Feature Story Assignment

Media Writing Feature Story Assignment
Background and Instructions:
You are a reporter for a San Diego news organization. One month ago, San
Diego District Attorney, or DA, Sam Martin contacted you with information
about a criminal investigation that would likely end in several arrests.
Martin, who is the chief prosecutor of crimes in the city, has been a source for past
stories. This time, he asks that you treat his comments on background, so you
agree to identify him in any stories as “a law enforcement official.”
Background attribution means you are not to identify your source by
name, but only generally. In this case what is on background will be
attributed to a San Diego or law enforcement official. On-the-record
means you may fully identify your source by both name and title.
The investigation, says Martin, involves the smuggling and selling of Mexican
babies. An extensive operation based in San Diego has for at least five years
been buying babies in Baja California, smuggling them across the border and
selling them to couples in several American states.
According to the DA, the smuggling ring has been placing ads in Baja California
newspapers from purported American couples seeking women with babies who
wish to give up for adoption. Women who respond, typically single, pregnant
and poor, find themselves in touch with other women, members of the smuggling
ring.
The women operatives, based in San Diego, visit the expectant mothers and, if
they are judged to be healthy, are offered full financial coverage of their prenatal
care and delivery, plus a few hundred dollars for giving up their babies.
Once born, the babies are smuggled into San Diego and taken to a home owned
by one Julia Torres. She heads the operation. Torres, using a network of
unscrupulous attorneys, finds couples who wish to adopt, but are deemed
unsuitable by legitimate adoption agencies. In some cases they earn too little,
are too old or perhaps have several children already.
Torres brings together the couples and infants. If the prospective adoptive
parents like the infant, the “adoption” is finalized. The parents pay Torres
between $10,000 and $15,000 and receive a forged birth certificate and other
pertinent documents. Several hundred such baby sales have transpired at the
Torres home, according to Martin.
You agree to Martin’s request not to publish anything until the day of the
expected arrests. In the meantime, he provides you with a great many details
including the names and aIDresses of several women in Baja California who
allegedly sold their babies. Because you are an enterprising reporter, you
arrange to talk to the women in person.
Here are summaries of the interviews:
Maria Esquivel, 22, a Tijuana factory worker:
“I ended up pregnant, and that’s when my boyfriend disappeared. Imagine,
here I am in Tijuana, far away from my family in Mexico City. So, when a friend
told me about the ad, I called the number. A lady came here from San Diego,
and she offered to pay for my medical care and the hospital for when I gave
birth. I said okay, because I didn’t see what else I could do. Maybe I could have
looked to get an abortion, but that scared me. I went through with it and got
$200 for myself. “
Cipriana Gomez, 26, a Tijuana domestic worker:
“This was something that really broke my heart. I have two children, but I’m by
myself and hardly making it. With another baby, I don’ know what I would do.
I wish I could have met the couple that has my baby—she’s a little girl I was
going to name Thalia. I have to tell myself that she is going to have a better life
in the United States.”
Angela Ramirez, 18, a Tijuana student:
“I started out with my pregnancy thinking I would keep my baby. But I’m still
in school, and I live with my aunt. My parents died when I was small. Anyway,
my aunt said I was too young to be a mother, that I could have babies when I
was really ready. She found the women though the newspaper. Like my aunt,
she said how I was just a kid and that these Americans would adopt him and
make sure he had things easier than here in Mexico. It was very hard and
painful to give birth, but it was nothing compared to handing my little baby boy
to that lady. That was an awful day; I couldn’t stop crying. I feel that I’m always
going to miss him.”
You also interview Cynthia Thomas, director of Babies International, a Los
Angeles-based agency that specializes in foreign adoptions.
Cynthia Thomas:
“This is nothing less than human trafficking,” she says after you brief her. “It’s all
the more terrible, because these are helpless infants being placed with people
who are not subject to any sort of background check or home visitation. You
hope that these are loving and wholesome homes, but without the requisite
checks, you just don’t know. Whoever is engaged in this criminal activity
deserves severe punishment.”
Today you receive a phone call from Martin, the DA, to alert that the bust has
gone down. He e-mails this statement:
Early this morning San Diego Police officers and FBI agents entered
the premises at 1346 Peach Street, San Diego and arrested Julia Torres,
age 46, owner of the home at that aIDress. Also arrested were
Francine Lopez, 22, and Marissa Gomez, 21.
Torres, Lopez and Gomez are charged with violation of the Protection
of Victims of Trafficking Act, alien smuggling, child endangerment
and false imprisonment. In aIDition, Torres is charged with operating
an illicit business.
Officers also discovered three infants inside the home. They are with
San Diego Children’ s Protective Services pending further
investigation.
These arrests, while significant in bringing to an end the criminal and
morally repugnant activities of those arrested today, in no way end
our efforts. The investigation is active, and we expect numerous other
arrests here and in other states.
I would like to commend members of my staff and the many officers
who have worked for several months on this investigation.
The statement is signed by DA Sam Martin. This means you may attribute
everything in the statement to him.
You place a call to Martin, who speaking on background, tells you that Mexican
authorities have been involved in the investigation and will make arrests of ring
members in the Tijuana area. He says this is one of the largest child selling and
trafficking operations to be detected in the United States.
Still ahead is the daunting task of attempting to locate the babies sold as
adoptees. He notes that Torres kept meticulous records of her transactions. “Her
ring was bringing in on average $60,000 per month,” says Martin.
You are to write a feature story of between 400 and 475 words.
Note that the information provided is not comprehensive. Background on the
arrested women, for instance, is missing. Similarly, you don’t know if the parents
who took part in the illegal adoptions are to be prosecuted.
Do not lose sight of the fact that this is a feature story. You can assume another
reporter will produce the hard news story, with the day’s developments in the
lead.
Consider the wealth of interview and supplemental information at your disposal.
You should judiciously incorporate this material.
Be careful to properly attribute quotes, especially those concerning Martin.
Remember some of what he said is on background, while the statement is onthe-record.

This story will provide context. Feel free to refer to the events described, should
you decide they are worth including in your story.
http://www.utsandiego.com/uniontrib/20051126/news_2m26babies.html

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