What makes a story newsworthy is based on what people want or need to know. It’s what editors and journalists think is interesting, exciting, or important. They look for stories that are timely and close in proximity to our homes and for topics that have the impact to change our lives.
However, there’s one particular niche of news reporting that is a special case, which one can say makes several of these points somewhat less important: human-interest stories. From these narratives that appeal to our emotions, the goal is to evoke a response—sometimes of amusement and other times of sadness.
One example from this specific vantage point took place in Kew Gardens, Queens in the wee hours of the morning on Friday, March 13, 1964. The account began with the stalking then killing of a young woman by the name of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese, which later became a noteworthy case not just for its tragedy but also its highly publicized 37 unknown witnesses who heard her cries for help and chose to do nothing. Conjuring up questions of how crimes are committed, and the emotional struggles we live with from such events, this story hasn’t quite come to an end even after fifty years.
What inspired you to write the book "Kitty Genovese"? With the 50th anniversary of the crime coming up, I thought about what a remarkable time 1964 was in the city's history. And while I was familiar with the basics of Kitty Genovese's murder, I realized that I knew hardly anything about her life. Those factors, along with a certain fishiness in the usual account of the murder—Did precisely 38 neighbors really watch from their windows as Kitty died?—made me willing and even eager to devote two years to the book.
What were the challenges in bringing "Kitty Genovese" to life? Kitty's partner, Mary Ann Zielonko, didn't want to talk with me. Those memories are painful for her. I kept writing to her until she agreed to talk. Mary Ann was a great help to me. The NYPD wasn't particularly helpful, but did comply with a Freedom of Information Act request. Still I needed documents—and with the help of Janine Abel of the Queens District Attorney's office, found boxes of records that hadn't been seen in many years.
Are there any authors that have grasped your interest lately?
Marin's wonderful memoir deserves millions of readers. And I'd say that even if she weren't my wife!
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
My next book is on baseball families, particularly fathers and sons. It's partly a tribute to my dad, who pitched in the minor leagues. I've always wanted to write a baseball book, and this was an appealing way to delve into the game.
Kevin Cook is an award-winning author of Titanic Thompson and Tommy's Honor. He has written for the New York Times, the Daily News, GQ, Men’s Journal, Vogue, and many other publications, and has appeared on CNN and Fox TV.