We The Journalists: David Ovalle
David Ovalle is a cops and criminal courts reporter for the Miami Herald, and has been at the paper since he was a sports intern in 2002.
He covers everything from legal affairs to murder and corruption trials. Occasionally, he writes about zombies.
By Dori Zinn
A native of San Diego, Calif., and a graduate of the University of Southern California, David had no connection to Miami before arriving as a sports intern in June 2002. When he wasn’t into covering sports anymore, he jumped to the Neighbors section and eventually into cops and courts.
One of his favorite awards? “I won seventh place in the 2005 U.S. Bowlers Features Writing Competition. Who needs more accolades?”
Follow him on Twitter.
SPJ South Florida: What’s one part of your job that most people don’t realize you do?
David Ovalle: The doom and gloom murder stuff is my bread and butter. But many people don’t realize the time I put into learning the legal issues, especially appellate law, and how it affects Miami’s criminal justice system. Over the years, I’ve taken a real interest in Florida’s Stand Your Ground law (years before Trayvon Martin), juvenile sentencing, death penalty issues and justice funding matters. The challenge, of course, is writing those stories in an engaging way. Just try making “C4 motion” and “preponderance of the evidence” sexy for the readers.
What’s the least glamorous part of your job?
All in all, I surround myself with the storylines of Miami’s underbelly. That’s how I like it. Keeps me humble.
Career highlight and lowlight?
While my mom frets about it, my bosses have been awesome in dispatching me to cover natural disasters and other events across the world: Las Vegas, New Orleans, Cuba, Haiti and Mexico. Hell, they even sent me on a U.S. Navy Hurricane hunter to fly into the eye of Hurricane Isabel in 2003. They have always been very flexible and trusting in allowing me to work on so many different types of stories over 11 years.
The lowlight: having my byline stripped from a story I had to write about the controversial 2005 firing of one of our Metro columnists. The story still ran, but my name was removed because I had earlier signed a petition protesting the firing. That whole episode left me very disillusioned, for a time.
What’s the most frustrating part of your job?
There is just too much great news in South Florida and not enough bodies anymore to cover it all.
What’s the most fun part about your job?
I get paid to be a storyteller. Everyday I’m writing about some wacky or incredibly fascinating case.
Do you remember a point in your career that you feel you wouldn’t be who you were today without it?
Early in my career at The Herald, I realized I felt empty covering sports. My whole life was consumed by stats, grueling game-day hours and the increasing demands of sensational sports media. I wanted to help and educate people. That’s why I jumped to news.
If you had to do your career over, what would you do different? What’s your biggest regret?
No regrets. I’m doing exactly what I set out to do in coming to Miami.
Who did you admire or look up to when you started out?
Definitely the great reporters of The Miami Herald, past and present, people like Marty Merzer, Larry Lebowitz, Amy Driscoll, Curtis Morgan, Chuck Rabin, Bill Yardley, and Frenchie Robles. Really too many to name.
What piece of advice would you give to young people who are just starting out their careers?
Don’t be afraid to tag along with and pick the brains of the newsroom veterans. You can take all the classes in the world, but journalism is something you learn and perfect over time. Don’t be afraid to seek out the expertise of the reporters who know how the city works. And learn to report! So many interns come to the newspaper knowing the bells and whistles of social media and producing video, but often they can’t get basic information for a news story.
What’s the future of newspapers as you see it?
Though I’m 33, I still feel like a dinosaur when it comes to new media. I’m not a big video guy, and I’ve only recently embraced social media. But I strongly believe newspaper will always exist, in one form or another, and that means we’ll always need strong reporters and writers to deliver the news.
Throughout March, April, May and June, SPJ South Florida Pro will feature Q&As every Friday with South Florida’s most prominent journalists. Want to see someone featured? Want to join SPJ? Email us.
Dori Zinn is Vice President of Membership for SPJ South Florida Pro. Follow her on Twitter.