Portrait of the Artist as a Young Male White Poet

Electric Literature published an advice column in early June where a white male poet addressed his privilege head-on and asked if the time for white writers has come to an end.

“I am a white, male poet—a white, male poet who is aware of his privilege and sensitive to inequalities facing women, POC, and LGBTQ individuals. But despite this awareness and sensitivity, I am still white and still male. Sometimes I feel like the time to write from my experience has passed, that the need for poems from a white, male perspective just isn’t there anymore…”

“Sometimes I write from other perspectives via persona poems in order to understand and empathize with the so-called ‘other’; but I fear that this could be construed as yet another example of my privilege—that I am appropriating another person’s experience. Write what you know and risk denying voices whose stories are more urgent; write to learn what you don’t know and risk colonizing someone else’s story. I genuinely am troubled by this.”

The column received lots of response from the literary community, including a lengthy article in The Atlantic.



My favorite space books

I, for one, know I’m a space nerd. I admit it. I reblog photos of galaxies and Carl Sagan quotes on Tubmlr. I follow NASA, ESA and other space exploration news with earnest. I watch YouTube videos of astronaut Chris Hadfield explaining science on the ISS to kids.

So I wanted to share my favorite stories about space. Here’s to hoping 2015 will bring more space stories and time to read them.


The Martian, Andy Weir

Holy space gods, this book is out of this world! (See what I did there?) If you love space and reading about space, put down everything and read this incredible piece of fiction.

Mark Watney is a part of the Ares manned missions to Mars. Except, he was stranded on the Red Planet when the rest of his crew thought him dead and evacuated during a terrible sandstorm. Now he has to find a way to make his food, water and oxygen last for years until the next Ares mission — or he’ll die in any number of ways.

There’s a lot of math interspersed throughout the book (might be real, I’m not learned in math so I can’t say for sure). But Andy Weir keeps it focused and breaks it down for the reader as Watney solves problems. The math is actually really important to the story. It’s a matter of survival.

While reading, I laughed, I was terrified, I cheered Watney on, I wanted to send in an application to NASA, I wanted to never think of space again. It’s truly impossible to put this book down. There’s drama and action, and it’s all told through Watney’s levelheaded and sarcastic tone, and sometimes an omnipotent narrator when you know things are about to get “pretty much fucked,” as Watney writes in his logs.


R is for Rocket, Ray Bradbury

Nobody does short stories like Ray Bradbury. He fully immerses you in his very believable worlds. Whether it’s a young school boy who dreams of becoming a rocket man and wakes up early every Saturday to watch the rockets take off. The fact that people can’t choose to become astronauts, but instead must be picked. Or a poor husband who buys an old junk rocket to create a fantastical one-time journey for his children. Bradbury writes with such fervor, such honesty in his language that even fantastical elements seem real.

How did he imagine all of these books, stories, characters and times? Bradbury’s truly one of the best writers I’ve ever read. I will always cherish his Fahrenheit 451, but this collection of stories about space is truly magic.


Packing for Mars, Mary Roach

This book is actually a lol-fest. If you like laughing so hard while on public transportation so that people give you weird looks, this book is definitely for you. The full title of the book is “Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.” Mary Roach really knows that science and humor were made to go together. Let this quote serve as evidence for that:

In orbit, everything gets turned on its head. Shooting stars streak past below you, and the sun rises in the middle of the night … According to more than one astronaut memoir, one of the most beautiful sights in space is that of a sun-illuminated flurry of flash-frozen waste-water droplets.

Roach is a science writer, in the best way. She worked like a reporter to find out how astronauts live and survive in space. She tirelessly interviewed to get the intimate details for this book. And she doesn’t disappoint. You have to read this book to find out exactly how astronauts pee and poop in space, what happens to astronauts when they can’t walk for a year, how astronauts can survive if they vomit in their helmet while on a spacewalk, and how space agencies test the limits of space on Earth. And you’ll be laughing the entire time.


