Reporting Basics

 

Reporting 

Journalism means more than taking handouts or reporting what’s said in news releases. Good journalism rests on a set of principles. Solid stories require accurate information and balance in reporting it.

Think about answering a story’s basic questions:

  • who
  • what
  • when
  • where
  • why

 

HOW

Then examine how the story happened.

How do we connect the dots to tell a good story with a beginning, middle and end?

The inverted pyramid.

Traditionally journalists use the model of the inverted pyramid construct a story.Inverted Pyramid

 

But increasingly, news organizations encourage reporters to use better storytelling techniques, using characters and interesting details to get the reader, viewer or listener interested. Television stories often start with small details, or personal stories and we see that more and more in print, digital and radio.

pyramid
pyramid

Accuracy

Only report what you know was said, and by whom.  This means attributing statements to specific people:

  1. The mayor says…
  2. The district attorney says…
  3. The neighbor says…
  4. According to the Associated Press…
  5. According to The New York Times…
  6. According to the website….

 

Wikipedia

Wikipedia and many other websites aren’t always reliable sources.  If a site quotes another source, it’s important to go to the primary source to make sure that you have accurate information.

Just because somebody says something doesn’t mean it’s true.  Even high-ranking public officials may be misinformed, or may have an agenda that obscures the truth.  Even when you’re under deadline pressure, try to confirm everything that you’re told with additional sources.  It’s a good idea to have at least two sources.  Remember:  truth is an absolute defense against libel.

 

Elements of a Good Story

Ancient Greek writers developed a basic storytelling formula and they understood the importance of characters:

  • villains
  • victims
  • heroes

You’ll find victims, villains and heroes at the center of every good drama.  Audiences recognize the victim’s pain, hiss at the villain, and cheer for the hero. Most of what we cover will not be as dramatic as a classic Greek tale, and news coverage demands that we balance two sides of a story. Until the jury returns a guilty verdict, it’s unfair to characterize the accused as a villain. But if the actions of the accused are villainous, you report the facts and the audience, like the jury decides.

Highlight Characters

In daily news reporting, we don’t always have the luxury of a developing a story around a character. We do have to report the facts. But where we can, we want to highlight characters.

Often they reveal themselves in what they say, how they act, and through the expressions on their faces.

Readers, viewers and listeners want to engage with the real drama in real people’s lives. We feel their pain, their anger, their frustration and their triumph. We cheer them, get angry, or feel their pain. We’re indignant or inspired.

Characters drive stories and make them memorable.

Organization

Whether you begin with just the facts, an engaging character or an interesting detail, you   need to let your reader, viewer or listener in on the point of the story pretty quickly.

Journalism uses the nut graf , or paragraph, to explain the heart of the story. The nut graf should come pretty close to the top of the report. It helps to tie everything together.  It helps you keep the focus and continue to the ideas in your story.

Once you explain the point of the story, you can move on flesh it out with facts and details.

 

 

Opinion vs. News

Photographers waiting in the rotunda of the Russell Building in the United States Capitol, Washington, DC. Photo by ConsumerMojo.com

What’s the difference between an opinion piece and a news story? 

An opinion piece gives you information from the point of view of the writer, or presenter. It may include facts, and reporting, but it differs from a news story in that it lays out an individual’s ideas and often their biases.  Opinion is, essentially, someone’s argument for a certain point of view about a specific topic.

When we read newspaper editorial pages, we see two types of opinion. We get the collective opinion of the editors and we also read, on the OpEd page — the page opposite the editorials — what individual columnists have to say in their byline pieces.

A news story reports the facts without the opinion of the reporter, writer, producer or presenter. It can contain attributed or quoted opinions of people interviewed. So a news story can contain opinion and tell a compelling story. But it should not include the opinion of the newsgatherer or the news organization.

A Pew Research Center poll, in 2018, found that younger people were better than older people at figuring out what’s factual and what’s opinion.

Pew said, “About a third of 18- to 49-year-olds (32 percent) correctly identified all five of the factual statements as factual, compared with two-in-ten among those ages 50 and older. A similar pattern emerges for the opinion statements. Among 18- to 49-year-olds, 44 percent correctly identified all five opinion statements as opinions, compared with 26 percent among those ages 50 and older.”

