Tuesday, November 3, 2009

DAY 29

Version 2.0
Apparently version 1.0 was a bit scathing. So, taking the advice of a friendly producer, I am toning this one down a bit.

Writing my diatribe the other day made me realize how much I've missed this little blog. As a result, part two is coming a little sooner then expected...

I think I left off contemplating my struggle to find balance between what I love to do, and what is expected of me. Before I elaborate, let me admit that I am a bit of a cop out. In a desperate attempt to find satisfying work that will actually support the lifestyle I want, I've taken the law school admissions test and plan to enroll in law school next fall. That leaves me with a little less then a year to smile and bear whatever working conditions that I am subjected to.

While I am excited about this new phase in my life, part of me is still mourning the loss of the vision that I had for myself when I left college. I truly saw this career taking me places. I saw myself as a seasoned veteran of the biz... Giving speeches to college classrooms about pursuing your dreams and working hard. I saw myself struggling at first, and then figuring it all out. Naively, I saw everything falling into place.

Reality is never as clear cut as our dreams, but sometimes it comes close. This is certainly true in my case. I love breaking news as much as I thought I would. I love pressure, deadlines, adrenaline, and yes, the satisfaction of a story well told. In those cases reality has actually far exceeded my dreams. I never dared to imagine that I would be standing face to face with a future president, but in reality it happened! I never envisioned the heat of flames shooting ten feet into the sky, but I've experienced that too. I've experienced so many exhilarating things, that it saddens me to call it quits.

But reality has also let me down. It has strung me along, built up excitement, and not delivered. It has given me managers more concerned about the bottom line then doing what is right and ethical. It has put me in compromising situations, that I refuse to fall in to again.

When our station first began transitioning to the platform of multi media journalists (MMJ's) I was the guinea pig. I was the first photographer to be given a story to write. I was the first photographer to voice a package. While I looked forward to producing more NAT packages, I quickly realized the impossibility of what was expected of me. I took on new responsibilities with my whole heart, doing my best to succeed.

After a few weeks of MMJing I quickly realized that I was not only capable of doing the additional work I was asked to produce, but that I was also good at it. When this happened, I approached my manager asking to be compensated for the additional work. I didn't need a lot. I just wanted to be paid fairly. I knew that I would never been given what I was really worth, but somehow that didnt matter. I was ok as long as it was made clear that the extra work was appreciated and would be compensated accordingly. During our meeting it was made perfectly clear that extra compenstation was not in the picture. It was also blatently obvious that I didnt have the option to remain a photographer.

Since then however I have been coming to work with a new outlook. It is called the silent rebellion outlook. Rather then attempting to find NAT pkg ideas everyday (which by the way is pretty much IMPOSSIBLE) I walk in the door and immediately ask who I will be working with. I make it clear that I expect to be given a reporter. When I'm told that I'm on my own, which I normally am, I voice my opposition to the idea. I am still handed things that are impossible to accomplish. I am still given duties that far exceed my job title, but now I make it clear that I don't think it is acceptable.

Don't get me wrong. When I am given a task (whether with a reporter, or alone) I still give 110 percent. Just because I am unhappy with the way that I am being treated, doesnt mean I dont take pride in my work. I do. I still want to improve as much as possible before I leave. I still want my story to be the one that people talk about at the end of the day. Regardless of how I feel about our news organization as a whole, I want my piece to be the best that it can be. No, it isn't my work ethic that has changed, it is my attitude.

I've adopted an indifference toward my superiors. I'll do what they ask because I have to, because at the end of the day they are still signing my meager pay check. I won't do it with a smile however. I wont do it with a skip in my step. My capabilities far exceed the respect they show me. When I go above and beyond, I will do it for myself (for my own pride) and not because I want recognition. I've come to expect that my work go unnoticed.

Yes, I am frustrated. I am angry. I wish that they would acknowledge my worth. But I also know that I can not change them. The only thing that I can change is myself. So I have taken responsibility for my own happiness, and I am moving on. I will ultimately know that I have done far more with my life then I could have ever done if I had quietly accepted their version of my worth. And that in itself will make me happy.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

DAY 28

First of all, let me apologize for the brief hiatus. I've been concentrating on law school applications and publishing my "station mandated" blog (which is definitely not as interesting as this masterpiece!). Needless to say, I haven't had much time to write. Don't worry my friends, I am back... and back with a vengeance!! So here goes nothing...

If I could offer one word of advice to aspiring journalists who are contemplating embarking on a career in television news, it would be this: don't do it! Now don't get me wrong, these last few years have been full of awesome adrenaline pumping situations, and once in a lifetime opportunities. There have been days where I seriously couldn't imagine doing anything else with my life. I love shooting video, meeting new people, and knowing what is going on in the community. My passion is visual storytelling. I can't explain how excited I get at the prospect of a really powerful, colorful, news event. I know, I know... I sound like a total dork right now, but it's true. I still get butterflies in my stomach when I walk out of the newsroom on my way to a potentially great NAT package. The natural high of endless opportunity waiting for me at an event is like no other... Especially knowing that I am in total control of the end product.

Similarly, I still get excited when I turn on the tv and see my work broadcasting to the world. Granted, as a news photographer, nobody knows that it is something I've produced. But I know. I know the painstaking attention that I gave to every single edit. I know the time and effort that went into the final product. And although I may not ever get viewer credit for what I've accomplished, I know that because of my work our viewers are able to experience at least a hint of what it was really like to be at the scene.

Having said that, I'm starting to think that it is time for me to hang my hat on the news business. It is a sad day when this corrupt industry could take such a passion, such a calling, and squeeze the life out of it. Although I haven't given up all hope yet, I'm starting to think that is the direction this particular dream of mine is going.

So now the question is why? Why would I ever give up something that has brought me so much joy and excitement over the last few years of my life? Well, let me tell you.

I did not get into this business to get rich. I knew as a photographer I would never be famous. I certainly didn't expect bankers hours and holiday's off. No, I got into this business because I have a passion for storytelling, and an addiction to knowledge. I did however hope that by the age of 25 I would be able to afford a small one bedroom apartment, gas for my car, food on the table, and some extra money for beer. Of course a limited shopping budget would be appreciated.

I knew that the work wouldn't always be easy. When I first embarked on this journey into television news, I knew that I would have to prove myself to my colleagues, and earn what little pay I received. I was willing to go the extra mile... Learn the Satellite truck... Write stories for the newscast... Even report if necessary. I was willing to do what it took to make a few extra pennies, so at the end of the day I could live comfortably in my miniature apartment.

To be honest, I still am willing to put in 110 percent. When you love what you do, giving 110% isn't difficult. It is almost natural. But I won't do it for free. Only a fool works himself into the ground and has nothing to take away from it at night. Only a fool agrees to long hours, uncertain work conditions, and ever changing expectations without demanding something in return.

The news business is changing. Since I first crossed the threshold into the "professional" realm, I've known that little fact. I considered myself lucky that I was capable of adapting to the changing times. I knew that my youth would eventually work in my favor. What I didn't know was that part of that change included expecting people to accomplish tasks that they've never been trained for, and refusing to pay them for the work they actually do.

As our station joins the ranks of news organizations nationwide who are adopting a news platform based on "multi media journalists," I personally have become a victim of "the changing times." MMJ's are essentially one person crews. They shoot video, write stories, voice packages, update the web, and somehow in the course of the day manage to sneak in a blog post and a few twitter updates. Let me make myself clear, I have no problem with a platform based on the work of MMJ's. I think they provide a level of efficiency otherwise absent from newsroom.

My problem is that people who were not hired as MMJ's, or paid the going rate for MMJ's are expected to do the work of MMJ's (and smile while doing it!). As you may have already guessed, I am one of those people. I am struggling to find the balance between what I love to do, and what I am expected to produce. But that is a completely different story, that I look forward to telling in future posts.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

DAY 27

Sometimes my job is less about the stories I tell and more about taking pretty pictures. Luckily for me, it is easy to take pretty nature pictures in Colorado in the fall. A bit hungover from my post LSAT celebrations last night, I wasn't exactly thrilled when I was told this morning that my task for the day included driving around the mountains looking for changing leaves.

To be honest, the drive was miserable. I was tired. My head hurt. I needed (and I mean NEEDED) water... course I had neglected to bring any. The drastic climb in altitude didn't help things either.
I did a loop from Woodland Park through Cripple Creek, Victor and back down to the Springs. While the drive may have been miserable, I did see some pretty amazing sites. Unlike a midwest fall, autumn in the mountains is a majestic gold. The Aspens glow in the sunlight creating an image meant for fairytales.

Now that I'm back on solid ground, I can appreciate the true beauty of the day. These are just a few of the images I captured. I hope you enjoy them!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

DAY 26

The sky is blue. The grass is green. And I think today looks like a great day for a nat pack. Lucky for me, my boss agrees, and hands me two potential shooter’s pieces within five minutes of walking in the door. Option #1 Hundreds of goats eating their way through the weeds at Bear Creek Park. Option #2 Fire fighters from all over North America preparing for the annual IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial service.

Considering the close proximity of the goat story I decide to head there first. A few minutes of fruitless driving later and I’m beginning to think that I’m going nuts. If there were two hundred goats in the park, you’d think I’d notice them. I pull to the side of the road and glance down at my information. Today is the right day. Now is the right time. Where the hell are they? I call the listed contact number and get an automated answering machine… no luck. I hope this isn’t a precursor to how the rest of the day will go.