Life on Mars, Tracy K. Smith

David Bowie, space travel, music. These are some of the images and concepts Tracy K. Smith explores in this beautiful collection of poems. The title is a reference to Bowie’s great song “Life on Mars,” but it’s also more than that. Bowie was obsessed with space, too, and Smith draws on his imagination and influence for some of her poems.

Her poems describe the future of space exploration. And her honest story threaded throughout makes it more resonant. Smith grieves in this collection, for our lonely planet, for human existence, for the death of her father, who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. She uses space as a metaphor for the unknown, for death and for hope.

Perhaps the great error is believing
we’re alone,
That the others have come and gone —
a momentary blip —
When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,
Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel
Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,
Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,
Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones
At whatever are their moons. They live wondering
If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know, And the great black distance they — we
— flicker in …


The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

Yes, yes, I already included a Bradbury book. But come on, a list of amazing space books wouldn’t be complete without The Martian Chronicles.

The book follows Earth’s colonization of Mars, from 2030 to 2057. Bradbury easily shifts from Martian to Earth Man points of views. The chronicles are full of wonder and terror. You’ll get lost in his descriptions of Earth expeditions and Mars discoveries.

There’s a reason why writers obsessed with space craft amazing works of space. They let readers into their obsession. They share the implausibility and craziness that is space, that is the planet we live on, drifting endlessly in an ever-growing, endless blackness of stars.

Going analog after a digital summer


After 10 weeks of staring at computer screens and code for eight to 15 hours a day during my News21 Fellowship, I decided to give my eyes a rest. I read several (paperback, bound, dust-scented) books while traveling in California and on planes. I sat for hours in coffee shops throughout the Bay Area reading, finishing books, starting another. Here’s a list of the books I completed this summer.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

This unrivaled novel is a must-read. Seriously, go out immediately and buy it if you have not yet had the pleasure of reading it. The novel focuses on two Jewish cousins in 1930s New York, and their struggle to become known in the burgeoning comic book business, amidst the growing threat and then reality of the Holocaust. In one novel, Chabon seems to incorporate a collection of poems, a play, two films and of course, several comic book series. His mastery of natural dialogue pushes the novel forward. Chabon writes some of the most convincing adult protagonists I grew to love throughout the story.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Bradbury’s gift for science fiction is featured in this collection of interconnected tales. The book follows Earth’s colonization of Mars, from 2030 to 2057. Bradbury easily shifts from Martian to Earth Man points of views. He seems to gain strength when describing Mars’ and Earth’s futures through a  long span of time. The chronicles are hopeful, terrifying and full of grief and loss and wonder. Bradbury writes with such genuine fervor that I fully believed he was describing current and real Earth expeditions and Mars discoveries. I’m sad I was never able to meet Bradbury, but I breathe him to life by reading his words; words he clacked out on typewriters, words he thought and dreamt and debated. He’s alive with me while I read him.

Other Bradbury books I’m still working on this summer:
  • The Vintage Bradbury, I Sing the Body Electric and A Pleasure to Burn (If you can’t tell, he’s one of my favorites).

Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds

One of my first poet-loves, Sharon Olds’ strong details of her failing marriage are tragic and relatable.  Her “The Father” is one of my favorite poetry collections. Olds writes with the utmost grace, candor and honesty. She shares all—the deepest parts of her uncertainty, hurt, lust and life. In sharing this with us readers, Olds becomes one of the strongest poets.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

One of the strangest books I’ve read, Cat’s Cradle is a classic Vonnegut read. While I can’t say that I understand it completely, the novel is a portrayal of the end of the world. His description of a religion called Bokononism is a superb analogy to real world religions. Vonnegut’s focus on the main character writing a book about the father of the atomic bomb is fascinating by itself, but he adds an additional apocalyptic storyline on top of that, for added amusement and bewilderment.

after the quake by Haruki Murakami

I have been meaning to read Haruki Murakami for a while. He writes with ease, but the depth of his images and characters is enough to fill the Grand Canyon. This collection of short stories surrounding the Kobe 1995 earthquake in Japan includes descriptions of real life, loss, emptiness, fear and surrealist experiences. Murakami is an essential read.

