Gettin’ Clips: What Gets Left On The Cutting Room Floor

March 4, 2009 at 4:30 am 1 comment

Journalism teachers always encourage you to get published, and for good reason. To get hired somewhere (ha!), you need published examples of your work, and there are usually a few places interested in student work. At AU, one of them is the American Observer, the Graduate Journalism Magazine. I submitted a piece I wrote a class, and it was published here. Please read it, I bet you can do it in a minute or two.

Now I understand that things have to be fact-checked and verified—very quickly I might add—but the original story (below) was 757 words. The edited version? 301. I can’t really complain: the essence of the article remains the same, except all the “zazz” is gone. We all learn in J-school that because the internet is a page-less medium the size of articles isn’t bound by the same physical constraints, but speediness has never been more crucial. Still, feature-y, details-oriented writing has its place on the internet, and readers still flock to it. Click through (or scroll down) to read the original story.

photo by flickr user sskennel

Frederick Douglass’ house in Southeast Washington D.C. sits high on a grassy estate. The property that he lived on from 1877 till the end of his life has been lovingly preserved and is enclosed by a wrought iron fence.

Taking a tour of Douglass’ house on Cedar Hill, now known as the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, one can admire the eccentricities of a wealthy, self-made man who escaped slavery and went on to become one of the most important abolitionists.

Take for instance the growlery, a small hut around back where Douglass could work without distraction, and well, growl. But far from being a recluse, Douglass loved to play music in his west parlor and was a self-taught violinist. He had a rule: everyone in the room had to participate (the tambourine still sits vigilantly in the corner).

While Douglass’ house seems almost untouched by time — it’s carefully restored and eighty percent of the collection is original — the community it sits in has changed dramatically. Modern day Anacostia is in need of many things, and though Cedar Hill probably receives the most direct federal funding out of anything in the area, it is beloved as a local monument to a man who’s inspiration is felt today.

Terry Ricardo, who lives on V street, near Cedar Hill, thinks that Frederick Douglass serves as a good role model for his community and that his house is a point of pride. Referring to Douglass’ house, Ricardo says, “They just need to keep the grounds up a little better.” He describes Anacostia as an “outgoing neighborhood” and thinks that kids here could use places to play like a skate park or bowling alley. Or maybe the city could just improve the roads.

However, Ricardo, 35, sees change and has hope for the future. “I know they’re gonna knock a lot of stuff done…It’s a long time coming, getting better,” he says.

Services have always come slower to Southeast D.C. than every other part of the city, from schools to roads to public programs. Public housing and garden apartments built during World War Two contributed to the mounting white flight and Anacostia was mostly black and poor by the mid 1960s.

Like other black areas of the city, Southeast was badly damaged in the 1968 race riots that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. By the 1980s Anacostia was 98.3 percent black and desperately in need of development and assitance.

Even with Marion Barry, a former Southeast resident, as mayor, population fell 30 percent and drugs and violence raged. Partly to blame was a lack of governmental commitment: federal services dropped $583 million during President Reagan’s first three years in office. Getting a Metro station built in 1991 was a big victory for the neighborhood, but only after years of fighting with the agency.

But even as the neighborhood changed, locals fought to preserve Cedar Hill. Local community groups maintained the house, sometimes with Southeast school children holding penny drives to raise money, until the National Park Service took over the site in 1962. In 1988 it was declared a National Historic Site.

Yavocka Young, Executive Director of community organization Main Street Anacostia,  also lives near Cedar Hill on W street.

When in the house, “I personally feel inspired to be better,” she says. Young, 40, moved to Anacostia in 1992 and used to volunteer at the Historic Site. She describes Anacostia as still up and coming. She’s seen more stores open and more young urban professionals move in. In 2007, Anacostia got its first grocery store, a Giant supermarket.

In talking about her neighborhood’s advantages, Young says, “we’re very close to everything,” recalling that Frederick Douglass himself walked to the capitol when he lived on Cedar Hill.

Ed Fleet, Executive Director of THEARC, a community education and recreation facility, says that he thinks that Cedar Hill is an important feature of the community.

“It’s the centerpiece of Anacostia,” says Fleet. He says that visiting the house gives people from outside the community an excuse to come to this side of the city. He thinks it is also important to see the Washington Monument and the Capitol and see the beauty that is often lost when thinking about Anacostia.

As for Frederick Douglass, Fleet calls him the “spirit of Anacostia.” THEARC even has an animatronic version of Douglass that can recite over two hours of his speeches and answer 50 questions. Douglass might have been able to predict a black president in this country’s future, but surely not that.


Entry filed under: internet, journalism. Tags: , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. dckaplan  |  March 5, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    congrats on being published, but too bad they took so much out. Your original is fascinating!


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Shit Just Got Real

Josh Kramer is a blogger, cartoonist, journalist, etc. I'm the Editor of The Cartoon Picayune. I live in Washington, DC and I just graduated from the Center for Cartoon Studies. See work by me and my classmates.

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