As I’m throwing my cell phone on the seat, contemplating my next move, a hear a knock on the door. “Are you looking for the goats?” “Why yes, actually I am. Ummm… where are they?” I respond. “Not here yet. Let me make a phone call.”

Five minutes later she returns. The goats are over an hour away; still north of Denver. Whelp, I guess option #2 is now option # only.

I hear the bagpipes before I see them. The sound is powerful and moving. There is a sadness to the notes that strikes me almost immediatley, only intensifying the giddy feeling in my stomache that I get before every nat pack shoot.

I wind slowly down the path leading to the parking lot, passing a group of drummers on my right. Colorful flags line the field in front of me. Organized chaos, I think to myself. I hop out of the truck and head immediately to the drum site. Plan A, get all my nats and worry about interviews later. Hopefully I don’t need a plan B, because I haven’t the slightest idea what that would be.

Firefighters are always fun to do stories with because they all HATE being on tv. Considering the nature of this story, they can’t turn me down… so I get to pick a lucky participant out the crowd and they have to deal with the ridicule. Dressed in shorts, fire fighter t-shirts, and goofy fishing hats, the group looks more like a modge podge of college kids then anything else. I know tomorrow they’ll be looking sharp, and the out of place outfits I’m seeing today will be stashed in suitcases at the hotel room.

I spend some time collecting audio of the drummers lining up in formation. Then I quickly head over to the bagpipes. The entire field is filled with pipers (is that what they’re called?) practicing tunes on their own. The cacophony of notes blend together into an incomprehensible melody… I hope they sound better when they are all playing together. Eventually the drummers march their way over to the bagpipe field and I’m given a front row seat to a their beautiful concert. When I’m not distracted by the flying drum sticks, I’m holding back tears that bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace always seems to bring out.

Eventually, after I’ve collected enough video, I head over to the flags that are lined up in an awesome array of colors and vibrancy. This is the stuff photogs dream of. Last, but certainly not least I head over to the memorial wall where families are already lining up to trace their loved ones names. Tear stained flowers rest peacefully on the ground, a distinct shift from the storm of emotions running down the faces of family left behind. Once again, I fight to keep my emotions inside.

It is early afternoon by the time I leave to go back to the station. I’m confident I have enough to turn a really great nat pkg… now it’s just up to me to do the video, sound, and people justice.
This is what came out of the whole thing. Check it out… let me know what you think.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

DAY 24

I need to vent. I figure venting here is at least a little more productive then screaming to myself in the car. So for all of you who don't want to listen to a bitch fest, I suggest you turn the page.

So here goes...

When I see camera, I think, news.

When I see a groupd of people with physical disabilities (including visual impairment) riding bicycles up the steep inclines of Gold Camp Road, I think, inspiration.

When I see a large van with flashing hazard lights following the physical impaired bike riders, I think, safety.

That's what I think. Apparently others in the community don't think quite like I do. And apparently, they think that because I am carrying a camera and driving a news truck, I have to give a shit about what they think.

So by now you are probably asking yourself what the hell I'm talking about. Let me start at the beginning.

I walk into work around nine am and plop myself down at the computer. I've been "one man banding" for a while now, so when our assignment editor hands me information about "learn to race" bike camp for disabled athletes, I'm not suprised. I make some calls and quickly realize that any hope for squeezing a nat pkg out of this is definitely out the window. All week long the campers have been training in places condusive to shooting video: the velodrome at memorial park, the weight room at the olympic training complex. Today of course, they are going on a road bike ride up Gold Camp Rd. For me, this means that unless I have a driver who is capable of chauffering me up the hill while I shoot video out of the back hatch of the truck, my nat pkg hopes are gone.

Now that that is settled, and I've accepted vsv duty once again, I load my gear and head up to the designated meeting area. The first thing I notice when I get there is a large Olympic training center van moving about 2 miles per hour. As I pull up behind, I see that there is a group of about 20 bikers moving just as slowly infront of it. Luckily the driver stops when he sees me, and informs me that the staging area is actually about two miles up the road. He is just moving slowly to protect the riders from speeding cars. Some of the cycles are not bicylces, but hand cycles. They are made for riders with little to no movement in their lower body. He explains to me that these cycles sit very low to the ground and can be hard to see for a driver who is not paying close attention...thus the large white van.

I decide my best chances of getting any good video is to make my way around the riders, find a pull off a little further up the road, and do my best to get enough video as they ride past me. I inch around the car and crawl past the cyclists taking great pains to stay a safe distance away from them on the narrow road.

Once I'm infront of the lead rider, I start a slow acceleration. Considering the age of the car that I'm driving, my acceleration to about 15 miles per hour sounds like I'm jumping off the start line at a NASCAR race. The engine is churning, and obviously working way to hard for the speed I'm going, but when you are the lowest photog on the food chain, you take what you can get.

That's when I hear the first comment of the day that makes me want to stop the car, get out, and tell the woman who is talking to me to shove it! "SLOW DOWN!" she screams, "GEEZ! YOU PEOPLE ARE GOING TO KILL SOMEONE. YOU HAVE NO RESPECT! THERE ARE PEOPLE OUT HERE!"

Ok, so first let me point out that I realize that there are "people out here." I just drove two miles an hour past a group of blind and paralyzed bike riders...at this point, careful is my middle name. Second, let me point out that I was going under 15 miles an hour on a road where the speed limit is 25! Thirdly, and this is the last thought that I had time to formulate before my next encounter with an angry neighbor, I have complete respect for people using the road for recreational purposes, and I don't appreciate telling me that I don't, when she knows nothing about me!

Moving on. I make my way up the road, find a nice pull-off, and get my camera ready to go. That's when angry neighbor number two pulls up. Something in my eyes much scream, "Please come bitch at me and tell me about all your problems, before you insult me to my face!" That's what I feel like sometimes... anyways, I digress.

Mr. Neighbor, as I shall refer to him for now on, stops his SUV in the middle of the road. As he is rolling down his window and waving me over, my only thought is, "I hope this is quick so I don't miss my only opportunity for some semi-decent video." I walk up to the truck and prepare myself for an earful.

"Let me tell you missy. You work for the news don't ya!?! Well, let me tell ya... what they are doing here is shameful. Awful. They should not be on the road. Someone is going to get hurt trying to avoid them. They need to find someone else to go."

I interrupt with, " Well Sir, I don't control where the bikers decide to ride, but this is a popular road and I'm sure they aren't the only people on it today."

"I know! That's just my point! Someone is gonna get hurt. People come speeding up and down this road, on their bikes, and in cars... not looking where they are going. People are going to get hurt! They should be banned from this road. You want a real story. You know what you should focus on?"

I want to say, "actually no sir, I couldn't give a shit what you think my story should be about." But I don't. I nod, and let him keep talking.

"You should focus your story about how dangerous this little experiment on biky riding is... and how the neighbors want them gone."

At this point I notice that the bikers are coming up over the hill. This is the only chance for video that I am going to get, but how do I respectfully step away from this ornary old man? I point to the bikers and tell him that I need to get this video. At that remark he respectfully tells me, " You have no idea what you are doing. You are missing the bigger story! You a stupid for passing this up. Dumb girl!" And then he rolls up his window, and is gone.

I'm left standing there, fumbling with my camera. I miss the shot the money shot and have to settle for vid of the slower riders who arrive a few minutes after the pack. When I'm done with my interview and climb back in my car, I finally realize how pissed off I am.

First beef... why does a camera on my shoulder make you think that you can speak to me with utter disrespect. I would not scream at you if you had a camera on your shoulder. I would not call you stupid. No, I wouldn't think twice about doing that... probably because I learned when I was about 3 about the Golden Rule. Treat people the way that you would like to be treated. No, I wouldn't call a stranger that I barely knew stupid, because I wouldn't like them to do that to me.

Second issue... When you see me standing with my camera shooting video, why do you think that you know better then I do, what makes a good story. Do I come to your place to work and tell you how to do your job? No. You want to know why? I don't tell you how to do your job, because I don't know how to do your job! The same holds true for angry neighbors. You have no idea how to do my job, what makes a good story, or what I should shoot... so do me a favor. Don't pretend like you do!

Third concern... Does compassion exist in this world anymore? I mean seriously. These are people with crippling disabilities. Seeing them ride up and down a road that I can't even make it up is inspiring. As moral citizens, we should be encouraging them, cheering them on. I can't imagine the genuine lack of care that must be in the heart of a man who curses them for trying.

So what I'm saying is, the next time you see a photog standing on the side of the road shooting video, don't pull over and give her a piece of your mind. She doesn't give a shit! Don't tell her what to shoot, or how to do her job. She already knows! And if you notice a pack of disabled bike riders attempting a challenge that you yourself would fail... give them a cheer of encouragement.

That is all.

Monday, September 14, 2009

DAY 23

Coming off of a good day yesterday, I can't help but think today will be hell. That's how it normally works in news... It must be the collective news karma that does it. Walking into work and discovering my fate is door knocking on a widows front step kills an excitement buzz like none other. But I'm not jinxing myself yet. Yesterday I was told that I will be shooting a photographers piece on an annual machine gun shoot at a local shooting range. Fingers crossed, that plan hasn't changed.

