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 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...