Pew Research Poll Opinion vs. Fact.png

You can take the quiz and see how you do.

https://www.pewresearch.org/quiz/news-statements-quiz/

Fact vs. Opinion Quiz Pew Research Center

CBS Reporter Weijia Jiang astounded at Trump's response during news conference

The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan research organization that conducts research, polls surveys, checks facts and analyzes media trends.

This video posted by The Guardian highlights Huffington Post’s White House correspondent S V Dáte asking a quesstion.

 

Truth Detectives

Wayne Barrett an investigative reporter for the Village voice wrote:

“My credo has always been that the only reason readers come back to you again and again over decades is because of what you unearth for them, and that the joy of our profession is discovery, not dissertation.

There is also no other job where you get paid to tell the truth. Other professionals do sometimes tell the truth, but it’s ancillary to what they do, not the purpose of their job. I was asked years ago to address the elementary school that my son attended and tell them what a reporter did and I went to the auditorium in a trench coat with the collar up and a notebook in a my pocket, baring it to announce that “we are detectives for the people.”

The First Amendment

Protestors in Washington Square Park, Photo by ConsumerMojo.com

The Bill of RightsThe First Amendment to the United States Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, guarantees freedom of religion and speech, the press and the right of people to gather to protest and complain to the government.

In its own words:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to freely assemble, and petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

After the founders of the United States wrote the U.S. Constitution, some of them realized they had left out critical guarantees to safeguard the type of nation, free of tyranny, they and others wanted.

The newly minted senators and congressmen debated about whether “checks and balances” would protect the rights of the people, or whether they needed to write amendments to the Constitution.

Freedom of the press was one of the priorities for Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson wrote a letter to another lawmaker saying,

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Some wanted to rewrite the Constitution but worried that people would think that they intended to tear up what they wanted to protect. They turned to U.S. Virginia Representative James Madison, a good thinker and a good writer.

James Madison

Madison argued that, “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

In 1789 Madison drafted amendments and presented them to the House of Representatives. The House approved 17 amendments. The Senate approved 12 and the states ratified 10 in December, 1791 as the Bill of Rights.

Thomas Jefferson became the third President of the United States and James Madison became the fourth.

Disinformation Vs. Misinformation

CNN Screen shot

Misinformation is information that’s wrong, false or inaccurate. It happens when people make mistakes and write or say something that isn’t true. It could also be incorrect information that is shared to deceive, or maybe not. 

But disinformation is deliberately, false information aimed to mislead you and others. We know now that it is easily spread on social media.

Disinformation is a manipulative tool meant to harm. 

Disinformation we’ve seen recently

30 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of QAnon, according to a YouGov poll. 

45 percent of Republicans say they favor the actions of the rioters at the Capitol according to another YouGov poll.

70 percent of Republicans believe Trump won the election.

40 percent of Americans believe the false notion that COVID-19 was manufactured in a lab in Wuhan China.

Disinformation has a history

Disinformation is not a new phenomenon.  The Russians apparently first used the term dezinformatsiya  in 1923 to describe their effort to manipulate public opinion. It was used by the then KGB, which is now the GRU.  This was basically their term for propaganda, according to Wikipedia. 

English speaking intelligence agencies picked up the term in the 1950’s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  (OED)

Governments used disinformation against each other during World War II and during the Cold War.  

The Russians used disinformation in the run up to the 2016 election, according to the Mueller Report. 

 
This is from an article from Poynter, a news literacy organization. 
Jane Lytvynenko, reporter for BuzzFeed News, whose Twitter posts and reporting are required reading for anyone trying to understand this space:

“There’s a direct connection between disinformation and the insurrection on Capitol Hill. The mob was motivated by the false idea of a stolen election, which has traveled across social media for months, amplified by Mr. Trump and his supporters. Courts and election officials alike have rejected the idea of a stolen election, but their hard evidence was no match for the power of viral memes reinforced by lies and half-truths from elected officials. We’ve seen this scenario play out globally, and now it’s playing out in the U.S.”

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/janelytvynenko/disinformation-broke-us

 

New Yorker Reporter Luke Mogelson followed Trump supporters as they forced their way into the U.S. Capitol, using his phone’s camera as a reporter’s notebook.