When I walk in the newsroom the only dayside reporter is already out getting a pkg about some hikers that were lost in the woods overnight. That's good for me because it means that I'm on my own today. I quickly call and set up the story at Dragon Man's... Now they have to let me do it!

I twiddle my thumbs till ten thirty... When I'm supposed to be leaving for the range. That's when I hear a rather unfortunate medical call come across the scanner. "RP is reporting that the victim is sliced in half. Old Pueblo Rd..." Silence. Part of me wants to slip out the door before our assignment editor turns his attention to me. I could pretend that I forgot my phone at home, or it was on vibrate and I didn't hear it... And then I could still do my story. But I stay planted in my seat, and sure enough, within seconds he tells me to head that way. DAMN! I was actually excited for the machine guns.

When I get to the scene I immediately notice a covered body laying next to a large yellow tractor. Police tape surrounds the area and police are walking up and down the dirt drive... Looking important, but doing nothing. I shoot as much video as possible for the side of the road and head out quickly... If I hustle I can still make it to Dragon Man's before all the cars are blown up.

Forty five minutes later, gun shots already ringing in my ears, I pull off Curtis Dr. into Dragon Mans. Deep breathe, here goes nothing. I immediately notice Mel, the Dragon Man, talking to some customers outside the shop. After a quick handshake, he hurries me down to the range... Time for the flame thrower! Six people telling me where to stand, a crowd of about a hundred surrounding me with cameras, and Mel dressed in the most absurd outfit that I've ever seen, leads me to believe that I'm in for more then I've bargained for. Then I hear... The flame thrower is homemade! Oh no...this could quickly turn from a "happy machine gun story" to a "dead gun range owner story."
Luckily no one is injured in the flame thrower display. The crowd disperses and I am left mingling amongst the uber conservative gun slingers with "GOD HATES LIBERALS" plastered across their camo t-shirts. This is where I turn on the charm, and keep my political inclinations to myself. I'm pointed to the owner to machineguntours.com, who tells me about the fantasies people fulfill when they come shoot their machine guns. "maybe they saw Rambo on tv last night... Now they can come out here and fulfill that fantasy. They can shoot with the gun that Rambo used." I let him finish before I throw in my jibe about how none of my fantasies include shooting machine guns. Luckily, he lets in slide and the interview continues.

In between great sound bites I jump at the bangs and boombs that continually ring out. Everyone around me keeps telling me to relax, but how do you relax when there are hundreds of automatic machine guns blasting right next to you? Once again, I find myself out of my element.
One hour later, after watching an original world war 2 canon shoot a car on fire, and a six year old shoot a gun bigger then him, I've gathered enough video that I can muster. Plus, my ears are begging me to leave... I need a better set of ear plugs.
Before I do so however, I need to give these babies a try. Alan, my earlier interview, has been hounding me about getting behind one of the guns the entire time that I've been here. I decide to give in to his wishes and try one out.

He puts me behind a Russian PKM, or what he calls "the bad guy gun." He gives me a quick tutorial about how to stand and where to look. I stupidly inquire, "is it going to jump back at me and hurt my face?" He laughs and points to the tripod... Obviously not. The next dumb question to come out of my mouth is, "so will it fire a bunch of bullets at once?" Again, he laughs. I guess that is a yes. Like I said, I know nothing about guns.

Finally I get in place and pull the trigger. I can't really see what I'm supposed to be looking at, and I'm sure that I look like a total idiot. I stand up and give him a glance... I think I'm doing something wrong. "are you left handed?" he inquires. "No." "Well are you looking out of your left eye?" "ummm.... Yes." "well, then you need to be shooting left handed."

"Well that would be nice to know!" I switch to the other side and fire it again... Much better! After a few rounds go off, most likely hitting absolutely nothing, I step back and give my mentor a high five! Wow! What a rush! Who knew firing a gun could feel so liberating. Now, I'm still the same Buddhist pacifist that I was before. Guns are bad mmmmmmk. I'm all for outlawing gun ownership, and keeping machine guns to military use only. But, and this is a big leap for me, I do admit shooting was fun. There I said it! I'm a little ashamed. But its true. It was a rush like no other... And yes, it was fun.

Here is the story that I put together after the whole ordeal...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

DAY 22

I don't bleed red, white and blue. I don't really care whether someone removes their hat when the National Anthem is playing. I'm not offended when someone burns a flag in protest. I do however think it is important to take at least a moment of my day each September 11th, to acknowledge the sacrifice of so many brave American men and women.

Honestly, as embarrassed as I am to admit this, when my assignment editor told me I had to be into work early to shoot a flag display at UCCS, I asked why? It didn't dawn on me that it was part of a larger ceremony honoring the victims of 9-11. While working in news has its down sides (for instance not having Saturday and Sunday off) it is important to point out one aspect that I am grateful for.

Working in news forces to me to keep defining moments in American history at the forefront of my mind. It allows me the opportunity to attend commemorative ceremonies, and talk to people who have taken on the task of keep memories alive. While at a Tribute Bike Rally today a man said to me, "in America we are too quick to become complacent. It isn't an option for me. It is my duty as an American to make sure these men and women, these hero's, didn't die in vain. Some people serve their county by going into the military. Others become firefighters, police officers or EMT's. While this rally may be small, it is our way of serving our country."

As I watched the 400 bikes ride past me on the street, I couldn't help but contemplate those words. Eight years removed from the horrors of September 11, 2001, we as Americans have lost sight of some of the most important lessons of that day. The unity, the patriotism, the genuine care and concern for our neighbors is gone. In the middle of a heated healthcare debate, where citizens are screaming at their elected representatives, elected officials are lashing out at their president, I can only hope that this anniversary puts things in perspective.

What exactly are we fighting for? The America I love is the one where we respect diversity of opinions. The America I love is the one where we can engage our fellow citizens in a heated debate, and pat each other on the back when we are through. The America I love is the one where we look out for the welfare of those less fortunate, where we strive to be the best we can be, and where respect those who sacrifice their own lives in order to keep others safe.

So what am I trying to say? I guess what I mean is that on this anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, I've been reminded of not only why I love being American, but also why I love working in television. If I was anywhere else I wouldn't get to stop and talk to the man who stands on the corner of Galley and Academy every year waving his flag while honking horns speed by. If I didn't work in TV wouldn't get to talk to the college senior who was 13 when the towers fell, but still has the news clippings from that day. If I wasn't here, I wouldn't have taken the time to remember.

Monday, September 7, 2009

DAY 21

There is this new thing called an MMJ. Apparently I am it. I don't quite know what it means, but I'm the "guinea pig." My new tasks (on top of all the photographer duties that I have) include writing stories, shooting everything on my own, and getting paid the exact same amount. Don't worry, I'm excited. I've been complaining about the lack of intelligent thought that is required of me during most shifts... Now (for better or for worse) I have a chance to change that.

It has been a few weeks since I've really started embracing this new role... Ok, let's be honest... I'm really not embracing it at all... but it has been a few weeks since I've accepted my fate. I've been cheerfully riding solo, carrying my tripod, and conducting interviews on my own. I've been dipping my toes into the writing side of things... Crafting vsv's at a snails pace and sending them to producers for feedback. I haven't really been trained to be a reporter, but I guess I can fake it well enough to make people believe me.
Today however, I'm about to strike out. My news director just threw me a curve ball, and I didn't even see it coming. First she said the words, "one person band"... No big deal... I didn't bat an eye. It was the words that followed it that sent me back to the bench. "I think you're ready for a package!"

I'm not the type of person who says "I can't" so I take the curve ball in stride and pretend not to be phased. At least the story I'm doing is visual... Maybe I won't have to say much at all. I cling to my hope as I load into the truck and pull out of the station. The radio is silent today... I need to think.

I begin driving to a nursing home on the South end of town where I am meeting a Black Forest woman by the name of Ginny. Ginny and her miniature horse Peanut have been visiting nursing homes for almost nine months. It's a new version of animal therapy. If I didn't have a mountain of fear filling me up right now, I might actually be excited about this.

I arrive at the nursing home before Ginny. My stomache is clouded with butterflies and my mind is racing with questions. I can't seem to shake the crushing fear of failure. I know once she pulls up with Peanut in tow I'll relax a little and let habit kick in. I try to remind myself that I've shot these stories before. Nothing is new about this one... Nothing except that when I get back I won't be passing it off to any reporter. When I get back the monumental task of writing and voicing the package is all on my shoulders.

Finally I see a trailer round the corner in front of me. One deep breath later, I'm introducing myself, putting a microphone on Ginny, and marveling at Peanut's gym shoes. I've done this before. Ginny is relaxed and easy to talk to. I can tell right away that she is passionate about the work that she and Peanut are doing. She is grateful that I am here, helping her get her message out to the community.

We quickly pow wow about her game plan, before I run ahead to get set inside the nursing home. I'm not in photographer mode. My fears about what I will write when I return to the station are briefly shuffled to the back of my mind. I'm concentrated on getting a good white balance, keeping everything in focus, and capture a few of those priceless moments on tape (so that I actually have something to write about later). Luckily my subjects tell the story themselves. Their faces light up and their voices crack. One alzheimers patient begins telling a story of a horse that he had growing up. I am truly moved.

