Where I’ve Been:

I get that you can’t forgive me for this, but I think I have pretty legit excuses.

For the past Mondays and Wednesdays, I’ve been reporting like crazy at the legislature. If you’ve been following our blog, you can see that we post as much as we can four days a week. 

I’ve been learning something new about Nevada’s politics each day, even from my teammate’s articles. Wednesdays are usually the busiest days for me because I have two classes back-to-back from each other once I return to Reno. I insist on dressing nice and looking good, too, so that takes up some time.

I also work seven hours on Tuesdays after two other back-to-back classes. Nobody memorable has walked in or called the Planetarium these days. Lately, it’s been quiet and normal (and really boring).

I’ve made a few new friends, so I’d like to spend time with them as well, especially since I have a lot in common with one of them! We’re hoping to start a band since she plays the bass and sings, too (except, I’m the guitarist).

I work for about 4-5 hours on weekends, and I’m usually exhausted by the end of the day. I don’t get to really rest or rejuvenate until Monday hits (surprisingly) because it’s the only day I can allow myself to sleep past 10 am! I used to go to Carson on Mondays but we decided to switch things up (and this ended up being a good idea).

So it’s obvious that I’ve found time to write a freakin’ post; it’s one of the most wonderful things about Spring Break. I have a list of ideas that I’ll be blogging about this whole week in order to make up however many weeks I’ve missed: I have a couple of books I’d like to attempt to write reviews on and I now have the power and confidence to write an article I’ve been meaning to write (you’ll see).

Here in peaceful little Fallon, behind me my mother is baking cake pops that are colored green, white and orange for St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow (her side of the family is Irish, which makes me Irish, so we’ll be celebrating). My father is doing well and is outside trying to get the power hose to work. The dogs are anxiously waiting for him to get it to work so they can bite the jet stream of water. And as for my brother…he’s just being the teenage boy that he is, hanging out in his room.

Hopefully, I’ll get to see some old friends while I’m at it. I’m getting my hair dyed and cut professionally for the first time in over a year on Friday, too. And now, I can’t help but enjoy myself by eating sour apple flavored licorice that my mother is using to decorate the cake pops with. We’re both kind of having a hard time trying to shape them as clovers to put on top of the icing. Here’s how they look so far:

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Because it’s Spring Break, I also have the time to get back to my projects. I’m working on a short story to submit to a fiction class I want to take next semester. On top of it, I’ll just work on my other two novels as well — why the hell not?

It’s really nice to get away from Reno for a week — it’s much needed. Lately, it’s been the same old routine everyday socially, academically and emotionally. I’m actually getting sick of college because I’m ready to move on and focus on just writing and journalism. I was walking through campus last week and thinking, Man, I’m just getting too old for this (however, I’m only 21. Ha. Ha.).

Doing the same old routines in college reminds me of breaking up with a boy I fell hard for in high school; I couldn’t move past him because I was focusing on him so much and it took me two years to stop caring about him. My constant focus on him was holding me back from a lot of things. I feel like something’s holding me back from graduating, even though there really isn’t. And luckily, this feeling is under good circumstances. I guess I could call it slow motion with the way I’m feelin’.

I’ll be back tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s one blog post you could read that I had a chance to write, for NVMA: http://nvmediaalliance.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/achievement-unlocked-report-the-first-month-of-77th-session/

Investigative Reporting Tips from Vanity Fair’s Suzanna Andrews

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My data and narrative journalism professor, Alan Deutschman, introduces some really amazing and inspiring journalists to the university. I mean, these people work for big time papers and magazines.

The guest he brought to us this week grabbed my full attention and is probably my favorite guest he’s brought so far. It was Suzanna Andrews, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, who writes features and investigative articles on business, politics, culture and crime — in her definition, her theme of writing is “abuse of power”.

She’s also written for other numerous publications such as The New York Times, GQ, Rolling Stone, and Reader’s Digest. She was also a story consultant to ABC’s “20/20”. She’s won a couple of Front Page awards for her features on Vanity Fair.