 

 

 
 

 

COVID Vaccine Misinformation on Facebook and Social Media

Misinformation – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Misinformation
noun

  1. false or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive.”nuclear matters are often entangled in a web of secrecy and misinformation”synonyms:disinformation, false information, misleading information, deception; lie, fib, false rumor, trumped-up story, fake news, alternative fact, gossip, red herring, false trail.
  2. Misinformation is false or inaccurate information. Examples of misinformation include false rumors, insults and pranks, while examples of more deliberate disinformation include malicious content such as hoaxes, spearphishing and propaganda.‎

The Center for Counter Digital (CCD) hate compiled a list of 12 people who spread misinformation on social media. All of them seem like reliable experts and the CCD says they are responsible for spreading almost two-thirds of the anti-vaxxer disinformation on social media. Here are a couple of examples.

Screen shot of article Rizza Islam Vaccinate Conspiracy theorist
Anti-Vaxer Joseph Mercola

Read More

BuzzFeed also tracked so-called experts who spread COVID and vaccine disinformation.

Buzz Feed Fake Experts

Read More

Before COVID, Before the Capitol Insurrection, There was the Mueller Report.

The Mueller Report issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team documented Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.

In February 2018, before the report was issued, the Special Counsel indicted 13 foreign nationals and a Russian “troll farm” connected to the Internet Research Agency or IRA. Facebook disclosed in the fall of 2017 that it sold $100,000 worth of ads to the Internet Research Agency.

How did they use the ads on Facebook and on other social media platforms?

This is from the Mueller Report:

 

“Dozens of IRA employees were responsible for operating accounts and personas on
different U.S. social media platforms. The IRA referred to employees assigned to operate the social media accounts as “specialists.”42 Starting as early as 2014, the IRA U.S. operations included social media specialists focusing on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

The IRA later added specialists who operated on Tumblr and Instagram accounts.44
Initially, the IRA created social media accounts that pretended to be the personal accounts of U.S. persons.

By early 2015, the IRA began to create larger social media groups or public
social media pages that claimed (falsely) to be affiliated with U.S. political and grassroots organizations. In certain cases, the IRA created accounts that mimicked real U.S. organizations.

For example, one IRA-controlled Twitter account, @TEN_ GOP, purported to be connected to the Tennessee Republican Party.

More commonly, the IRA created accounts in the names of
fictitious U.S. organizations and grassroots groups and used these accounts to pose as antiimmigration groups, Tea Party activists, Black Lives Matter protestors, and other U.S. social and
political activists.


Groups (with names such as “Being Patriotic,” “Stop All Immigrants,” “Secured Borders,” and
“Tea Party News”), purported Black social justice groups (“Black Matters,” “Blacktivist,” and
“Don’t Shoot Us”), LGBTQ groups (“LGBT United”), and religious groups (“United Muslims of
America”).
Throughout 2016, IRA accounts published an increasing number of materials supporting the Trump Campaign and opposing the Clinton Campaign. For example, on May 31, 2016, the operational account “Matt Skiber” began to privately message dozens of pro-Trump Facebook groups asking them to help plan a “pro-Trump rally near Trump Tower.”55
To reach larger U.S. audiences, the IRA purchased advertisements from Facebook that
promoted the IRA groups on the newsfeeds of U.S. audience members. According to Facebook, the IRA purchased over 3,500 advertisements, and the expenditures totaled approximately $100,000.56.


During the U.S. presidential campaign, many IRA-purchased advertisements explicitly
supported or opposed a presidential candidate or promoted U.S. rallies organized by the IRA ( discussed below). As early as March 2016, the IRA purchased advertisements that overtly opposed the Clinton Campaign. For example, on March 18, 2016, the IRA purchased an advertisement depicting candidate Clinton and a caption that read in part, “If one day God lets this liar enter the White House as a president – that day would be a real national tragedy.”57
Similarly, on April 6, 2016, the IRA purchased advertisements for its account “Black Matters” calling for a “flashmob” of U.S. persons to “take a photo with #HillaryClintonForPrison2016 or nohillary2016.”

