It might have been a great piece, but Tavernise has written it in the style of – in the voice of, actually – a twelve-year-old. Here is the opening:
BALTIMORE — As soon as I heard Davetta Parker’s voice, I knew I had to meet her. Her grandson, Nook, was one of seven young people from one high school killed in the spasm of violence that swept the city in the two years after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray. I had cold-called her from New York. When she picked up, she was sitting at her desk in the Baltimore Public Library where she works.
The main subject of this introductory paragraph is “I,” the reporter. The first sentence is an uncalled-for personal sentiment. Or does it mean something like “as soon as I heard Davetta Parker’s voice, I knew she would be a great source?” Either way, it is an expression of the kind of charming narcissism which usually is found in the columns of a Junior High School newspaper. It does not belong in The Times.
Here are the next two paragraphs:
I introduced myself. She said, “I think God sent you to me.”
She said she had so many questions about her grandson’s death and she needed someone to help investigate, because the police never did. She said she had written letters to news channels and newspapers. But no one had written back. And there I was on the phone.
Tavernise’s depiction of Parker’s reaction to her is well-put and informative. However, the first sentence and the last make clear that once again Tavernise, in the role of eager young reporter, has made herself the subject. Like a twelve-year-old journalist, Tavernise thinks that the reader will be interested in what she does – introducing herself, for example – and in how heroic she felt as the source of hope for someone.
One paragraph would suffice:
“I think God sent you to me.” She said she had so many questions about her grandson’s death and she needed someone to help investigate, because the police never did. She said she had written letters to news channels and newspapers. But no one had written back.
The next paragraph:
My colleague Lynsea Garrison and I spent four months investigating Nook’s death for The New York Times podcast, The Daily. We were drawn to his story because we wanted to understand the violence in Baltimore. Nook, whose given name was Lavar Montray Douglas, was shot on Dec. 13, 2016, by a police officer in an unmarked car who worked for Coppin State University. But the more we looked, the more we discovered that the story of Nook and his family reflected the broader experience of many African-Americans in the 20th century.
How much time was spent researching a story is germane, and often is tucked into it with a phrase such as, “after a four-month investigation...” Again, Tavernise makes herself and her colleague important personages, who “spent four months investigating,” who “looked,” who “discovered.”
And what is the point of the following?
We were drawn to his story because we wanted to understand the violence in Baltimore.
The reader assumes either that that was the case or that they were assigned the story and became interested later. Either way, who cares? Tavernise evidently thinks the reader cares, and we’re back at the Junior High School news desk.
Let me reiterate that, childish writing style aside, Tavernise’s article is a worthy one.
But take a look at this:
Nook died in the sharpest rise in homicides in the city in 25 years. When I first started reporting, I imagined this as random violence. But homicides in Baltimore are pretty tightly contained to the circle of people involved in drug crime. Here’s an amazing fact: The average number of arrests that homicide victims had in Baltimore last year was 11.
Tavernise presents an important fact, meaningful, well-expressed – but bracketed by silliness.
When I first started reporting, I imagined this as random violence.
That “I” again. No. It could have gone something like this:
Homicides in Baltimore are not acts of random violence, but are pretty tightly contained to the circle of people involved in drug crime.
And then – and this takes the cake!
Here’s an amazing fact.
“Here’s an amazing fact?” OMG, Sabrina, that is not only amazing, it’s awesome!
What might have made the fact “amazing,” as unique, or even more “amazing” as not unique, would have been figures from some other cities of arrests-per-homicide-victim.
What’s most amazing is that an editor passed on this cascade of juvenile lapses. Had Tavernise’s editor assumed the avuncular role of a Junior High newspaper’s indulgent faculty advisor? Or was he or she also, at heart, another twelve-year-old playing “Newspaper?” Or, creepiest of all, was Tavernise’s childish style condoned because someone thought it might lure a younger readership to The Times?
Especially egregious is that Tavernise’s breezy, jejune interjections trivialize the subject matter of “A Teen’s Death in Baltimore and a Family’s Search for Answers” – which is not food or dating or fashion, but murder.