As a class assignment and in order to prepare to ask her questions, we were required to read two of her most impacting articles, Murder Most Yale and Arthur Miller’s Missing Act (I suggest you read both of them — they’re really good).

Both feature stories required so much investigation, stalking, credible information, and main sources. How did she do it all? Andrews shares her helpful investigative tips to the class and especially her experiences while writing these stories.

Murder Most Yale is a feature investigative article by Andrews based on the murder of Yale student, Suzanne Jovin, in 1998. It’s a case that is still under investigation today; they say it’s the “college version” of the Jon Benet Ramsey case. Andrews focuses the timeline of the night of the murder in her story, but mainly focuses on the people that surrounded Jovin’s life to find more information on the case.

Jovin’s story was first published in the New York Times — and Andrews said that this story “needed a lot of play”

Finding Personal Recommendations

As you may have noticed in the article, the police weren’t as involved. Andrews said with most crime stories, there will be slim chances that a reporter will get information from the police. Instead of constant calls and emails to set up interviews, Andrews recommends following them instead.

As a semi-experienced reporter, I find it difficult how to contact the main sources I need to talk to for my stories. Some connections may not always lead you to that significant source, but apparently the ones you’d never think who would have any contact with them might actually do! Andrews said during her investigation to find Jovin’s closest friends to interview them, she gotten from a word-of-mouth that a restaurant owner nearby Yale was pretty popular among the students — they loved him. When Andrews approached him, he was able to connect her with Jovin’s friends.

Andrews said each story has source circles; you have to work your way into the hub. You start interviewing those on the outside of the circle: Aquaintinces –> Close friends –> Parents –> Suzanne.

“It gives me time to think about the story and what to collect,” Andrews said. “When I get to the center of the story, I feel like I know the story as much as they do, or better.”

If you get enough attention, your sources might come to you

Andrews said she had a difficult time getting a hold of Jovin’s parents for an interview. After attempts with a few phone calls with them, she had to end up emailing them the interview instead. During the phone calls, the mother could not stop sobbing and the father refused to talk.

“I was horrified calling the parents,” Andrews said. “It was clear to me that they were grief stricken and angry.”

Andrews said you can’t always fire questions; sometimes its best to play it off as a conversation.

“There’s that element of authenticity, too,” Andrews said. “You want to get people to talk.”

However, Jovin’s younger sister approached Andrews with a phone called and accepted an interview. Somehow, she found Andrews.

Andrews said getting in contact with James Van de Velde was one of the most difficult parts writing the story. Van de Velde was Jovin’s professor and thesis adviser, and is a suspect of her murder. Andrews said she could only get a hold of Van de Velde’s emissaries or friends. One emissary of Van de Velde’s that Andrews got to interview was a woman. Like the rest of Van de Velde’s friends, it was expected that this woman would say nothing but good words about the professor. However, Andrews said the woman had different thoughts about Van de Velde and saw him the night of the killing.

“(The story) consumed my life,” Andrews said. “It’s a psychological rage.”

Andrews said during the time of writing this feature, she played out possible scenarios in her head and timed the driving and distances within the area of where Jovin’s body was found.

Does Andrews think Van de Velde killed Jovin? She said yes, but she doesn’t have an exact reason why she was so drawn to write this story.

“I kind of wondered that myself,” Andrews said. “I felt like I was lead to it. I didn’t feel like I was going to nail the professor, but the story latches on to you.”

Andrews’ Arthur Miller’s Missing Act is based on playwright, Arthur Miller (Death Of A Salesman, The Crucible, A View From the Bridge and ex-husband of Marilyn Monroe) and the abandonment of his son, Daniel Miller, who was diagnosed with down-syndrome as an infant.    Miller cut Daniel out of his life immediately and never mentioned him when he brought up his children in books, interviews and even at his wife’s funeral. For 40 years, Daniel was kept as a secret. When Miller died in 2005, it was known to the public that he did not leave a will, but he actually did, and left Daniel a good portion of his money to last him for the rest of his lifetime.