Grayson by Lynne Cox

This book was a short read and had some nice description of the ocean. But after the first few pages, it seemed to repeat the same descriptions, images and metaphors for the entirety of the book. I don’t discount the incredible swims Lynne Cox made, but this book is not one of the best I have read.

Rereading “Fahrenheit 451”

Yesterday I reread “Fahrenheit 451.” It took me most of the afternoon, through the night. I read in the car, as my mom guided us through terrible traffic, while my stepdad watched a basketball game, and alone, in my room. It’s the first book I’ve reread.

Reading a book again is an interesting endeavor. Passing through each part of the novel triggered bits of the upcoming plot in my memory. I remembered branches, but not the whole tree, not the leaves of the ending.

I first read “Fahrenheit 451,” my introduction to Bradbury—as I’ve since been scooping up his short story collections at used bookstores—in 9th grade. I knew then that this book was very different. Books had stuck with me before, but this one seeped in and became a part of my internal organs. It was a necessary book.

Being older, and having studied more craft, I appreciated Bradbury’s descriptions more. I realized how much poetry makes up his prose. Some of the most memorable moments of the novel can be boiled down to a sentence, a line, an image, alliteration—poetry. As mainly a poet, and a journalist, I gained renewed admiration for his style.

And one of my favorite literary quotes, which I have hanging on a piece of paper on my bedroom wall, still made me pause, smile and nod along, and reread it again. Bradbury has that affect, no matter how many times you’ve read him.

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.”

The book happens to be a special 50th edition, which includes an interview with the author and an update when Bradbury revisited the characters in 1953 for a play. In it, Bradbury describes how he wrote the book over a week in the basement of the UCLA library—yes, he wrote a book about burning books in none other than a library—on a typewriter that cost 10 cents for 30 minutes. The typewriter had a coin slot and then ticked away. What a completely changed world from today’s, where many of us have laptops or tablets that we type away at constantly.

An interesting thing happened yesterday to me and the novel. I placed the book on a doctor’s examining table when the doctor came in to see me, and when he saw it he picked it up, beaming, saying, “Bradbury! I haven’t seen this book in a long time. I love science fiction.”

I often get asked why I don’t own a Kindle, or a Nook, or an iPad, or any other electronic reading device (other than my smartphone). My mom recently suggested a Kindle for my birthday present. But staring too long at screens gives me headaches, or worse, migraines. And the recollection and connection I had with my doctor yesterday might never have happened if I was reading “Fahrenheit 451” on a Kindle, then shut the display off when he stepped in the door. And what a terrible second-death to Bradbury, to read his novel on a screen like the ‘parlor walls’!

I’ll stick to printed books for now. Ones I can stuff in my purse for a Metro ride, underline my favorite quotes, crease the pages to mark great descriptions, buy cheaply at used bookstores, lend to a friend, and allow my doctor to see and share a love for. I think Bradbury would like that.

Math Tools for Journalists Chapters 9-12 Summary

Graphic by Marlena Chertock.

May 6, 2011

It is extremely important to understand different units of measure and how to calculate these measurements. Sometimes reporters have to convert units of measure to find accurate numbers. Here are a few conversions, units of measure and formulas from chapters 9-12 of Wickham’s book.


  • Time, distance and rate: make sure to keep units of measurement the same.

Time = distance ÷ rate

Distance = rate x time

Rate = distance ÷ time

Math for Journalists: Summary of Chapters 5-8 of ‘Math Tools for Journalists’

Graphic by Marlena Chertock.

April 29, 2011

In these chapters of “Math Tools for Journalists,” Kathleen Woodruff Wickham goes over polls, surveys, math related to business and how to calculate taxes. These are essential concepts to be able to calculate and inform the public about.

