Steve Pokin on Becoming the Answer Man, Fielding Reader Questions
When Steve Pokin was asked in early 2015 if he’d like to become the “Answer Man,” a column in the Springfield News-Leader, he was hesitant.
For the past four years, Pokin had been serving as the author of another column at the paper, Pokin Around, a role he was quick to accept.
“Part of that is I finally had an opportunity to make use of my very unusual last name, Pokin, and it was just meant to be that I was gonna write a column called Pokin Around. And a lot of people ask me if I made that up. Unfortunately I did not – that is my real name.”
But he was skeptical of the types of stories the Answer Man would produce. The column is driven by reader’s questions, and Pokin feared for rather mundane inquiries.
The News-Leader is part of the Ganett Company, Inc., whose assets include the national paper USA Today. The company also features various regional papers, some of which have their own Answer Man columns. So Pokin reached out to an author to learn more about the position.
“And he told me it’s the best thing that’s gonna happen to you. He said you’re gonna get so many questions, they’re going to be interesting, it’s gonna be fun, you’ll be forever employed because people are just gonna respond to this. And everything he told me is true.”
Pokin says through email, social media and even letters, he gets between 50 and 60 questions a month.
Those that recognize him have even stopped him in public to ask questions. They range from why the lanes are slightly curved along Campbell Avenue heading toward downtown Springfield to details surrounding the 1917 abduction of baby Lloyd Keet.
Pokin says often he doesn’t initially know the answers to these questions. But if it’s interesting and relevant to the local community, he’ll investigate. That starts by checking the News-Leader archives. For questions of historical relevance, Pokin may rely on local historians, or who he dubs “deputy answer men.” And then it comes down to simply “being a reporter,” says Pokin.
What brings him great job as a columnist, says Pokin, is writing in the first person.
“That is a great gift as a journalist. I think that is a real way to kind of reach out and connect to people. And I like to think that the way I write – if you read my column – it’s kind of similar to what it’d be like to sit down and talk with me. It’s called a writer’s voice and I have the opportunity as a columnist to, in my view, be more engaging and to write in my own voice,” says Pokin.
On Thursday, May 26 the News-Leader is hosting an Answer Man Live event from 6-8 pm at Civil Kitchen and Tap, 107 Park Central Square. It will not feature live questions, but live answers from questions Pokin has received in advance.
You can register for the event here.
Above, hear the full conversation with Steve Pokin about his career in journalism and experiences as the New-Leader’s Answer Man. See more of Steve’s work here.