Summit highlights: How Anh Do takes a restorative approach to covering breaking news
A view of Peace Village’s Inspirational Hall, where Anh Do spoke with summit participants.
Genevieve is a reporter for The Epoch Times in New York City and an Images & Voices of Hope freelancer. She can be found on Twitter at @Genevieve_Long.
When Anh Do speaks, you have to listen very carefully. She somehow manages to keep the punch line—whether it is sad, profound, funny, or surprising — a secret until the last minute. In fact, she has mastered the art of suspense.
“No matter our profession, we are all storytellers,” Do said recently at the ivoh Mindful Media Summit in the Catskills from June 26-29. The summit is a gathering of media makers, artists, and like-minded professionals in a variety of fields. The through-line of this year’s summit was Restorative Narratives — stories that show how people and communities are learning to rebuild and recover after experiencing difficult times. During her talk, Do spoke about a few different Restorative Narratives she’s written.
Do’s keen, insightful approach to telling stories as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times seems to lead her to produce work that is simultaneously tragic and uplifting. She comes by it naturally.
During her talk, she shared a recent Restorative Narrative she wrote about a young woman named Kim Pham, who was beaten to death outside of a nightclub in Santa Ana, California. Dozens of bystanders not only watched the beating but in Do’s words, “whipped out their iPhones to record it.” She said that could easily have been the end of it.
“Often after a crime occurs, we just close the chapter,” she said.
In this case, instead of closing the chapter, the story got tens of thousands of hits on the LA Times website, prompting a follow-up with the hospital staff who cared for the woman.
“Our story takes the reader inside a life taken too soon,” Do said, adding that a key skill she brings to bear when reporting something so difficult is simple: listening. “I like to talk, but I like to listen more.”
The LA Times gained access to the hospital room, in competition with another media outlet, because Do had reached out to the family early on and established a connection. In the course of her reporting, Do witnessed the many hospital staff members who went out of their way to care for and grieve for the young woman as her life was ending. She was brought to the hospital brain dead and kept on life support so that her wish to be an organ donor could be fulfilled.
The psychological impact of the final story is chilling:
“But it was more than a job with Pham. Over the days to come, nurses not assigned to her would check in on her, hugging one another in the hallways for support. A security guard prepared spreadsheets of all the visitors who made the somber pilgrimage to St. Joseph. Administrators put aside their visiting-hour rules, letting family members and friends stay days at a time. They all wanted to take care of this broken 23-year-old who never opened her eyes or uttered a word. And they became part of a goodbye none of them will forget.”
Do has uncovered other stories with less tragic endings. As Mallary Tenore, ivoh managing director put it, Do’s approach isn’t textbook crime and trauma reporting.
“She doesn’t always go with the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ mentality,” Tenore said while introducing Do at the summit.
In one case, Do found a story about a young Vietnamese girl who was found in her dead mother’s arms during the Vietnam War. Eventually adopted by an American serviceman, the girl grew up in the midwest U.S. and never knew her own story. In fact, she thought she’d been abandoned and wanted to know why. Her search for those answers is documented by Do, who admits there’s a certain amount of serendipity in finding such tales to tell.
“Every time you unearth a really cool story, there’s an element of luck,” she said. In this case, Do responded to her good fortune by tracking down all the key players and documenting the truth being unearthed. The woman, Kimberly Mitchell, ultimately learned her true story and will be touring the U.S. on behalf of the American government to tell the story of the Vietnam War 50 years later.
“The restorative aspect of this story is that this girl was not abandoned, she was rescued,” Do said. In her mind, Restorative Narratives are like “journalistic fables” marked by “surprise” and “a touch of a life lesson.”
The long-term, often emotionally tense nature of some of the stories Do gets involved in telling can be taxing. When asked by one summit attendee, singer/songwriter Morley Kamen, how she protects herself from becoming too distressed, Do said she finds happiness in daily living.
“You wake up, and you just wake up grateful,” she said. Questions over how and when to tell the restorative narrative side of the story are, in Do’s estimation, always on the table. Nothing is set in stone.
“Is it possible to be telling the restorative stories on the day of?” asked Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley, who attended the summit. “Or am I just being naive?”
“I like to think that all things are possible,” Do said.
As for the details, she takes a simple approach.
“A story is not about a topic, it’s about people. The story has to tell itself,” Do said, adding that it’s often what we don’t tell that stands out. “It’s more important to show the silence and moments of wonder.”
Related summit coverage: Highlights from ivoh’s 2014 Mindful Media Summit | Celebrating ivoh’s 2014 Awards of Appreciation winners | Drawings capture memorable moments, quotes from ivoh Mindful Media Summit