I do have the coolest job ever!

A slap upside the head always comes when you least expect it.

“You have the coolest job ever,” said a hockey fan standing behind me admiring one of my photos at the Spokane Arena last night.  I was on deadline preparing to transmit my pictures of a blowout Spokane Chiefs hockey game back to the paper when those six words stopped me cold.

“You have the coolest job ever.”

Up until that utterance, I’d beg to differ.  It had been a long 14-hour day and I was tired. I started in the morning shooting a freelance job. I take extra work now whenever I can.  It helps make up for the furlough days and pay cuts I have endured over the past year.

The economic trauma and turmoil facing my and every other newspaper in the country weighs heavily on my shoulders at times. When someone asks me why I entered the newspaper biz, I tell them it’s because I have a passion for telling stories.  Like any good photojournalist, I see the world a bit differently from most people. There is a creative energy that burns inside me.  When I put a camera up to my eye, life becomes my palette.  I felt it when I bought my first professional camera in high school and I still feel it today…well most days.

“You have the coolest job ever.”

As I sat there hunched over my laptop, awareness washed over me. Here I was at a hockey game that I didn’t have to pay to get in, surrounded by the best cameras, lenses and laptop that I didn’t have to buy. The only thing missing was a cold beer by my side.

Looking back over the past seven days at some of what I have produced for the readers of my newspaper and viewers of our website, I realize that I can’t let the uncertainty of the future kill my creativity. Today, I put a sticky note on my computer monitor that simply says, “Try Harder.” It is my little reminder  that  (slap upside the head)  I do have the coolest job ever!

These are some of the highlights of my past week– a mix of multimedia and stills.

Several dozen great blue herons were perched on pilings in the Pend Oreille River at Usk, Washington Tuesday, March 2, 2010. Area birding enthusiasts said this is the time of year large groups of the giant birds can be seen migrating and resting in certain areas, such as the Pack River Delta along Lake Pend Oreille. Soon they will disperse in smaller groups to nesting rookeries in cottonwoods or other woodlands near water.COLIN MULVANY colinm@spokesman.com

Tim Michaels, who lost part of his leg in a grain elevator accident holds a wooden foot carving a relative brought him during his stay at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash.

Videos: Click image to view.

The king of Cat Tales Zoological Training Center gets a root canal.

In the Kalispel Tribal Language Program, new Salish speakers immerse themselves in daily conversation with elders and then teach what they have learned in nearby public schools.

S-R web producer says goodbye to the newsroom she loves

Spokesman-Review Web Producer Thuy-Dzuong Nguyen was one  of 21 young staffers laid off last week. Thuy just wrote this goodbye to the newsroom she loved working in. She posted it to her friend’s network on Facebook, but I thought I’d share it (with her permission) with everyone. Tinged with sadness, her message still finds hope for the journalism profession she leaves behind and for her co-workers left to pick up the pieces.
I cried today when my assistant managing editor, Carla Savalli, said goodbye to everyone in the newsroom.

She told about growing up in a family that subscribed to both Spokane newspapers, when she decided she would start her own neighborhood paper at the age of 10. The first page was news, and gossip about neighbors. The second page was art from coloring books. The third was filled with recipes, the first ever being her mother’s zucchini bread recipe.

Savalli’s biggest dream while growing up was to be the editor-in-chief of The Spokesman-Review. Things didn’t happen that way (she was the No. 3 position when she resigned), her resignation was her own decision, but she is not abandoning this industry.  We all know this industry is really a religion – of journalists – of storytellers.

The S-R has always housed great storytellers. I admire everybody I’ve had the honor to work with. We celebrate everyday people who do phenomenal things, as well as – like the iron sculptor making African mammals, the retired police officer caring for his paraplegic dog, the record producer multi-instrumentalist who dropped out of high school and started his own studio, the twin brothers from Hauser Lake sent to Iraq. We also witness things we never wish we’d have to witness, like the Spokane mayor recalled after a sex scandal.

