USA TODAY Network journalists talking about the stories behind their work

·5 min read

Annabelle Tometich spent 15 years pretending to be a Frenchman.

A Frenchman of “odious pretentiousness” who dined at restaurants across Fort Myers writing reviews for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Florida.

The pretending was part of her job. For 41 years, more than a dozen critics wrote reviews under the nom de plume “Jean Le Boeuf.” Tometich was one of those writers, until one day she revealed herself to be a 40-year-old, half-Filipino former chef.

“It’s taken me a decade and a half to figure myself out, to be confident enough in my credentials, and my skin, to shed the veil of white-maleness I’ve clung to for more than a third of my life,” she wrote on Feb. 4 unveiling herself as one of two staff food critics writing under the pseudonym.

As part of the Storytellers Project’s “Stories about Stories” virtual show on July 13, Tometich will share her personal journey as a multiracial American navigating a predominantly white community, her foodie roots, and her journey to writing.

“My story talks about why I was so happy to hide behind this fake name and its many powers/privileges for so long, and why I was finally ready to give it up,” she said.

Food writer Annabelle Tometich has been among the voices behind The News-Press and Naples Daily News's pseudonymous restaurant critic, Jean Le Boeuf, since 2006.
Food writer Annabelle Tometich has been among the voices behind The News-Press and Naples Daily News's pseudonymous restaurant critic, Jean Le Boeuf, since 2006.

Tometich will be among six USA TODAY Network journalists sharing five stories as part of the Storytellers Project show. Watch at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET. Register in advance to receive a reminder at https://www.storytellersproject.com/all-events and watch on the Storytellers Project’s Facebook page, YouTube channel or website.

Also sharing stories are:

  • Nathan Bomey, 37, of Arlington, Virginia

  • Dana Hunsinger Benbow, 46, of Indianapolis

  • Noel Lyn Smith, 42, of Farmington, New Mexico

  • Xerxes Wilson, 31, of Wilmington, Delaware

  • Jared Whalen, 28, of Philadelphia

Benbow, a reporter at the Indianapolis Star, will talk about a series she wrote focused on two high school seniors who married after one was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer and given three to five months to live.

Each article was a slice of their lives, two young people, in love and running out of time. By sharing the story behind the story, Benbow hopes “to show the emotions, the heartbreak and joy that reporters feel as they tell these tough stories.”

IndyStar sports writer Dana Hunsinger Benbow.
IndyStar sports writer Dana Hunsinger Benbow.

“Many people read the words and don’t realize the emotional impact it has on the writer,” she said. “Chase and Sadie became family to me. When Chase died and his story ended, it felt as if a big piece of me, my mission, my hope was gone, too.”

Bomey, a reporter for USA TODAY and author of “Bridge Builders: Bringing People Together in a Polarized Age,” will talk about traveling the country interviewing people who were bridging differences.

“After writing a book on misinformation and polarization in 2018, I became incredibly disturbed at how divided we are as Americans,” he said. “So I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to go out and meet people who aren’t accepting the status quo. I need to go visit people who are bringing people together despite their differences, whether it’s politics, race, religion, class or culture.’”

Through his story, Bomey said he hopes to show that journalists can serve as bridge builders.

“We can play a role in addressing the toxic polarization that surrounds us without compromising our principles of fairness and truth,” he said.

Smith, a Navajo Nation reporter at the Farmington Daily Times in New Mexico, will share a story about crossing borders between the Navajo Reservation and towns nearby.

“These communities are known as ‘border towns.’ But when we think of ‘the border,’ we think about partitions like the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Smith. “However, there are borders here — and I cross one to report about the Diné (Navajo people).”

Through her story, Smith hopes to show the value of a Navajo journalist reporting about her community.

Wilson, a reporter at Delaware Online, and newspaper designer Jared Whalen will talk about their work on the story “18 Hours in C Building,” an investigation into a prison riot that resulted in the death of a correctional officer.

“This story was inspired by a groundbreaking event in Delaware’s correctional system — a tragedy that has spurned reforms and hard questions about who is to blame when prisoners take up arms against those holding them,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he hopes to show the work reporters put into impactful journalism — in this case, painting an accurate picture of how government treats prisoners, some of the country’s most vulnerable and maligned citizens.

“… And that when something tragic and awful happens in prison, we as taxpayers bear some responsibility for the outcomes that precipitate what happens in our prisons,” he said.

Whalen will talk about the thought and care that went into packaging the piece for print and online.

“As the designer of this multimedia heavy story, I wanted to bring the reader as close to the story as possible while respecting that this is a very sensitive story and the content needs to be handled with care,” he said.

Jared Whalen, data visual reporter, The News Journal.
Jared Whalen, data visual reporter, The News Journal.

This virtual storytelling night is part of the Storytellers Project’s 2021 storytelling season. The series features stories from across the United States told by people coached by USA TODAY Network journalists and professional storytelling experts.

WATCH: Episodes from the Storytellers Project

Learn more about the Storytellers Project and apply to tell a story at https://www.storytellersproject.com/.

Need to know

Upcoming shows

  • Aug. 25: School Stories

  • Sept. 14: Outdoor Adventures

  • Oct. 19: Home

  • Nov. 9: Veterans

  • Nov. 16: Food and Family

  • Dec.14: Holidays

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Storytellers Project show to feature journalists sharing stories

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