Wednesday, January 28, 2009

when hell breaks loose

The way I see it, 46 people were lucky tonight.

Forty-five of them were children from West Valley Middle School, who all avoided major injuries after their bus driver lost control of the bus (for reasons unknown) and went for a wild, half-mile ride, hitting 12 other vehicles and injuring 26 people.

The final person was me, who got sent out to cover the story.

When I first got the page, it sounded pretty inconsequential: "PhoenixFD Medical Response 67th Ave / McDowell."

That was it. I thought, "That's vague," and shrugged my shoulders, more focused on my editor's critiques of a police story.

Then the next page came in: "PhoenixFD MED This will involve a school bus."

That triggered my editor. Instantly, his tired eyes widened.

"Oh no. This could be big," he said, rubbing his face with his hands.

I could hear both the terrible anticipation of a story involving injury to children and the lust for a big-time story in his voice. It's something we all share: a lust for stories.

Nothing can compare to the stress of driving to a scene in rush-hour traffic. I needed to get there as quickly as possible, but grid-lock had other plans. It took about 25 minutes to get to into the area and another 30 minutes to navigate my way through displaced traffic--the accident ran a gauntlet of nearly half a mile and police closed a good two miles of major road.

Even when I got to the scene, it was still chaos. Police and fire officers patrolled the perimeter of yellow police tape and news media of all kinds--television with large vans and cameras, radio with hand-held recorders, and me with my notebook--ran around talking to PIOs.
This is what I saw when I got to the scene:

The bus looked bad, but apparently other cars looked worse.

It took a long time to straighten out the facts; PIOs came up with new numbers for injuries, vehicles, and children involved every couple of minutes. I spent a good two hours there, among the police and other media workers, calling in facts and quotes as I collected them.

J-school can't compare to getting out in the field; that's where you learn real journalism.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

from the chest up

Another week, another opinion.

Oh, and I scanned in my joke/incredibly "unique" photo this time:
I took his head shot as a playful joke with the photo editor, with whom I'm good friends. It went something like this:
"Okay, now look thoughtful or something."
"Like this?" (pose)
"Ha ha, you're not going to use that, right?"
"No. Ah. Wait. We'll see."

Knowing Damien, this outcome should have been obvious.

It's not horrible though. While not quite professional fare, the photo certainly does set me apart from all the other I'm-just-too-cheerful columnists, which is what I'm all about. It makes you wonder, "just what is this guy thinking about?" or "He looks smart," or "Where is his other hand?"


Sunday, January 25, 2009

a passion for tragedy

I should probably post the stories I did Friday before it gets too late. In the fast-paced world of breaking news, there's just never enough time for self-promotion. It was a polarized day: a dead body and a charity fund raiser.

I can't get over the excitement of this new internship. I'm working eight-hour shifts—plus school—and need to get up unearthly early, but I'm having a blast. The adrenaline high gets me through, particularly when my pager goes off and displays something to the tune of "MaricopaFD—Body found. Now CONFRIMRED dead. PD and FD to en route."

Friday was the first time I was dispatched to the scene. As soon as the call came in for the body, my editor, Aric, turned to me and said "you'd better get rolling." I hurried downstairs and just as I was getting into my truck, a call came in for an aircraft crash in Flagstaff.

I called Aric:
"Hey Aric. What was that?"
"We don't know yet. Just keep going to the body scene and I'll get Drew to work on whatever this is."
"Okay, I'll call you when I get there."
"Right, just see if anyone's talking yet and DON'T cross the police tape, remember?"
"Ha, right. I'll look for details and neighbors, then call you back."
"Okay; get going."


After a few hours, you start to get a sense of how many bad things happen in a city the size of Phoenix—fires, shootings, drowings, murder, plane crashes, etc. It seems a bit cold, but I really do find myself wishing bad things will happen, just to get the thrill of covering an epic story. I don't want people hurt, but the urgency is addictive.

Regardless, I don't cause these things; I make them into stories. It may seem callous to probe tragedy for information, but I think my job has the potential to give meaning to seemingly horrible events. By understanding and reporting on these events, I can turn them from a bad day into a day to be remembered. It's my job.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

change: Obama's got nothing on this

As you can see, I spent most of the day redesigning my blog.


I still have some work to do, but I just don't have time to screw with it all day, so I'll make a better banner/title later. It might be a bit busy too, but I'll think about scaling down later.

I also need to learn some Photoshop skills and get my hands on the software. Luckily, almost every computer in the Cronkite School—all Mac—has Photoshop. (Seriously, the new building is like a Mac-user's wet dream. Apparently—and this is just something I heard—the school was sponsored by Apple, which would certainly explain how they could afford hundreds of new iMacs. It makes sense. Apple wants aspiring journalists to learn on its software so they continue using it when they get out into the work force. That's fine by me; Macs rule. /rant)

Thursday, January 22, 2009


ALSO, last night was my first shift as an intern for The Arizona Republic. It was pretty exciting and I'm cautiously optimistic about this year. This was the longest of three stories I worked last night.