Andrews said it was almost a possibility that Vanity Fair didn’t run article due to the intense emotion of the story and that it could offend those who have a child of down-syndrome of their own. But everyone knew it was a story that deserved attention.

Rebecca Miller, Daniel’s sister and a daughter of Miller’s, is now a close member of her family. Rebecca didn’t allow Andrews to speak to Daniel. In fact, Rebecca and her husband, Daniel Day-Lewis, were disgusted by Andrews’ story. Andrews said she thinks Rebecca was afraid for the safety of her brother.

“This story was fought very hard by Arthur Miller’s family,” Andrews said.

Andrews had the chance to speak to one of Daniel’s caregivers, however. Andrews said she was on the web for days just to find connections between Miller and Daniel. She ended up on a Vietnam Veteran chatroom and spoke to a member who saw Daniel at a party. The member she spoke to in the chat room ended up being the husband of Daniel’s caregiver.

Andrews said when she called up the caregiver for an interview, the caregiver said, “It’s about time.”

After Andrews’ lecture, I feel that I can be more confident in expanding my choices when writing a hard or feature story. So I think I have until tomorrow to meet one-on-one with Andrews in Professor Deutschman’s office until she has to go back to her home in New York City. I would love to see if I have time  to have coffee with her for a more personal talk, but even just a handshake and a short conversation might do well — whatever the outcome is, it’s worth it, right?

Follow Suzanna Andrews on Twitter!: https://twitter.com/AndrewsSuzanna

Nevada Legislature is firing up

Last Friday, my media alliance and I got the chance to tour our newsrooms in Carson City and Legislative buildings! I’m so happy that I’m going to be learning about local politics, since it’s something my brain desperately needs to learn (I know that sounds super dramatic, but it’s true!). It’s such a great and new fresh start to my journalism career, and I think this project will be much better organized. I can already feel the guilt and nasty spirits from last semester slowly (but surely) departing from my body.

For the past week, we’ve been preparing ourselves to become superstar legislative reporters. I believe tomorrow we’re going to figure out mini groups to go to Carson together, so we all have a chance to cover something each week. We just launched our website Monday and some of us have assigned stories already, like me.

I’m hoping to (and still trying to) cover Assembly bill no. 42 by the end of this week. AB42 establishes the Nevada Cyber Institute throughout the Nevada System of Higher Education. The NCI will provide courses that is going to practice techniques of cyber security. If this bill passes, this institute will be offered throughout most universities, community and state colleges in Nevada.

Since it’s uncertain that this bill is going to pass and since the Nevada Legislature is getting ready to start on February 4th, everybody in the State offices are running around like nuts (or, more appropiately, traveling to cities back and fourth and preapring as well). Therefore, it’s very difficult to get a hold of people for interviews, on top of classes which one of them requires me to read a 39 chapter book by Kate Chopin before Monday. However, my data journalism class is my perfect companion for this project since I’ll be learning how to hardcore stalk and access information. My first assignment a few weeks ago was to acess personal information about a local public figure (our professor purchased an Intelius report for each student in the class!).

So I’m feeling a bit down in the dumps right now, possibly feeling a hint of failure because I was unable to speak to my sources before the end of this week. However, I will put a band-aid on this temporary fail, and see what the hell I can do about it tomorrow.

Since I’m back into the swing of things with writing essays and serious objective articles, my mind is trying to resist to use my voice in my writing since it’s, like, FORBIDDEN in most school work…

I’m just sitting here on the thrid floor of the library, taking glances at my phone, hoping  somebody will at least return one of my calls. I’m sitting in between two people who are studying, possibly annoying them with my loud typing skills. So with the weekend coming up, I have so many plans and so many things to complete and cover. Eventually, I get where I want to be with this blog. No way am I giving up!

-Molly