Business news, taxes and polls and surveys include math and it is important for journalists to know how to use and calculate these numbers.

To read more about standards for financial accounting and reporting of information, visit the Financial Accounting Standards Board.

Continue reading Math for Journalists: Summary of Chapters 5-8 of ‘Math Tools for Journalists’

Math for Journalists: Summary of Chapters 1-4 of ‘Math Tools for Journalists’

APRIL 22, 2011

In order to ensure accuracy, journalists sometimes have to use statistics, percentages and data. These include numbers — and numbers can scare writers who are so used to using words. But numbers are important in many stories. They help explain to readers. They help readers understand the issue or event or concept.

Numbers are precise, said Kathleen Woodruff Wickham, the author of this book. They also help to put issues into perspective.

Graphic by Marlena Chertock.


  • Percent increase/decrease: Percentage increase/decrease = (new figure – old figure) ÷ old figure

Convert to a percentage by moving the decimal two places to the right.

  • Percent of the whole: Percentage of a whole = subgroup ÷ whole group

Move the decimal point two points to the right.

  • Percent points: Distinguish between percent and percentage point. One percent is one one-hundredth of something.
  • Convert fractions to percentages: convert a fraction to a decimal by completing division, to convert a decimal to a percentage move the decimal point two points to the right

13/15 = 13 ÷ 15 = 0.87

  • Simple/annual interest: Percentages are often used to compute interest. The amount of money borrowed is called principal. Money paid for the use of money is called interest. The rate is the percent charged for the use of money. Amount of interest charged depends on the length of time borrowed money is kept.

Simple/annual interest formula: Interest = principal x rate (as a decimal) x time (in years)

  • Payments on loans: consumers usually make monthly payments on loans for home mortgages or cars. The term of the loan is how long the borrower has to repay a loan. The monthly payment and total interest paid can be calculated.

A = monthly payment

B = original loan amount

R = interest rate, expressed as a decimal and divided by 12

N = total number of months

A = [P x (1 + R)^N x R] ÷ [(1 + R)^N – 1]

More information: The ^N in the air beside brackets is to the power of, so multiply the result of the brackets by itself N

number of times.

  • Interest on savings: savings accounts and certificates of deposit generally pay compound interest

B = balance after one year

P = principal

R = interest rate

T = number of times per year interest is compounded

B = P(1 + [R ÷ T])^T

  • Salary increase: Original salary x percent increase = dollar amount of salary increase for first year

Original salary + salary increase = salary for first year of contract

First year salary x percent increase = dollar amount of salary increase for second year

First year salary + salary increase = salary for second year

  • Percentile: a percentile is a number representing the percentage of scores that fall at or below the designated score. It is based on the relationship to all other scores. If a test-taker scored in the 65th percentile then 65 percent of the people who took the test scored the same or lower.

Percentile rank = (Number of people at or below an individual score) ÷ (number of test takers)

Or turn the formula around to find out the number of people who scored at or below a certain point.

Number of people scored at or below that level = (Percentile) x (number of test takers)

  • Standard deviation: standard deviation is a figure that indicates how much a group of figures varies from the norm. A small standard deviation means the figures are consistently grouped around the mean. A high standard deviation can mean there are inconsistent results. Standard deviation is shown as data in a bell curve. It can be used as a unit of measure along the bell curve. The middle of the curve (the highest point) is the mean and the rest spreads out on either side. The steeper the bell curve the smaller the standard deviation (since more numbers are close to the mean). A more spread out bell curve represents a large standard deviation. Data can exhibit a typical distribution where 68 percent of the scores will fall within one standard deviation (either positive or negative), 95 percent will fall within two standard deviations and 99 percent will fall within three standard deviations.

Subtract the mean from each score in the distribution.

Square the resulting number for each score.

Compute the mean for these numbers. This figure is called variance.

Find the square root of variance.

