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Covering journalism's most difficult stories

By Billy O'Keefe

Story and photo by Joe Grimm
One of journalism’s most difficult challenges is writing about tragedy.

Panelists Moni Basu (left) and Kelly Kennedy (center) talk with new Region 3 Director Jenn Rowell after their presentation.

Panelists Moni Basu (left) and Kelly Kennedy (center) talk with new Region 3 Director Jenn Rowell after their presentation.

Dart Society journalists, who have received fellowships or awards from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, gave tips Saturday on covering some of the hardest stories.
The Dart Center is “dedicated to informed, innovative and ethical news reporting on violence, conflict and tragedy.”
Moni Basu, now with CNN, was a reporter with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution when she wrote the eight-part series “Chaplain Turner’s War.” She and photographer Curtis Compton followed Darren Turner as he counseled soldiers in Iraq.
“I actually got under desk when he counseled soldiers,” she said, “where I would take notes for one- or two-hour sessions.” In one of those conversations, with Basu under the desk and out of sight, a young sniper recounted the first time he killed a man.
The soldiers and chaplain allowed her to listen. “These kinds of details would never have come out if I hadn’t established this relationship,” she said.
Kelly Kennedy, a reporter for Army Times, also went to Iraq and reported the project “Blood Brothers.” There she covered the 15-month tour of an Army battalion that lost 31 soldiers. As a medical reporter, she grappled with how her reports might affect people.
“As I was interviewing them about mental health this huge explosion happened,” she said. A Bradley Fighting Vehicle had been blown up, killing everyone inside. “The details of that explosion were so horrific I wrestled with whether I should tell those details and I decided I had to tell those stories so that people would understand war and the causes of post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Her project is to be released as a book in March 2010.
Tina Croley was features editor at the Detroit Free Press, where one of her writers wrote about homicides at a time when Detroit was experiencing about one a day.
She said, decide what makes this story worthwhile to the paper, its editors and the community based on your pre-reporting. Figure out how to provide that.