A fellow reporter once told me when looking for a story I needed to find its heartbeat.
I thought I understood the concept of finding a face to show my readers, presenting someone or something that could stand as the life blood of a particular story.
But frequently, if not always, there are times when journalists learn details or encounter a set of circumstances that just won’t make it into the paper or on the website. And sometimes, the face and the heartbeat aren’t the same thing.
Last week, for example, I met with individuals who had insight into a story I was working on about a little girl who was killed in 2008. Most of them wouldn’t speak to me on the record, but their stories contributed to my understanding of the situation surrounding baby Davi-Angela Harber’s death.
One long conversation with a family member of Davi-Angela’s was particualrly striking. She was hard, when most people pushing 90 have softended somewhat. Her eyes pounced from moving car to walking pedestrian on the street, not paranoid, but keenly aware of everything around her.
She told me she looks sideways at the grade school kids that walk down her cul-de-sac. She said she always “packs protection.” In fact, as she sat next to me, she reached up to her chest and pressed around the outlines of where she was hiding a knife in her brazier.
This relative was one of many who saw but never reported Davi-Angela’s abuse. She thought holding a knife to Davi-Angela’s abuser’s neck would correct the problem.
Davi-Angel’s mother, DeAngela Barger, is currently jailed on a fist degree murder charge in connection with her daughter’s death. Regardless of her guilt, Oklahoma has laws on the book for reporting child abuse: If you see it, you’re supposed to call and report it.
In police reports and in conversations with me, several family members admitted they never called the police when they saw her kicked, punched and waylaid.
Davi-Angela was the face to my story, but this fact was the heart beat. One can only wonder how things might have changes if someone had spoken up for this little girl.
Any tips for us? Suggestions? Observations?