  • There are many federal statistics that can be important for journalists to know how to find and generate.
  • Unemployment: every month the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) issues a report on U.S. employment. The employment rate is defined as the percentage of the labor force that is unemployed and actively seeking work. Labor force means anyone over the age of 16 who has a job or has looked for one in the past four weeks (except unemployed people who aren’t actively seeking work and people who are institutionalized, such as in prison). Being employed means the person did some work for pay in the week before the survey was taken or did at least 15 hours of unpaid work for a family enterprise. A group of 60,000 households is interviewed, called the Current Population Survey. This data creates the unemployment figures for each state and the nation. BLS adjusts some statistics to take into account seasonal employment changes. Visit www.bls.gov.

Unemployment rate = (unemployed ÷ labor force) x 100

  • Inflation and Consumer Price Index: inflation continuously affects the economy. U.S. inflation is measured by the CPI, which is a figure determined by the BLS. It shows the amount of inflation in any given month for eight major product groups (food and beverages, housing, apparel, transportation and recreation). CPI data are collected from 23,000 retail and service businesses each month. Information on rents is collected from about 50,000 landlords and tenants. CPI is reported in several ways. Sometimes it’s written as an index number (some number more than 100, shows how much prices have increased since the base CPI 100 was created in 1984). Or the change in CPI is reported as a monthly or annual inflation rate.

Monthly Inflation Rate = (Current CPI – Prior Month CPI) ÷ Prior Month CPI x 100

  • Annual inflation rate: Compare the current CPI with CPI of that month in a previous year.

A = Annual Inflation Rate

B = Current month CPI

C = CPI from same month in previous year

A = (B – C) ÷ C x 100

  • Adjusting for inflation: a historical figure is changed to represent how large it would be in current dollars. BLS has an inflation calculator on its website.

A = Target year value, in dollars

B = Starting year value, in dollars

AC = Target year CPI

BC = Starting year CPI

A = (B ÷ BC) x AC

  • Future prices: If you want to figure out how much something will cost a year from now, you can with the current rate of increase of the CPI, if the rate will remain the same. Find the annual interest rate and apply it to the original price and compound it.

C = Cost after one year

K = Original cost

I = Inflation rate

C = K(1 + [I ÷ 12])^12

  • Gross Domestic Product: GDP is the value of goods and services produced by a nation’s economy. It can gauge the direction of the country’s economy. When GDP increases, the economy is considered healthy and if it is decreasing the economy may be in a recession. The change in GDP is watched (rather than its level). GDP is often converted into “real” GDP, which holds prices of the measured items consistent to the prices they were in 1996. Real GDP shows changes in quantities of goods and services produced. GDP is reported quarterly and the rate of GDP growth is reported annually.

C = Consumer spending on goods and services

I = Investment spending

G = Government spending

NX = Net exports (exports minus imports)

GDP = C + I + G +NX

  • Trade balance: Trade balance is the difference between goods and services a country exports and imports. For the U.S. the trade balance has been a negative number for years, meaning that Americans are importing more goods than exporting. There are seven major categories for exports and imports (capital goods other than autos; services including travel, royalties and license fees and other private services; industrial supplies; autos and auto parts; consumer goods; food and beverages and other).

Trade balance = Exports – imports

It’s important for journalists to have math skills, to at least understand what the formulas are doing. Journalists are communicating information and data to the public, so they must understand what they are communicating.

Math problems:

1. Percent decrease:

Bill Gates is decreasing his donations to charity from $735,460 to $356,789. By what percentage is the donation cut?

$356,789 – $735,460 = -$378,671

-$378,671 ÷ $735,460 = -0.5148

So the donation was cut -51.5 percent.

2. Percentage of a whole:

The concession stand at the local movie theatre makes $25,000 a year. The entire movie theatre makes $899,897. What percentage of the entire earnings does the concession stand produce?

$25,000 ÷ $899,897 = 0.0277

So the concession stand produces 2.7 percent of the whole movie theatre earnings.

