Tampa Bay Times

The murder of India Clarke

When India Clarke, a transgender woman, was found murdered in a local park in July, I and the rest of the local media initially reported the story as the sheriff’s department told us: that “a man in women’s clothing” had died. The story garnered national attention, not only because Clarke was the 10th transgender woman to be murdered this year but because almost every media outlet referred to her with male pronouns at first and brought up an earlier arrest for prostitution — coverage that many (rightly) argue is discriminatory toward transgender people. The next day, I spoke with Clarke’s family and friends, and another reporter and I wrote a story that detailed India Clarke’s life and death, as well as the national attention. Later, three of us collaborated on a story about  law enforcement agencies’ relationship with transgender people, I covered the arrest of an 18-year-old in connection with the murder, and at the very end of my internship I wrote a story about Clarke’s friends’ efforts to help transgender African American women. While I can’t say I could have verified India Clarke’s identity and gender in my initial report, I wish I had done the initial report differently. I learned the hard way to aggressively question police narratives and to look at the bigger picture of violence against transgender people and the role media plays in the public’s perception of them.

One Tampa cigar factory burned, but many more still stand

This story, which appeared as the B1 centerpiece on Sunday, July 12, 2015. It stemmed from a news story the week before, in which one of about 25 historic cigar factories in Tampa burned down. Another intern, Shaken Samman, and I took stock of the remaining factories — some had been re-purposed, some were still used for tobacco-related businesses and some, like the one that burned down, were abandoned. We spend three days making phone calls and spreadsheets (I did the bulk of interviewing and writing; Shaker verified information about the two-dozen factories still standing), learning the history of this piece of Tampa’s history and connecting it to now.

Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay benefits from Alex Rodriguez’ bonus settlement

A-Rod was up for a $6 million for hitting his 660th homer — but he’d also just come off a suspension for the drug use that made some of those homers happen in the first place. As a compromise, the Yankees decided to give some of that bonus money to charity, including two Tampa-based organizations (the Yankees have a long history in the city). Thing was, two of those organizations didn’t know the donation was coming, and the MLB wouldn’t immediately share some key information — like exactly how much money each organization would get. The trick was to convey the charities’ pleasant surprise, while letting everyone know that no one knew what exactly was going on. This article appeared as the B1 centerpiece on Tuesday, July 7, 2015.

Reading programs help kids fight summer learning loss

This article, which appeared as the centerpiece on July 3 Hillsborough County regional section, was originally the idea of the story’s photographer. It bounced among a few different editors before it hit the regional. Some Googling and phone calls put me in touch with a few camps and community organizations. One Thursday I drove an hour to attend a low-key reading club, which made me doubt the quality of my own fourth-grade education.

Police, family of murder victim plead with community for help

This article, the B1 centerpiece on July 1, 2015, was the product of a press conference and a call to the chair of the Tampa City Council. It was the latest in the police’s response to a spike in homicides and gun violence this summer. The issue, a police captain told us in strong language, was that residents of the neighborhoods affected often refused to cooperate with police, allowing groups of young men to fight each other with abandon. It was hypocritical of the community to condemn violence while refusing to speak up about it, he said. Except his argument wasn’t exactly fair — the police also needed to be more involved in the community, the councilman said. And, many say, the police needed to go ahead and call the “loose associations of cowards marauding through the neighborhood at night” what they were: gangs. It was an interesting look at where some of the stakeholders stand.

Three men arrested after robbery at Seminole Heights restaurant

When I called the police spokeswoman to ask about robberies at two restaurants within half a mile of each other (one of which I had been to and really liked), she was audibly excited. The arrest of three men in connection to the robberies – and several others in the area – came after a large police operation, and the department was proud. As for the restaurants’ neighborhood, everybody was quick to tell me that the robberies were isolated – a far cry from 10 or so years ago, when Seminole Heights was known for being seedy. That, more than anything, was the story. This article ran on B1 on Tuesday, June 30, 2015.

What’s the science behind our daily downpours?

Every so often during a slow morning, my editor will have me call up the morning weatherman at our partner TV station, “interview” him and do a quick web post about the weather. Eventually, WTSP 10Weather Meterologist Bobby Deskins said, “Why don’t you come down to the station one day? I’ll show you around.” So I did. I’d never been to a TV news station before, and it was awesome. But the trip was two hours out of my day, so I thought I needed to get at least a story out of it. This was the result, which was the B1 centerpiece on Monday, June 29, 2015.

