Thursday, April 19, 2007

Journalists Mostly Rise to the Challenge

NEW ORLEANS, April 19 — In this week of stark tragedy, growing, it seems, by the day, our journalists — several of them my friends and former colleagues — have risen to the challenge of painting the picture of the devastating Tech rampage. With the possible and debatable exception of NBC airing video from the killer — effectively giving him what he wanted — journalists have, I believe, used remarkably good judgment in reporting and sharing a remarkably difficult story.

In my journalism life, I've reported some tragic stories, but largely after the fact and well removed from the scene of the losses. These journalists are on the ground in one of the most intense tragedy stories in American history, trumped only in recent memory by 9/11, arguably. They've done a remarkable job to date, and I'm proud to say I've worked with them and to call them friends. They've kept Americans, myself inlcuded, in the loop and on the ground with them as we all struggle to understand and come to terms with Monday's shocking events.

A couple pieces of work particularly worth your time: Chico Harlan's Virginia Tech Journal for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, at and the on-the-ground reports from staff at The Chronicle of Higher Education, particularly Eric Hoover's second-day reports setting the scene on campus. The Chron is at and — with this content posted free of the normal subscription requirements.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sadness Still Too Similar

NEW ORLEANS, April 17 — It took to remind me of the obvious. The tragedy at Tech is all too close to home because it mirrors, in sheer number of fatalities if not in method to the madness, the Pan Am Flight 103 tragedy that took 35 Syracuse University students, my predecessors as Orangemen and Orangewomen, from life.

I'm shaken by the sad similarities. Tech will be recovering from this from now until forever. And it struck me today that the 19th anniversary of Pan Am 103 is approaching rapidly, which puts us closer to 20 and still remembering, recovering.

The article is at

Too Familiar a Tragedy: Mass Shootings at Virginia Tech

NEW ORLEANS, April 16 — Eight years ago this week, an editorial board member from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle called me, seeking a young voice to comment on the Columbine High School tragedy in Littleton, Colo. My piece ran with others two days after the massacre, under the banner, "Rampage at a Colorado School."

Tonight, I'm sad to note, not much has changed but the date, the numbers, and the geography. CNN's site carries the banner, "STUDENTS SLAUGHTERED," and they were today at Virginia Tech. Thousands of miles from Littleton, 20 more killed than in that tragedy, and I find my old words ring too true.

As a newly minted 17-year-old budding journalist, I wrote, "As I watched the story unfold live on the cable news stations, the horror became increasingly evident to me." Tonight, with my 25th birthday tomorrow, the words carry more tragic weight. I've since left high school, finished college, worked, and started law school, but the tragedies of this week — in 1999 and 2007 — throw the fragility and trauma of life and death into sharp relief.

I can't help but wonder if there's something about this week that begets tragedy. Columbine, now Tech. Before them, Oklahoma City and Waco.

"I was struck by shock and utter disbelief," the 17-year-old me wrote. "A wave of numbness swept over me. As the hours progressed and information continued to be revealed, the numbness grew. Any tragedy of this magnitude is too close to home."

Today, the numbness and shock returned on hearing 27 shots ring out in a grainy video captured by cell phone. And my heart wrenches for the Virginia Tech community, and it wrenches again for academia, knowing it easily could have been here in New Orleans, or up at Columbia, or in Syraucse or Rochester.

I don't have the answers, only some questions. Let's find the solutions together to grieve and grow from this tragedy with hope that we'll never bear another like it.

Tonight, we are all Hokies, and we are with y'all at Tech.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Come visit NOLA. You'll survive. I promise.

NEW ORLEANS, April 7 — PBS's American Experience episode on New Orleans, airing as I write this post, says NOLA was once in the top five list of must-visit cities for the American wealthy. Where is it now? Probably not high.

It's probably not high on your list either, I imagine, but it should be. I could laundry list the reasons why, the sights to see, the music to hear, the food to eat, but other bloggers will give you that in more luxurious detail.

Instead, I'll tell you why you aren't already here, and why I think you won't visit. I hope you'll prove me wrong.

So you're scared of being shot? (Scared of jazz and gumbo?) You don't want to see the devastation? (You should see it, but there's a lot of city that wasn't flooded.) You don't like swamp weather? (Get here fast then, it's 43 degrees and rainy right now; 70s and sunny next week; 90 and sweaty in a month.)

I'm torn on my experience in this city. New Orleans now is remarkable — more unique, historic, and important than ever. Law school in New Orleans, however, keeps me from most of the magic, most of the time. That said, I value the time I've had here, and if I stay or if I go, New Orleans holds a special place in my soul.

"For most of its history, New Orleans had a reputation of one of the most unsanitary cities in the country," PBS American Experience says. (It's cleaner now, I promise. There's a new garbage contractor — twice weekly pickups resumed this week for the first time since Katrina.)

Friday, April 06, 2007

Eyes in New Orleans, Eyes on Africa

NEW ORLEANS, April 6 — B.S. wrote a 700-word essay today for The New York Times "Win a Trip With Nick Kristof" Contest, and it's a good piece of non-law writing, which we haven't had time to do much lately. It turned out better than B.S. expected it would, and B.S. the journalist was ready to post it here for your reading pleasure. Then B.S. the law student returned and realized the Times might acquire publication rights by its contest rules, so before posting it here, we're reading the contest rules closely to be sure we won't forfeit the trip by posting the essay. More to follow.