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With Unusual Stories, He Finds a Curious Audience

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Steven Kurutz has a penchant for telling unusual stories. It’s something he attributes, in large part, to where he was raised: Renovo, a remote town in Pennsylvania with a population of about 1,000.

Growing up in such a tight-knit, isolated community, he developed a kinship with the overlooked and underestimated. He wanted to write the kinds of articles that weren’t traditionally found on the front pages of newspapers and tell the stories of those who lived in “pass-through” places — or those who felt out of place, even in a big city.

That’s why, after nearly three years at Details magazine, Mr. Kurutz began freelancing in 2001 for The New York Times’s City Weekly section, where he wrote about people in Lower Manhattan with uncommon jobs and stories. Then, in 2011, he joined The Times as a full-time reporter on the Home desk, where he covered lifestyle trends. Since 2015, he has written for the Styles section.

Mr. Kurutz’s beat isn’t easily defined, as he’s often drawn to offbeat or unorthodox tales that take his reporting in unexpected directions. (If he had to pin it down, he’d say he explores cultural and social trends, as well as the world of design.) In the last year, he has reported on carnivore bros, workers who care for plants at corporate offices and people who really, really like sticks. One thing all the articles had in common: novelty.

In a recent interview, Mr. Kurutz talked about his reporting role and why he thinks his work resonates with readers. This interview has been edited and condensed.

How did your early career experiences prepare you for your current job?

For the City section, I was writing about real New Yorkers. I felt like I understood the city a bit, that I could credibly and authoritatively write about it. To be in your 20s and have Manhattan below 14th Street as your beat was amazing. I wrote about all sorts of eccentric characters, like a man known as the lawyer of last resort or the leading shoe salesman in the women’s department of Bergdorf Goodman. Any quirky little thing could become a story.

How do you view your role at The Times?

I’m always flattered when an editor thinks of me for an idea. That shows that I do have some sensibility, even though I’m a generalist.

I see myself as the utility player in baseball — the guy who’s not the home run hitter, but is solid. If you want me to do a quick, newsy story, I can do that. If you want me to do a piece that takes a few months, I can do that. If you want me to do a profile, I can do that. A trend piece, I’ll do that.

How do you find ideas?

You just get a nose, an ear or an eye for it. The lightbulb flashes. Sometimes, it’s just being on the ground. Other stories may be inspired by social media. My editors have great ideas. And my wife has tipped me off to things.

Last year, I profiled Noah Kahan. My wife is the one who told me, “This guy’s blowing up on TikTok.” I don’t like to do celebrity stories, but I found a clever way to do it. He’s from Vermont and sings about New England. Beyond James Taylor and Phish, you don’t think of New England as this hotbed of music talent. We hung out with him, in “stick season,” in his home.

Do you look for opportunities to do reporting outside of New York City?

Earlier in my career I did. I would take any chance I had to get to California. But now I have two small children. Traveling to exotic locations has no appeal anymore. I have been doing more stories in New England. Because I grew up in a small town, in a place in America that’s been overlooked, anytime I can get out of the city and the bubble of New York, I do.

I’m on the Styles desk. But my feeling is that there’s fashion, culture and lots of interesting things happening outside of places like New York, Paris, Los Angeles and Milan.

It seems like your reporter brain is always attuned to how anything around you can become an article. Is that fair?

Yes. Sometimes I’ll see one or two references to something and by the time I see the third reference, I think “OK, that’s a story.” Your brain is always working or filing things away as a journalist. Then something clicks. That conversation at a party, or something you see in the moment.

Your articles tend to circulate online. Why do you think readers love wacky tales?

People read The Times for the news. The world isn’t waiting for a quirky piece on a Maine lobsterman who’s famous on TikTok. But there’s novelty in it. It takes people out of their day. The news has gotten grimmer, and the world has gotten grimmer. People need a break from the seriousness of global warming and war and political feuding. These kinds of stories give people that moment. They take them into a world that they don’t know about or haven’t thought about before. There’s a real charm to it.

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