Chronicles of a first time crime reporter

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My past reporting experience had me covering pretty, little feature stories about tonsillectomies and ear surgeries.

Then, I arrived at The New York Times Student Journalism Institute.

I asked for breaking news and I got an assignment. What I didn’t expect was a full immersion experience in cops and court reporting. After five minutes of feeling intimidated, I got over it.

On the first day of the murder, I had to talk to police and gather as much information as I could about Tucson’s first homicide victim of 2008. When I talked to my editor, Diego Ribadeneira, he asked me if I knew the motive, the suspects or the weapon used.

I responded with silence.

I talked to the victim’s family about their son who loved lasagna, hated washing dishes and had a “Colgate smile” that went from ear to ear. I made a point to get little details, just like Diego advised. “Get the details,” he said. “Even if you don’t use them.”

Then I ran around the courthouse trying to find documents that told me about the suspects’ criminal record.

The next day, I pulled a Nancy Drew and went to the suspects’ homes to find out who these guys were. I knocked on doors and went back to the courthouse to find out more information. I never knew that I could learn about someone’s childhood, relationship status or goals from court documents.

But you can.

After mining my way through swamps of information, I found a golden nugget. A friend of the victim’s told me that the suspect arrested had a suspicious Myspace page that described his gang life.

The Institute’s Director Don Hecker and I boiled all of my documents and notes one by one. He taught me how to piece together a compelling story that hadn’t been reported by other news outlets. In the past few days, I never felt like I was going to fail because I had the support from my peers and editors. I thought I was good at covering health issues, but I know I will be an even better crime reporter.

— Tracie Morales

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