Bunnies and Bunnies-folo

My first real Florida Man story, and an interesting reporting exercise. I thought this was just your run-of-the-mill hotel-pool-rabbit-drowner article, but then Times senior researcher John Martin found out that yes, the alleged culprit was that Steve Rodd, a pitchman for Backstreet Boys creator Lou Pearlman’s Ponzi scheme. I shoe-leathered it out to the hotel where the bunny drowning happened, called Rodd’s family and former boss, went through several rewrites and shared an A1 story with the man whose tagline appears on the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner for local reporting. Then, I went back to the motel, found the bunny breeder, talked with the sheriff’s office again and rewrote the story from the perspective of the bunnies themselves (the drowned rabbit had four siblings). Two of the rabbits, however, remain unaccounted for, which means that when informed Tampa residents find dead bunnies, they send me pictures of them, just in case.

Community mourns boy whose death was “senseless” amid call for end to violence

This story was the Times’ B1 centerpiece on Sunday, June 14, 2015. It describes the funeral of Edward “E.J.” Harris, a 14-year-old boy who was gunned down in a Tampa park two weeks before. He seems to have been just a normal kid, and police still don’t know who killed him. E.J. was the fourth teenage homicide victim in 2015, and his death sparked heated discussion and debate about violence in the community and how a “no-snitch” culture impeded police investigations. I had not been involved in coverage of E.J. before his funeral, but covering the service presented an opportunity to capture the real effect of the violence: E.J.’s family’s pain; his church’s effort to comfort the community; the dozens of young teenagers who had to go to a friend’s funeral; the simple but powerful call to action: the violence has to stop, because this could happen to anyone. The evidence is right in front of you.

Characters come to life at Metrocon’s second day

This story was the Times’ B1 centerpiece on Saturday, June 13, 2015. My assignment was to go to the second day of Metrocon, Tampa’s anime convention, and just . . . look around. I walked in, talked to a ton of people (some in very elaborate or very scanty costumes), took some pictures, left, and put all my notes in article form. It was a great exercise in scene writing.

Astronaut becomes part of Lightning game experience

Poor Montreal Canadien goalie Carey Price. The video of a dude dressed as an astronaut dancing for him went viral, the Canadiens lost that game, and they didn’t make it past the eastern conference Stanley Cup semifinals. After the Tampa Bay Lightning Astronaut (who’s actually a walking advertisement for an electronics company) became a fixture at games, I interviewed the guy behind the costume. He told me some great stories, and I had a lot of fun writing the article. Unfortunately, the astronaut’s purported good luck did not extend to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, when the Chicago Blackhawks won the game and the Cup.

Mysterious miniature doors become game for Zephyrhills residents

My editor sent me a post she’d seen on Facebook: an intricately-decorated miniature doorway, one of many placed anonymously in public places in Zephyrhills, Fla. I was not able to make it to the small town for “on-the-ground” reporting, but I interviewed a woman who’d “found” several doors, a community leader who loved-loved-loved the project, and the Tiny Doors artists themselves, who gave a great interview via Facebook and who made it into the article unidentified.

With the Stanley Cup in full swing, ice maintenance is a balancing act

Hey, an editor said one day in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs, go find out how the heck you keep a rinkfull of ice frozen during a Florida summer. Getting in touch with the ice manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Amalie Arena turned out to be harder than expected, but once I made it into the underbelly of the arena, the answer to my editor’s question turned out to be interesting, complex and enjoyable to distill. The story appeared on 1A on Friday, June 5, 2015.

The South Bend Tribune/The Observer/Other clips

The South Bend Tribune, spring 2015

Is Proposal 1 the right fix for roads?

This article appeared at the top of A1 on Sunday, May 3, 2015. It distills the major arguments and issues surrounding Proposal 1, a Michigan ballot initiative that would raise the sales tax to raise money for roads (except, it’s way more complicated than that). I spent a few weeks of my part-time internship talking to officials, business owners and politicians in southern Michigan, where the Tribune has readers.

Office sharing takes root downtown

This article started as a preview of the grand reopening of one of the featured companies, but once the business editor and I figured out that co-working is much more widespread than we thought, the story expanded to include the growth of office-sharing in South Bend in general.

Penn sophomore a whiz on the Rubik’s Cube

This article was the A1 centerpiece on Sunday, March 9, 2015. It’s the tale of young Tyler Brodzinski, who can solve a Rubik’s cube in just under 14 seconds. There are, it turns out, about 10 different types of combination puzzles besides the standard Rubik’s cube that you and I can’t solve.