3. Percentile:

Delilah Vale received an overall score of 78 on his ACT test. 4,683 other students took the test. Vale’s score is equal to or higher than the scores of 1,754 other students. What is Vale’s percentile rank?

1,754 ÷ 4,683 = 0.3745

Vale’s percentile rank is the 37th percentile.

4. Simple/annual interest:

George Fink borrowed $4,530 from the Risky LenderBank to make a down payment on an apartment. He agreed to pay 8 percent interest, payable in one payment at the end of three years. What is George’s interest payment?

$4,530 x .08 x 3 years = $1,087.2

So his interest payment is $1,087.2.

Learning from the greats: Reaction to Chapter 9 of ‘America’s Best Newspaper Writing’

Chapter 9: The Classics

APRIL 15, 2011

To be a reporter, to be a good reporter, one has to have a passion for the craft of writing. Reporters must have a passion for journalism.

Journalism is often a quest for social reform. Good reporters whose writing is powerful report on injustice, corruption, social issues and issues that need reform. It’s important for journalists to be the watchdogs of social reform, to alert the public to issues that require reform. They shouldn’t be afraid to write for social change, social reform. Reporters educate the public. And a public that is not aware of these issues, that is left in the dark is an uninformed and endangered public — it’s more possible for a public to be controlled and manipulated when they aren’t aware.

Reporters should “go beneath the actual events to explore their meaning,” Clark and Scanlan said.

There have been and still are untold stories in America and people whose voices are stifled. So reporters must report on these stories and offer a voice for these people. “The great writer struggles out of the cocoon of self-censorship and self-doubt to fly to a place where difficult truths can be examined, expressed and exposed to the light of day,” the editors said.

Good reporters must be aware of the political and cultural effects of new media, the Internet and other forms of media. This helps them know the impact and influence they’ll have on others, on the public. Reporters should also be aware of the capability of organizations, politicians and others to control the media and influence and manipulate the public. Being aware of this potential power will help guide media professionals in their work, life and ethical decisions.

Journalists have a role to be a social and media critic, according to Clark and Scanlan. They must be critical of the media, their own work and others. This ties into the watchdog role of journalists, to watch out for government and business corruption and other social issues. Journalists need to educate citizens and influence a culture of media literacy and critical thinking.

This questioning and critical thinking keeps people free, empowered and protected from tyranny and corruption, Clark and Scanlan said.

Reporters have a powerful role, they should embrace it and acquire a powerful voice. The reporters included in this chapter on classic reporting, stories that were classic, had powerful writing voices.

Voice and powerful writing comes from determined, strong reporting. Reporters should observe, gather details, direct experiences and reactions of people and include those in their stories. Reporters should describe scenes and events and people’s emotions so readers can connect to the story. Clark and Scanlan said reporting should include honest emotion.

Get out of the office and on the street. You’ll find an interesting story. So go tell it.

Graphic by Marlena Chertock.

Writers practice writing and revising for years, working to improve. Reporters must work to improve their reporting, interviewing, inclusion of details, writing and voice. Start by imitating other great writers and their writing style. Read a lot of great writing. As one of the writing greats listed in the chapter, Red Smith, said: “Your own writing tends to crystallize, to take shape. Yet you have learned some moves from all these guys and they are somehow incorporated into your own style. Pretty soon you’re not imitating any longer.”

Top 5 list of classic journalism stories:

1. Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army’s Top Medical Facility, The Washington Post

Dana Priest and Anne Hull

These reporters write several articles about the failings of the army hospital, Walter Reed. They focus on specific people who are affected by the bureaucracy, neglect and lack of doctors at the hospital — the returning soldiers.

The average stay in the hospital is 10 months, but some have been stuck there for as long as two years, they write. Their word choice, description and depiction of the hospital work to show the damning evidence against it, as Clark and Scanlan described in the chapter.

