Thursday, May 7, 2020

Author tells class what it takes to report on 'Survivor Stories'

Bonnie Sumner's Reading/Writing 550 class chats by Zoom with author Cara Tabachnick (bottom row, center).

The 17-year-old survivor of a plane crash in the Peruvian rainfores, the soccer team trapped in Thailand's Tham Luang cave system, the sole survivor of a serial killer in Los Angeles, and a survivor of the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine. These are a few of the stories included in Cara Tabachnick’s book, "The Greatest Survival Stories of All Time."

Tabachnick recently joined the Language and Culture Institute's Reading/Writing 550 class, which read chapters from her book as a complement to the unit “Survival Skills” in their textbook. Students wrote journal responses to the stories and analyzed how the people demonstrated any of the six concepts of survival described in their textbook reading “Mind Over Matter.”

The author answered questions from students such as whether she had become friends with any of the survivors she wrote about, how she got people to talk with her, which was her favorite story, and if she would be able to survive an ordeal similar to those she wrote about.

In response to the first two questions, Tabachnick told the students that one of the rules of journalism is to not become friends with the people one is reporting on. She also said people generally are willing to talk about their stories and want to be heard.

Her favorite story, she said, was about the marathon runner who got lost in the Sahara Desert between Morocco and Algeria. Her response to her ability to survive a traumatic experience was that she felt that not only she, but most people, could summon the strength to survive, but what was often more difficult was dealing with the emotions following the experience.

One surprising thing Tabachnick shared was that for her, writing was akin to running: painful while you are doing it but extremely satisfying when a project is complete.

She does extensive research on her subjects prior to any interviews or writing. In addition, she said, she does not write questions in advance of her interviews but takes a more organic approach to interviewing.

 A graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism, Tabachnick is a former crime reporter for Newsday. She served as deputy director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, where she was managing editor of The Crime Report.

For the past 10 years, Tabachnick has worked as a freelance journalist. Some of her recent articles include “The Swift and Merciless Execution of Corrine Sykes,” “Morocco’s ‘mule women’ risk their lives hauling goods from across the border from Spain,” and “The teenager who ran from Africa and now hopes to run to Spain.”
— Bonnie Sumner