If you ever find yourself wondering why you went into this business, I have a recommendation: Follow the work of your colleague, Nogales International reporter Kendal Blust.
She is new to the company, having recently secured a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Arizona. What she may lack in experience and bylines, she more than makes up for with instinct, writing talent and a nose for compelling community stories.
I want to recommend a case in point.
This week, she published a takeout headlined, “Children of waste pickers find a helping hand.” It is the heartbreaking story of children who were living near and living on what they found at a sprawling dump just across the Mexican border. Kendal tells us these kids picked through the garbage the way ours go through the toy department at Target. Except these kids are looking for scraps of metal to recycle and food to eat.
This is what we as journalists were put on planet earth to do: To speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves.
I wanted to dissect what makes this story so effective.
Evocative language: Here is the second paragraph of the story. …
The brightly painted youth center overlooks rows of small ramshackle homes built with mismatched pieces of wood, metal and cardboard into the hillside above the old dump east of Nogales, Sonora. Clustered together along a dirt road that winds up from the dump and back down to the valley beyond it, the homes are surrounded by piles of tires, rotting food, plastic bags and other trash that people continue to discard in the area around the fenced-off refuse heap, which was officially shut down more than a year ago after a fire blazed through in 2015, killing a man.
Some simple descriptions simply paint pictures. “Brightly painted,” “clustered together,” “winds up from the dump and back down to the valley beyond it.” These images can’t be written unless you get out of your seat and go see it for yourself.
Telling quotes: We all use entirely too many quotes. As often as not, they simply restate what you have already said in your own prose. But look at this:
“The people in this area are called the forgotten ones, ‘Los Olvidados,’” Ramon Montoya said. “I knew someone had to do something here, and God told me it had to be me.”
That is pitch perfect. It haunts me.
Stunning art: Look at the photo above and click through them if you read the story. Note that the International didn’t just run one photo, but included a dozen more. Each one is a distinct click. Each one tells the story more completely.
A couple last thoughts. I don’t know what the International might have done with this on social media. Perhaps Editor Jonathan Clark will weigh in here. But this story could have been promoted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, perhaps rolling it out incrementally to increase play. And I hope there is follow up.
At this writing there is only one comment. Richard Salaz writes: “What a great (and sad) story. Thank you for doing the Lord’s work.”
Congratulations, Kendal. Good work.