Ave Maria Press celebrates 150th anniversary

We were originally looking for a Notre Dame tie-in to South Bend’s 150th-anniversary celebrations, but it turned out that only Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame’s publisher of Catholic materials, had a recognized anniversary. The article instead became a description of life at Notre Dame in 1865. I got to talk to a Notre Dame historian and dig through archives and old publications, my editors got a story, and Ave Maria Press got . . . press, so everyone was happy.

Michiana native seeks her birth mother 

My first real exercise in deadline reporting — media all over the country were jumping on this story, so I had to churn it out quickly. The Tribune wasn’t the first to run the story, but I did get to talk to some of the politicians who were involved in the legislative issues of adoptions.

The Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s College Observer, August 2013-May 2015

Hesburgh emphasized importance of lay governance

On Feb. 27, 2015, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, who was Notre Dame’s president for 35 years, died at the age of 97. He was a living legend at Notre Dame, a leader in the civil rights movement and the reimagining of Catholic education in the 20th century. He held several U.S. governmental and papal appointments and wrote many books. The Observer confirmed his passing at about midnight on the night he died and spent the rest of the weekend putting together two special issues on his life and legacy. I contributed writing, photography and layout help. This is one of the articles I wrote.

“To Enjoy the Occasional Cigar” 

Funny enough, this description is almost as long as the article linked above. Anyway. We’d been in the Observer office for nearly 24 hours straight, working on our 28-page special issue on the recently-deceased university president Fr. Theodore Hesburgh. I’d reached a point where I couldn’t be helpful there, so I grabbed my camera and walked around campus, taking pictures of Hesburgh-related things. Near the library, I came across three guys smoking cigars underneath a statue of Fr. Ted. I interviewed them (“I said, ‘let’s go smoke one for Hes'”) and went on my way. Two days (and not a whole lot of sleep) later, I gathered all the pictures and quotes I could find about Fr. Ted’s endearing but probably unhealthy and definitely smelly habit. Amid the stories of human rights activism and Catholic educational leadership, we filled a half-page gap with a lighthearted insight into the man’s personal life. It’s a point of pride for me that the outgoing editorial board parodied the story in the Observer’s April Fool’s issue, with an article about students using Fr. Ted’s death as an excuse for cigar-smoking and other debauchery.

Student groups stage “die-in” demonstration

Since Notre Dame was far removed from the events in Ferguson in November 2014, when a jury failed to indict Darren Wilson on charges of murdering 18-year-old Michael Brown in August, tensions were perhaps muted. The issue was still, however, quite controversial. Some loudly protested against systemic racism and police brutality; some quietly wondered whether the non-indictment was really a result of racism; some posted outright racist comments on the anonymous app YikYak. Several African-American and other multicultural student groups organized a week of demonstrations, which I followed.

Notre Dame Fire Department celebrates 135th anniversary

“Oh, you’re here from the Observer? Great! Want to ride on a fire truck to today’s fire drills?” Um, yes. 

Man behind ND logo dies

Changes to printing policy spark conversation 

“I’ve already used like half my print quota,” was the mantra two weeks into fall semester 2014, when Notre Dame’s tech office changed how it measured student printing – and decreased the amount students could print in the process.

ROTC holds Pass-In-Review on South Quad

Notre Dame ROTC’s annual display happened in the middle of campus in spring 2014, reverting to the location it used in the 1950s. This was my first encounter with University archives, though we did not end up using the photos they gave us. The best part of this story happened three weeks after the fact, when I received an email from the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, chastising me for not questioning the military-industrial-educational complex in my article. To which I reply: fair.


The Long and Tall History of Notre Dame’s Flanner and Grace Halls

This story, about the history of Notre Dame’s only two tower buildings, was written for my Fundamentals of Journalism class in fall 2014. To do the story, I interviewed a former University president (who was surprised that the only thing I wanted to ask him about was the former dorms – but hey, I just wanted to meet the former president), talked to drunken family friends at a tailgate, and dug through University archives.

Post writer Wil Haygood gives talk at Notre Dame

With this story for the introductory journalism class, I attempted a more feature-y take for a professor who emphasized a hard-news approach for us beginners. It worked.

A Woven History

The summer before I went to college I wrote a few articles for the Highlander, a neighborhood monthly which has since (sadly) folded. This story is about a historic home that may have been the birthplace of “Happy Birthday to You,” and how it has handled the passage of time and the advent of the Internet.