Friday, September 26, 2014

A Night with Post Reporter T. Rees Shapiro

A Look Inside the Hannah Graham Story
By Wallis Ann Neff 

We greeted and chit-chatted with our guest speaker for a brief minute and then continued to ask about his background, where he got his start, and what he's doing currently in Charlottesville, Va. Rees has been the Post's primary reporter on the story about missing UVA student Hannah Graham. He spoke to us live via Skype from a Starbucks.

Quick facts:

  • He is 27, young for the field.
  • Enjoys talking to students
  • He did not major in journalism- he was an english major
  • Did not want to be a journalist
  • Grew up in Va. just outside D.C. He went to Virginia Tech, liked creative writing the best, working at jimmy johns, late night, at about 8:30 roommate woke him up. Told him to “Fuck off," not realizing the tragic VTech campus shootings had begun. April 16th 2007, started with the school newspaper, new to journalism, “Aren’t you going to cover this?” took advantage of being a student (got in touch with people)
    • BIG BREAK: got a contact through Facebook, randomly called a man who directed him through a friend - she was there. “All I remember was my professor’s head exploding."
  • Continued as as an editor through the school newspaper, got a job at the Washington Post, Copy Aide, very low position, wrote obituaries for 18 months,
  • Doritos creator was his favorite obit
  • Was promoted to write about kindergarten and education. called it "circle of life"

After we talked to him about his background, more questions. One of the first was about his experiences and time in Charlottesville. In the midst of the chaos that is the Hannah Graham story, he's been able to talk with friends, as well as her parents. Graham was reported missing by police on Sept. 14th, at 7:30.
Shapiro's first position on the story was that maybe she was she’s hiding out, or laying low. Stress getting to her, college issues. He used basic facts for a short story. He's also spoken to people who knew her, softball coach, band instructor, and they both have reported her being a good student and a pretty normal girl. He recalled a candlelight vigil on Thursday, which was as he put it, moving.

After his account, Professor Piacente opened it up to questions from the class.

Dani- reading the articles, more troubled less balanced. How do you navigate between concern and balanced view in readership.

Taylor Shapiro- since I am young, one thing I can emphasize that I am obsessed with accuracy and fairness. People don’t trust you when you’re not fair. We approached the story with interviews, we talked to the police. Talked to both sides. Racially charged.

Wallis- have you noticed any racial tension with the Hannah Graham case?
TS- Racially charged, we’ve heard this story before- since the 1940s, skeptical about it being a black person charged. UVA, middle of virginia, middle of town has a statue of Robert E Lee. Tenor of conversation if it were anywhere else, tension.

Prof- When I search Missing Persons, young women who have been missing for a while, with cultural names. Would you be there if she were black?
TS- Relecia Rudd, missing for more than a year. WaPo crushed the story, girl lived next to a methadone clinic. Story was on lock. We would be there because it’s a story

Dani- Favorite Obit?
TS -sometimes you get lucky, and it doesn't happen all the time. Best Obit ever- have you ever heard of Doritos? Arch West, he was the guy who invented Doritos. Aren't obits dead and sad? No, it’s how you look at it. You need to put a fun spin. No one cares about Arch West, but we care about chips.

Zach- What is your opinion on the oxford comma?
TS- You think I would know what the oxford comma is? I don’t give a shit, I do what looks right.

Emma-This is every parents worse nightmare- we are supposed to put in the twist in our leads- whats the most grabbing detail
TS- The most grabbing detail comes from the talk with the parents on sunday- the first version is before the press conference, one published during, one specifically for the print, where I talked to the parents. We got this exclusive interview with the parents, lets lead with whats new to our readers. Yes you want the most useful, not always the most interesting. Advice- 99% of the time twitter is useless. Inaccuracies, idiots spewing idiotness on the internet. I need to get in touch with people, or need to find issues. I look to confirm it myself. My job is to get interviews, if I’m tweeting all the time I’m not working and doing real reporting

Liz- So how much authority or autonomy do you have in choosing a story to cover?
TS- Two answers, how much autonomy- boss says go to here, I go to there and write about whatever I want, I get the first swat- and they can tell me no,
Who decides if this a  big story- the readers. Good Idea about what this means, I ask my editor about how many page views I get (av. 20,000) Now I’m getting 3 million page views about this story.

He ended with a thumbs up, and a good night.

9/25 Class notes from Emma Griswold:

1. Current Events Quiz
2. White House Security Discussion
-Man armed with knife jumped fence, sprinted across the yard and into the White House
3. Hannah Graham Discussion
            -Reporters need to be careful and objective
            -Reporters need ins among police/investigators
            -Also consider calling the school, friends, or other sources
            -Matthews arrested; found camping on a beach in Texas
4. Shapiro’s Article: “Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare”
            -Shapiro might sympathize; quotes Matthews as “a gentle giant”
            -To find more information on Matthews, go to: social media, classmates, city gov., family, etc.
            -Matthews’ pastor was extremely surprised
            **Why is there so much attention? Racial bias?**
5. Lessons for Journalistic Practices
            -“Off the record” is a press tradition
                        àThere are no set rule
                        àTry to negotiate if an individual says “off the record” [why?]
                        àQuestion their reasons
                        àRemain credible by respecting their wishes
                        àBUT, in the end the choice is yours
            -Everyday people are “citizen journalists” due to smart phones
6. Main Points from Rhami Edits
            -Mention the most interesting part: the racial slur
            -Context: who is Ali Rhami?
            -DON’T USE OBVIOUS QUOTES: “His parents have been informed…”
            -Watch out for “Magic Bat”: “He was hit by a bat from behind.”
            -Always use Attribution in lead
            -D.C. Police not police: it’s police without the title
-Cut superfluous words
7. Shapiro Skype Conference [Wallis took Notes]

            -Email Wallis one “take-away” from Shapiro Conference
            -Story due Sunday the 28th @ 5pm [DON’T BE LATE]
            -Choose a story to defend due by next class
            -CH 9, 10, & 14

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