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The Underhill captain, The NY Daily News and The Vermont Cynic: A recent UVM grad gets a national byline

April 13, 2009

Molly Shaker, last year’s features editor for The Vermont Cynic, gained a significant byline today with her reporting about the reaction in Underhill to the release of Capt. Richard Phillips, the Vermont native who had been held hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia. shakernydailynews1

I asked Molly to write a short summary of her experience in reporting and writing the story. The narrative follows . . .

Yesterday afternoon I was contacted by Cynic Editor-in-Chief Will Sedlack, who was contacted by The Daily News looking for a stringer to report on the happenings in Underhill surrounding the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips.  One of the editors at the Daily News gave me the Phillips’ address and asked me to get out there as quickly as possible.  My assignment was to observe and report on everything happening in front of their house and in their area.  I was told  to “give color” to the story while one of their New York reporters continued working on it from Manhattan.

While driving through Underhill, the sense of hope and support for Capt. Phillips and his family was obvious and overwhelming.  Yellow ribbons were tied to nearly every telephone pole. Finding the family’s home was not hard. Every major television network had a satellite truck parked on the side of the road, photographers stood across the street waiting for the perfect shot. State troopers guarded the entrance to the Phillips’ home, letting family and friends in and keeping the media out.

We were told that no one from the family would speak to the media.  This gave me a challenge in trying to report for a major newspaper without easily gaining access to the best sources.  I spotted two neighbors standing in front of the house across the street from the Phillips’ and walked up to them and asked them to answer a few questions.  They were very emotional and friendly but didn’t give me much to work with.  Later in the evening a spokeswoman for the family came out and held a brief press conference but did not answer any of our questions.

At about 8 o’clock last night, I phoned in the writer at the Daily News that I had been in touch with throughout the day. I fed him my notes on the phone and hung up pretty quickly because he was working on deadline.

The biggest challenge for me here was trying my hardest to pry into a very delicate and personal family situation.  Even though this story had a happy ending, it was clear that the media was not of interest to the Phillips’ family at that time.  I walked up to every person that I saw and those who spoke to me, I questioned quickly.  I observed the sights and sounds of everything happening in front of the Phillips’ home and in the whole town of Underhill.

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