Author Archive

Chronicles of a first time crime reporter

January 12, 2008

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


Teenager Is Tucson’s First Homicide of 2008

January 5, 2008


Derreck Burrus (Courtesy photo) 

 By Tracie Morales

A 16-year-old boy walking home from a movie theater was fatally shot at 12:30 a.m. Saturday in front of a church at 1930 S. Wilmot Road on Tucson’s Southeast side, a Police Department spokesman said.

The boy, Derreck Burruss, and two friends had left the Park Place Theater when a suspect armed with a handgun approached the group in front of a bus stop about 1.5 miles away, near the Eastside Assembly of God Church, said the spokesman, Sgt. Fabian Pacheco.

Burruss was taken to University Medical Center, where he died. The police would not say where on his body he had been shot. The two friends, who were not injured, fled the scene.

The shooting was Tucson’s first homicide of the year. Last year, the city recorded 88 homicides. Murder Scene

Derreck Burruss, 16, was shot near a bus stop in front of the Eastside Assembly of God Church. (Roxana Vasquez/NYT Institute)

A helpful toolbox

January 3, 2008

Be smart, stay safe and use your psychological toolbox to talk to sources. That’s what every student journalist needs to know to cover Tucson, Ariz.

Oh, yeah, and a few other things. Activism runs in the water of this town because of its closeness to the Mexican border. Issues like illegal immigration, human and drug trafficking, development and drought are hot, hot, hot regional issues. As the second-fastest-growing state in the nation, Arizona is rich with story ideas — dead bodies in the desert, its status as the largest port of entry for produce.

Don Hecker

Don Hecker, the New York Times training editor, addresses the institute on Day One.

Don’t finagle information from your sources. Be honest and use the “psychological toolbox” that Don Hecker, the New York Times training editor, mentioned. You might need to coax, cajole or sometimes bully, but remember, each situation is different. Clarify with your source the difference between “off the record” and “background” information. The first is unusable information in any way, shape or form. Background information is not for attribution, but lets you ask better questions to verify information elsewhere. Remember to ask your sources whether you can tape-record the conversation. Otherwise, you’re violating New York Times policy.
1 in 3: Arizona voters who are independent
38%: Latino population in Tucson
22 : Native American tribes in Arizona

— Tracie Morales