Saturday, August 18, 2007

What a news day.

Huh. Interesting weekend so far. I did more journalism today than in my first two days of J-school. And I did it all from my porch.

First, there was the dog on 149th Street. Walking down Broadway to the subway, I notice an NYPD auxiliary standing in the street over this curly-haired, limping dog. Turns out the dog had darted across the street and been clipped in his rear legs by a passing car. Miraculously, he hadn't been run over or completely eviscerated. He just sat in the gutter, lapping up the attention paid him by the police officer and the crowd of about 20 that had formed to watch on the corner.

At one point, the dog stood to walk, letting out a small yelp of pain and rather deftly shifting his weight to his front paws, walking for a time on just those two, his limp posterior hanging like the legs of a sideshow performer in a walking handstand. I had time only to snap a few shots before the police van whisked the anonymous pup away, to a destination I can only assume was not a dog circus.

As I scrolled back through the photos later, I wondered. Was this news? It involved a well-meaning cop, a dog, and a careless driver. Certainly, it was news to that crowd of 20. Evidently, it was not news to the dog's owners, if he had any. There was no evidence of one.

Then there was the car crash. That came as I was heading back to my building from downtown, on the same intersection as the dog's unfortunate jaunt. A Civic had been turning into southbound traffic from 149th and pulled out right in front of a speeding Maxima. The damage to both cars was extensive. At home, in South Florida, I would never have given the mishap a second glance, except to settle in my mind that it didn't warrant rubbernecking. Yet on Broadway, even the mundane - a fried chicken shack, a homeless guy, a crippled dog - take on a novel siginifcance. And in a neighborhood where residents already seem to live on the streets rather than in the buildings, the crowd of onlookers quickly swelled to hundreds.

This, I thought, could be real news. I snapped my shots, pulled out my steno pad, and prepared to write a copy block that I dreamed might make a photo page of the Post or the Daily News. I took a moment to ponder the likelihood that I was the only writer in my Columbia class that might dream of the Post or the Daily News. Then I approached two police officers on the scene. One had heard a bang; the other was late on the scene. Neither cared to be quoted or volunteer their names.

Searching for real eyewitnesses, I spoke to a polite middle-aged Hispanic man about what he saw. He would identify himself only as Louis. I pressed for his last name for several minutes, explained it would only go into my notes, said there would be no trouble, but he and his daughter refused in the most pleasant of terms. After talking to a nearby friend of his, an Australian-born Kosovar who is a Broadway building superintendent, it occurred to me in my Ivy League wisdom: my witness didn't want his name used because he wasn't legally in the United States. He was a nice guy who had a family that depended on him. He couldn't risk the scrutiny.

After a few more photos, I approached the two police officers I took to be in charge. "I can't talk to you," the driver of the cruiser said. Should I call the precinct later? I asked. "No," replied his partner. "Take it up with DCPI." The Deputy Commissioner for Public Information acts as the entire police department's clearinghouse for information, and it is notoriously cagey about its job.

After things settle, I return home and call DCPI. Unsurprisingly, no one has called in from the 30 th Precinct regarding an auto collision. The sergeant at the end of the phone, trying to justify the lack of data, asks me: "Was it a fatal collision?" When I reply in the negative, he answers: "Then we won't get anything on it."

So now, as I write just a few moments later, I wonder: Why is a car crash, especially one in which all souls survived, news? Is it?

I pause. Then I tell myself the same thing, over and over in reply: It is news, if I write it.

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