When you work the night shift for too long, the murders start to link up with one another, blending cause and effect in a centrifugal force that gnaws away at the city. The veteran reporters start to see this; the man gunned down one night is related to an ongoing gang dispute, which originates in another murder from the previous week, and so on. The crimes dot their personal maps. Driving by Mosqueta Street, David points to a specific building and recalls the night he photographed an injured man that had been hit by a car. It was only later that his editor pointed out to him that the victim was in fact José Luis Calva Zepeda, also known as the Guerrero Cannibal, one of contemporary Mexico’s most notorious serial killers, accused of eating parts of his victims, all young women. When the police located him, he jumped out of his apartment window and ran across the street, before being struck by a car and apprehended.
Now, imagine you’re on a mission with a platoon of Afghan soldiers in a valley that you know to be under the control of insurgents, and imagine your task is to show that fact. On the one hand, you don’t want the soldiers to be ambushed—what kind of person would want that?—but on the other, the only reason you came to that valley in the first place was the high likelihood that they’d be ambushed and your desire to be with them when they were. Which is to say, I think, that you do want them to be ambushed.
There must be few journalistic feats more difficult than getting inside the head of a teenager. But with “13, Right Now,” Washington Post staff writer Jessica Contrera joins the ranks of reporters who have skillfully chronicled the lives of children and teens, including Susan Orlean (read her classic Esquire piece, “The American Man, Age 10”) and more recently, Andrea Elliott, whose “Invisible Child” for the New York Times in 2013 documented the life of an 11-year-old homeless girl named Dasani.
Contrera’s story focuses on Katherine, 13, whose life has been upended by the death of her mother, and whose world seems to increasingly exist inside her phone—through apps like Instagram and Snapchat. (As an #old myself, seeing Katherine’s life revolve around her social networks is shocking only in the way it mirrors the screen addiction of the American grown-up. It practically begs for the return of the “I learned it by watching you” meme.)
I spoke to Contrera about her story, which is one in an ongoing series (“The Screen Age”) that the Post will publish throughout the summer. Read more…
Mary Pilon | Longreads | August 2015 | 10 minutes (2,724 words)
“Why wait until the next story about coagulated fat in sewers comes along when you can read this one now?”
“All the world’s Grape Nuts come from a dirty-white, six-story concrete building with steam rising out of the roof here in the San Joaquin Valley.”
“With a WeedWacker under his arm, Dan Kowalsky was at work trimming the median strip of U.S. Route 1 in suburban Westport, Conn., when he was asked, above the din: Why not use a scythe?”
For 43 years, this is how Barry Newman has opened his stories. As a staff reporter at The Wall Street Journal, Newman developed a niche as the “King of the A-Hed,” the front page, below-the-fold feature story that had become one of journalism’s more peculiar corners since its inception in the 1940s. On a front page filled with the dryness of the bond market, the gravity of war casualties or the enduring egotism of Wall Street, the A-Hed was an homage to the ridiculousness of the world, a favorite among readers, reporters and editors, its existence constantly under threat. Read more…
Only one of the rape victims in Krakauer’s book, “Cecilia Washburn,” is identified with a pseudonym. “And I didn’t interview her,” Krakauer said. (Krakauer says he discussed the possibility of an interview with Washburn’s attorney multiple times, but she replied each time that her client likely would not consent to an interview.) The rest of the victims identified in Missoula spoke with him and consented to having their names used. Krakauer offered each victim he interviewed an opportunity before publication to review each chapter in which she appeared. If a victim changed her mind about participating, then Krakauer promised to remove all mentions of her from the book—a way of giving victims the control over their stories that judicial systems sometimes deny.
Krakauer also described for each victim he interviewed some of his own reporting practices and boundaries. “I told each of them, very explicitly, that except for withdrawal or correcting errors that clearly needed to be corrected, they would have absolutely no right to determine what I wrote about them,” Krakauer wrote during a follow-up. “I explicitly told each of them that if I discovered they had not been truthful, I would report it in the book. I also made it explicitly clear that I would try to get each of their alleged assailants to tell me his side of the story, and I would be including both sides in the book.”
—Brendan Fitzgerald writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the scrutiny of reporters who cover rape and Jon Krakauer’s new book “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.”
In 1973, Tom Wolfe published The New Journalism; the seminal book was part manifesto for a new style of nonfiction writing and part anthology of its early greatest hits. It contained work by Wolfe, Gay Talese, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, Truman Capote, and Norman Mailer, among others. Below is a short excerpt from the book’s first chapter, where Wolfe introduces his premise. The chapter originally appeared in the February 14, 1972 issue of New York Magazine as “The Birth of ‘The New Journalism’: An Eyewitness Report” and was later reprinted in The New Journalism.
And yet in the early 1960s a curious new notion, just hot enough to inflame the ego, had begun to intrude into the tiny confines of the feature statusphere. It was in the nature of a discovery. This discovery, modest at first, humble, in fact, deferential, you might say, was that it just might be possible to write journalism that would…read like a novel. Like a novel, if you get the picture. This was the sincerest form of homage to The Novel and to those greats, the novelists, of course. Not even the journalists who pioneered in this direction doubted for a moment that the novelist was the reigning literary artist, now and forever. All they were asking for was the privilege of dressing up like him…until the day when they themselves would work up their nerve and go into the shack and try it for real…They were dreamers, all right, but one thing they never dreamed of. They never dreamed of the approaching irony. They never guessed for a minute that the work they would do over the next ten years, as journalists, would wipe out the novel as literature’s main event.
“The reporter-source relationship is a complicated one that defies easy description. It borrows a little from the salesman-buyer relationship, the therapist-patient relationship, the police officer-witness relationship, sometimes even the growing intimacy of a friendship. We work hard to gain access and trust, and generally we avoid doing anything that stops a source from talking once she gets started.
“‘How are you now?’ I asked at the time.
“‘I’m suffering horribly . . . but I’m not suicidal,’ she said. ‘It’s a soothing thing. I don’t really want to do it. But it helps me calm down, it helps me sleep to think about the possibilities to end the suffering.’
“If I had possessed some sort of device that could peer inside her brain and pick up some biological trace amongst the billions of nerve cells and circuits that would indicate she was likely to commit suicide, would I have stopped the interview?”
— In the Tampa Bay Times, Leonora LaPeter Anton examines the suicide of one of her sources, a woman named Gretchen Molannen who was suffering from an embarrassing genital arousal disorder. Was there anything Anton could have done to prevent the death?
Photo: Roger H. Goun
“While Hastings would later speak of having received ‘the Lindsay Lohan Mean Girls’ treatment from other political journalists, of the half-dozen fellow reporters on the charter with whom I spoke, all expressed affection for Hastings. ‘The truth is he was parachuting in to do something all of us wish we can do and can’t,’ says one. ‘When someone comes in and says he’s not going to play by the rules, it touches a nerve, but also there’s respect.’”
–Benjamin Wallace, in New York magazine, on the life and death of reporter Michael Hastings, and the conspiracy theories that have arisen since. Read more from Hastings.
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