Sunday, November 21, 2010

New Orleans blogger tells moving stories

I've never been a big fan of blogs. Although my boyfriend gets practically all of his news from sports blogs, I'd rather stick with traditional news outlets in most cases. But in August, I got hooked on a weekly blog called "Joie d'Eve" on New Orleans magazine's website. Perhaps it's because the author, Eve Kidd Crawford, is also Louisiana native who got her master's from the Missouri School of Journalism. Or maybe it hit an emotional chord for me because it's been more than two years since I left Louisiana and every day I feel some cosmic force beckoning me to return. Either way, Crawford delivers well-crafted essays about her life in Louisiana each week, and the ongoing narrative about her sister's death due to alcoholism is one of the finest I've seen in online-only journalism.

In "The Best I Can Do" (May 28, 2010), Crawford writes about her struggle to fulfill her sister's only request: to write her obituary.
Brett Ashley Kidd was born Nov. 16, 1960, at the height, obviously, of my father’s Hemingway obsession. She loved Motown music and classic R & B, the color pink, Bud’s Broiler’s hickory sauce, the Saints, anything on the Food Network that wasn’t Rachael Ray, North Carolina barbecue, the Democratic party, dancing, cooking and talking on the phone. She was loving. She had a great sense of humor. She had goals.

And then … she wasn’t, and she didn’t. Alcoholism slowly took over her life, took away all of the good and bad parts of who she was until she was just 67 pounds of no one.

Ruby is obsessed with monsters lately. They’re under her bed, obviously, but they’re also in the car and in trees, and when she does something bad, it’s the monsters who are at fault.

When I got the phone call from my dad on Saturday and I told Ruby that Aunt Ashley had died, she said, very seriously, “Mama, I’m sorry that a monster came and made your sister dead.”

And I said, “No, baby. Monsters aren’t real. That’s not what happened. Aunt Ashley was very sick, and sometimes sick people die.”

But I can’t stop thinking about it. A monster did take her away. A long time ago.

This much is true: My sister died last weekend. She was 49.

But this is also true: My sister died years ago. A monster came and made her dead.
Her posts reveal the odd combination of humor and sadness following a family death, such as in "Ashley, as Ashes":
“The only thing I ever took comfort in about life after death,” my dad said, “was, ‘Today a man, tomorrow a worm, the next day a butterfly.’ I guess Ashley did it a bit different: ‘Today a woman, tomorrow an oyster, the next day …’?”

And I finished up, “A po-boy?”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, she’d like that.”

And she would.

Rest in peace, Ashley. See you in a sandwich.
In "A Fitting Goodbye," Crawford describes her sister's New Orleans sendoff, and most recently in "Beaujolais and Bittersweet," she recounts her last good memory with her sister — drinking wine:
On the one hand, it felt awful to drink with her, like I was signing her death certificate in my own hand. On the other, this was probably the closest I’d ever felt to her, the most typical “sister” thing we’d done in years.
Crawford's posts about her sister seem uncharacteristic for a blog celebrating the New Orleans culture. After all, she's usually writing about being a mom, wearing searsucker or hosting Carnival guests, and she does so in a refreshing way. But somehow, she's also struck a balance in writing about her public personal life and private personal life. Occasionally revealing private details breaks down barriers between her and the reader as well as touches on universal emotions. When reading this blog, you don't just get a stereotypical dose of Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and great eats; you also pick up the nuances of the Louisiana spirit — the passion, grit and perseverance of the people who live there. Perhaps that's really why I'm hooked.

Please check out "Joie d'Eve" and share your favorite blogs.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sandy Rowe: Lessons from a life in news

One of the luxuries of working for Mizzou is getting to attend interesting campus lectures, including the Missouri Honor Medal master classes on Oct. 28. Below, I've posted my notes from the presentation given by Sandy Rowe, retired Oregonian editor and currently a Knight fellow at Harvard.