When the visit is over I grab a quick interview with the son of one of the patients. He is in town from Japan, where he is stationed with the US Marine's. He tells me that the visit was both exciting and engaging for his father. He can't believe the joy it has brought him. I can't help but smile to myself as I walk away... I can't believe I was worried about not getting enough sound to tell this story. The photographer in me is thinking about how great a natural sound package this would make. Who needs to hear my voice, when someone else can tell it better?

Maybe that's just a cop out. Maybe that is my fear shining through. Either way, this will be a reporter package when I get back. This will have my voice attached, whether it sounds good or not. The only way to learn how to ride is to hop on the bike and try... Regardless of how many times you fall. I must admit that the competitor in me doesn't like the idea of failure. I may not be a perfectionist, but I work hard to get things right. I've only been a photographer for two years, but I pride myself on the fact that my work doesn't reflect my inexperience. Today may tell a different story.

I follow Ginny to one more home and finish shooting my video. I impressed with the amount of natural sound I've captured, and the quality of my interviews. If my voice isn't too awful, I might actually be able to put together a nice little story out of this. It is only noon, but I hustle back to the station without grabbing lunch. Five hours seems like a lot of time, but I'm worried about how long this will take me to write. The video loads while I log the interviews. The butterflies are coming back now...

It's 1 pm before I finishing going through all my interviews. I've tried calming my racing heart, but have resorted to just ignoring the pounding in my chest. This trying new things idea isn't as fun as I thought it would be.

Five minutes later, still trying to conceal my full state of panic, I'm relieved when my assignment editor informs me that my story is being held for the weekend so that I can be a photographer for our nightside reporter. I feign disappointment while doing the happy dance in my head. Thank God! Now I have a full night to think about what I'm going to say... And an entire day to get my voice to sound good! My mind is still racing about the task that I have ahead of me tomorrow, but at least I've bought myself some time.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

DAY 20

They smell like goat, but they bahhh like sheep...and I'm in Penrose surrounded by them!

Another day short staffed, and even shorter on story ideas has landed me in the tiny town of Penrose, Colorado. After a quick stop at Happy Apple Farms, I'm now surrounded by dozens of Jacob's sheep... which I must admit, look a lot more like goats then sheep.

So I'm out of my element, and a little on edge... which began as soon as the road went from pavement to dirt. I've pulled in to a compound of houses and out-buildings that are holding animals I've never heard of, let alone seen. A plump woman wearing a mickey mouse shirt is waving exictedly in my direction. A quick breath of stale car air later and I'm inhaling the sweet smell of country.

I climb out of the truck, grab my gear...and of course, put a smile on my face. Yvonne is friendly, excited, and a bit eccentric. She has pictures to show me, bags full of sheep wool, and wool blankets straight off the press. I don't have time to cringe at the skull she has had bleached that is sitting in the front seat of her car because my hand is already being plunged into the bag of wool...and no, it hasnt been cleaned. We haven't even started the interview, and I'm already ready to wash my hands and call it a day!

I sheepishly (haha, get it!) follow her back toward the pens and can't help but stare at the odd configuration of horns on these animals. It is definitely a sight to see. Some have two, others four...but the most interesting have six horns situated oddly on their tiny head. They are bahhing like it's their job...and chewing like they've got nothing else to do. I mic up Yvonne and start fumbling my way through questions. Interviews are always hard when you know absolutely nothing about the topic that you are covering. How do you ask insightful questions about an animal when you can't even tell what it is? Luckily my interview is eager to share her vast knowledge on the topic of sheep...and I don't have to do much work. I'm sure I should have been a bit embaressed about some of the things that came out of my mouth...but I was so cluelessly uneducated on the topic that I didn't even know if I should be sticking my foot in my mouth.

After my interview I'm blessed with an individual tour of the pens... not fun! First of all, it smells...bad. Like sheep. Secondly they don't stand still. They are so obnoxiously scared of every movement that either they are running around like a chicken with their head cut off, or standing facing the corner of the pen avoiding all types of eye contact. I can't stand these things! I'm done shooting video after the first pen, but Yvonne insists on not only showing me the pen of babies, but also the large pen where the females are kept. She has names for all of them...Blue, Mickey... the list goes on and on. I don't think that I would even name my children if I had that many, but hey, to each their own! She talks to them like babies, coaxing them out of the corner, and trying her best to stay in control. I hang in the corner... trying not to smirk. I am so obviously a city girl.

I get over my initial fear of the obnoxiously large horns and eventually find myself petting one female that has lodged herself in the corner between me and the fence. That's when Yvonne informs me that she bottle fed that particular sheep...and thinks the sheep likes people better then her own kin. Once again, the smirk is swallowed.

Thankfully my extended tour eventually ends, and I lead the way back to my car. It's hard to hide my excitement about the possibility of entering urban society once again. I smell like farm, and sweat. My hands are oily from the wool and my camera dirty from the...well, the dirt. As I pull out of the driveway I lift my hand for a brief wave through the rearview mirror... so long Penrose!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 19

The newsroom feels empty today. It is eerily quiet. While I would normally enjoy such a serene work environment, I know that it is only a facade... hiding the inevitable chaos that is sure to crash down on us later this afternoon. We have more desk people then reporters... more scanners then photographers... more managers then cameras on the street. Something is wrong here people.

In the last week we've lost two of our own. One has moved on to a bigger market, the other out of the business completely. While Denver is only a few miles up the road, it is a jump not many have been able to make. I'm happy for him, really I am... what I'm not happy about is the hole that he has left behind.

News organizations are like school sports teams. While we may practice together day after day, inevitably at the end of every year somebody graduates (one day it will probably be me!). After they are gone the team is altered, for better or worse, and must rebuild. I can speak for personal experience, the rebuilding isn't always pleasant. I don't like it. It is different, harder. It means filling gaps by doing the job of two, sometimes three. It means no lunch breaks, live shots in every show, and a doubled story count. No, I don't like it.

With furloughs and vacation on top of the inevitable summer cold that is cirrulating the newsroom right now... we are bare bones. While I could sit here complaining about the current state of our news organization, I'd rather focus on the potential good that may come out of this. I must admit that part of me is excited to step into new shoes and fulfill new roles. My brain has felt a bit underutilized lately, so this may mean new challenges for me to conquer.

I've been told my fate today is another nat pkg, but one only needs to glance up from the computer to know that won't last long. I predict it changes before noon. The good news, I guess the powers that be liked my last one about a group of elderly women who have picked up the game of volleyball.

Click here to watch it: http://tinyurl.com/glams

The story today is about service dogs. Colorado Springs is the home of the first peanut sensing allergy dog. His name is Rock-O and he is quite the pup.

A few months ago he was given to an 8 year old named Riley, who up until now has lived her life in constant fear. She couldn't go to the park, eat at many restaurants, or even attend a public school. Now she can. She can slide down a slide without worrying that a peanut shell is waiting for her at the bottom. She can eat with a group of friends, without wondering if something in their lunch box could kill her. Rock-O has changed her life... and now her mom wants dogs (like Rock-O) to change the life of other children with deathly, but hidden, allergies.

It's 10:30 am, time for a change. The nat pkg idea has been pulled, not enough people... go figure. I'm now attached at the hip to our only reporter for the day. I predict a hectic afternoon. Luckily he has two photographer working with him, so I'm off the hook for some of the work. But my grand plan of telling a great visual story about training allergy dogs has pretty much dissipated. Added on to my list now, a school bus safety story... boring!!!

I shoot the dog story quickly, managing to sneak in a few belly rubs while I'm at it. After that it's Subway in the car on my way to the bus barn. Oh, August. Why is it that when you are out of school, you still get stuck dealing with it? I thought I was done with buses, school supplies and homework... no such luck! Now I'm talking about bus safety, preventing the flu, and not speeding in school zones. I swear it never ends.

By 4 pm I've finished everything but my liveshot... the daily lightning storm is building in the mountains, so that may be canceled anyways. No breaking news has hit... Nothing has crashed... Suprisingly we've squeaked by. The funny thing is, our average viewer probably won't even noticed the difference. That's what's so interesting about this business. There are days when four reporters isn't enough.... when there is so much news that we are in a constant rush to finish everything in time for air. Then there are days, like today, when one person doesn't even have enough to do.

I love the fact that when you walk in the door you don't know why type of day it will be... which way the pendulm will swing. There is no predicting one hour from the next, let alone one day from the next. You constantly have to be on your toes, ready to react, ready to run. I love the calm before the storm. The quiet newsroom that suddenly errupts into a chaotic, well oiled engine, with a simple call on the scanner. It is unpredictable. It is quiet. It is calm. It is sometimes boring. But then, as if offended by the silence, it rapidly deteriorates into an all out riot. There is no other way to describe it. It is news and there is nothing like it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

DAY 18

Two interesting things happened today.

First, I almost got arrested. No, it is not the first time this has happened... but considering my sunny disposition toward police officers and sheriffs deputies, it is quite shocking to imagine that anyone would want to cart me away and lock me up.

Secondly, my reporter seriously told a deputy that he wasn't familiar with the term "dick". The comment followed a lengthy, and quite humorous conversation... that taken out of context is probably the funniest thing that I've heard in a while.

The real interesting thing... this all happened on Rampart Range Rd, while covering an accidental shooting death. Why are reporters talking with sheriffs deputies about dicks at a crime scene? Why are photogs being threatened with arrest? Well my friends, let me explain.

