October 8, 2007

Looking for stories? Follow your feet.

Highbridge, my neighborhood beat in the southern Bronx, is not a flat, Manhattan-esque place. The streets remind me of my hometown, Mount Pleasant, hilly with jagged cement. I walked for an hour yesterday on the garbage-strewn streets, looking for something interesting to cover on immigration.

I'd already done a profile on an immigrant's life with my first documentary piece, so for the print class, I didn't want to write the same thing and watch the class's eyes glaze over if he read something from my work that they already watched. So, this meant a little walking around, a little chatting with people on the streets, and a little chastisement from one store customer for writing in a shop. Yeah, people are super paranoid about people doing anything but buying things in stores. He wasn't even a shop employee! I explained that I was just writing down types of foods in the stores, like beans and plantains, but he wasn't satisfied until I gave him my "card," which currently consists of a torn sheet of notebook paper with my phone number and name scribbled on it. I have business cards in the mail, though.

But back to my search. I'm not a wanderer. I like to find a story based on information provided online or through phone interviews, and then pursue it in the environment. However, the local newspaper didn't have much and phone interviews really aren't an option at 5:00 on a Friday when my class ends. So, that left Sunday to make my first foray into immigration story hunting. The train ride from Brooklyn Heights to Highbridge is one hour each way, so when you get there, you know that you have to do great work or you have to come back. The residents are hard-working and have little time to spare for a reporter, so I do my best to be as thorough and as quick as possible. It's quite a challenge, particularly if I forget to get their address or phone number, but it's getting better.

Anyway, I got off the train at 161st Street and Yankee Stadium. Then I took a bus to Ogden Avenue, the main street in Highbridge. After scoping out the grocery stores and meandering down the streets, I found a lady and two men sitting in lawn chairs in a driveway. The woman was holding a kitten that looked like my cat Samson, and a big caramel labrador retreiver sat at her feet. Bingo, I thought. Something to talk about, and she's in no hurry.

We had a nice chat. She's a second-generation child of an immigrant family from Puerto Rico. Fascinating stuff, but I had doubts by the end of the interview that I could find enough second-generations that are over the age of 10 in less than a week of reporting. So I kept walking. I checked out another grocery store (where the man said he wanted to know why I was writing down names of the products), and then I started back to the train station, feeling rather dejected.

Then I noticed a red awning with "live animals" written on the vinyl fabric. WHAT? Yes, there is a live animals market in the Bronx in New York City. I went in and discovered a smell I haven't whiffed in quite a while. Chickens. An incredibly unique odor, and an incredibly bad one. I asked the man at the door if they really do have live animals there and if the clientele is immigrants, and he said yes to both. He told me then that I was talking to the owner.

I couldn't believe the warm reception and the incredible sights I saw there. Such color! (Mostly red.) My editor a.k.a. professor was thrilled with the idea I pitched. I can't wait to start talking with the customers.

Stories, I learned, don't always have to come from official sources or something already established, they can come from anywhere, even a walk on the street. I'm amazed.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at October 8, 2007 8:51 AM | TrackBack
Comments

Great blog entry, Amanda! I love hearing about how you continue to stretch your talents. I've heard several "the people I wanted to interview never got back to me" excuses in the past week, which always gives me that sinking feeling. It's always a good idea to line up your sources *before* you make the pitch.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at October 8, 2007 11:01 PM

Absolutely. You can't bank on certain sources for anything. My deadline for pitches is Monday night by 6 p.m., so I'm usually running out on the weekend, looking for something good. This is a challenging time because many people aren't in their offices over the weekend, so a majority of my "official" interviews are done at the last minute. The class may be switched to Tuesday, though, which will definitely give me more time to get the full picture.

You know, these experiences have really pushed me, but in an odd way, I'm so happy. This has given me the boldness to go to any city and report. NYC has a great public transport system, unlike Greensburg, but if you can urge your students to look beyond the Hill in some way, I'm sure they'll garner some good stories and a little more confidence.

Posted by: Amanda at October 9, 2007 8:32 AM

Absolutely. You can't bank on certain sources for anything. My deadline for pitches is Monday night by 6 p.m., so I'm usually running out on the weekend, looking for something good. This is a challenging time because many people aren't in their offices over the weekend, so a majority of my "official" interviews are done at the last minute. The class may be switched to Tuesday, though, which will definitely give me more time to get the full picture.

You know, these experiences have really pushed me, but in an odd way, I'm so happy. This has given me the boldness to go to any city and report. NYC has a great public transport system, unlike Greensburg, but if you can urge your students to look beyond the Hill in some way, I'm sure they'll garner some good stories and a little more confidence.

Posted by: Amanda at October 9, 2007 8:34 AM

The first article I've assigned is connected to Homecoming, on the theory that if everyone is working on essentially the same kind of story they'll be better able to learn from each other's experiences. But the second story is wide open, and I will definitely encourage them to get off the hill.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at October 9, 2007 10:05 AM

I can' wait to see your "hood!" Maybe you can show us these animals in NYC... That sounds so interesting. I am sooooo glad you are there and are experiencing all of this!

Posted by: Amy at October 10, 2007 8:21 AM

I can' wait to see your "hood!" Maybe you can show us these animals in NYC... That sounds so interesting. I am sooooo glad you are there and are experiencing all of this!

Posted by: Amy at October 10, 2007 8:21 AM
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