By Jess Forte
My day at the Tampa Bay Times was nothing short of exciting. I was given a tour of the office by Jessica Vander Velde, one of the crime reporters. She introduced me to her editor and brought me to her cubicle. “I’m obviously the most important person in the office, because I have the best view.” She claimed. From there, she explained her job. Each day she goes and checks her inbox for media alerts. She investigates the ones that seem the most interesting to see if they have potential to be written about. That morning, she was alerted about a missing elderly woman. She taught me a few terms, such as “BOLO” or “be on the lookout.” From there, she proceeded to show me how to get arrest reports online. A website allows for the public to see all the arrests that were made the previous night. With the internet, you can “find out anything about anybody” she stated.
As a crime reporter, Vander Velde recommended that you should look for murders or arson to write about, instead of something simple like a drug arrest. She showed me one of the longer-term stories that she was working on: the case of John Lebron and his wife Patricia, who committed wire fraud and stole over $1.4 million by selling people houses that didn’t exist. I was given a copy of the document she received, showing all of the charges for the Lebrons. From there, she continued to search the web for more information on the case. “Don’t just take what people give you.” She claimed. “It is best to do your own reporting.”
Since the office was currently quiet, or the “q-word” as the editor referred to it, I was given the opportunity to go on the scene of a crime with another breaking news reporter, Laura Morel. A graduate of Emerson College, Morel explained to me the benefits of being a breaking news reporter. “I get to leave the office every day.” She exclaimed.
A short car ride later, we were brought over to a closed street near Dale Mabry Highway. Traffic was blocked in certain sections due to a “suspicious package.” The package was left underneath a mailbox and was addressed to the Tampa Bay Times. The head of the P.I told us that a bomb-sniffing dog smelled an odor that “could have been the makings of a bomb.” It was incredible to watch as the P.I addressed the area’s news networks, such as Fox 13 and Bay News 9. She announced that while the dog did smell a suspicious odor, once opened, it was revealed that the box only contained garbage.
After returning to the office, I went back to the UT campus with a new passion for journalism. With my experiences in working with The Minaret, I thought that journalism mainly consisted of writing long articles and constantly trying to find people to interview. I learned while spending my day with the Times that writing for a paper isn’t just sitting around, it can actually be exciting. Just a few days prior I officially declared my minor as journalism, and now I’m glad I did. Going into breaking news is definitely something I would consider if my writing career doesn’t work out.