Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Uncovering the News That Has Yet to Be Discovered

By Diana Curreri

Good journalists do not simply wait for stories to happen. They are the ones who are out to find the newsworthy people, places, and events. That’s the point Rutgers University professor Jan Barry made when he spoke during his lecture to his News Reporting & Writing class on March 27.

Barry told of the long hours and far commutes necessary to get stories. There are numerous people, including fellow reporters, that serve as sources to help report on what is happening.

News stories can happen when you least expect them to, he said. When Barry attended a municipal council meeting in Morris County, New Jersey, a man stated that the same chemical that was used during Agent Orange in Vietnam was also used to kill vegetation under power lines that crossed the Rockaway River. While investigating this story, Barry said he learned that “The best sources turned out to be concerned veterans and independent researchers who dug out details from obscure industrial medical journals, military reports and Veterans Administration files.”

Barry realized he could write a book about well informed citizens. Their stories were worth further investigation and these people served as “local grounding and reference points, which are invaluable in doing comprehensive reporting anchored in a local beat,” Barry said. A few people Barry had met eventually were elected to school boards or municipal council and served as timely references in gathering information that otherwise could have taken weeks to gather from Open Public Records Act.

Sometimes looking for a story can be scary, and while researching one story, another story could be found. Barry told of his experience visiting a ward full of AIDS patients. The event revealed the heartbreaking truth of young people dying in an old-age home from this disease. After his article printed, Barry received many phone calls from patients who had read the article. He found that many were also suffering from their Medicare funding as well.

Barry has also received phone calls from strangers looking to get their stories heard. He heard from a father whose son died in an automobile accident, a veteran who is now going crazy after health problems due to the Gulf war, and “a housing developer who wanted a feature story on his controversial plans,” Barry said, “who called another time to talk about a relative who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound—and a property tax watchdog with a tip that a suburban mayor had just been abducted (turned out he was arrested by the FBI on bribery charges).”

Barry ends his speech by stating, “So there you have it. And in New Jersey, that’s at least 8 million stories—just waiting to be reported.”

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