Rowe said her perfect newspaper would only have three types of stories:
  1. Kick-ass, original exclusives/investigative stories
  2. Stories on humanity built on character and details, the stories that make you want to laugh or cry
  3. Useful stories of high interest, such as explanatory pieces or news you can use
Her presentation focused on the first type, the most at danger in today's economy. She described these accountability stories as complex, high-risk, high-impact and original reporting. They're rarely about one thing; the best stories are at the intersection of topics and touch on what we value as a society/community. They require layered reporting. Of course, this is costly to newsrooms.

She said it's foolish to think that more money will come into media outlets to fund investigative reporting, and most bloggers don't have the resources or a wide distribution. So, what could keep investigative stories going? Rowe suggests that media have to stop serving their newsrooms rather than their communities first and form partnerships with nonjournalistic organizations, universities, public radio stations and nonjournalistic experts. Northeastern has an investigative seminar in which student stories are funneled to the Boston Globe. So far 16 student-reported stories have appeared on Page 1. Another newspaper formed a partnership with a librarian and three retired lawyers who were willing to do research. Even Facebook could help newsrooms find experts in their communities whom they could network with.

As an editor, she employed "prosecutorial editing" when her staff worked on high-risk stories that made the reporters feel both thrills and pure fear. In editing, she asked herself and the reporter:
  • Could the opposite of what we're writing be true?
  • Is there another explanation for this?
  • What don't I know that might change things?
She argued that investigative stories don't have to be five-part series. They can appear in several formats, including:
  • Breaking news: In "Confusion hampered search for Kims," which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news, a team of Oregonian reporters pieced together details that not only provided a harrowing narrative of a family of four stranded and freezing in the Oregon woods but also evidence that rescue agencies failed terribly:
"In the end, the family was found by a volunteer pilot, one of several key breakthroughs achieved by people not connected to the official search. The confirmation that the family was south of Roseburg came from a citizen tipster; and the cell phone evidence narrowing the search was provided by amateur detectives at an Oregon wireless carrier.

Many of the key missteps came in Josephine County. The search-and-rescue coordinator now acknowledges she was overwhelmed by the demands of the search. She failed to call for help from the National Guard, which meant that heat-detecting helicopters stayed on the ground in the crucial two nights James Kim slept in the forest.

Her direct supervisor, an undersheriff in his last week on the job, said he ignored a late-night call from her about the case because he was watching an Oregon State football game on television."

  • Profiles: Oregon's governor and several members of Congress called for the resignation of David Beebe, district director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, after complaints of high numbers of Asians being rejected at the airport. The next day, Julie Sullivan convinced Beebe that there was more to his story than what had been reported, and she wrote "I have to be who I am," explaining Beebe's character and motivations.

"Last year, 94,000 "customers" approached the counter of the Portland INS. The line of immigrants, refugees, adoptive parents and newlyweds forms outside the stained stone walls of the unmarked federal building on Northwest Broadway as early as 7 a.m.

But Beebe is always there first.

Neighbors can set their watches by the 55-year-old civil servant: up at 3:45 a.m. for calisthenics, out the garage door by 6 a.m., in the office 14 minutes later in a dark suit and silk tie. Beebe is 6-foot-2, 170 pounds of self-discipline who controls high blood pressure through habit. He takes the stairs, never elevators. He takes walks, not lunch. He never has more than a single glass of wine. He trims his lawn Tuesdays and Thursdays, like clockwork."

  • Editorials: "All the lonely people" won the 2006 Pultizer Prize for editorial writing. It uncovered the shortcomings of Oregon State Hospital, including a room with 5,000 unclaimed remains, and called for the legislature to fund improvements to mental health care services.
Rowe also suggested reversing the journalistic lens. Instead of localizing national stories, start with a local story. Follow it through; keep reporting on it. Chances are that the story touches onit an issue that will have larger implications and might turn into a regional or national story.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A person's room speaks volumes

Jacqui Banaszynski's intermediate writing class wrote the feature package in this week's Vox issue, which proves how a person's room (bedroom, workroom, closet, kitchen, man cave, etc.) reflects so much about his or her identity and character.

The story idea itself is pretty intriguing, and the specific details nestled in each vignette will draw you in.

