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 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, 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.