I'll probably update this post with more specifics later. Until then.

first opinion

It's a couple days late in posting, but Tuesday marked my first opinion column for The State Press.

It's too bad the head shot isn't on the online version; it's a pretty good pic. I took it as a joke, fooling around with the photo editor who happens to be a friend of mine. I should have known he'd pick the goofy shot, but it actually turned out fine. I like to think it distinguishes me from the other columnists.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

my inauguration

Today certainly felt different. I didn't know what to expect from inauguration day, but my expectations weren't high. Not because of the inauguration itself—I couldn't be happier that Obama is finally in office and we can move beyond the Bush presidency—but because I had no appropriate way to celebrate.

No spontaneous crowds, no flag waving, no cheering, no tears, no celebration—at least within getting to. I felt great; so great I wanted to release it all with my friends, shout skyward my profound happiness for our country. I was so proud.

But that release never came. I went about my day, happy but unfulfilled. My girlfriend's text from New York exacerbated the problem. I wanted to be there, with her, with everyone, to share in the glory of this day and what it signifies for the world we all live in.

Instead, I watched the presidential oath with one of my close friends, in his apartment. All of our other friends were in class. (They picked the first day of classes to do this?) While I watched the proceedings, my friend cooked breakfast, ate, got dressed, and—during the oath itself—brushed his teeth, not paying much attention to the ceremony. His company certainly beat watching the inauguration alone at my own place, but it was painfully obvious he did not share my reverence.

The beauty of Obama's campaign has been its capacity to bring people together, people of different races, different generations, and even differnt countries. However, that spirit seemed to fail me today. As I turned off the television, halfway through Obama's inaugurations speech, and rushed to class, I felt deeply alone.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

viva la Webolution

Just announced at MacWorld, Apple's iTunes will be offering DRM-free music files. I couldn't help myself; I had to post and get in on the collective blog-world hype. Now, we're all thinking "it's about time" but under this move is a radical consession by Mac, one of the few services that persisted in shying away from the Web revolution or Webolution, if you will.

At the core of the Webolution is the ideology that everything should be free, unrestricted, and immediate—a collective consciousness that grows each time a something gets made available on the internet. Now, you could argue iTunes isn't offering music for free, they're simply removing the DRM. But that's just naive. What are people going to do with DRM-free music? Well, anything they want—copy it, burn it, mix it, fix it, post it, host it, etc. (sounds like a daftpunk lyric, right?). That's an incredible power. The internet has opened up so many possibilites for creation; the ability to create almost everything online isn't far away. Google has been the major player in this respect, offering free cloud-based software ranging from mainstream apps like Googledocs to nitch apps like SketchUp, a computer aided design program (not to mention blogger, omg!). As creation becomes easier, however, value—in terms of money at least—has plumetted.

I'm still very optimistic, however. New technology always shakes things up a bit; that's nothing new. We need to learn how to adapt. Between the constant protests of recordlabels and the newsmedia's coverage of their own downfall, I just want to say "suck it up." No, traditional models won't stay the same, but the possibilities should outway the fear of change.

Friday, January 2, 2009

for the love of satire

It's guys like Chris Hardwick that make me love journalism again.

I saw his article in the latest issue of Wired (I'm a bit behind) and couldn't help but salute his genius.

Not only does he do a decent job of reviewing time-saving self-help books, he does it with whit and humor that entertains. I love this article, from the quirky photos illustrating Hardwick's jam-packed life—something every journalist can relate to—to the way he organizes his trials and tribulations into a day by day diary. Hardwick's writing so self-aware; he pokes fun at idea of efficency training and himself in a way that comes off great. His writing style even makes me feel the rushed chaos that is his life (don't I know it well). No, it's not hard hitting or impactful, but it's damn funny.

Update: He also has a blog that's equally good.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

john goodwin

I don't know you.

I do know where you live—Flagstaff, AZ—and that you rode the bus around the town, at least for the month of July, last year—number 11298.

I found your bus pass in the Flagstaff Bookmans, nestled in Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God," which I bought. I chose that book from several alternative versions because you humanized it, gave it a previous owner, a history.

Did you finish it? I don't think you did. If you're like me—which I think you are—you never put a bookmark back into a finished book. It's a kind of neurosis; a completed book doesn't need a bookmark.

So you left your bus pass in the book when you sold it. Did you mean to leave it? Maybe you simply forgot about it; or maybe you remembered, just as you were handing the book to the clerk behind the counter. You remembered but were too rushed to retrieve it. What good is an expired bus pass? It's not worth worrying about, not worth bothering anyone.

You should have finished the book, John. The final portion was the best. Janie finally finds a husband worth standing behind—third time's the charm, you know? There was a huricane. I think you would have like it.

Thanks for the recommendation, though; indirect as it was. Also, I hope you've bought a car. Taking the bus sucks, expecially in winter in Flagstaff.