My favorites include:
  • "Memory Cues," about the nursing home room of a woman with dementia: "The view from her bed falls on a patchwork of photos of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The names of the youngest are written carefully in Magic Marker on white slips of paper tacked above their pictures: Jacob, Connor, Addie, Ryann and Caiden."
  • "Room of Dreams," about the bedroom of an imaginative 3-year-old: "It is miles high, vibrantly green and covered in beans — the magic kind, of course. 'It's a beanstalk!' the boy says with a smile as bright as the sun. He grips the vines tightly and begins to climb. Is he Jack? 'No, shh,' he whispers just loud enough to hear. 'I'm not Jack. We're pretending.'
  • "On the Inside Looking Out," about a pastor's office where she writes sermons: "On the other side of the window is the real world: a dumpster, a parking lot, a playground and a stretch of Locust Street. The window shows her kids playing, students walking by and a homeless man crawling around in the dumpster."
More than anything, though, this package has inspired me to ask more questions about a subject's surroundings; ask to see the rooms that hold importance for a subject; and spend more time reflecting on how a person's space can add another dimension to the stories I write.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chimp on the Lam

Chiafari. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

Reports of an escaped chimpanzee in Kansas City today had me thinking about another account of a monkey that went out of control.

You may have heard -- on Oprah or some other way -- about a February 2009 attack involving a domesticated chimpanzee and a Stamford, Conn., woman. Travis (the Chimp) was a former TV star who was fed human food, drank wine with his 71-year-old owner and was even fed Xanax.

The monkey -- perhaps in a drug-induced rage -- brutally attacked Charla Nash in the driveway of his owner, tearing off Nash's fingers and pummeling her face almost beyond recognition as a human being.

New York Times reporter Michael Wilson wrote in a February 2010 New York Times article that the officer who first arrived at the scene "pulled up to the house and saw a lump of clothing in the driveway. 'Then I realized it’s a human being,' (the officer) said. 'It was all ripped apart.'”
"Officer Chiafari and paramedics, who had been waiting in their vehicles for the chimp to leave, rushed to the body on the ground. 'She had no face,' (Chiafari) said. 'Her hands are off. There are thumbs and fingers all over the place.' He called out to her. 'I feel bad, but I was hoping she wasn’t conscious.'”

The reason Wilson's reporting is worth mentioning -- other than the story's novelty and its almost sickening descriptions -- is that its told in a unique way. As a follow-up story, Wilson uses the point of view of Frank Chiafari to portray the extremely traumatic episode.

The story (for me at least) raises several emotions:
  • Disgust, both in the brutality of the attack and the fact that a highly sophisticated primate like a chimpanzee would be so mistreated that he'd lash out in this way; and

  • Sympathy, for Chiafari, who, surprisingly was racked with guilt because of the attack. He'd been criticized by animal rights activists for killing the animal, and it seems that he had a lot of remorse himself for having to do so.
The story for me got at some of these emotions (particularly the latter) that you wouldn't necessarily expect. Good reporting by Wilson to find that deeper story and equally good writing on his part to tell it in a compelling way.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (5/16/10)

- Elissa Gootman on being a 311 operator in New York
- David Waldstein on the Japanese Mets pitcher Hisanori Takahashi's Spanish skills, which fellow Mets have have helped him acquire

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (5/9/10)

The Châteaux de Lastours. (David Yoder for The New York Times)

- Tony Perrottet on food and castles in Languedoc, France

Friday, May 21, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (5/2/10)

- Michael Winerip on Bernard Ros, overseer of French chefs
- Pico Iyer on William T. Vollmann's latest book, "Kissing the Mask"

Friday, May 14, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (4/25/10)

Allen. (Larry Fink for The New York Times)

- Mark Leibovich on Mike Allen, the über-workaholic behind Playbook

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (4/4/10)

McQueen in 2002. (David Bailey)

- Cathy Horyn on possible causes of Alexander McQueen's suicide
- Alana Newhouse on the misuse of Roman Vishniac's photography

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (3/21/10)