Priest and Hull include specific details about the hospital, rooms, people, even bathrooms in their articles.

Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan’s room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.

They include sensory details,  to ensure readers can smell, hear, see, taste and touch the hospital, its age and neglect.

The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out.

Duncan and other soldiers recover in Building 18 of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The reporters said it was “not the kind of place where Duncan expected to recover when he was evacuated from Iraq last February with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, nearly dead from blood loss.”

Priest and Hull report to show the need for reform in the hospital, to show a social issue. They find soldiers who want to speak out about the issue, people who are upset, tired, in need of help and angry.

Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, an amputee, lived at Walter Reed for 16 months. “We don’t know what to do,” he said. “The people who are supposed to know don’t have the answers. It’s a nonstop process of stalling.”

2. Two Worlds Paired by War, The New York Times

C.J. Chivers

Chivers writes with a strong voice. When reading, you feel as if you start to know him. He often inserts himself into the writing, into the article, but remains objective. He is showing the human side of war and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He is writing to connect people across seas, from different cultures (American and Afghanistan, both engaged in war).

Just when you thought you had figured something out, you were proved wrong. You always risked missing the most important moments, because you were looking for something else.

He writes very descriptively, describing the Afghan landscape and people around him.

When a porter asks him where he’s from, and Chivers answers New York, an interesting moment happens and Chivers describes it with incredible detail.

When he spoke again it was in the slow diction of a man on an excursion into an unfamiliar language, but who wanted to be heard. He nodded, deep enough to be a bow, before raising both hands to eye level and letting them flutter to his waist.

The meaning was obvious, even high in mountains in a distant corner of the earth. Towers falling down.

“New York,” the Afghan porter said. “Very sorry us.”

He uses powerful structure to get across the theme of war happening in both countries, affecting many people in different ways.

New York and Afghanistan, paired worlds of rubble, work and grief.

Chivers uses a unique way to structure his writing, quotes and descriptions — he writes specifically about newspaper, radio and television stories about the war. This gives the article a strange feeling and context. He often writes about a notebook (a reporter’s notebook) with notes, but how no single scene can capture the devastation in New York and Afghanistan.

New York. A tremendous platinum-and-gold flash where the jet disappeared into the tower, and then the explosion’s roar and screams from a crowd breaking into a run. Mothers on a stairwell in the smoky Trinity Church day care center, cradling children and getting ready to step outside, unaware that the remaining tower was about to go. An old woman in a wheelchair being pushed down Greenwich Street, visible one moment and lost the next as another stampede began and the second wave of stinging dust swooshed through. A fire chief limping as he escorted out the bagged remains of one of his battalion’s dead. A National Guard captain walking by flashlight through the lightless World Trade Center basement, his beam briefly illuminating the face of the Bugs Bunny doll at the ruined Warner Brothers store.

Afghanistan. A teenager tossing a grenade into a brown river — ga-loomph, a geyser of spray — and then wading in to look for stunned fish. A haze of dust at sunset as the Northern Alliance infantry moved from Bangi to Khanabad, the restless soldiers hoping to claim the city in time to break the Ramadan fast. Two Taliban soldiers on their backs in the Kunduz bazaar, the dime-sized bullet holes in their foreheads showing the manner of execution hours before. A 10-year-old boy whose home was destroyed by American bombs describing pain in two limbs he no longer had.

3. A People of the Sea

Katrina took away Coast Vietnamese’s life, work, Sun Herald

Joshua Norman

Norman uses a literary technique from creative writers in the beginning and end of his article on Hurricane Katrina. He tells a mythical story that he was apparently told by a Viatnamese person.

A Vietnamese folk legend says in ancient times, the sea dragon Lac Long Quan married the mountain fairy Au Co and she gave birth to 100 children. Half of the children went with their mother back to the mountains, and half stayed to live off the sea.

From these 100 children came the Vietnamese people.

The 50 children who stayed with their father became fishermen. Thus those who make their living off the sea have an honored status in Vietnamese society.