Collectively, the IRA’s social media accounts reached tens of millions of U.S. persons.
Individual IRA social media accounts attracted hundreds of thousands of followers. For example, at the time they were deactivated by Facebook in mid-2017, the IRA’s “United Muslims of America”

Facebook group had over 300,000 followers, the “Don’t Shoot Us” Facebook group had over 250,000 followers, the “Being Patriotic” Facebook group had over 200,000 followers, and the “Secured Borders” Facebook group had over 130,000 followers.61 According to Facebook, in total the IRA-controlled accounts made over 80,000 posts before their deactivation in August 2017, and these posts reached at least 29 million U.S persons and “may have reached an estimated 126
million people.”62
pg. 26

https://www.justice.gov/storage/report.p

Easy to Make Mistakes, So Verify

The Parkland shooting shows us how easily you can make a mistake and report things that are untrue in the rush to get a story out quickly.

Two things stand out:

  1. The false report that Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who killed 17 and wounded 14 others at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, was connected to a white supremacist group.
  2. There have been 18 school shootings since January 1st, 2018.

Let’s tackle the first false report.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization that follows hate groups, wrote on its blog the day after the shooting that Cruz was associated with a Jacksonville, Florida, white supremacist group, Republic of Florida (ROF). The ADL had previously been contacted by someone who described himself as the leader of the group.

The ADL told Politico it picked up the information on 4chan, a bulletin board where self-described ROF members claimed Cruz was one of them.  News organizations picked the story up and people on 4chan kept it going. One of the users described it as “prime trolling opportunity,” and the discussions involved fooling reporters and feeding them the story that Cruz was with ROF.

The same kinds of conversations between these trolls about the false connection showed up on Discord, a gamers’ app that attracts neo-Nazis, about a concerted effort to fool reporters.

Politico posted these exchanges from the bulletin boards:

“On the Discord chat, a user called Curbstomp suggested sharing generic photos of ROF and claiming they depicted Cruz.

“I have an idea . . . We can just take a pic of masked ROF members and claim one of them is Cruz,” Curbstomp wrote.

Members of the Discord chat swapped potential photos.

Others joined the chorus on 4chan, interspersing jokes with purported confirmations.

“I can confirm this guy was trying to enact a race war and got kicked out of ROF,” wrote another poster.”

Reporters from AP and ABC contacted the trolls and supposed members of the group and went with the story.

But shortly after the first report, on Thursday, February 15, 2018, the Broward County sheriff said it wasn’t true.

How do you verify a claim that someone is in a hate group?

The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors hate groups. Contact them and ask.

The FBI monitors hate crimes. Some local law enforcement agencies do too. Contact them and ask.

ProPublica, a non-profit news organization, began Documenting Hate, a project that collects data from journalists from more than 130 news organizations as well as independent journalists, local law enforcement, community groups and civil rights groups to try to get a clear picture of what is happening in America

The Anti-Defamation League has been a reliable source in the past.

The bottom line is that Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter are good sources for leads and ways to connect with people. But you have to be extremely careful, because we know that people in chat rooms, on social media, and trolls are determined to spread false information and use reporters to to do it.  Take your time. Report only what you know.

 

 

2. Mistaken numbers about school shootings.

PolitiFact traced the first error to surface to a tweet from ABC reporter Jeff Greenfield.

In the rest of the world, there have been 18 school shootings in the last twenty years. In the U.S., there have been 18 school shootings since January 1.

It picked up 130,000 likes on Twitter.

Greenfield apparently picked up the statistic from Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The number of 18 does not mean that there were 18 incidents of someone going into a school and shooting students, as Cruz allegedly did.

Instead the number includes a man committing suicide in a school parking lot and a student unintentionally firing an instructor’s gun. You can see the full list here.

If we use careful language, we would not classify many as school shootings.

Checking Facts:

PolitiFact checks claims of politicians, reporters and others in the news.

FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center

Snopes.org was founded in 1994 to research urban legends. It has become a go-to source for checking out internet rumors.

Open Secrets.org, part of The Center for Responsive Politics, follows political contributions and money spent on lobbying. It followed where the National Rifle Association (NRA)  money went in the 2016 election.

 

Sunlight Foundation shines the light on government and government officials using public records, technology and information from civic groups and journalists,

See Through New York, a project of the Empire Center, shows you salaries of every public employee in New York State as well as pension information.

 

Writing Exercise

https://queenseagle.com/all/2022/4/22/home-care-advocates-let-down-by-budget

How would you reorganize this story and put it in the active voice?