Shooting "Treme." (Peter van Agtmael/Magnum, for The New York Times)

- Wyatt Mason on David Simon's new television show, "Treme"
- Carl Hulse, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jeff Zeleny on the way the Democrats in Congress and the White House stopped the downfall of health-care reform

Monday, March 15, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (3/14/10)

The changing facade of 104-106 Bowery. (Left, center, New York City Municipal Archives; right, Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

- Dan Barry on the history of a building on the Bowery
- Luc Sante on David Shields' new book, "Reality Hunger: A Manifesto"
- Darryl Brock on baseball's influence on Mark Twain, and Rick Burton on the sport's role in the life of Stephen Crane

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Andrew Astleford wins first place in Hearst Journalism Awards

Congrats to our dear friend, Andrew Astleford, who won first place last week in the Sports Writing category of the William Randolph Hearst Foundation's Journalism Awards Program. His story, "Detour to Destiny: Arena of Dreams," was published in the Columbia Missourian and produced during an Intermediate Writing course at the Missouri School of Journalism, taught by Jacqui Banaszynski.

Astleford's story shows the human side of dreams not-yet dropped, and how a player's success is more meaningful to him than just the momentary glory of the 100-yard stage.

After graduating in December, Astleford moved to New Orleans, La., and now freelances for publications such as and New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

CJR: The journalistic education of Gabriel García Márquez

The Columbia Journalism Review had a wonderful article about the role journalism had on the budding career of Gabriel García Márquez. New Journalism has been gaining ground in recent decades, but even in the 1950's, newspapers saw readers' excitement with the story behind the facts.

The renowned author wrote a fourteen-part series for the Columbian newspaper, El Espectador, where he worked when he was 27. During the course of the series, the publication's circulation "almost doubled."

García Márquez had only been toying with some small fiction pieces at the time, but worked mostly as a journalist. This series, about the personal account of a shipwreck survivor gave him the liberty to repeat the tale is telling detail. Here's one sentence from the series:

“'Soon the sky turned red, and I continued to search the horizon,' recalls Velasco (or at least Velasco being channeled by the young reporter). 'Then it turned a deep violet as I kept watching. To one side of the life raft, like a yellow diamond in a wine-colored sky, the first star appeared, immobile and perfect.'"

Another thing to take from this story into the present is that audiences want to be entertained, but I don't think that has to be achieved by forsaking fact for gossip or by producing additional soft news. I think it comes through superb writing, as it should. And the fact that the newspaper doubled its readership through just this series alone really says that if the audience is enjoying itself, it's willing to buy whatever gives it the satisfaction worth an hour or so. Publications should stop trying to just get people to buy the facts from them, but convince them through good storytelling that the facts are worth the time and money they put forth to read a story.

Even aside from journalism, I think it's an important point to make note of another narrative journalist of last century who turned later to fiction: Ernest Hemingway, who wrote for Missouri's own Kansas City Star. Check out some stories of his stories from the newspaper here.

I'd say it at least has something to do with narrative journalist's ability to grasp real life events in a telling way, since all good fiction at least resonates with some part of reality.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (3/7/10)

Steve Cohen. (Richard Perry/The New York Times)

- N. R. Kleinfield on Steve Cohen, New York's Millionaires' Magician
- Elizabeth Green on ways to help teachers improve

Sunday, March 7, 2010

History. Hard Work. Kansas. And basketball.

As a kid, I remember playing basketball for hours in a day: shooting buckets until I couldn't see the hoop for the dark; ball-handling drills in my basement when it was too cold to go outside; shooting free throws even while my fingertips were dry, cracked and bleeding.

I cannot claim to know exactly what life is like in Larned or Chanute, but this story by Kent Babb in Sunday's Kansas City Star is still incredibly emotive for me. As a Kansan, a history major and a lover of college basketball, I still didn't know how rich my home state's heritage is where this sport is concerned.

Even if you don't love basketball — or have never visited a town of less than 20,000 — I'm sure you can enjoy this piece. With just the first graph, how could you not?