I get paid to shoot video. I do this by pointing my camera at the most interesting thing I can find, switching it on, and hitting record (with a few steps in between to ensure that it is focused and properly white balanced). So, when I show up at a crime scene, sectioned off by yellow police tape, I normally walk right up to the tape and plop myself in the most inviting spot.

Today, I did just that. When we arrived at the shooting range, sheriffs cars already lined the dirt pathway. The Memorial Star helicopter was parked in the general parking area, next to an ambulance and some more cop cars. At first I didn't even see the crime tape. As I climbed out of the truck however, I realized that the scene was down a slight embankment, and around the corner... blocked by a bush. Not to worry though, I could still see emergency personel standing in a huddle. I couldn't quite tell what they were working on, but I'll take what I can get.

I stand in one place shooting video for about five minutes. Finally I decide to take a few steps to my right, just to see what I can see. Almost immediately I heard a booming, not so pleasant voice, screaming at me. "GET BACK! GET AWAY FROM HERE!" Normally, I'm the first photog to argue with the police. My usual line goes something like this, "Officer I don't mean to be rude, I'm a little confused. I'm behind the crime tape, on public property. I'd be more then willing to back up, if you would like to extend your scene, but until you do so, I'm going to stay here."

Today however, I'm in no mood to argue. I know shocking... but today, I'm actually willing to back up. I move back to the spot I was in five minutes ago. Thinking that I've satisfied the deputy's wishes, I turn the camera back on COMMERCIAL CAMERA AND DESTROY IT. AND THEN I WILL TAKE YOU TO JAIL. IF YOU DON'T MOVE RIGHT NOW, YOU WILL BE ARRESTED!!" I glance behind my shoulder, thinking surely he must be talking to someone else. Afterall, I've already moved back... and nobody seemed to care when I was in this spot five minutes ago. Then it comes again. "I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU TO MOVE." This time he is moving towards me. That's when I realized he is serious, he is talking to me, and now is not the time to argue. Reluctantly I retreat back behind another sheriffs vehicle, where I can see absolutely nothing, and wait.

Now, I haven't been in this business very long. Afterall, I'm only 24. But, in the two years that I've been shooting news, there are a few rules that I've mastered. First and foremost, never cross police tape...ever. I got that. My question is, why do they put crime tape up, if they want you to stay three blocks behind it. I don't know if it is just the law enforcement in this town, or if it happens everywhere... all I know is that it is starting to get old. For some reason Joe Schmoe from down the street can walk right up to the crime tape, lift it up and continue walking down the sidewalk... but if I show up with a camera, I'm automatically interfering with their investigation and the safety of the public. I get my ass chewed for being there and sent a mile and a half away (most likely shooting directly into the sun). Does something seem a bit fishy to you? I don't like it. I swear... if law enforcement spent half the time do their job that they spend reprimanding me (for not breaking any law) this city would be the safest place in the world.

Depending on my mood, I argue, I comply, I pretend like I don't hear... but it happens either way, and I'll continue to deal with it until my time in news is over.

Moving on to my favorite comment of the week...the reason why news is a fun business to work in. After my verbal reaming, I shot enough video to last a week and a half and retreated back to the safety and comfort of the air conditioned car. Being out of cell service and therefore unable to text, I twiddle my thumbs for a while before I send my reporter to go make nice with the cops and see if we can get someone to talk. This is the conversation that follows...

Reporter: Hello there sir. Is a PIO on the way? Do you have any information about when someone will be available to talk to us?
Deputy: The PIO isnt coming. She lives too far away.Silence.
Reporter: Well, is there someone that could go on tape with a little bit of information?
Deputy: You can talk to one of the "dicks" when they get here.

Silence... more silence... now it's getting awkward.

Reporter: One of the dicks?
Deputy: Yeah, one of the dicks. They are on the way. They should be here shortly.

Reporter nodds. Shakes his head, and looks like there is something he wants to say. More awkward silence.

Reporter: I'm sorry sir. I'm not familiar with that term. Can you tell me what a dick is?

Now, there are many responses to this question. In the term that he is refering to, a dick is a detective. In everyday conversation, this question would merit some sort of snide remark about something sexual and completely out of line. I can think of a lot of things I would say in response... but I'll hold my tongue.

Today the response is simple.

Deputy: Detective.

(Now at this point in the reenactment of the story, I am on the ground of the car laughing hysterically. The deputy has walked away, and is also laughing and slyly pointing toward our vehicle.)

When the detectives arrive they are briefed on the situation, and of course told about the interesting converstaion that was exchanged only moments ago. Nothing is said when he finally comes over to chat, but we all know what he is thinking. At least he isn't being a dick about it :-)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

DAY 17

Day 17
My alarm goes of and I hit snooze. Once. Twice. Three times. I don't know why I even set the damn thing. Finally I just turn it off and lay in bed, enjoying the fact that Idon't have to be at work for another three hours. It's Saturday, the sun in shining, and I'm not working.... can it get any better?

My excitement in shortlived... probably because I waste the whole morning sleeping. I shuffle into work at 1:30 ready to address my fate. I'm immediately greeted with a smile and press release for a car seat safety check event. John's running late, so I'm on my own for the time being. I drop my stuff at the desk and head out the door. Luckily the event is right down the street at the Walmart parking lot. Unluckily it ends in about five minutes, so the only video I have is a few people standing around, eyes fixed on their watches.

I grab a quick soundbite with the guy in charge. Apparently out of the hundreds of carseats they've checked today, 70% had something wrong. Scary thought. One last car pulls in for a check and I get a few shots of the people inspecting the seat and the installation. Piece of cake. Back at the station five minutes later I'm handed some vsv's to edit that have already been shot by another photog. No, I'm not the editor. For some reason on the weekends though, titles don't really seem to matter. I guess you could call me, photog, editor, live truck operator, vsv writer extroridnare... oh, and did I mention doppler watcher and scanner listener?

Before I have a chance to touch my newest project a call comes out for a hazmat scene on the north end of town. The phone rings and our overzealous weekend anchors insist that I leave immediately. I try to explain that I have three stories to edit before 5, but they're having none of it. So I pass off the editing duties to my reporter and head out the door. I make it to the address that we heard called out and the street is empty. I glance upand down the intersection hoping to catch a glimmer of flashing lights. Nothing. So I turn the truck around and begin the trek back toward the station.

Before I can even set my camera down, the station phone rings again. Our conversation goes something like this.

Anchor: "So what did you get?"
Me: "Nothing. There was nobody there. I looked around the neighborhood a bit too. Nothing."
Anchor: "Well we know that something is going on. We heard another call for it"
Me: "Well do you have another address because nobody is at the one you gave me."
Anchor: "Did you drive down Tejon? What did you see driving down Tejon? The street we think it's on is near Tejon."
Me: "Tejon stretches the entire length of Colordao Springs. No I didn't drive down Tejon. I took the highway."
Anchor: "Well what did you see driving down Tejon."
(Banging my head against the wall...)
Me: "I didn't drive Tejon."
Anchor: "This is important. You need to get some video of this scene."
Me: "I have three other stories to do in about an hour. Why don't you figure out where exactly this scene is, and whether or not we really care, and then I'll go if it is something important."
Anchor: "I wouldn't send you if I didn't care! You need to go."
Me: "Ok, I'm leaving... call me with directions."

I sigh and head back out the door. When I finally find the hazmat scene in the alley of a street that doesn't intersect Tejon at any point, I'm told by the firemen that the hazardous material is only rain water. I shoot some video anyways and head back to the station. After the vo is edited, I call down to Pueblo to correct the script. "They aren't still testing the materials. They've confirmed that it was only rain water." I say. "Well who told you that?" "The lt. on scene. I didn' get it on tape because you told me you only wanted a vo." "Well who was he?" "I don't know. Why does it matter. He was with the fire department." "What was his name?" (Catch my drift... this conversation was obviously going nowhere.)

I hang up the phone and get back to work. Now I only have about twenty minutes to edit together all four of the stories I've been handed. Working quickly, and with the help of my reporter, I get everything done on time... then it's back out the door to start work on my actual story for the afternoon. Up north in briargate, it's now 5:45. I'm sitting at Rep. Doug Lambourns house talking about clean energy and a bill that just passed the US House of Representatives. Outside a storm is raging its way through the springs. I'm thankful that I'm not in it. While we are conducting the interview my phone begins to vibrate. Then, like clockwork, my reporters phone starts ringing as well. We both ignore the calls, not wanting to be rude to our guest who graciously agreed to meet us on a Saturday.

I'm loading the gear into the back of the truck, when I learn what the call was all about. A body has been found... hanging from a tree. Who knows how long it has been there? Who knows how it got there. All I know is that our day just got a lot more interesting. I excellerate onto the highway, driving quickly, excited for our breaking news. We make it to the scene and hop out of the truck. Immediately I am greeted with the smell of rot. I've never experienced a smell quite like it... and never want to again. If you have ever smelled a rotting body, you know just what I'm talking about. It is this stench that sits in the pit of your stomache, that you can taste on the tip of your tongue, and carries into the back of your mouth. It blows with the wind, nauseating even the most hardened police man. All I want is to hop back in the car and drive away, but the smell is there too. A police man approaches us and tell us that it is a suicide. We nod, shoot a quick few shots of video and go grab some dinner.

