish, Fuquay-Varina

I started writing when I was a little girl, making books with construction paper, covered, stapled together and illustrated in crayon. I majored in English at Duke with a concentration in creative writing and received my Masters Degree from Northwestern University in journalism. But I never let go of the dream of writing books. I have been in local writing groups most of my adult life where we read and critique each others' work. This has helped give me direction and focus.

How long did you go to college to be a journalist and what school did you attend? I have a daughter who may be headed in this direction. Thanks. – Billie-Jo, Kenly

There are many good undergraduate programs for journalists. One of the best programs is at UNC in Chapel Hill. I went to graduate school, but that is not necessary if your college has an undergraduate program.

The best advice I can give anyone is get an internship and be willing to learn everything about the business. There are plenty of small television markets in the country where people can get the tools they need to move into a bigger market like Raleigh. You have to have a college degree, but this job is about experience more than anything else.

As a child, did you have visions of what you wanted to do when you grew up and did those thoughts include the work you're doing now? – David, Cary

I always knew that I wanted to be a writer. What I didn't know was how I would achieve that dream. I also did a lot of theater as a child, so I guess broadcasting combined my interest in writing and performing and my natural curiosity to know everything.

I feel very lucky that now I have been able to achieve another dream – writing a book. In August 2007, I published "Smotherhood" (Globe Pequot), an anecdotal humorous collection of essays about parenting in the 21st century. This summer I published "Deadly Dose" (Penguin, June 2008), a true crime book about the murder of Eric Miller.

My goal is to keep doing both as long as I can. I think I have a few more books in me! For more on my writing go to www.alambauthor.com.

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