Monday marked the four-year anniversary of my first-ever paid reporting gig — the culmination of the work I began here in 2014, when I was just starting to overcome my fear of pursuing what I really dreamed of doing, journalism.
The piece, naturally, dealt with soccer. But it was about a tragedy: The plane carrying members of the Brazilian club Chapocoense crashed in Colombia that morning, killing 71 of the 77 people on board.
I spent most of Nov. 29, 2016 contacting Brazilians in New York City, getting their reactions and trying to find New Yorkers who came from the town of Chapecó. I connected with a freshman midfielder at Monroe College who grew up near the club and knew several of the players who died. We spoke in Spanish — our common language between his Portuguese and my English.
An actor who moved from Sao Paolo to Manhattan told me the entire country had united around the small club’s improbable run to the final of the Copa Sudamericana. He said there was no real comparison in American sports.
“Think about very good NFL players who are in the end of their careers and decided to play for a smaller team with a young coach who has a lot of experience and decides to coach that team. Now, think about that team starting to play well. And then everyone starts to enjoy watching that team play,” he told me. “So, just imagine everyone in America rooting for that team and being impressed by them. And then the high point—their game—they are all killed by a plane crash.”
I wrote a draft of the article and sent it to Gothamist’s general pitch email address at around 4:30 that afternoon. I just checked my old emails and saw that I used the subject line: Time Sensitive Submission: Brazilians in NYC react to tragic plane crash, including friend of players, but I remember thinking they probably wouldn’t see it, or that they would ignore a piece from some random guy.
Miraculously, an editor happened to check it out, and he got back to me immediately. Gothamist could pay me $60 for it. Would I accept that?
Sixty bucks for one of the biggest moments of my life? Yes.
I did a few more stories for Gothamist over the following months, until the editor got laid off in their merger with DNAInfo and I lost my connection. Not long after that, the vindictive owner Joe Ricketts shut them down for unionizing.
I encountered the editor again recently. He’s studying at CUNY Law School and I was invited by a professor to discuss how journalists and tenants’ attorneys can work together to report on housing and homelessness.
I had to let him know that taking my story helped change my life.