There are a few advantages to being a 15-year-old reporter at a crime scene. For one thing, the authorities are a little disarmed when you ask them questions.
“My age does help a little,” says Alex Uys, the self-proclaimed cub reporter behind The Park Slope Dispatch, a site he launched this month to cover police and fire incidents in the neighborhood. “But usually the police just look at me blankly, or they’ll tell me ‘everything’s fine now.’ Though the firefighters have been more willing to talk.”
Having grown up in Park Slope, attending Berkeley Carroll for elementary and middle school, Alex knows the neighborhood intimately and was often curious about the stories behind helicopters and sirens that he heard.
“I’ve been naturally interested about things that are happening,” he says. “When there’s a police siren and I’m on my bike, I might just follow it, because I’m curious about what’s happening.”
Currently a sophomore in high school at Beacon, Alex first tried his hand at journalism with his school newspaper, but he found it wasn’t what he’d hoped for.
“It was a little laid back, mostly gossip,” he says. “It wasn’t really up my alley.”
He’s not against trying again by pitching some deeper stories to them, but having started his own site and being able to cover the things he’s most interested in, the entrepreneurial bug seems to have bitten him a bit. Alex monitors a police scanner while he’s doing homework — “There’s a lot of waiting,” he says — pops out on his bike to follow a lead, may end up taking up to 100 photos while asking questions, and then he heads home to churn out a story.
“What’s great is that I can share every new post directly to Facebook, so then my friends look at it and are like, ‘Woah, what’s he doing?’”
Though he does enjoy the independence of his own site, he says he still might appreciate a newsroom made up of more than one person.
“It would be cool if some other teenager were interested in this and lived in the area,” he says. “But not that many kids my age want to do something like this. But I do, so I’m going for it.”
Photo by Alex Uys/The Park Slope Dispatch
He does get some input — his parents, documentarian filmmakers Michael Uys and Lexy Lovell, will proofread his pieces when he asks, which is just one of the ways they’ve been supportive of his work.
“They’re cool with it,” he says. “I have to check back in every once in a while when I go out, but they’re cool with it.”
Though Alex says his parents didn’t know about his desire to create this site, his father admits there may have been an indication.
“His grandfather was a journalist, and I’m a documentarian, which is sort of similar,” Michael says, “so I guess it could be in his blood!”
Alex says his interest in the news does stem from his grandfather, who was a journalist and editor at Reader’s Digest.
“He would always, and still does, email me news articles and current events,” Alex says. “That’s what started getting me into reporting.”
When he began a photo course at the International Center for Photography this past fall, it sparked his interest further — he wanted to combine the photography and the reporting, and that’s what led to The Park Slope Dispatch. And now that he’s doing it, he’s strongly considering pursuing journalism in college, and sees the site as a good representation of his dedication and desire to do even more with reporting in the future.
“I want the experience, and if I’m going to major in journalism, then I want to know that I have the ability to do it,” he says. “So this blog right now is just reaching out there to see what it is to be a journalist.”
He’ll gain more experience during an intensive journalism course at Columbia this summer, but being on the streets and finding the stories has been teaching him so much already — particularly that he has a taste for the rush the job provides.
“It is a little dangerous, but there’s a thrill to it that I really enjoy,” Alex says. “Being there and seeing what happens, it’s really intense, it’s a whole different life that I didn’t know existed.”
Still, he acknowledges that it is Park Slope, after all — and not the Middle East, where he’d like to work as a photojournalist one day.
“Park Slope is not incredibly dangerous. While there are some disputes, I feel safe in the area,” he says, citing 5th Avenue as one of his favorite parts of the area. “It’s a really social place — if I just walk down the street, I run into a lot of my friends there. It’s very small-town.”
So while he may head off to college in a couple years, and perhaps on to the Middle East, Alex says he loves New York City, and hopes to find his way back here one day.
“I do see myself here again, maybe in my late-20s.”