Friday, November 25, 2005

Letters, I get letters 
"I wrote the article about Sergeant Guzman, and I saw your post just now. I apologize for the delay.

I am not on staff at the NY Times. I am a Columbia Journalism student who profiled an army recruiter for a class assignment and sold it to the Times. The recruiter, Staff Sergeant Richard Guzman, told me that recruits from the Marines, special forces and infantry were being fast-tracked to combat from boot camp. One detail he didn't explain to me was that recruits were sent to specialty schools after basic, and from there they were shipped to combat. A correction ran the next week after an irate reader wrote the Times. But even after that, Guzman didn't disagree with the "from basic to combat" leap, though I now see that this sentence overstated the situation. Of course, he's never been to combat, so perhaps he's not as well-versed as someone who has been through the rigors of combat training.

One of the reasons I profiled the recruiter was because I felt that so many negative stories were coming out in the Times and elsewhere detailing the stresses of recruiting in an unpopular war, and I wanted to see if recruiting in an urban environment like Harlem was any different than in, say, San Antonio. The reason I think the Times picked it up is because there was a void in this kind of military coverage. One reason for that might be access: it was incredibly difficult to gain access to the Harlem Knights Recruiting Center, and after I did, the doors were closed behind me.

The Times may have its faults, but I had only good intentions in showing this previously sequestered world to the population at large. I feel my reporting was balanced -- I wanted to be a fly on the wall, nothing more, in order to show people a world they would otherwise not have seen. Please don't paint the Times with such a critical brush for taking a chance on a grad student; the paper may have its flaws, but they ran a basically positive piece during a critical juncture in the conflict and they didn't have to -- they could have just run another piece by Damien Cave showing how recruiters hate their jobs. I would appreciate your feedback.

Jennifer Mascia"

I was probably that "irate reader!"

Here's what I wrote back:

Jennifer did a super human interest profile, but was ill-served by the absence of any kind of editorial backup at the New York Times. Even when they ran the correction, they still couldn't get it right, because they live in a bubble in which there are few people on staff with any military experience.

I think Jennifer's a very promising reporter, a good writer with a deft eye for detail, and I told her not to be discouraged by a cantankerous blogger like me, and not to be intimidated by anybody except anal fact checkers. --Jason

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

"they live in a bubble in which there are few people on staff with any military experience."

Jennifer attends the Columbia Journalism School, correct? She could have taken advantage of a native - and, as far as I know, unique - military-related campus resource:

The U.S. Military Veterans of Columbia University (MilVets) is composed of student-veterans attending Columbia, enlisted and officer backgrounds, many with OIF and OEF experience.

WEBSITE: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/usmilvetscu/

The NY Times is more than welcome to access our knowledge pool as well.

Eric Chen
Vice President
U.S. Military Veterans of Columbia University
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