Medium 9781574415957

The Best American Newspaper Narratives, Volume 2

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This anthology collects the twelve winners of the 2013 Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest, run by the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. The event is hosted by the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas. The contest honors exemplary narrative work and encourages narrative nonfiction storytelling at newspapers across the United States. First place winner: Eli Saslow, "Into the Lonely Quiet" (Washington Post), follows the family of a 7-year-old victim of the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, six months after the shooting. Second place: Eric Moskowitz, "Marathon Carjacking" (Boston Globe), is the story of "Danny," who was carjacked by the suspects of the Boston Marathon bombing three days after the bombing. Third place: Mark Johnson, "The Course of Their Lives" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), an account of first-year medical students as they take a human dissection course. Runners-up include Christopher Goffard, "The Manhunt" (Los Angeles Times); Stephanie McCrummen, "Wait--You Described It as a Cloudy Feeling?" (Washington Post); Michael M. Phillips, "The Lobotomy Files" (Wall Street Journal); Aaron Applegate, "Taken Under" (Virginian-Pilot); Meg Kissinger, "A Mother, at Her Wits' End" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel); Michael Kruse, "The Last Voyage of the Bounty" (Tampa Bay Times); Shaun McKinnon, "Alone on the Hill" (Arizona Republic); Mike Newall, "Almost Justice" (Philadelphia Inquirer); and Sarah Schweitzer, "Together, Despite All" (Boston Globe).

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12 Chapters

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Into the Lonely Quiet: The Washington Post, By Eli Saslow



Best American Newspaper Narratives, Vol. 2

The Bardens had already tried to change America’s gun laws by studying the Second Amendment and meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office. They had spoken at tea party rallies, posed for People magazine and grieved on TV with Katie Couric. They had taken advice from a public relations firm, learning to say “magazine limits” and not

“magazine bans,” to say “gun responsibility” and never “gun control.”

When none of that worked, they had walked the halls of Congress with a bag of 200 glossy pictures and beseeched lawmakers to look at their son: his auburn hair curling at the ears, his front teeth sacrificed to a soccer collision, his arms wrapped around Ninja Cat, the stuffed animal that had traveled with him everywhere, including into the hearse and underground.

Almost six months now, and so little had gotten through. So maybe a Mother’s Day card. Maybe that.

Mark turned on his computer and began looking for the right picture.


Marathon Carjacking: The Boston Globe, By Eric Moskowitz



Best American Newspaper Narratives, Vol. 2

“I did that,” said the man, who would later be identified as Tamerlan

Tsarnaev. "And I just killed a policeman in Cambridge."

He ordered Danny to drive—right on Fordham Road, right again on

Commonwealth Avenue—the beginning of an achingly slow odyssey last

Thursday night and Friday morning in which Danny felt the possibility of death pressing on him like a vise.

In an exclusive interview with the Globe, Danny—the victim of the

Tsarnaev brothers' much-discussed but previously little-understood carjacking—filled in some of the last missing pieces in the timeline between the murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier, just before 10:30 p.m. on April 18, and the Watertown shoot-out that ended just before 1 a.m. Danny asked that he be identified only by his American nickname.

The story of that night unfolds like a Tarantino movie, bursts of harrowing action laced with dark humor and dialogue absurd for its ordinariness, reminders of just how young the men in the car were.


The Course of Their Lives: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online, By Mark Johnson



Best American Newspaper Narratives, Vol. 2

Andrew Kleist, a cardiologist’s son from Pittsburgh, who shadowed his father often, and last May watched him unblock a heart attack patient’s artery at 2 in the morning, feels excited but uncomfortable. The 23-yearold has been thinking about the body upstairs and what he must do to it — not just a body, a person.

Hillary McLaren, a 23-year-old from Neenah who hopes to become the fourth generation in her family to practice medicine, has been steeling herself for the sight of the cadaver. Her mantra: “Don’t be that girl who passes out on the first day of anatomy.”

Today they begin the defining course of their medical education.

A required rite of passage on the way to a doctor’s white coat, gross anatomy offers first-year students a hands-on tour of an actual human body, the chance to cut into leathery skin and sinewy muscle, to see pale, stringy nerves that run through the legs like wires, to manipulate tendons in the arms and watch the corresponding fingers move.


The Manhunt: a Five-Part Series: Los Angeles Times, Written by Christopher Goffard Reported by Christopher Goffard, Louis Sahagun, Kurt Streeter, Joel Rubin and Phil Willon



Best American Newspaper Narratives, Vol. 2

One touch of a button would make it public, once people knew where to look.

