NYT writer discusses war and investigative journalism with Washington Heights 11th Graders

Mr. Duckhudt’s 11th grade class at CHAH hosted New York Times staff reporter Ray Rivera as a part of their ongoing program on investigative journalism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

DSC_0036“As a journalist you can talk to a lot of important people, you’re constantly learning something new.  It takes a lot of analysis to tell both sides of the story truthfully.  Journalism requires intellectual curiosity- you’re always asking questions.” 

Previously, the class was visited by Purple Heart author Patricia McCormick and Gulf War veteran Omar Merino and gold-star mom Emily Toro; on Monday, Ray offered another view on the war from his perspective as a foreign correspondent.


Ray began by showing some pictures of his stint abroad in Afghanistan. The fear and uncertainty of the environment was clear in each photo; one prompted the telling of a story about a market bombing which happened a block from his house. He was the first one on the scene where he discovered a little boy crying outside the market – the boy’s two older sisters had entered the building just before the explosion. All the EMTs could bring him to identify his sisters were pieces of bodies.

After he had gone through all the photos, Ray took questions from the students, and offered some more insight into life in the war zone. He described the support his wife gave him, being a journalist herself and understanding his sense of duty: “Journalism,” he said, “is a public service – you are independently trying to verify what’s happening.” He also revealed that he was not abroad continuously, but that he would travel back and forth from the US every 6 weeks or so. He detailed the shift in Afghani opinion of the US in 2003 when the US diverted resources to fight the war in Iraq – how they came to see the troops more as occupiers and liberators. He also predicted that 2014 would be an interesting and scary time in Afghanistan, as the US will withdraw troops and Afghanistan will host an election where President Hamid Karzai, who has been “keeping the country together,” cannot run again.


Ray made a particularly resonant point about the tragedy of the war for the soldiers fighting in it: the same 100,000 or so have been engaged in combat for the past decade. With no draft, the same people have risked their lives on 5 or 6 tours, while the rest of the US remained unengaged and uninformed.

Finally, he gave advice for the students’ own articles: start your piece “in scene,” think visually, consider your central theme as a narrative thread. Ask yourself: is this story best told chronologically, or by profiling the people involved? What is your place in this story?


It was an informative and deeply moving visit; BtB thanks Ray Rivera for working with us to open the students up to new perspectives!