On reporting death: I am a Seawolf, too

When you get a call saying that a fellow student may have committed suicide on campus, your heart drops.

It is an awful thing to hear. Your mind runs at a million miles a minute with all sorts of thoughts, but you keep asking yourself, “why?”

For Kelly, Arielle and I as news editors, it is no different. But then we run.

I was at the scene when University Police Department and Suffolk County Police Department officers were conducting the initial investigation at Roosevelt Quad on Tuesday, Dec. 2. The three of us took this very seriously, which is why we did not bother trying to find out who on our staff was closest in proximity. We went ourselves.

I saw students around us with tears rolling down their faces. I had to swallow the knots in my throat and bite the insides of my cheeks to keep my own tears from falling.

As the campus newspaper of record, The Statesman is obligated to disperse information to the campus community that affects the campus community. When I initially found out that a student may have possibly taken his own life at Stimson College, I felt what you all felt. But as a reporter, I have a responsibility to you, the readers, to find out what happened. This is not to say that I suffer more than you do; that is not true at all. But my experience is different, and it is one that is hard for most people to understand.

Kelly, Arielle and I know full well that in a situation like this, the last thing a person wants to do is speak to a reporter. If you witness something like that, we know how terrifying and downright annoying it can be when a reporter asks you what you saw—you do not know if you know what you saw, much less how to talk about it for publication.

It is scary for us too. We know you are distraught and we never know how you are going to react to us. But we have to go for it because we are the only people who can humanize the story. When we ask you what you know about someone, we are not trying to fill space in our paper. We want them to be remembered as who they were and what they meant to you, not by how they left us.

Our angle is not that a person died on campus. It is that our community lost a Seawolf.

When publications like Newsday and The New York Daily News pick up a story like this, more likely than not, it was a slow news night for them.

At The Statesman, that is certainly not the case. We know how deeply an event like this resonates with the campus community. We know that you are counting on us for information because we are here.  We are not in Melville, N.Y. and we are not in New York City. We are at Stony Brook.

We recognize that verification is crucial to journalism, particularly in sensitive matters. We know other news organizations have published stories that included speculation on details about the manner of the student’s death—details that we know were not confirmed on the record by UPD or SCPD. We know those details were not confirmed because we asked the authorities. Several times.

This is one of the many reasons I value my working relationships with groups like UPD and SCPD. They understand better than most people how vital accuracy is and how detrimental a factual error can be. This is why Kelly, Arielle and I waited until we received official, on-the-record comments from them. We have been working with them for years and we trust them to do their job just as they, and hopefully you, trust us to do ours.

If we—Kelly, Arielle and I­—were slow to get the information about this out to you, we sincerely apologize. We never want to keep you waiting. But know in a case as sensitive as this one, we decided that accuracy trumped timeliness and it was better to say nothing than to say the wrong thing.

We decided it was better to publish what you already knew from the campus-wide emails than to re-publish speculation from other organizations. We wanted to make sure every word of every sentence that we put out was 1,000 percent factually and grammatically accurate.

Our job is to sift through, clarify and package this information so you do not have to. We in no way want to do any more damage than has already been done.

If you have any questions or concerns about the story we published, feel free to email us at news@sbstatesman.com.

We are incredibly sorry for the loss of a fellow Seawolf. Our thoughts are with his family and friends in this trying time.

This article was originally published in the Dec. 8, 2014 issue of The Statesman.


A place for women in soccer journalism

The 2014 FIFA World Cup marks the four year anniversary of the month that changed my life.

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“Newsday” tests out interactive features on “Beaten” story

More than two years after the death of Kevin Turner, a 19-year-old who was brutally beaten by two Suffolk County police officers on Long Island, Newsday unveiled its interactive piece that chronicles Turner’s death as well as the investigation into violent policemen.

Turner’s story is incredibly heartbreaking. The fact that this young man was battered by the police in a way that left him comatose for more than six months is hard to stomach.

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Politico’s first few days off Capitol Hill

When Allbright Communications bought the website Capital New York on Sept. 3, there were several questions floating around but mainly, there was doubt.

Allbright owns Politico, one of the powerhouses for political news in Washington D.C. Politico has come a long way since its inception in 2007 and grabs the attention of roughly 5 million Americans every month.  It also publishes a newspaper four days a week that is free to pick up and brings in a good percentage of its revenue through advertisements. According to BusinessWeek, “the ads that appear in Politico come in two flavors: issue-advocacy advertising, in which a group attempts to influence a specific bit of pending legislation; and corporate image advertising, in which a company tries to burnish its own reputation in Washington.”

Politico took on the project in order to revamp the site to be focused on New York City and State politics and media coverage, rather than hyperlocal reporting. It’s part of a larger mission to “colonize” and cover politics in large markets. If all goes well in New York, Politico is looking to further broaden its horizons. Continue reading →

Five Lessons I Learned by Applying for a Summer Internship

Journalism summer internships aren’t very difficult to come by if you don’t know what you’re looking for.  But if you’re lucky like me and have mentors left and right, it’s a really stressful process. Everyone wants to help but ends up pointing you in a different direction. This past Thursday I applied for an internship I had stumbled upon a week before.  Here are five things I thought every journalism student should consider if they ever find themselves in my shoes.

Start early. The whole “I do my best work under pressure” b.s. is just that. Bullshit. If you really want an internship, start looking in the summer and continue to do so during the semester. Make an Excel spreadsheet (lots of internships want people who can use it!) to keep track of what you’ve already applied for and what you’ll get in return (school credit or cash?).  Have your resume and clips ready. If you don’t know how to write a cover letter (like me), ask for help. If you don’t have clips, write good stuff and get it published. Pick up the phone and call the internship coordinators or the human resources departments if the information isn’t already online.  Sometimes they’ll hang up on you, sometimes they’ll be rude but if you want to be a journalist, you’re going to have to get used to it.

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“The Atlantic” writer aims to shame indie rock band

Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” album promotion image (Photo credit: Arcade Fire / JF Lalonde)

The beautiful thing about soccer bloggers is that they have to understand not just the sport, but the country in which it is being played.  With that comes a deeper understanding of culture and racism, among other things.

So as I was perusing Twitter tonight, I found that a few of my favorite writers were outraged about an article about the band, Arcade Fire, on The Atlantic‘s website.

And when I read it, so was I.

(I am begrudgingly linking the audience to this story here. )

Hayden Higgins, the author of the story titled “Arcade Fire Exploited Haiti, and Almost No One Noticed,” made several statements in his piece claiming that the band used Caribbean-sounding music and Haitian costumes to get people to buy their new album, “Reflektor.” He also said that even though their intentions were sincere, there music has perpetuated stereotypes.

What? What?

First of all, there are ZERO examples  that the music has caused people to view Haiti solely in the way that the band has “portrayed” the island nation. Not one quote from a listener, a fan, an ignorant American, no one. When you’re going to make such a bold statement about a band like that, you better be able to back it up.

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On college journalism critics

Several students at my school have a problem with the way our student-run newspaper, The Statesman, and I reported on a recent car accident on campus involving one of our staff photographers. We received a letter to the editor that said my work was “offensive.”  Someone on Facebook said “we had no problem throwing one of our own under the bus.”

So I’d like to tell my side of this story. Continue reading →