Then the reaming begins. Apparently our story about clean energy is out the window. The anchors want the suicide, live for the ten. My reporter starts to argue but its to no use. Things are different on the weekends. It was my understanding that the suicide policy was we don't cover it unless it is a public figure or done in a public way. In my opinion this was neither. The neighbors didn't even know about the body until we went knocking on their doors. This poor man had been hanging from a tree for almost three weeks, and nobody saw. Is that public? Interestingly enough, the neigbhor that called it in to the police didn't even know that it was a dead body. He thought that a deer had died, and was rotting in the trees behind his property.

At ten we are the only crew on scene. We stand infront of an empty dark field talking about how nobody even knew a dead body was there. And then we pack up and call it a night. Another battle lost between us and anchors. Do I think we covered the right story? No. Often times teh news business is criticized for jumping at an opportunity to cover crime and gore, even when it isn't exactly newsworthy. Do I think we did that tonight? Yes.

We often sit on our high horse and criticize the other stations for making a big deal out of something that really isn't anything at all. We laugh when they go overboard, creating fear and drama out of a story that deserves a spot in the trashcan. But tonight, we were the ones creating news... I think sometimes we are so set on telling the story the way we want it to be, that we don't open our eyes and see what it really is. We walk in we preconcieved notions of how everything will go, and refuse to change course when reality is altered. Tonight was one of those nights. Lucky for me, tomorrow is a new day.

By the way... the hazmat story never ran. Surprise, surprise.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

DAY 16

DAY 16
You can't win 'em all...

Hopefully today I won't have to climb another mountain. I eat cheerios and wear appropriate shoes just in case. I already have huge blisters on my instep from yesterday... Water, check. Cereal bar, check. Sunscreen, check. Sunglasses, check. Ok, work, here I come.

I walk through the door ready to face whatever they throw at me...secretly praying I'll be handed an easy story that involves little to no effort. My shoulder can't handle another day like yesterday. Luckily Susan is on the desk, and sympathetic to my plight. She hands me a stack of three vsv's that I'll be shooting by myself. Sweet... I can turn up my music, drive with the windows down and do things on my own time.

I stand up from the desk ready to hit the road. First stop, the local forest service office for an interview about some upcoming public meetings. Not the most interesting thing in the world, but it gets me out of the office. On a nice day like today, I have to admit I'm a bit excited about blaring some bad chick music, and doing vsv's on my own.

Before I can make it to the photog room, I notice a shadow following closely behind me. I turn to see who it is... my heart sinks. Part of me wishes I hadn't looked... just kept walking, started the car and driven away without a word exchanged between us. But no such luck. "Hi Alec... I'm guessing you're with me?" is all I can manage to mumble. I guess the chick music is out... and the serenity of driving around with nothing but the wind in my hair... that's out too.

We climb in and head downtown. When we get to the office I tell Alec to wait outside with the gear while I go nab our first subject. I introduce myself to our interview, and Alec as well... and that's when I'm hit with the bomb. "So, are you like a summer intern or something?" "Actually no," I respond. "Alec is just here for the summer, but I've been a photographer for ch. 5 for almost a year now." I try to change the topic back to forest service roads, embarrassed, and a bit peeved, that I've been asked again whether I'm intern. Three questions later, I've got all the sound I need. I thank our interview for his time and say it was a pleasure meeting him. That's when bomb number two drops... "I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer," he says to me while shaking my hand and looking me directly in the eye. Obviously he didn't hear me the first time... IM NOT AN INTERN!!

I smile, and look away... trying not to let my anger surface. The day is going downhill quickly. I pack the gear and head up north to Briargate. Apple is releasing the new iphone today so I get some quick exteriors of the store and grab another vsv about a gala going on later that evening. By noon I've finished everything except for the b-roll I need to get on Mt. Herman. I tell my overzealous, and annoying intern that we are heading up north... and brace myself for a long ride.

We get to where the road turns from pavement to dirt and my head is about to explode. I swear if I have to hear one more comment about trucks, off-roading, working in a mechanic shop, or minivans I'm going to kill myself. I don't care about his girlfriend who used to live in Monument, or how much he likes country music. I don't care that he grew up in the mountains, and thinks that he knows where we are going and what we are doing. I'm a normally loud person... but right now silence would be golden.

I vow to shoot my b-roll quickly and get the hell out of there... back to civilization... so when a woman pulls up as I'm finishing and tells me a I should stick around for a paraglider who is about to jump off the mountain, I all but laugh in her face. No way in hell. I'm outa here.
The drive back is one sided... meaning Alec is talking... and I'm continually nodding my head trying not to listen. Finally we make it to the station... I walk in the door to scurrying people and scanners blaring. Something big is going on... That's when I hear Mt. Herman through the fuzz and chaos. What happened on Mt. Herman I wonder? I was just there...

Then it hits me... the paraglider. Turns out the guy crashed into the side of the mountain and died... and I was right there. Had I been a bit more patient, I would have had a great story. I can't help but kick myself for not waiting... just five minutes to watch the guy jump. Why didn't I stay? Why didn't I wait?

Another photographer jumps in the SAT truck to head up north, my head hangs low. I know there was no way for me to predict what happened, but my competitive nature is killing me. I could have been there... I was there! And I still didn't get it. Luckily it's just one story, just one day... tomorrow will be new and nobody will remember what great opportunity I missed. And as I leave, I remind myself one last time, that even the best don't win em all.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

DAY 15

Day 15

Monday morning... I'm sore from climbing the incline yesterday, so when I waddle into work, coffee in one hand, doughnut in the other, all I can think about is sitting down. As I'm chewing my first sweet bite, a reporter walks up from behind me, hiking clothes in hand, and says, "I hope you ready to go today. We're heading out on a hike." My jaw drops... is he serious?

Unfortunately he is serious. Before I can finish my doughnut we are in the car heading up to St. Mary's Falls. I'm told it is only a 1.6 mile uphill hike before we get to the top of the falls... easy right? Well, considering that I can barely move as it is... the thought of hiking uphill with 30 pounds of poorly balanced gear isn't very appealing. I'm definitely not dressed appropriately. I don't have food, or water. And IM SORE!!

When we arrive at the parking lot where we have to say goodbye to the car I climb out slowly. The sun is beating down hard and hot... even though it is only 10 am. Our excited tour guide greats us with a handshake and says we better start moving. He is the reason that we are here. Last year his brother died while climbing down off the peak above where we are headed. He has built a memorial at the site, to remind people about the dangerous terrain. I reluctantly agree to start and take the first step towards the top.

The beginning is a little steep, but my legs are fresh (well, for today at least) so I grin my teeth and bear it. After a little hill with spots of shade we reach the body of the trail and immediately stop to talk about the 100 year old signs that Mr. Murphy has rejuvanated. I like the pace we are at right now... three steps and then stop... five more, stop. At this rate we will get to the top around midnight... so I know my enjoyment in shortlived.

I've managed to aquire a camera strap for this little journey. Normally our engineers won't let us use them because they are afraid that a camera will fall. Personally I think that the chance of me dropping a camera while climbing up a mountain is infinitely greater if I don't have a strap...so I insist on taking it.

Twenty minutes into the hike, I'm glad I have it. Although I'm walking a bit funny because the strap is a little long, having my arms free to balance as we climb unstable rock and sliding sand is nice. My right shouler is starting to ache a bit from the pressure of the strap, but my mind is focused. I can make it to the top of this hill. I can make it to the top of the waterfall.

Ten more minutes pass. My eyes are focused on the ground. Each step I take is a little victory. One after another, I tell myself. Just don't stop. Keep going. Eventually we reach a spot on the trail crowded with sweaty workers pounding away at the dirt. One is on the ground fiddling with a broken chainsaw. Another is hacking away at the base of a tree stump with a an ax. Although I know that its too good to be true, a little part of me hopes we are already there.

No such luck... it's another group, friends of the peak, clearing the trail on the way up to the falls. They tell us that we are less then a quater of the way there... my heart sinks. All of a sudden failure seems like a distinct possibility. What if I can't make it to the top?

We trudge on... up inclines, over rocks, around trees. The camera starts to feel heavier and heavier. I'm constantly switching shoulders but find no relief from the aching pain. My legs weigh more as well... the steps get harder... the sun gets hotter. I hear my stomach growl and want to sit on the rock on cry... but we trudge on.

Eventually we make it to the 1 mile mark... while I'm happy that I've made it 2/3rds of the way, I know that the last part is going to be the hardest. Our guide explains to us that we are entering a series of switchbacks. They'll be hot he warns, with not much shade. But once you get past those, there is only one more hill... like that is supposed to make me feel better.
By this time I've handed the camera over to my reporter and have slung the tripod accorss my neck and shoulders. It is top heavy, so balancing it while navigating the narrow trail isn't easy... but at least the weight is resting in a different place then the camera. I walk with my head held low, partly to avoid misstepping on a rock or tree root, and partly to help create an even line to rest the tripod.

At the top of the first switchback we find shade. Panting and out of breath I call for them to wait. I need to put this down for just one minute. While we're standing our guide hands us some purified water that he has brought with him. I take it graciously and enjoy cold liquid gliding down my throat. My stomach still aches with hunger, but at least my throat isn't dry.
Before I know it we are on our way again. I barely hearing the conversation between Mr. Murphy and my reporter because I'm so focused on just taking the next step. One after another I eventually reach the top. I'd like to kick my shoes off and soak them in the cold water streaming down the mountain, but now is when the real work starts.