But he then goes dramatically into the article. “The sea rose and took away much from the Vietnamese community along the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina,” he wrote. The folk legend now becomes grim and sinister. But it remains a strong motif in the piece.

Norman brings the folk legend back, and a sense of hope and not only desperation, to end the story.

South Mississippi’s pleasant climate and ties to the sea are what keep many Vietnamese here. While the sea took so much away, many said there is much that it can give back and that is their hope for the future.

4. GOP Security Aide Among Five Arrested in Bugging Affair, The Washington Post

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

This is one of the first in a series of articles by the famous duo of reporters — Woodward and Bernstein. They reported on the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.

Woodward and Bernstein reported for hours, calling countless people for information and to track down names and money, going to people’s houses to interview and researching in the library.

They stuck with the clear, simple and direct news writing style. It is extremely effective and necessary for a story like this.

Their lead exemplifies the direct style. But it also shows that news writing’s clarity quickly shows fault and the facts to readers.

One of the five men arrested early Saturday in the attempt to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters is the salaried security coordinator for President Nixon’s reelection committee.

The suspect, former CIA employee James W. McCord Jr., 53, also holds a separate contract to provide security services to the Republican National Committee, GOP national chairman Bob Dole said yesterday.

The reporters included numerous sources, quotes and information. They were sifting out the meaning behind the events, as Clark and Scanlan said, and what had actually occurred.

It is evident in their writing that they contacted several sources, or at least tried to. When people refused to comment, they wrote that, adding credibility and accountability of journalists to track down leads and ask questions.

Police sources said last night that they were seeking a sixth man in connection with the attempted bugging. The sources would give no other details.

“We’re baffled at this point . . . the mystery deepens,” a high Democratic party source said.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Lawrence F. O’Brien said the “bugging incident . . . raised the ugliest questions about the integrity of the political process that I have encountered in a quarter century.

“No mere statement of innocence by Mr. Nixon’s campaign manager will dispel these questions.”

The Democratic presidential candidates were not available for comment yesterday.

5. Ten Days in a Madhouse, The New York World

Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly’s investigation into the mental institutions of New York were a breakthrough in the social reform of the institution. She investigated and wrote about Blackwell Island Insane Asylum.

Her articles prompted a critical look at the mental institutions and how mentally ill people were treated.

She writes in a first-hand account, which brings the harsh and unjust treatment of the patients out more. She allowed herself to be admitted to one of the asylums for the insane in order to witness for herself and be able to write about her own real, disturbing experiences in the institution.

Bly writes with conviction and an authority in her voice. Her writing holds a reader’s attention.

On the 22d of September I was asked by the World if I could have myself committed to one of the asylums for the insane in New York, with a view to writing a plain and unvarnished narrative of the treatment of the patients therein and the methods of management, etc. Did I think I had the courage to go through such an ordeal as the mission would demand? Could I assume the characteristics of insanity to such a degree that I could pass the doctors, live for a week among the insane without the authorities there finding out that I was only a “chiel amang ’em takin’ notes?” I said I believed I could. I had some faith in my own ability as an actress and thought I could assume insanity long enough to accomplish any mission intrusted to me. Could I pass a week in the insane ward at Blackwell’s Island? I said I could and I would. And I did.

Bly includes details that only she could uncover, since she was going undercover in the asylum. She also includes several scenes with doctors, nurses, police officers and quotes from them as well as other women in the asylum.

I was to chronicle faithfully the experiences I underwent, and when once within the walls of the asylum to find out and describe its inside workings, which are always, so effectually hidden by white-capped nurses, as well as by bolts and bars, from the knowledge of the public.

Bly was writing for social reform of the mental institutions. They were often mismanaged, kept people for long amounts of time and mistreated patients. She writes with clarity and great descriptions. And she inserts her thoughts of the system and life of the mentally insane in these institutions.

I shuddered to think how completely the insane were in the power of their keepers.