Facing a labor shortage and stagnant wages, home health aides in Queens and throughout New York are expected to see a boost in pay after a wage increase and bonus payments were worked into the recently passed state budget.

The final budget, which passed on April 9, over a week after it was due, includes a plan to increase wages for home care workers by $3 per hour over a two-year period. Home health aides, in addition to all frontline health workers, will also receive a one-time bonus of up to $3,000, the budget stipulates.

But advocates and lawmakers who fought to include a bill, which would have increased the minimum wage for homecare workers by 150 percent, in the budget, say they’re disappointed with the final result. They claim the changes don’t do enough to bring more workers into the industry or support a living wage, and that the increase may instead drive people out of the profession.

“I was deeply disappointed,” said Queens Assemblymember Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas. “Ultimately, what we got in this budget was a measly wage increase, and unfortunately, it doesn’t address the problem that we’re trying to solve – that New York has the largest workforce shortage in the country.”

Beginning in October 2022, home care workers will see their pay increase by $2, according to the budget. They’ll get an additional $1 increase in October 2023. On average, home care aides currently make around $13.20 an hour.

The new wage increase comes out to about a $7 billion increase in wages for home care aides throughout the state.

The bonuses worked into the budget will vary from worker to worker. The bonuses will be calculated by the state’s health commissioner, and the final payment will depend on the hours worked per week during a time frame yet-to-be-determined by the commissioner.

Frontline health workers who worked an average of between 20 and 30 hours per week over the time period will receive a $500 bonus. Those who worked between 30 and 35 hours per week will receive a $1,000 bonus. Health care workers who worked at least 35 hours per week will receive a $1,500 bonus.

Though health care workers who worked for multiple employers can claim multiple bonuses, their total cannot exceed $3,000.

Advocates say that the payments in the budget pale in comparison to those worked into the State Legislature’s proposed budget, which included the Fair Pay for Home Care Workers bill. The legislation would direct the state’s Department of Health commissioner to set regional rates of reimbursement for home care aids under Medicaid and other managed care plans. It would also mandate a 150 percent pay increase for health aides.

How would you reorganize this storyhttps://www.cityandstateny.com/politics/2022/04/courts-tossed-new-district-maps-now-what/366217/

he long redistricting saga in New York will only continue, as the Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that deemed newly drawn state Senate and congressional maps unconstitutional. The decision immediately rocked the state’s political world, but it will have massive impacts on the average voter as well as New Yorkers will find themselves in new districts (again) and will need to keep track of changing primary dates. 

In a 4-3 decision, New York’s highest court concluded that the state Legislature did not have the constitutional authority to draw the maps at all – independent of the gerrymandering question – so it tossed state Senate and congressional lines on procedural grounds. But the Assembly map will stay in place because it was never named in the lawsuit, so the court can’t make any decision about it despite its view that lawmakers had no right to draw it. So now, an independent expert will help redraw two out of the three new sets of legislative lines for elections this year.

RELATED ARTICLES

Court of Appeals throws out New York redistricting maps

If redrawing the maps for a June 28 primary date sounds impossible, that’s because it is. As part of its decision, the Court of Appeals said that the primary elections for state Senate and Congress will be delayed, likely until sometime in August, but left the details for the state Board of Elections to ultimately determine. But every other primary – for Assembly, U.S. Senate, governor and lieutenant governor and lower level offices such as district leader – is still expected to take place on the originally scheduled June date. That means New York will briefly return to its old model of bifurcated primary elections, a practice the state only recently abolished when it consolidated congressional and state primaries in 2019. Previously, primaries for state office occurred in September, while those for Congress took place in June. “The court’s right that the state had a bifurcated process in the past, but that stunk,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the government watchdog New York Public Interest Research Group. “The good news is we’ll get better lines, the bad news is that it’s going to be painful to keep track of what’s going on.”