But then you poke around on the inside and newsroommates are also good storytellers in-house. Christmas parties, funerals, potlucks, people bringing babies into the newsroom and sharing good news, talking about recipes, going fishing, sharing tomatoes, staying late for election night when some of our families probably think we ought to be at home. Spending all day trekking around at political conventions, forgetting to eat, excited to be witnesses to a ridiculously amazing process (or is it amazingly ridiculous?).

We spend more waking and bonding hours with our coworkers in this weird environment of nasty negative things. Bizarre murders, car crashes, house fires, building fires, Taser incidents (I remember being the producer in the hot seat when surveillance video contradicted officers’ accounts of Otto Zehm’s death. The most stressful work day), writing and posting news on deadline, relying on each other to not just be accurate and fair but to call out each other’s mistakes, of which I made many, and they forgave me.

Storytelling is then a collaborative activity, a collective consciousness, bringing formless data to a higher plane, like prayer. Ask around in a newsroom about how people feel about their job, and most of them will tell you it’s a religious calling – The way anybody would choose to be a priest or a nun, somebody chooses to be a storyteller.

Until I join another newsroom, I will miss having front-row seats to everything that happens. I will miss following the senior political reporter to events – I would follow him to the end of the world and would have missed him when he retires in several years. I will miss video training, usual staff meetings, blogging about ethics in our Transparency Initiative and explaining to the public how our news decision-making process works.

I was given a blog and was trusted to write what I saw fit about news decisions and internal affairs. I was given a camera and was trusted to shoot, to essentially invade other people’s lives at interesting times. I was trusted for journalistic sensibility, audiovisual perfectionism, trusted to capture reality and present it as realistically as could be done. They trusted me with such big responsibility and for a long time, it baffled me that they did.

I will miss the honor of being able to say to someone, “I work for The Spokesman-Review” When we got the announcement that 21+ people would be laid off, including myself, I wondered who would be without the Review. The sensible answer is that I wouldn’t change as a person – I would retain all the skills gained and life would move forward, eventually. I’d find the next thing, just like when somebody gets a divorce they (might) move on.

But that doesn’t negate the value that the S-R has in the community among its readers – A newspaper will always be a big deal, and it will always be a big deal to have that honor of reaching out to readers who wake up in the morning and get crisp warm newspapers on their doorsteps, welcoming us into their homes and exposing us to their children – or in this day and age, opening up the computer and exposing their household to our video stories on the web. I get butterflies in my stomach not just when nice guys hold my hand, but when little old ladies tell me how long they have been subscribers and how much they wait for it in the morning.

Counting this layoff round and last year’s, the newsroom is down 35 percent people. That’s 35 percent fewer content makers. This will be a smaller group, but I just like hearing people say, “Things will be better – I promise.”

I don’t want this industry to die. But I also wish I knew how to save it, immediately, instead of doing my thing and hoping it will help, wondering if I’ll “recognize” journalism in twenty years. Probably.

But for now, this is everything I have loved about what we have been doing. If the universe permits, I would like to do it again – Even if it’s somewhere else, in that newspaper in the sky where all the good journalists go when they die off.

Meanwhile I really want to cuddle and watch Cinderella.

The Spokesman-Review transparent newsroom

“The story of how a small newspaper opened its editorial decision making process to the public in order to gain credibility with great results. A case study produced by Innovation Media Consulting on American Newspaper about The Spokesman Review  newspaper in the United States.”

This is a video I shot about our Transparent Newsroom at the my newspaper. It was just shown at World Association of Newspapers meeting in Sweden. I sent the raw tape to London and a media consultant company edited it together. It is more flashy then my conservative editing style, but I think it works. Our Transparent Newsroom Initiative has gained a lot of attention lately. We do things like provide live webcasts of our story budget meetings twice daily. It is just one the innovative projects we are working on that I will profile later.