It was 1:15 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 4.



Hours earlier, Irvine Police Det. Victoria Hurtado was crouched in the evening chill, studying an enormous diamond ring on a dead woman's hand. It was one of her first clues. "This is not a robbery," she thought.

The victim was in the passenger seat of a white Kia Optima, parked on the rooftop lot of an upmarket condo complex on Scholarship Drive.

She was Asian, in a pretty blue dress. Beside her, a young black man was slumped over the steering wheel. Both were riddled with bullets, with fatal shots to the back of their heads.

Stepping carefully amid 14 shell casings scattered on the pavement,

Hurtado noticed powder burns around the bullet holes in the windows.

It was a close-range ambush, and as cold a scene as the detective had seen in 17 years on the force.

There was no evidence of a fight. It was as if the killer, possessed by an impersonal fury, had not known the victims at all.


A Mother Helps Son in His Struggle With Schizophrenia: The Washington Post, By Stephanie McCrummen



Best American Newspaper Narratives, Vol. 2

than bright at this particular moment; his mouth is not set in a smile or a frown but some line in between.

“How’re you doing, sweetie?” Naomi Haskell asks.

“Fine,” Spencer says.

It has been 10 years since he began thinking his classmates were whispering about him, four years since he started feeling angry all the time, and two years since he first told a doctor he was hearing imaginary voices. It has been 20 months since he was told he had a form of schizophrenia, and 15 months since he swallowed three bottles of

Benadryl and lay down to die, after which he had gotten better, and worse and, for a while, better again, or so Naomi had thought until an hour ago, when they were in the therapist’s office and Spencer said that his head was feeling “cloudy.”

“Wait —” she said, interrupting. “You described it as a cloudy feeling?”

Cloudy was the big, flying red flag that she had learned to dread. It might simply be a side effect of one of his five medications. But it could also be the quiet beginning of her firstborn son falling apart again, of hallucinations, or of a dive into depression, or some other dimension of his illness that Naomi has yet to fathom.


The Lobotomy Files / Forgotten Soldiers: When America Lobotomized Its Vets: The Wall Street Journal, By Michael M. Phillips



Best American Newspaper Narratives, Vol. 2

a cache of forgotten memos, letters and government reports unearthed by The Wall Street Journal. Besieged by psychologically damaged troops returning from the battlefields of North Africa, Europe and the Pacific, the Veterans Administration performed the brain-altering operation on former servicemen it diagnosed as depressives, psychotics and schizophrenics, and occasionally on people identified as homosexuals.

The VA doctors considered themselves conservative in using lobotomy.

Nevertheless, desperate for effective psychiatric treatments, they carried out the surgery at VA hospitals spanning the country, from Oregon to

Massachusetts, Alabama to South Dakota.

The VA's practice, described in depth here for the first time, sometimes brought veterans relief from their inner demons. Often, however, the surgery left them little more than overgrown children, unable to care for themselves. Many suffered seizures, amnesia and loss of motor skills.

Some died from the operation itself.


Taken Under: The Virginian-Pilot, By Aaron Applegate



Best American Newspaper Narratives, Vol. 2

Jess snapped awake. The couple, wearing climbing harnesses over neoprene survival suits, scrambled to find level footing as the ship tilted toward the sea.

“We got to go!” Jess screamed. “We have to get out of here!”

Her mind flashed through emergency training drills, but there had been nothing for this. Jess clipped a short rope from her harness onto

Drew's. Tethered, they jumped into the sea.

The 180-foot wooden ship Bounty had been a refuge against weather and water for 16 people. Now it was the most dangerous thing in the ocean. The ship's three wooden masts, each more than 100 feet tall and bisected with three spars loaded with sails and tangles of thick lines, slammed up and down as the ship rose and fell with the waves.

Jess and Drew struggled to swim out of range, but part of the heaving ship caught the rope that joined them, dragging them underwater. It felt as if the entire weight of the ship was pulling them beneath the dark waves.


A Mother, at Her Wits’ End, Sets out to Find Help for Her Sick Son: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online, By Meg Kissinger



Best American Newspaper Narratives, Vol. 2

Milwaukee County’s troubled mental health system, cycling week-toweek from house to hospital to homeless shelter.

Now he and his mother, Debbie Sweeney, have come to California in a desperate search to find a safe place for him to live.

Rob does things that make his mother sick with worry.

He walks into traffic, spits on people’s cars, yells racist slurs out bus windows, writes suicide notes, puts cigarettes out on his forehead and cuts his arms to make himself feel better.

He imagines people are trying to kill him.