Almsot immediately it is made clear to me that we are in a hurry. I grab some quick shots of the rock steps he has created that lead the way up the cliff. I snap the camera around and catch Mr. Murphy balancing his way accross the log bridges that he has laid accross various sections of the water. There are signs marking the spot where his brother fell and died only one short year ago. I take some shots of those as well. Within minutes I've put a microphone on our subject and he is telling us the story of this memorial... a labor of love he calls it. After the death of his brother he came here to mourn. Day after day he would sit on the rocks, wondering why he wasn't there to help his brother... blaming himself for the death of his sibling. Eventually, he decided to do something. So he created a memorial to honor the life of a person that he loved dearly, and to remind climbers of the dangerous cliff that lies above them.

The waterfall is breathtaking. It looks over the city of Colorado Springs, reminding me of how close we really are to city life. It is humbling to see what Mr. Murphy has created up here... two miles above civilized society. I could barely make the walk to the top, let alone with the tools and gear necessary to create such an oasis. He has done it countless times... because when you lose someone that you love, a little hike is the least you can do.

Here is a copy of the story that aired. Let me know what you think. The video is at the bottom of the story...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

DAY 14

Day 14
Sunday morning... 9 am... not a thing going on. We sit in the newsroom paroozing the web hoping to come up with something that could pass as newsworthy. These are the days when you pray for breaking news (early enough in the day so that you can actually make a good story out of it). The whole city is either sleeping, or at church until at least 10... so we sit and wait. I'm normally one of those people sleeping on a Sunday morning... most of the time I don't work until nightside. But today is different. We are running a rather lengthy investigative story in the 10 pm, so they moved a nightside reporter to dayside. Being the newbie photog- I also got moved.. yay me. As my reporter starts trying to enterprise a story out of any and all of her contacts... I load the car, make a coffee run, and shoot a little prayer up to the big guy in the sky... breaking news, breaking news... It's just me God, wishing for breaking news...

10:30 rolls around and I hear a call come accross the scanner for a possible structure fire in Security. Most of these things are just food on the stove, so I don't get too excited. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty... for wishing for breaking news... afterall, what breaking news is good news? Don't get me wrong, I don't want bad things to happen to good people (or any people for that matter). I don't want someone to get shot, or a house to burn to the ground. I realize that with every fatal motorcycle accident a mother has to lose her child. I don't like death, destruction, or doom and gloom... but I do love a good news story. So if someone has to die, or a house has to burn down, it might as well be while Im at work... if I don't already have another story, that would be an added bonus :-)

Five minutes after the first fire call, we hear "working structure fire", and I've got my cue to leave. Within seconds I'm out the door, speeding down the highway, anxious to see what's really happening. Of course, by the time we get to the house the fire is out, hoses are being drained, and the trucks are being packed up. It was a grease fire that spread... no real damage... no loss of life, limb, or property.... no story for me. A bit dissapointed, I hop back in the Xtera and trek back toward the station.

I don't have much time to wallow... before I can walk in the door my reporter calls with news of a bear in a house on the westside of town. Sweet! She joins me for the ride and we head west toward the Cheyenne Canyon neighborhood.

For someone not from Colorado Springs, or another wildland-urban interface area, a bear in a house might seem like big news. Here, at the foothills of the front range, bear sightings are an everyday occurance. Through spring and summer the bears wake up from hibernation and come down from the mountains searching for food. Lucky homeowners who've accidently left their trash out or a bird feeder accessible will come within feet of these hungry black bears... and have a nice mess to clean up when they are done. What makes this particular story fun and interesting is that today's bear decided the trash wasn't enough, and entered the kitchen of a house through a slightly cracked window to steal a steak marinating on the counter. The furry thief in today's adventure is only a year and a half old, and by the time we arrive on the scene he is sleeping peacefully thanks to a DOW tranqualizer.

I look at the little guy, weighing no more then fifty pounds, and can't help but think how cute he is. His oversized paws are tied with rope, and his ears are tagged with bright yellow cards. If you have to walk in on a bear eating your dinner, it might as well be this little guy. The department of wild life is finishing up some treatment on him when we walk up. After they are done, they will load him into a truck and cart him 100 miles up the mountain... hoping he doesn't find his way back. At 1.5 years of life, this fuzzy animal already has one strike against him. One more, and the DOW will have to euthanize him. In my opinion, his chances aren't so good.

It is a policy that a lot of people don't agree with... myself included. Afterall, the bears were here first. This is their natural habitat, not ours. When we moved in, we did so with the knowledge that we would have to share our surroundings with them. Who are we to decide we no longer want them here? I understand where the government is coming from... we do need to protect people. Bears that get too comfortable with humans can be a problem. Bears are predators, and need to be feared to a certain degree... but in my mind, unless a bear has killed a small child, or brutally torn apart a jogger, they've done nothing wrong. Why kill a bear for eating trash? We don't even kill sex offenders who molest and sexualy assault innocent people. We don't kill murders. Why kill bears?

As the DOW pickup pulls away, the slumbering bear lying in the bed of the truck, I shoot one more prayer up to that big guy in the sky... don't let him find his way back, please.

Here is a link to the story, give me your thoughts...

Friday, June 5, 2009

DAY 13

Day 13

Every photogs worst nightmare: file tape.

File tape to a photog is like telling a director to produce a genius film using only video from scenes he has saved from past movies. While a reporter creates a story with his words, photographers create stories with our images. Our art is in our ability to weave a tale through the lens of our camera- showing people what we see- transporting them there with pictures and natural sound. A piece full of file video is like a novel that has already been written... been there... done that.

I understand that there are times when file video is necessary. For example, during a high profile trial, file video of the crime scene is a crucial piece of the story. Viewers need a visual reminder of why they should care about that particular trial. But that is where the purpose of file video ends. After context, it is our jobs as photographers to show the viewer something new and interesting... something they haven't seen before.

Today I am responsible for a story comprised entirely of bad weather file video. It is warm and sunny out. The breeze is blowing only slightly, creating an enjoyable, balmy, morning. So why on earth are we doing an entire piece on bad weather? Your guess is as good as mine. Afterall, we aren't adding anything new, or showing the viewer anythbing that they've never seen before... heck- they've already seen this flooding video four times this weekend!

I feel a bit disposable today... part of what makes me a valuable asset to this news team (well, most of what makes me a valuable asset to this news team) is my ability to turn events into a seemless array of pictures... pictures that tell a compelling story. Not everyone can do that :-) But a monkey could look up a tape number, import it into the editing system, make a few chops and edits to it, and call it a day. I feel as worthless as a chimp.

Luckily, I'm sore from a rough day at karate yesterday, so I'm not complaining- at least not yet...

It's now noon... the complaining can start.

Part of the problem is where I am... worse then finding file at just any station, is finding file at KOAA. Here at channel five, we can shoot and write, we can make any live shot happen, and we shine during breaking news... but when it comes to archiving video-- we certainly don't walk the walk. It sometimes seems to me that our archiving system has not evolved since the middle ages. Not only is the system completely worthless, but us meager photogs are given the task of archiving our own stories at the end of every night. Now this may not sound like such a difficult task- and it really isn't- but when you are out shooting all day, and then get back fifteen minutes after your shift is over and still have to get gas, archiving video is the last thing that you want to deal with.

What ends up happening is that we save a bunch of stories, planning to log them the next day, or day after that.... but after one week, you've lost your chance. The system can no longer be updated... and any video that isn't already logged is gone forever. Although the story may still pop up during a search, there will not be an accompanying tape where the video should have been saved.

As I sit with my list of Colorado Springs weather disasters, I want to pull my hair out. Sure, I can find stories about lightning... but none of them were saved! It gets old going story after story for over a half an hour and having nothing to show from it. I almost wish that it was storming so I could just set up a camera and record it myself. After much searching I find the lighting and set my sights on a tornado that hit manitou springs in 1979. I wasn't even born then...where the hell am I supposed to find this video!

When I get a chance to glance at the clock I realize that it is already 3:30. I need to start editing so that I'll make my live shot. I've found three pkgs and a few shorter stories. Hopefully I can piece something together. Luckily the flood video is still in the system, so I edit it nicely with the reporter track. I'm not so fortunate with the lightning video. I have about four shots that last little more then one second each... the same goes for the tornado video. So, I take a big chunk, hit edit, and lay it all into the timeline. Not much I can do...

By five oclock, I've shot one interview, and spent about four hours searching for video somebody else had already shot. I've been a bit useless, but oh well. Tomorrow is a new day, and I'm sure I'll be busy enough...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

DAY 12

DAY 12

It's Memorial Day. Happy Memorial Day to me. Guess how I'm going to celebrate this wonderful holiday??? Ding Ding Ding!!! You've got it... I'm going to work!!

For the low man on the todem pole holidays in the news business are just another day of the week. The only thing that separates them from any other day of the week is that there are less people to give you a headache... and of course you are expected to do more (because there are less people to help!). Working memorial day doesn't really bother me. I didn't have any plans and it is cloudy and rainy again anyways. It is Christmas, and Thanksgiving, and even the 4th of July that get to me. Those are the times when you want to be out celebrating... not sitting in an empty newsroom trying to come up with something that could pass for a newsworthy story. Those are the days when I really question whether or not this job is worth it. Those are the days when I remind myself that not only do I get paid less then I did before I had a college degree, but I also have to work on the only days of the year when my whole family is back in Chicago. Because of this job I missed Christmas Eve with my Grandmother who is in her nineties, my little sisters graduation from highschool, thanksgiving with my aunts and uncles, and seeing my five year old sister open her Christmas present from me.

