Picking a day at random, ‘an unremarkable Saturday in America’, the Guardian journalist Gary Younge identified ten children and teenagers throughout the United States who were shot dead on 23 November 2013. Whichever day he chose, he knew it would be typical. Determined to investigate each of these deaths, none of which bore much — or any — press coverage even locally, Younge would pore over the internet, visit grim parts of cities far from his Chicago home, locate as many relatives, friends and witnesses as he could and speak to them. His book, Another Day in the Death of America, is as one would imagine it: sad and bleak, an altogether terrible tale. Hopeless, too: no one, certainly not Younge, is under any illusion that this story will get better. While Britons spent the summer of 2016 debating Brexit, Americans were confronted with daily shooting deaths on the usual outlandish scale, made more so by the mass killing in Orlando and the handful of police-on-civilian fatalities, followed by civilian-on-police murders, that drew all the headlines but are not actually the types of crimes Younge is featuring in his book.
In that book, where each chapter is headed by a person’s name, age, city and time of shooting, there risks being little narrative suspense. How does such a book of ten stories, painfully alike, unfold? Could you just read one or two and get the point? And so Younge has made his book a masterclass in journalism. Unobtrusively, he explains how he follows leads, gets a few breaks, meets dead ends and readjusts his plan in each fatal neighbourhood. He reviews press coverage in America on gun violence, and considers the professional roles of journalists and publishers (‘journalism is not social work’), and the limits of covering people who are not as white, educated and relatively well-off as reporters tend to be.