And don’t expect a push from the state Legislature and the governor to move primary day and consolidate the elections. There could be legal challenges, and it probably wouldn’t be helpful for the governor, who is facing primary challenges from the left and the right, or Assembly members. “Incumbents want less time. They want a nice short campaign,” said a former state legislator who asked for anonymity to discuss former colleagues . “They start out with the name recognition and the money.” It would be logical to simply combine the primaries, the source conceded, “but logic doesn’t always hold in Albany.”

https://www.thecity.nyc/2022/4/24/23039971/nyc-small-businesses-covid-recovery-eric-adams

NYPD Crime Statistics

NYPD Announces Citywide Crime Statistics for February 2022

https://www1.nyc.gov/site/nypd/news/p00039/nypd-citywide-crime-statistics-february-2022

March 3, 2022

For the month of February 2022, New York City saw a 58.7% increase in overall index crime compared to February 2021 (9,138 v. 5,759). Every major index crime category saw an increase for the month of February 2022. Robbery increased by 56% (1,276 v. 818), grand larceny increased by 79.2% (3,762 v. 2.099), and grand larceny auto increased by 104.7% (1,083 v. 529). Citywide shooting incidents decreased by 1.3% (76 v. 77) in February 2022 compared to the same period last year.

The New York City Police Department remains focused on the drivers of crime and disorder in New York City, and the department will never waver in its core mission to protect all the people it serves. Every day, in every New York City neighborhood, the NYPD is working to identify and investigate the relatively small number of people who are responsible for the majority of the criminal activity – and it is employing every resource to ensure that these offenders are held accountable.

To that end, the new Neighborhood Safety Teams will further enhance the NYPD’s efforts to stop the proliferation of illegal guns, stifle gang activity, and suppress the violence caused by these unlawful actions. The deployment of these specially trained officers and supervisors will augment the ongoing work of patrolling the city’s streets, subways, and public housing developments, 24-hours per day. Nearly nine million New Yorkers depend on the NYPD and its local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to keep them safe – and every member of the police department is fully committed to this critical work.

“The men and women of the New York City Police Department are proactively addressing the deep-rooted causes of criminal behavior,” said Police Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell. “The NYPD will never relent, and the department has made far too much progress over the decades – and invested far too much in the communities it serves – to fall back by any measure. New Yorkers deserve better.”

https://www.politico.com/news/2022/04/06/eric-adams-nyc-public-safety-crime-00023475

Jimmy Breslin’s Grave Digger Story

‘It’s An Honor’

New York Herald Tribune, November 1963

By Jimmy Breslin

WASHINGTON — Clifton Pollard was pretty sure he was going to be working on Sunday, so when he woke up at 9 a.m., in his three-room apartment on Corcoran Street, he put on khaki overalls before going into the kitchen for breakfast. His wife, Hettie, made bacon and eggs for him. Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living. “Polly, could you please be here by 11 o’clock this morning?” Kawalchik asked. “I guess you know what it’s for.” Pollard did. He hung up the phone, finished breakfast, and left his apartment so he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

When Pollard got to the row of yellow wooden garages where the cemetery equipment is stored, Kawalchik and John Metzler, the cemetery superintendent, were waiting for him. “Sorry to pull you out like this on a Sunday,” Metzler said. “Oh, don’t say that,” Pollard said. “Why, it’s an honor for me to be here.” Pollard got behind the wheel of a machine called a reverse hoe. Gravedigging is not done with men and shovels at Arlington. The reverse hoe is a green machine with a yellow bucket that scoops the earth toward the operator, not away from it as a crane does. At the bottom of the hill in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Pollard started the digging (Editor Note: At the bottom of the hill in front of the Custis-Lee Mansion).

Leaves covered the grass. When the yellow teeth of the reverse hoe first bit into the ground, the leaves made a threshing sound which could be heard above the motor of the machine. When the bucket came up with its first scoop of dirt, Metzler, the cemetery superintendent, walked over and looked at it. “That’s nice soil,” Metzler said. “I’d like to save a little of it,” Pollard said. “The machine made some tracks in the grass over here and I’d like to sort of fill them in and get some good grass growing there, I’d like to have everything, you know, nice.”

James Winners, another gravedigger, nodded. He said he would fill a couple of carts with this extra-good soil and take it back to the garage and grow good turf on it. “He was a good man,” Pollard said. “Yes, he was,” Metzler said. “Now they’re going to come and put him right here in this grave I’m making up,” Pollard said. “You know, it’s an honor just for me to do this.”

Pollard is 42. He is a slim man with a mustache who was born in Pittsburgh and served as a private in the 352nd Engineers battalion in Burma in World War II. He is an equipment operator, grade 10, which means he gets $3.01 an hour. One of the last to serve John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was the 35th president of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave.

