Taylor Ha

Narrative Writer. Photographer. Videographer.

 

 

I’m a senior journalism student at the Stony Brook University School of Journalism. 

This story is my senior capstone project

  

I’ve documented dozens of stories — the lives of Hiroshima bomb survivors, scientists helping NASA send humans to outer space, and a father who lost his daughter in a ferry sinking that killed more than 300 people. I’ve trekked across Long Island, Washington, D.C. and Seoul, South Korea to tell their stories. And I was a Top 20 Finalist in a national writing contest — the Hearst Foundation Journalism Awards Program’s 2017 Personality/Profile Writing Competition — for my feature story on two doctors.

 

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Why did you choose the topic 'teacher diversity'?

Oh man — that was so difficult. I knew I wanted to do something important, that would touch people’s emotions and change people’s perspectives. It needed to be a topic I’m passionate about. And it had to be a timely topic — a ‘newsworthy’ story supported by statistics and actual people.

It took me nearly three months to settle on a story that fit my criteria. I thought about the important people in my life, especially my mom — a Korean-American fourth-grade teacher. I thought about how relevant the topic of ‘race’ is. And then one of my mentors asked me, “Have you ever thought about teacher diversity on Long Island?” For some reason, I hadn’t.

A few days later, I Googled “teacher diversity” and “Long Island.” I scrolled through the search results. Lo and behold — I found the data I had been looking for. It was that easy. As for everything after that day? That’s a different story. 

How did you find your sources?
Finding sources is a lot like fishing. Every email you send, every phone call you make, is a type of bait. I threw over 100 hooks to everyone I could think of — Long Island teachers associations, experts across the country, Facebook groups, state organizations. Many of them didn’t respond. But over the next couple days, I started to find messages in my inbox — emails from complete strangers who were intrigued by my story, and wanted to either speak with me by phone or meet me in person. Many of them are the people you just read about.

P.S. To all the people I spoke with — thank you for speaking with me, trusting me and sharing your life with me.

What was the hardest part about reporting on this topic?
Writing the main story. I was drowning in information. By the time I was ready to write my first draft, I had pages and pages of notes and transcribed interviews. There’s a document in my Google Drive where I keep all my reporting. I call it my “Reporter’s Notebook/Bible.” It has over 80 pages of words — statistics, outlines, a to-do list, definitions, tips, ideas, web links, contact information, and over thirty transcribed interviews.

I stayed sane by keeping a ‘Q&A’ outline. I wrote a list of basic questions that I wanted my story to answer — things that, ironically, are easy to lose track of. I underlined and bolded quotes and information from my notes that I knew I wanted to include. And then I filled out a handy little document from my professors that asked me questions like these:

1. List your major reporting conclusions. What have you learned that you want your readers to know? Limit this to three or four key points.

2. Identify key numbers you might want to use.

3. If you had one more telephone call to make to improve your story, who would you call and why? What would your readers want to know? Make the call. 

What is the most important thing you learned?
It is so, so important to see people who look like you from all walks of life — and people who don’t.

I’m not sure why humans exist. I think we were an accident in the universe. But I love how person is so wonderfully different. We have different skin colors, faces, voices, likes and favorite things. That’s what makes each of us interesting. And I think we need to appreciate that, and try to understand why we behave the way we do. Each of us has implicit biases. If we’re going to combat them, we need more positive interactions with people from different backgrounds AND we need to see people who DO look like us — people who prove that we have the ability to be just as awesome as them.