Ripped from the Headlines

August 31, 2009

Speaking of news clips, I’m finding a gold mine of story-relevant material from an issue of the Trinidad Express newspaper, sent to me by G. Anthony Joseph, who is presently in Trinidad working on a different production. It could take me a long time to make it through the paper at the rate I’m going. Here, for example, is a single page from the August 9 issue of the Sunday Express:


As you can see by my notations, every single article provided me something useful — information about police and the public perception of police, info about politics, murder rate statistics, cultural differences, and more. For instance, let’s start with…

This article about a murdered dentist:


It caught my eye for a couple of reasons. First, it underscores the alarming — and worsening — murder rate that is scorching the reputation of this Caribbean paradise. It notes that this murder pushed the year’s toll to 325. To understand the significance of that number, consider that:

  • The murder rate represents a 600% increase in roughly a decade (a total of 97 murders in 1998).
  • This latest murder puts Trinidad & Tobago on the way to 650 murders by the end of the year. Pretty shocking when you consider that its population is about 1.2 million. By comparison, the population of Los Angeles is roughly 9 times greater, and will likely end the year with less than 300 murders. To equal the per capita murder rate of Trinidad & Tobago, LA would need 5,300 murders this year!
  • Trinidad & Tobago’s per capita murder rate is even higher than that of LA South Central’s Compton City, which in 2006 was rated by the Morgan Quitno Corporation as the most dangerous city in the US.

Second, the article demonstrates a cultural difference in how news is reported in Trinidad compared to what you find in a US newspaper: greater graphic detail. The article describes how the dentist was shot three times in the face, and that he “died on the spot, remaining in a sitting position with his head slumped back into his body was removed from the scene.” It paints a stark visual in the mind’s eye — useful for a filmmaker, but puts the fear of God in the average reader, I suspect.

As a writer, the article interested me because I’m writing about a Caribbean cop trying to make a difference in his country amidst rising crime. So, here’s an example of what officers deal with there, and how the people react to it. The press has a central part in the story too, so it’s wise for me to get familiar with the way it is actually reported there. Then, there’s this real shocker article about…

Guns, ammo, and drugs secreted in a police station ceiling!

guns-stashed-police-stationThat’s right — stashed away in the ceiling inside the office of the senior officer at a police station. The article is full of factual information I can use as a writer (such as police division rolls and titles, like Crime Intelligence Unit and Special Anti-Crime Unit, plus officer titles and roles). The article also underscores the current issue of rising public distrust of the police. Some citizens suspect officers of collusion with criminals or of engaging directly in criminal activities, such as this illegal drugs and weapon cache inside a senior officer’s office implies.

The brainstorming synaptications of my cranium also picked up on an interesting side note of the story, about how business at the station “…continued as usual despite the resulting investigation,” with members of the public being “allowed inside to make their complaints and queries.” Why did that capture my attention? It occurred to me that, were this type of event fictionalized into a story, the writer could use that “police business as usual” activity to serve as a smokescreen, allowing the guilty officer to sneak out further illegal contraband through a member of the public) under the guise of coming in to register a complaint) before the crime investigation unit discovered it. And speaking of police, there’s also this other article about…

Hero cop in murder-suicide:

cop-in-murder-suicideThe article is generally reporting the reactions of loved ones at a police officer’s funeral. Many things caught my writer’s eye in this one. First, I found it to be a strange oversight that the article barely mentioned the woman that this policeman murdered before turning the gun on himself. The cop was apparently considered a hero, sure, but the article either has some serious bias or journalistic oversight in focusing entirely on the sad loss of the police officer… who (did I mention?) MURDERED a woman! So the apparent bias created a bit of mystery.

Second, I found myself drawn into the story because of the way that the reporter revealed some intrigue and drama surrounding the murder-suicide. For instance, one mourner wonders “why wasn’t the nation there for him during his darkest hour?” What was that dark hour? Why was it dark? We get a hint, nothing more, implied by a quote from one of the officers at the funeral: “Why can’t systems be put in place so that a person doesn’t have to go through the legal system to get a chance for promotion?” So, does this mean that the suicidal cop was so distressed over his inability to get a promotion that he murdered someone? More likely, the promotion trouble was but one trial he was facing…

We also get a look here into the real-world grief reaction of a fellow officer who “refused to knowledge that James had died after the incident took place.” We think of law officers and soldiers as stoic, but they mourn just like the rest of us do. In fact, the bonds between fellow officers is surely stronger than that of coworkers in most other professions. After all, most of us go our entire lives without being shot at or purposely stepping into the line of danger, which soldiers and cops may face daily. The shared knowledge of that risk would draw a team together in a meaningful, if unspoken, way.

Third, the article’s suggestion of seemingly insurmountable bureaucracy preventing due promotions provides me a very specific example of something I’m trying to create in the story — the way onerous government processes make the ordinary business of living unnecessarily difficult. Just a couple more real-world examples, and I’ll be set.

All good stuff for a writer to think about.

And from this final article…

students-invest-ur-moneyMostly what captured my attention here was a quotation from the speech of the electricity commission’s chairman, Clement Imbert, speaking to a group of children at a graduation awards ceremony. He said, “Some things that are important to living well cannot be taught that must be learned,” indicating that experience can be as important to one’s development as their formal education. Whether or not you are a writer, it’s a quotation we can all appreciate and learn from.

All that from just one page of a newspaper!

Of course, the struggle that just about any writer faces is finding the balance between research and the writing itself. Between libraries, newspapers, live interviews, and the Internet, there is no end to the amount of research one can do… but eventually, one’s gotta stop researching and start writing the story.  🙂