There are certain moments that we live for. Times in our life that only come once... so you better be there to enjoy them or live with the regret of missing out. Sometimes I feel like this job sits me on the sidelines... or won't even let me into the stadium. Isn't the point of working so that we can make money to live... not so that our whole life can pass us by without us even knowing... because we were too busy working...

Luckily Memorial Day isn't one of those holiday's where people sleep in, and then sit around their house all day doing nothing (like Christmas). On Memorial Day people get out... so we aren't exactly stretching for stories this morning. Air Force Academy graduation is this week and I'm the lucky photog that is sent up north to cover the awards parade. Rarely am I on time... so when I show up at the gate at 9 am, coffee in hand, ready for a long day of standing around watching Cadets march in the distance, you can imagine my disdain for ABC who is late... well not really late... we wait till 9:40 and finally give up on them and leave.

Military events are miserable... first of all, while everyone else is wandering around the academy completely unattended, we are attached to the hip of a public affairs person like a dog on a leash. Stand here. Don't walk here. If you need to move ask first. You can point your camera this way, but not that way. What questions are you asking? The list goes on and on and on. I think I failed out of puppy training school cause I just want to tell them to shove it and go where I please. Secondly, military events are painfully long, and enormously boring...

The awards parade goes a little something like this... crowd sits down in the stand and waits... for about an hour and a half. The cadets line up all the way on the other side of the field... if you have a great pair of binoculars you might be able to see them. Not your cadet of course... since they are all dressed alike... Then the pomp and circumstance begins. They march.... and march... and march... and march. First to the east. Then to the North. Sometimes they turn around and wave a flag. Finally they stop (keep in mind they are still so far away that you can hardly see them). We stand. We sit. They march. And it goes on... and on... and on... and on. Finally the thunderbirds fly over in perfect formation. The roar is so loud that the ground shakes beneath me, but I still barely get the shot. In a millisecond they are gone and I'm standing there wondering why I wasn't ready! Two hours later I'm leaving the Acadeamy, sunburned... with a lot of wide shots.

I get back to the station, happy that it's not raining. I'd rather be burned then sopping wet. One more story to go, a little news barbeque and I'm off... not a bad memorial day.

One pm rolls around and I'm off to Evergreen cemetary for historical war ceremony commemorating soldiers of the past. As I roll up the sky turns an ugly gray shade and threatens to spit rain. I'm in a hurry to get back to the barbeque anyways, so I vow to shoot quickly and get out before it pours. Just in case, I throw my raincoat over the camera... it never hurts to be prepared. Before I can even switch the power on... bang... rain. Great. Just my luck. I get a few shots and head back to my car before it really starts to come down. On my way out flags lined up on the graves of fallen soldiers catches my eye. They whip around in the wind, delicate flowers barely surviving the pelting water.

The car is so warm, so dry... but it isn't everyday that you see a sight like this one. Suddenly making it back to the bbq doesn't seem quite so important. On the other end of the field I spot two young girls... roses in hand, placing new flowers on graves where the old ones have been washed away. Their clothes are drenched, but they don't seem to notice the rain. I get out and walk over to them... interrupting whatever peace is in the air. I ask why they are out here... whether the rain could ever deter them. One of the girls looks up at me and says, "never... we are out here every year... the rain would never stop us. They gave their life for us... the least we can do is give a flower to them." With that she bent down and dropped the rose in her hand. Without looking back she walked away... and I was left standing in the rain, soaking wet...

It isn't the bbq's or the camping that makes memorial day special. It is the people who have made the ultimate sacrifice... given their life so that we can celebrate and enjoy the rain and parades and getting paid to work on a holiday.

DAY 11

Day 11

I don't need my alarm clock this morning, the thunder takes care of waking me up (not too gently I might add). It is windy and rainy, and as I open my blinds the sky lights up and BANG, the apartment shakes. My eyes adjust to the light, and I quickly realize it is pouring outside. Everything is wet.. and I only have two hours before my futon adventure is scheduled to begin. Last week was moving day. Today is "furnishing my apartment with used furniture I've found on craigslist" day. I've already enlisted my old roommate Rachael and friend John to help with the process. Being Sunday, I don't have to be at work until 1:30... so as long as the rain stops in the near future... everything should be fine.

12:30 rolls around and there is no sign of blue skies. The parking lot of my apartment complex is now flooded. I feel like I'm in a monsoon. Since Rachael and John work the rest of the week, today is futon day, whether it is raining or not... I better find a tarp. At 1 pm the three of us pull up to a garage apartment about ten blocks from my house. The weather is so bad it took us fifteen minutes to get there. I have thirty minutes before I have to be at work... and lucky for me I have a shoot at two pm. I quickly call the station to see if we can push our story back an hour. No go... it's a memorial dedication for fallen police officer Jared Jensen. Officer Jensen was killed 2 years ago while making a felony arrest... today an Eagle Scout is dedicating a garden in his honor.

I guess that means we have to move this futon quickly. We wrap the mattress in the tarp and John starts hauling it down the stairs. I run to open the door for him when SQUISH... I step in a big puddle of muddy water. My entire foot as well as half my leg is completely soaked. No time to worry about it now, I only have twenty minutes to load the rest of this, get it back to my apartment, carry it up three flights of stairs, and make it to work... We take apart the frame, stuff it in the back of my truck and climb into our cars to start the treck back to my apartment. As soon as I turn the car on I notice a glimmer of sun. No more torrential downpour... this has to be a joke.

Lucky for us it starts pouring again before we make it back. I don't have time to move everything so Rachael and John volunteer to take care of the rest and I head off to work... not exactly in the best mood.

By the time I get to work it is 1:45 and I'm drenched. From head to toe, there isn't a dry spot on my body. I'm cold, and bitter... what a perfect way to start the day. How many more hours till I can go home? Jeanette hops in the car and we head up north to St. Patrick's church. I'd like to speed so that we don't miss the entire ceremony, but the rain is falling so hard I can't see the road five feet in front of me. Brown water is rushing down the hill at the bottom of the station. Cars are wading through, hoping just to make it accross the intersection. We finally make it to the highway, but that too feels more like a parking lot then a major roadway. Bumper to bumper... perfect.

One thing that you quickly learn as a news photographer is how to get places quickly. Knowing shortcuts, speed traps, times of day to avoid certain roads helps, but nothing beats going 90 down the highway on the way to breaking news! Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating driving at speeds unsafe for road condisitons, or driving above the posted speed limit for that matter... Ok, well maybe I am, but only if it is for really good breaking news :-) This story unfortunately doesn't fit into that category... but I'm not against making exceptions...

Lucky for Jeanette (and myself I guess) I don't crash... and we make it to the church in less then twenty minutes. Time to get to work. We sneak in the back quietly and I snap my camera on the tripod and start shooting. There are about 75 people present for the dedication, all listening intently to Jared's brother tell a story about a camping trip they took together when they were younger. Apparently Jared used to think that he was the outdoorsy type... that is until he forgot his sleeping bag, socks and underwear on an overnight adventure into the woods. As I'm standing there I scan the crowd, and see not only the faces of his loved ones and friends, but also boyscouts and parishoners who did not know him.

As I scan, I can't help but wonder who would be at my funeral if I died. Would this many people still care about it two years later? Would someone that I never met want to dedicate a memorial garden in my honor? Jared's family sits in the front row, tears still streaming down his mothers cheeks. Some get up to share stories about times over the past few years when they were sure that Jared was looking down on them. Others just listen quietly, absorbing the moment for what it is. I stand in the back, disconnected from the crowd. My mind drifts far away from the overcrowded church multi-purpose room to friendships I've cultivated and lives that I've touched.

If I was to die tomorrow, and look down on my life from heaven, would I have regrets about the choices I've made? Would I wish that I had pursued a different career, or lived in a different city? Would I wish that I called my older sister more often, or tagged along on more family camping trips? As much as I'd like to be able to say no to all these questions, that would probably be a lie. There are things that I would change, if I knew tomorrow would be my last day on earth. For starters, I'd probably call my mother... even if it is elevn oclock at night.

As I stand contemplating the fullness of my own life, I notice a smile forming on my face. I didn't know Jared Jensen. I wasn't in the news business when he was killed. I wasn't even in Colorado. But still, I can't help but feel as if his death, and his continuing legacy, have some impact on me as well. Maybe I'm at this dedication today, because in his death, Jared is teaching me to live.

The rain stops and the sun comes out. Sitting on a bench in his memorial garden, I look up at Pikes Peak and know there is something greater then me out there. I'm by no means religious, but still, I can't help but feel moved by the greatness of the mountains, and the heat of the sun on my face. Walking to the car I make a promise to myself... to live for today, for this moment, this reality. It may not be perfect, but it doesn't have to be. It wasn't meant to be. It was meant to be life... as real, and tough and challenging (and sometimes soaking wet) as life is. We get into the car and start to pull away... BOOM- the rain starts pouring. I shake my head and think "Thank you Jared, thank you."