Rachel Hutton is a general assignment reporter in features for the Star Tribune and is our only reporter with an engineering degree from Stanford. But she says that work in product design is what led her to journalism. She was previously the editor of Minnesota Monthly and Midwest Home magazines and City Pages' food critic. The Minnesota native has also had stints in the Bay Area and New York City. She has written frequently about restaurants, travel, and design and enjoys profiling interesting people. She co-edited an essay collection about life "before the mortgage" prior to settling in the Twin Cities.

Q: You have an engineering degree from Stanford? When did you switch to journalism and why?

A: My degree is in product design, which is a combination of mechanical engineering, industrial design, and user research, which means that if you are designing a new washing machine, you start by observing and interviewing people doing as they do laundry to understand what they are doing and how they feel about it. After a few years working in design, I realized I enjoyed the research aspect best, and that the research process was very similar to reporting…shortly thereafter I decided I’d rather write about people than design products for them.

Q: You’ve written on all sorts of topics. Do you have a favorite kind of story?

A: I like writing about a wide range of things, from figuring out why people are bringing blankets to movie theaters to how a former St. Paulite reinvented himself as a Mexican hotelier. But I tend to focus on in-depth features of recognizable, iconic regional things (Split Rock Lighthouse, Dot’s Pretzels) or people (KARE11 anchor Randy Shaver, My Pillow inventor Mike Lindell). This is especially true when there’s an opportunity to reveal fresh insight on the familiar, or explain how an individual’s experience reflects a broader cultural shift. But I also like introducing readers to interesting Minnesotans who probably aren’t yet on their radar, but should be, such as the Native American hoop dancers Micco and Sam Sampson.

That said, I do have a favorite type of reporting, which involves tagging along with subjects who do something interesting and immersing myself in their worlds, whether it’s strapping on a bullet-resistant vest to ride along with a bounty hunter, or squeezing into a spandex bodysuit to join a Galactic Pizza superhero on his delivery route.

Q: Where do you find most of your stories?

A: Story ideas are probably an equal mix of suggestions from others (friends, colleagues, readers) or my own personal curiosity about something that I hear about or observe. For example, I finally learned the fascinating story of the guy who has spent two decades running a hot dog stand in the armpit of the Minneapolis skyway after walking by him for years. I always appreciate receiving story ideas, so please don’t hesitate to send them my way!

Q: Why are human-interest stories important?

A: Journalistic profiles have become even more important in the age of social media and personal branding, as reporters take a neutral approach to the subject (subjects do not review or vet stories before publication) and bring in additional sources and data to lend context. A strong narrative profile can bring readers into the world of someone who may be very unlike themselves and help them gain a better understanding of the person’s experience and perspective. Especially when we spend so much time in our digital bubbles, these types of stories can help readers care more deeply about a world beyond their own and foster a greater sense of human connectedness.