Constructing a News Feature

28 Feb

What should I write about for this feature? What am I passionate about? How could I possibly make it 5-6 pages? All of these questions raced through my mind when I was developing my feature. It turned out to be a great feature and a wonderful process.

When Professor Kransow assigned this feature a few weeks back, I had no clue what I wanted to do it on. Nothing made my blood boil and made me pissed off. She wanted us to write something from the heart that we cared deeply about for this story. I thought maybe I could do something on sports, but I have had enough of dumb sports cliches and stories. Then, boom it happened. I was on twitter, when something popped up about the increasing veteran suicide rate, up 20 percent since 2007 and then a link about the man who killed Chris Kyle, America’s most deadly sniper, who was suffering from PTSD and was in and out of mental hospitals before his murder of Kyle. That’s when I had my story, what is going on with PTSD in the veteran community and treatments for those veterans.

OK, got my feature, where to start? Who to speak with on the topic? I began to do extensive research, noticed PTSD was a issue, but something that was not widely examined, especially for treatment options. I sent out a few requests to various vets groups, but at first, I got no response. Uh Oh. I was afraid I had hit too sensitive a topic for people to talk about on record. I began to lose hope, but then I got a response from a veteran at American University who suffers from PTSD. After that, everything fell into place. The Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America got back to me and a few doctors who studied PTSD.

I had my first interview lined up with the veteran, but when an unexplained fear came over me. What do I ask him? What if I say something insensitive? I am rarely nervous for an interview, but this one just got to me. I wanted to get a great story, but be sensitive at the same time.  However, we met in a coffee shop on campus and then ducked into another room.

I let him dictated the interview. He explained to me what happened to him, he told about his experience in Iraq. Seven months of processing dead bodies in Al Asad Airbase in northwest Iraq as a marine liaison between the hospital and the Navy,what drove him to get help with his PTSD and his transition to life at American University. After the interview was formally over, he told that he had a story of something that stuck out in his mind, what happened next was something that I was not prepared for at all.

He told me the story of his experience having a young boy come into Al Asad, he was near death, he remembers the doctors cracking the boy’s chest open trying to bring him back to life, but to no avail. He began to process the body when the boy’s father came in wanting to see his son and pray to Allah. The father could not find a prayer rug, but decided to use one of the white body bags next to his dead son to pray. The marine entered the room and realized the horrors of war at that moment.

What do you say? All you can really do is listen.

I later got met with a representative of the IAVA eager to help me out and a doctor who co-wrote a book on PTSD. They were very helpful, but not as impacting as the story that I heard from the marine.

After that, I just followed what Professor Kransow told us to do and wrote the story. The hardest part was coming up with a lead, I knew that I wanted to lead to be about, but how to present it was the toughest part. After a few rewrites and some edits, I finally turned the article into my professor. I just hope she likes it.

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