Creatures from the Heart


I posted this project in Video Journal  called Creatures from the Heart. It is about sculpture artist Bill Sanders whose failing heart is preventing him from doing his art. During the interview, I asked the question, “Is it hard for you to not to be able to do your art?” He paused; his chin started to quiver and then he abruptly ended the interview. “I have to go lie down,” said Sanders.

Bill Sanders is somewhat of a recluse who has not granted many interviews. He had a heart transplant 10 years ago, which has progressively slowed him down. Realizing that Sanders may not be around much longer, a friend talked him into letting the newspaper come and interview him about his art. I usually schedule a video interview separate from the print interview, but because of the nature of the story, reporter Paula Davenport and I teamed up. Everything during the 40-minute interview was fine until I asked the “how do you feel?” question.

I hung around Sander’s farm for a while taking b-roll of the dozens of animal sculptures displayed in his yard. Back at the paper, I downloaded my clips thinking I had enough to put something together. In the end, I just didn’t have it. I went home that night depressed about how I made Sanders feel. That question weighed heavily in my thoughts. I also wondered how I could tell this story better. What I had was video of a 40 minute interview and a bunch of disconnected b-roll shots of sculptures in a farmyard.

The next morning I made a call to see If Sanders wouldn’t mind me coming back for a few minutes to get a still photo of him for the print story. What I was really hoping is that he would take me on a tour of his art. He agreed to let me come over.

When I met him on his porch, he looked better than the day before. We walked the farm field, stopping for me to get cutaways and mini interviews of him with sculptures he was most proud of. In the barn, he showed me his final large sculpture, a 500 pound silverback gorilla, which he was putting the finishing touches on. He worked on it with a grinder that threw a cascade of sparks into my lens. After I said goodby, I spent another hour shooting everything I could think of that Sanders had mentioned in the interview or showed me on our tour. As I shot, I repeated in my head, “wide, medium, tight.” I used my tripod on almost everything I shot ( thanks Lenslinger). I was driven to do this shoot right. I wanted to make sure I had everything I needed to assemble a video that was complete.

I spent Thursday doing the edit and voiceover work. I am not one that feels comfortable writing a script yet. I would much rather edit sections of the video first, then write and record narrative bridges. I’m sure there is a better way to do this, but when I’m producing something on such a tight deadline, I do what works for me.

When I viewed the almost finished piece, I felt something was missing. I rarely use music in any of my feature pieces. My newspaper recently bought the entire 25-volume Digital Juice music library. I found several tracks that I ended up editing into my timeline. I was shocked at how it changed the feel of my video. Having decent music that doesn’t sound like a cheesy Garage Band loop, makes all the difference. When I watch other newspaper producer’s videos, I rarely like how the music is used. Many times the soundtrack overpowers the narrative. For my video, I tried to keep the music levels as low as possible. I found when I listened to my timeline in headphones the music seemed louder, but not so when played on my reference speakers. Hopefully I set the levels correctly.

There is a lot of discussion about the role of music soundtracks in news video. Some call it manipulating the viewer by enhancing the drama when none is present. In this case, I felt the music made my video livelier and helped me tell a better story. What do you think?

The Crabby Journalist

Update Two: Looks like the comments on AngryJournalist are being moderated now. Disregard update one. 

Update: Well, it seems the non-journalists have found this blog and trashed it with inappropriate comments. So never mind. I guess we will have to keep our stress bottled up.

 I found a link to this new blog called the AngryJournalist.com over at MultimediaShooter.com. It is a place for journalists to anonymously vent about their jobs toiling at newspapers. Man, they’re some crabby journalists out there. It’s true we like to bitch about our jobs, but hearing some of these stories just makes me cringe.

A sample of what’s posted:

” Editors who micro-manage the hell out of your beat and drink coffee with your sources and then give you tips from “little birdies” that always turn out to be bogus.”