D’Souza’s Altoona stories win statewide newspaper award

Steve Gerace
Tony D’Souza with wife Jessyka, daughter Gwen and son Rohan in Agra near the Taj Mahal during their recent “adventure” in India.

A two-part series of stories author Tony D’Souza wrote while working as a reporter in Dunsmuir recently received a first place award in the California Newspaper Publishers Association Better Newspapers Contest.

D’Souza’s articles from September and December 2008 about the clean-up of 100 years of mercury tailings at Altoona Mine was judged best in the Environmental/Ag Resource Reporting category for weekly papers with circulations of 4,300 and under.

Another article D’Souza wrote for Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers in October 2008 was a Blue Ribbon finalist for best writing in the CNPA contest. That article looked at the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders at Crystal Creek Camp.

CNPA said it received nearly 4,000 entries for the contest from newspapers across the state in 28 categories and nine circulation divisions. The contest period ran from January 2008 to October 2009.

D’Souza, who recently returned from a three and a half month trip to India with his wife, Jessyka, and their two young children, said he was excited to hear about the CNPA contest results.

“What's most satisfying about the recognition is that both of these stories were ones that I uncovered and developed while working on other assignments for the paper,”?he said via email from his home in Florida. “The Altoona Mine story came my way while I was covering the Roseburg logging of the Dunsmuir Elementary School land... the Roseburg forester in charge of that mentioned the EPA work at the mine to me; after a few phone calls and emails, as well as a lot of research, I eventually got access to the clean up site.”

He said the Crystal Creek Camp story began “when I drove out to visit the site of the former logging town of Pondosa. While researching that story, I was told by someone at the Shasta Historical Society that a restored caboose from Pondosa was on display at Turtle Bay, that the restoration work had been done by boys from the camp, which I'd never heard of. Again, phone calls, emails, and research led to an invite to the camp. So both stories came about through word of mouth, and following up on the tips led to ‘journalistic gold.’ I think that’s my main strength as a journalist, following up on a vague tip. Sometimes it turns out to be nothing. But sometimes it leads to a real story. That’s always been the fun part of the job to me.”

Since leaving the newspaper in December 2008, D’Souza and his family have lived in Florida, down the street from his mother. Jessyka has been working on her BA and is on track to graduate in December. Their daughter Gwen is 20 months old and son Rohan is 9 months.

D’Souza said he has contributed half a dozen pieces to different magazines so far in 2010.

In January they went to India “for an adventure with our babies,”?he said. “We ended up visiting 30 cities and 13 Indian states, traveled all the way up to the far north in Kashmir and all the way to the far south in Kerala. I wrote a piece about it for Outside Magazine.”

He said they rented a small house on the beach in Goa for six weeks, and he finished the manuscript for his third novel, “The Mule.”

“It has to do with people who ‘mule’ marijuana from Siskiyou County to the rest of the country,”?D’Souza said. “A lot of the story is based on people and events that happened while we were living in Dunsmuir. I’m waiting now to hear if my agent likes it; if she does, then she’ll start showing it to editors in New York. It’s a slow process and a lot has changed in the publishing world in the past few years. But I feel good about the book... In the meantime, I continue to review books and write travel pieces.”

Looking back on his time at the newspaper, D’Souza wrote, “I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable jobs and writing experiences I have ever had. It was a journalistic dream for me in many ways. It’s really not that often that I get to write about a place I know and love in this vagabond, freelance sort of writing life I have; covering Dunsmuir and south Siskiyou County, I felt completely connected to my subject, totally invested in each and every story I wrote.

“I had a real sense that I was contributing to the community, and it made me want to go the extra mile. I loved that I interacted as a neighbor with the people I wrote about; I absolutely loved seeing my byline on stories about a place I truly care about. That I managed to bring a few new stories to the table, like the ones recognized by the CNPA, makes me happy. But mostly I think about all the stories I wanted to investigate and write while I was there that I didn’t get to do.

That summer and fall in Dunsmuir, I felt like I had the best job in the world. Like the day I first went to cover the Altoona Mine: I got up and had breakfast with my family, then pulled on some old tennis shoes and hopped in the car for the long drive up the Castle Crags.

“It was a beautiful autumn days, great views of the mountains and all the colors on them. Way, way up there, things got so silent, the trees stood so tall. The car was soon covered in dust from the logging road.

“Then I got up to the mine where the big EPA tractors were trying to clean up the damage that past generations had done. During the tour of the site, I saw old bottles, mining equipment, shoes. It made me think of the lives that the miners had lived up there in that lonely place. How hard they worked. What their world was like. It made me fall in love with the story.

“When I came back home again, I was filthy with dust. I looked like I’d had a big adventure, and I had.

“There were many days like that for me at the paper. At night when my family went to bed, I sat up late at the kitchen table and looked at my notes, and then I began to write.”

Tony D’Souza with wife Jessyka, daughter Gwen and son Rohan in Agra near the Taj Mahal during their recent “adventure” in India.