Yesterday morning, at 11:15, Jacqueline Kennedy started toward the grave. She came out from under the north portico of the White House and slowly followed the body of her husband, which was in a flag-covered coffin that was strapped with two black leather belts to a black caisson that had polished brass axles. She walked straight and her head was high. She walked down the bluestone and blacktop driveway and through shadows thrown by the branches of seven leafless oak trees. She walked slowly past the sailors who held up flags of the states of this country. She walked past silent people who strained to see her and then, seeing her, dropped their heads and put their hands over their eyes. She walked out the northwest gate and into the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. She walked with tight steps and her head was high and she followed the body of her murdered husband through the streets of Washington.

Everybody watched her while she walked. She is the mother of two fatherless children and she was walking into the history of this country because she was showing everybody who felt old and helpless and without hope that she had this terrible strength that everybody needed so badly. Even though they had killed her husband and his blood ran onto her lap while he died, she could walk through the streets and to his grave and help us all while she walked.

There was Mass, and then the procession to Arlington. When she came up to the grave at the cemetery, the casket already was in place. It was set between brass railings and it was ready to be lowered into the ground. This must be the worst time of all, when a woman sees the coffin with her husband inside and it is in place to be buried under the earth. Now she knows that it is forever. Now there is nothing. There is no casket to kiss or hold with your hands. Nothing material to cling to. But she walked up to the burial area and stood in front of a row of six green-covered chairs and she started to sit down, but then she got up quickly and stood straight because she was not going to sit down until the man directing the funeral told her what seat he wanted her to take.

The ceremonies began, with jet planes roaring overhead and leaves falling from the sky. On this hill behind the coffin, people prayed aloud. They were cameramen and writers and soldiers and Secret Service men and they were saying prayers out loud and choking. In front of the grave, Lyndon Johnson kept his head turned to his right. He is president and he had to remain composed. It was better that he did not look at the casket and grave of John Fitzgerald Kennedy too often. Then it was over and black limousines rushed under the cemetery trees and out onto the boulevard toward the White House. “What time is it?” a man standing on the hill was asked. He looked at his watch. “Twenty minutes past three,” he said.

Clifton Pollard wasn’t at the funeral. He was over behind the hill, digging graves for $3.01 an hour in another section of the cemetery. He didn’t know who the graves were for. He was just digging them and then covering them with boards. “They’ll be used,” he said. “We just don’t know when. I tried to go over to see the grave,” he said. “But it was so crowded a soldier told me I couldn’t get through. So I just stayed here and worked, sir. But I’ll get over there later a little bit. Just sort of look around and see how it is, you know. Like I told you, it’s an honor.”

Assignment March 31, 2021

Write a pitch for a profile of someone in your community or someone you admire.

You need to have access to interview this person and others who can say something about them.

Please review: How to Write a Pitch before you write yours.

The pitch is due on April 5 at 5 p.m.

The story is due on April 12.

I look forward to seeing your work!

How to Write a Pitch

A pitch describes the story you want to tell. You need to write a few short paragraphs that get attention and explain what you plan to do. Avoid writing in generalities like, I want to do a story about gentrification in Washington Heights. You want to focus on a specific angle. Are you reporting from the perspective of business and developers? Or, are you looking from the ground level up and the perspective of people who feel that their homes are threatened.

Your pitch might read like this:

Many Dominicans settled in Washington Heights during the 1970s and the neighborhood quickly filled with Dominican restaurants, bodegas and the sounds of Bachata. Multi-generational families filled the spacious apartments from Dyckman Street to 155th Street. But a study by the CUNY Dominican Institute found that the number of Dominican households shrunk by 21% in fifteen years. Rising rents forced many families to move to the suburbs or elsewhere.

I’ll talk to Melissa Suero and her family who have lived in the neighborhood since the 1970s. They worry about whether they can continue to live there. The rents are going up in the building and a developer just bought the building next door. I will also talk to the owner of the Mi Esfuerzo bodega. He opened his store in 1971 and has seen many changes. I’ll talk to other people in the neighborhood, and reach out to the developer who bought the building next door to where Melissa’s family lives. I’ll also try to talk to someone who has moved into the neighborhood more recently.

I’ll shoot footage of people, restaurants, bodegas and the vibrant life in Washington Heights as well as some of the old and new buildings that are going up.

Or