Friday, February 22, 2008

Write On, Tucson!





"Imagine you're telling a good friend a story. That's how you should think of your article,'' I told one of the college students I've been mentoring this week at the New York Times Student Journalism Institute at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "How would you tell your friend this story?" I continued.

I'm in this sometimes cool and sometimes warm city that is filled with towering cacti called saguaros, which seem to want to bend down and hug me whenever I walk by one of them during my two-mile walks between the hotel and university. And during these walks, I can't help but gaze at the nearby mountains which encircle Tuscon like a natural earthy necklace or marvel at the fighter jets that zoom over the valley as they take off or land at the nearby air force base. I've been hunkered down in a computer lab working with 20 Latino students as they report and write stories for this website: nytimes-institute.com. Each day, they've been assigned stories and deadlines. They've had editing and revisions and then more assignments. Basically, a real working newsroom overseen by a small crew of New York Times Company editors, reporters and copy editors. I'm here helping representing the Globe and the Features side of the editing/writing process, coaching the students and helping them write colorful narratives, thoughtful profiles, and light-hearted cultural stories. I've done my best to make the writing process as well as the editing process, fun!

And so far, it's been a blast. I've always thought of myself as more of a writer. Never (eew!) an editor. But this past week, I was able to play the role of an editor (okay, a very laid back and giggly editor) and help gently guide these students through some nips and tucks in their copy. For me, the mentoring has been refreshing. I helped Nate on his feature on the rise of sweat lodges among Native and Mexican Americans in Tucson and beyond who find spiritual and medicinal healing through the ceremonies. I sat with Arcynta as she reworked her profile on a reformed gang banger whose past violent life still haunts her. I helped James with his story on covert Latinos who don't have an obvious Hispanic last name despite speaking Spanish or looking Latino. All in all, I'm so happy that I'm here as a coach and sharing any morsel of knowledge I've gained as a journalist over the years. Even though the stories don't carry my byline as they usually do in The Globe, I feel proud that I helped these students make their stories shine just a little bit brighter. And hopefully, they will walk away knowing that they learned something from all of us. And maybe that's what mentoring is all about.

To read some of their stories, please visit: www.nytimes-institute.com

(photo to the left and above is of the University of Arizona campus. This is the mall, the center of the campus. I used to walk to and from the hotel and the Department of Journalism. Look at the mountains in the background.)