Vol. 19, No. 11 June 1 - 14, 2006



Learning to Report, and Care, Step-by-Step


The first time I walked out of the Mosholu Parkway No. 4 train station — well before I worked for the Norwood News — something clicked. I was instantly drawn to Jerome Avenue and its throngs of shoppers, workers and high-schoolers. This was a nice place. Perhaps I’d come back.

I did — over 1,000 times. In my four years at the Norwood News, I’ve written about 603 stories. We’ve run roughly 254 of my photos. I have managed production on 98 issues, gone through 22 notebooks (140 sheets each), and attended dozens of meetings. My thousand-plus days working here have been busily consistent. They have never been dull.

This is my last issue. My byline will pop up on some future stories, but this is the final time that I will edit the school briefs, sort through press releases, badger Bronx politicians, or perform the tasks big and small that have filled my weeks and quickly spun my life’s clock.

Saying that fills me with a deep sadness. I’ll tell you why.

I was 25 when I joined the Norwood News. I had no formal journalism training. My experience was limited to 1 a.m. lessons at a ragtag, start-up alternative paper in New York. When the reporter job opened up, I was working at a nonprofit in Hunts Point. I applied. Somehow I got hired. I was damn lucky.

My first year or so was bumpy. My stories were way too long. I was shy and rather naive. My spelling and grammar were severely hampered by a slight learning disability. Jordan, the most patient of bosses, finally had to lay down the law: use that red pen, or else!

Things gradually got better. After three weeks roaming Ecuador, I came back with new confidence and enthusiasm. I bought some more professional clothes. I started smiling more. I realized that politicians were just people — they could easily be a quirky uncle or younger brother. I started writing for style, reporting more aggressively, and editing tight.

Perhaps, most importantly, the veneer of scared, cynical youth wore away. I began to care — a lot. I became more passionate about Norwood, Bedford Park, North Fordham and University Heights than where I actually live (in Queens). I rejoiced or became saddened by the latest developments at Tracey Towers, Community Board 7 or the Kingsbridge Armory. My hipster friends from Brooklyn heard about Webster Avenue cab dispatchers, PS 291’s chess team, and the Clinton student walkout. The Bronx was always kicking around my mind.

I made mistakes. I could have been more thorough on parent-teacher tensions at MS 80. On a few occasions, dollar amounts were printed with an extra zero. But, hopefully, I got most things right. I’m proud of my analysis of the Bronx Terminal Market deal, dissection of the Meals on Wheels overhaul, and an in-depth series on the Pinnacle Group buildings. My writing, I believe, helped stir discussion and push for change.

Journalism requires a strange duality of solitary focus and extrovertedness. I tried to juggle both. Stopping for lunch was unheard of, and I would barely avert my eyes from the computer screen while swimming in a story. But I’ve also savored being out in the Bronx — whether it was chasing PS 246’s running club or dancing salsa with Assemblyman Jose Rivera (I got two kinds of leads out of that one).

I recently happened on a bumper sticker stating, “God loves the Bronx.” So do I. I love the Mexican soccer players kicking around the Oval. I love the inspired students at Lehman and Bronx Community College. I love the lady with the elaborate underwear stand on East 208th Street. I love seeing the morning frenzy at corner bakeries, people with their pet parrots and, once, the cashiers dancing to Monchy Y Alejandra at Fine Fair.

It’s funny how this reporting relationship goes. You probably don’t know my name, let alone what I look like. Yet I know so much about you — the dynamic of your area, the businesses that come and go, the resident eccentrics, the demographics and character of most every block.

Leaving here is painful. I can’t suddenly file away all this devotion and plunge into the next place. It took too long to research, discover and digest.

I am excited to be moving on to a daily paper in another dense, largely Hispanic area (Paterson, NJ). The issues will be similar. The faces and places won’t.

I will still care. When the park renovations wrap up and Adventura comes back to Harris Park, I will visit. When the Armory is finally redeveloped and the subways are renovated, I will jump for joy.

I will walk out of the new Mosholu No. 4 stop and, remembering the 1,424 days of deep puddles and decrepit stairs, know that my work helped lead to their renovation.

It was those steps that shaped the exciting ones I am taking today.

Heather Haddon, deputy editor of the Norwood News, will leave the paper on June 2. She starts as a reporter at the Herald News in July

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