Recent work

Italian grocerias. As much fun as I had reporting and writing this piece about the very different ways the last two grocerias in Pittsburgh’s Little Italy operate in a changing neighborhood, the payoff for me came from something my editor said. Nobody he could think of would have thought to do that story, would have seen it the way I did or had the same reason for doing it. It wound up the most emailed story on the paper’s site that day. Ran the end of February 2011.

Ghost bikes. This is the first story I pitched after I got to Pittsburgh and met some people. The concept was familiar, and I thought I had something to offer the story that I hadn’t seen before — a focus on the ground-level people doing these rather than the raw emotions of family members who, while part of the story, had really nothing to do with the installations themselves.

Melvin Tyrone Young. I wanted to write about this dude for two years. A minor criminal but a persistent and at times prolific one, he embodies what most crime around here looks like. Petty, small, inconvenient, nonviolent. When a police department began paying to send certain prisoners to a neighboring county jail because the one it was supposed to use was too full, this was the first one they decided to ship out. I wanted to profile him then, but had to wait until now. November 2009.

Jacksonville. An hours-long shootout in the small city of Jacksonville left one of the officers right in the middle of it with post-traumatic stress disorder. Four different doctors said so. But his workers’ comp claim was denied. And the chief wanted to discipline him — insubordination — when he declined to see a fifth doctor, who would be the third the department chose. All the officer wanted to do was heal. August 2009. UPDATE March 2010: The officer won disability benefits after challenging his insurer’s ruling. His case appears to be the first time in the state a law-enforcement officer won benefits on a claim of post-traumatic stress disorder without an accompanying physical injury after his insurer disagreed.

Baring Cross. This is a story I wrote at the start of summer 2008 after a particularly brazen killing in a troubled neighborhood in North Little Rock. Working on the ground there, it was clear how much people did not trust me at first. The more time I spent with them, the more I talked with them and — importantly — listened to them, the more they shared. Theirs was not a simple story about one homicide.

Dog bites man. I wrote this on a strange day. My mind kept floating back toward another story I had to write — one wrenching and ugly. But I still got enough out of this part of my brain to get this done with a light touch. I still love the lede. April 2010.

No Golden Lion. Sometimes, promise and opportunity is not enough. May 2010.

1887. This was an unusual story for the paper to let me do. Normally a very traditional place, my editor allowed me to step outside the usual thing of letting official people do official research before we could write about it. He trusted me to do this. And it turned out to be one of the things of which I have been most proud in more than a decade of professional writing. October 2009.

A Freeman’s end. It was hot. And early. And I was starting from scratch. I had just gotten back from vacation and all I knew was a couple of people shot dead in a nice neighborhood. It’s incredible sometimes what you can learn in the course of a day. August 2010.

Decertification. It’s the most extreme thing that can happen to a person’s law-enforcement career save prison. No one around here ever really covered it before, so I pitched a story that would educate me, my editors and our readers on what this process is and what impact it has on people. I drove the hundred-plus miles to East Camden on a Thursday in January 2008 and wrote the story on Friday. The construction was something I wanted — I thought the story was a good one to try and build some suspense to keep people reading. I really enjoyed the challenge.

$24 at a time. I saw a little AP item in the paper in fall 2008. Five people fired, four for stealing money, from a massive state agency. No names. Nothing at all about the fifth person. Seemed odd. So I asked around and heard rumblings of what might have happened. Nothing concrete, though. Then I wrote a records request to the agency for the investigative file and the fifth employee’s personnel file. I didn’t have names, so I wrote the letter somewhat creatively. In a couple days, the records were ready. This story is what they were hoping did not come out.

Lunch Meat. The possibility of getting a story like this, however simple, is why I tend not to give up just because I can’t immediately find someone easy to talk to.

Deja vu. This story, from April 2009, is a testament to the simplest of reporting. Without going to an address on a police report, I never would have met this boy’s mother. Had I never met his mother, I would have never heard her story. And then neither would our readers.

Tasers. This is why I love my sources. At a training conference, a few people overheard some state troopers bitching about how the agency had all these Tasers but wouldn’t let anyone take them out in the field. The number I heard in early 2008 was too high — 300 — and it didn’t come with a reason. I started asking questions and got copies of the purchase order and some other records. The state police really did not want to talk about this at all. Which was OK. Most of what I needed was on paper. Or, considering they had let some people use Tasers and trained so many others, what was essential was what wasn’t on paper at all.

J.V. This was a fun one. Reporting tends to be a pretty transient business, so I try to make it a point wherever I land to learn the real history of a place. Talking to the long-timers and people who retired from a place I cover can tell me a lot. Some of them even become sources. But with this North Little Rock police sergeant, about to mark his 50th anniversary with the department, I let the readers come along with me to peek at how things have changed during his time carrying a badge. Even more incredible than his 50 years with one department — his 53 years married to the same woman. September 2009.

Debtors’ prison. Right after I moved onto the day shift in 2008, I started meeting all kinds of new people on my beat. A few were the civil deputies who worked in the main county courthouse. We talked about their work and about how nobody really knew what they did save for them. And then they started talking about a little thing they noticed had been happening more and more: people going to jail in civil debt cases. A few attorneys in particular had figured out how to make it work. The deputies got busier and busier. I got a story.

Grisly houses. This could have been an easy, 400-word story, nothing but a for-your-information story that people still would have read but would have learned little beyond what the headline betrayed. Instead, I wanted to tell people something they didn’t know, show them some situations that perhaps they didn’t usually think about. This one ran at the end of February 2009.

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