Q&A with Charlotte Keith
An investigative reporter explains the importance of being an outsider
Photos by kc kratt
Scammers, shirkers, and sluggards, beware! Charlotte Keith may be on your trail. This soft-spoken and unprepossessing young woman has blindsided many a bureaucrat as a reporter for Investigative Post (IP), a non-profit multi-platformed news organization dedicated to watchdog journalism. Keith’s beat is economic development, and she’s posted in-depth stories on the Buffalo Billion as well as topics like the city’s minimal enforcement of its fair housing laws. A graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism, she was recruited by Jim Heaney, IP’s editor and executive director, for what was supposed to be a one-year fellowship in Buffalo. That was four years ago. Keith, a UK native, has grown to love her adopted hometown, and is committed to making it a better place through “rigorous” reporting on issues “affecting people’s day-to-day lives.” We caught up with the ever-curious Keith and learned more about her motivation and goals.
How hard was it to get your footing as a reporter in Western New York?
If you’d told me when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, “You’re going to be living in Buffalo in a few years,” I would have said, “You’re crazy.” I wasn’t even sure where Buffalo was—somewhere out west? But I would definitely do it again and again. The fact is, everything you cover in journalism, you learn from the ground up. Coming up in journalism, you’re always an outsider.
You’ve already been here longer than you’d expected. Do you have plans to move on?
I love my home in the Elmwood Village, and I do have a boyfriend from Buffalo; he’s a photojournalist. But I’m open to any career options; I could be anywhere. This whole industry is in a state of flux, so I really need to be open. I guess my dream job might be working as a reporter for a really great metro newspaper, with editors who can guide you and help refine your work. Right now, I am trying to do my best as a local journalist, not replicating the work of others here, but really working to get things absolutely right and fair; this might be the only time a certain topic gets written about, after all. But who knows what’s down the road? Maybe I will be on TV with my own talk show one day!
Tell us the best thing about Buffalo. And the worst?
Best is how friendly the people are! And the worst—how defensive the city can be. I am still a relative newcomer here, and I have seen a lot of changes. Sometimes I am asked, why be so negative? Every city needs rigorous journalism, and it’s better to know about things that are going wrong rather than covering only what is so great. Buffalo deserves to have good, incisive coverage.
Where’s your favorite place to eat? To relax?
I like Mother’s in Allentown. And my boyfriend and I like to go hiking in Letchworth and Zoar Valley. We just came back from a trip to Shenandoah in Virginia, and I would love to see more of the national parks, especially out west. And someday Alaska. Here in town, I enjoy the spin classes at BikeOrBar. And sometimes, I just want to sit home and read. Mostly detective novels. I am a big fan of the American-Irish writer Tana French.
Wondering if you have any favorite American-isms?
It’s funny—when I go back home to see my family in London, I have to re-Britishize. My parents tease me about sounding American! My favorite American expression is “y’all” as in “you all.” People think it’s Southern, but it’s definitely used here. I can’t say it right, though—when I use the term, people ask me what I just said!
Imagine you’ve just had your best day ever at work. Tell us what that’s like.
Something really key has fallen into place on a big story. I’ve nailed down something I wanted to confirm; I caught a big break. That’s the best kind of day. That’s it. Good journalism is really what I want to do.