"They say the soul of basketball is out there in a place where grain elevators are
skyscrapers and barbed wire gives an order to things.

Some may find it saccharine, but I assure you it's real. There's a lot of truth in this thing.

PLEASE read it HERE.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (2/28/10)

Ravitch. (James Estrin/The New York Times)

- David M. Halbfinger on New York State's "Mr. Fix-it," Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch
- Dan Barry on things people did in Norwich, Vt., to prepare for the homecoming of the town's latest medal winner, Hannah Kearney

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (2/21/10)


- Shaila Dewan, Stephanie Saul and Katie Zezima on Dr. Amy Bishop's quickly changing behavior, which manifested itself finally in the killing of three of her colleagues at the University of Alabama at Huntsville
- Nick Bilton on his experiments with a fledgling Web site, Chatroulette
- Elissa Gootman on Freda Rosenfeld, Brooklyn's breast-feeding maven

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (2/14/10)

Marines in Marja. (Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)

- Chris Chivers on the inexperienced Marine Company K's surge through Marja, Afghanistan
- Dan Barry on people's struggles in Ciudad Juarez, which often cause moves across the border to El Paso
- Alex Witchel on the director David Cromer

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (2/7/10)

The figure skater Rachael Flatt. (Ryan McGinley)

The freestyle skier Jeret (Speedy) Peterson. (Ryan McGinley)

The figure skater Evan Lysacek. (Ryan McGinley)

- The photographer Ryan McGinley on athletes in the 2010 Olympics
- Michael Sokolove on the Chicago-born long-track speed skater Shani Davis
- Bill Pennington on Minnesota-born alpine skier Lindsey Vonn

Friday, February 5, 2010

Wash. Post: "An erogenous zoning Violation"

Above was the headline as it appeared in print (the online head's not as creative). I just wanted to share this, because it's a great example of narrative coming from — of all things — a planning and zoning meeting.


Here's the link.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (1/31/10)

Omar Hammami. (The Hammami Family)

- Andrea Elliott on the radicalization of the Alabama-born Shabab figure Omar Hammami
- Michael Wilson on the longtime New York news anchor Ernie Anastos
- Bruce Weber on Willie Mays, 78, who finally allowed someone to write a biography of him

Monday, January 25, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (1/24/10)

Frank Serpico, 1971. (Librado Romero/The New York Times)

- Corey Kilgannon on the aging Frank Serpico, who spoke out against corruption in the New York Police Department
- Walt Bogdanich on mistakes made during radiation procedures
- C. J. Chivers on a Marine's encounter with a buried I.E.D. in Afghanistan

Monday, January 18, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (1/17/10)

People gather to collect the remains of a store in the La Saline neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Damon Winter/The New York Times)

- Simon Romero and Marc Lacey on looting in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in the aftermath of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake
- N. R. Kleinfield on 24 hours at a Clean Rite Center laundromat in Brooklyn
- Adam Nossiter on the evolution of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be underwear bomber

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (1/10/10)

George Kramer. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

- Saki Knafo on his second cousin, George Kramer, 71, who was deemed mentally retarded as a child and now works in a Brooklyn hardware store
- Douglas Martin on Freya von Moltke, the last living member of an anti-Nazi group in Kreisau, formerly in East Germany and now in Poland, during World War II
- Dan Bilefsky on Fethiye Cetin, who was raised as a Turkish Muslim but was born an Armenian Christian

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (1/3/10)

Marc Joseph's Foreclosure Tours 'R' Us bus. (Richard Perry/The New York Times)

- Peter S. Goodman on the real estate mess in Cape Coral, Florida
- Joseph Berger on Harold Fernandez, who was an undocumented immigrant studying at Princeton
- Jan Hoffman on the 15-year-old pop star Justin Bieber

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (12/27/09)

Gloria Scott, who was dying of lung cancer and taking sedatives. (Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times)

- Anemona Hartocollis on the use of drug-induced sleep through sedatives in end-of-life care
- Gia Kourlas on two marching bands, those of Ohio State University and Southern University
- Alan Feuer on bail monitors