Rob once ran into a stranger’s house in West Allis at two in the morning, convinced he was being chased.

In the past few years Rob has taken to keeping a knife in his pocket to keep the “evil people” away. When Debbie found a butcher knife under his bed, she told Rob he couldn’t stay at home any more. But he still sneaks into her house from time to time and stands by her bed late at night. Debbie has taken to locking her bedroom door.


Last Voyage of the Bounty: Tampa Bay Times, By Michael Kruse


Last Voyage of the Bounty

Tampa Bay Times

October 27, 30 and November 3, 2013

By Michael Kruse


In the dark, in the wet, whirling roar of Hurricane Sandy, on a ship tipping so badly the deck felt like a steep, slick roof, the desperate, damaged sailor searched for a spot from which to jump. Close to the stern, he gripped the helm, now all but touching the water’s high black churn. He let go and paddled and kicked in the buoyant but clumsy blood-orange suit he had wiggled into not long before. The ship spat up a heavy wooden grating, and it landed on his head. Crack. His adrenaline surged. He thrashed, straining to get away from the heaving ship, her three masts of tree trunk heft rearing up and slamming down like lethal mallets, her thinner, sharper spars piercing the surface like darts, the ropes of the rigging like tentacles, grabbing, yanking. Pfffffft. The tip of a spar sliced down, catching the sailor, pushing him below. He gasped, choking on water, struggling back to where there was air.


Alone on the Hill: The Arizona Republic Online, By Shaun McKinnon



Best American Newspaper Narratives, Vol. 2

The fire crews had been sent there to prepare for the Yarnell Hill Fire.

It had grown from a flicker on Friday night to a monster by Sunday afternoon. Now it was getting even closer, as trees near the road popped into flames.

The same distorted voice emerged from their radio again.

"Air to ground 16, Granite Mountain, Air Attack, how do you read?"

Granite Mountain. The hotshot team from Prescott. The crew had hiked up the ridge earlier in the day, before wind whipped the fire back toward Yarnell.

Outside their truck, the firefighters focused on the radio and talked, voices low.

"Is Granite Mountain still there?"

"Well, they're in a safety zone."

"The black." The black — already-burned area that should be safe.

On the radio, an operations chief tried to raise the hotshots.

"Granite Mountain, Operations on air to ground."

"Granite Mountain 7. How do you copy me?"

The radio squawked. In the background was a whining sound so familiar to wildland firefighters.


Almost Justice: The Beau Zabel Murder: The Philadelphia Inquirer, By Mike Newall



Best American Newspaper Narratives, Vol. 2

His daily explorations with his Not for Tourists Guide to Philadelphia.

Sometimes 50 blocks through Center City. Sometimes with Kismet.

Always with his iPod, comedy podcasts loaded.

He was far from Austin.

Austin, Minn. Population: 24,000. Spam Town USA! Birthplace of that wonderful luncheon meat and home to the Spam Museum, where he had worked in high school, juggling and making balloon animals.

But Austin was Austin.

A year out of college, he'd been working the late shift at Mrs. Gerry's

Kitchen, a salad dressing factory 20 miles from Austin. The pressure washers made his hands sore, and the dreary hours allowed his mind to dwell on unrequited loves.

He thrilled in the randomness of Philadelphia.

Like his new summer job at Starbucks on South Street.

"Rocking the espresso machine and blending some fraps!" he boasted on Facebook.

And now, this date, and with it, the possibility of a new friend. Her name was Jess. They met on Craigslist.

He tried not to get ahead of himself. He could be impatient with friendships and want to jump levels quickly. Not in a romantic way, but in a long-lasting way.


Together Despite All: The Boston Globe, By Sarah Schweitzer



Best American Newspaper Narratives, Vol. 2

comings and goings: Purell-rubbed hands and cookies sent by strangers who, not knowing what else to do, had packed offerings of solace into lidded tins.

In the bed, Marc is surrounded by a press of family. They came after hearing the day's news: His remaining leg could be too damaged to save. They had amputated his right leg above the knee in the immediate aftermath. Now, there was talk of the left.

In the operating room earlier, doctors had peeled away bloodied gauze and found dead tissue around the ankle. They removed the blackened mass. Then they rewrapped all his injuries with new gauze—his singed back, his burned hand, the infected stump of his amputated leg, his broken knee, his shattered foot—and waited for Marc to wake so they could tell him that the foot was a bigger problem than they'd thought.

If the tissue didn't stop dying, they would have to consider another amputation.

His family hugged and shed tears out of Marc's sight. Then they entered the room and began urgently, frantically chatting. Anything to avoid the topic of the foot.



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