Tuesday, February 24, 2009

two birds with one Matsuri

Another opinion this week.

Matsuri was last weekend—also the subject of my opinion.

If you can get past the rampant anime/cosplay invasion, there are still plenty of awesome vendors, bonsai trees, origami and yakisoba.

School has really kicked in, so I'm falling behind on the blog.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

photo finish in Phoenix

Today in my Online Media class, we ran all over downtown Phoenix on a photo scavenger hunt — BEST CLASS PROJECT EVER!

Our teacher justified the event by saying we needed to get accustomed to using the Sony camcorders. Whatever. I partnered with Tess and we headed toward Roosevelt, hoping to grab something artsy and unusual. We never made it. On the way, we discovered tons of awesome photos, including a baby with his two understanding and hard-to-freak-out caretakers.

I also had to sprint to catch up with this guy, but it was worth it.

It's amazing how many photo opportunities you can come across if you simply look for them. Downtown Phoenix is more alive than people think.

Jimmy Carter @ Changing Hands

This week's opinion was on Jimmy Carter's visit to Changing Hands Bookstore on Friday.

I had a blast talking to people and benefiting from my status as a member of the media — I used my AZ Republic badge to help persuade the lady guarding the door to let me in. Once I was in, Holly, Changing Hand's friendly PR woman — who knows me pretty well from all the events I've covered for them — called me over and set me up. She's so helpful.

The best part, however, was talking to the people assembled outside. I always feel like a real in-the-trenches journalist talking to people at big events.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mill Ave. Inc.

Things have been busy, and I've fallen behind on the blog. I still wanted to link to my column, though.

This one turned out great. I even convinced my editor, who was pretty excited by the topic, to give me a small deadline extension so I could contact an official source. Going to j-school and having "get both sides of the story" drilled into your head so much, I get satisfaction when I actually do "get both sides." Of course, it's an opinion so real, balanced journalism doesn't apply in the same way, but it still makes me feel like I've done my job.

I have a vague idea for next week. We'll see how it turns out.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

cock fights and cop fights

Breaking news continues throw exciting days my way.

I hadn't been at work for more than 30 minutes this afternoon before reports came in from the Arizona Humane Society of a major cock-fighting bust. My editor dispatched me to South Phoenix to grab the story.

I rarely venture into South Phoenix, and today served as a good reminder why -- it's crazy down there. I arrived at the cock-fighting house and took all the information available form the PIO officer. Three men detained by a group of police sat in the house's backyard, pestered by the continual barking of a nearby dog. I called back the information to the newsroom and stood in the shade of a Humane Society truck, out of the heat, to wait. The PIO, a very amiable guy, told me Humane Society officals were busy euthanizing the mistreated animals and an interview wouldn't be available for a while. Poor animals; some people are just sick.

I was begining to relax in the 80-degree, winter day when two officers sprinted past me. They tore down the street to their police car and gunned it past me, into the neighborhood. At the time, I was relaying more information back to the newsroom and my partner even commented on the rawrrrrrr of the car's engine. That was the first sign.

Soon after, I spotted a police helicopter making tight circles not more than two blocks to the south -- definitely odd. The PIO then drove off without talking to me. I desided to follow him since nothing was happening and sighted flashing lights in the distance.

Police swarmed the area. Residents stood outside, watching me suspiciously. No one knew quite what was going on, but it had something to do with South Mountain High School. Students loitered everywhere and it took a long time to locate the PIO on scene, the same guy from earlier.

He recognized me and waved me over, miles more friendly than his other police co-workers. The scene was still chaotic, but he filled me in: a group of seven to 12 students had assaulted a police officer after he tried to break up a confrontation.

While police tried to control the scene -- and the growning group of media reporter assembling for the story -- residents heckled the officers. They accused police of arresting their friends and family without charge, making an exaggerated show of it. It was a bad situation and I tried to stay out of the middle while still listening in.

I reported back frequently with the newsroom, gathering quotes and information. Luck had favored me by placing the two most imporant stories of the night so close together. Things settled down after about an hour and I headed back.

Crossing the Salt River into South Phoenix, you get the sense of being in another place entirely. The neighborhoods is run-down -- unpainted stucco, "bank owned" signs in broken windows, a "capture cam" guarding the entry to a housing development. That espoused with what I witnessed today doesn't make a good impression. I'm just lucky all of this happened during the afternoon, not at night.

who's got opinions anyway?

I had another opinion in The State Press yesterday.

This one was probably my least inspired of the semester. I had a major story-idea block and spend a lot of time floundering around with it over the weekend. Finding good story ideas is the most difficult part of any story for me, reportering or opinion. Once you have a direction, the rest usually falls into place--provided you can get sources to talk, but that's another story.

I'm more excited about the next week. I have a good idea already and a source lined up for an interview. I love having an early game plan.

Monday, February 2, 2009

the shadow of Watergate

Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post, will join the Cronkite School staff next fall so it comes as no surprise that the dean, et al., are promoting him as much as possible.

Downie lead the paper to many successes and took part in the most historic years of American journalism: the Watergate years. The romanticized notions of reporting that flowed from The Washington Post's Watergate coverage inspired millions of college grads to enter reporting, starting j-schools at nearly every university in the country. Since then—and for many reasons—the public's opinion of journalists has soured a bit, but there's no question Downie knows exactly what made journalism great.

A side note—
As I was heading into the Cronkite School, I heard two guys dressed in sports apparel comment on a nearby lecture poster hung on the street column outside:
"Hey, that actor guy, Leonard Downie Jr., is speaking. He wrote some kind of book or something."

Right. I guess the name resemblance IS striking. I couldn't help snicker.

It's not surprising that a prominent figure in journalism would have no recognition. Journalists, particularly editors, fade into the background of their stories. Most journalism doctrines applaud this; still, the moment was a bit sad—that any man so good at his job could be disregarded.

However, the scene differed inside. About 40 people came out, a fair number of them students. Downie talked about his new book, a work of fiction, which took my interest considering fiction is generally not a journalist's forte.

I have another of his books, The News About the News, which he spoke about on a separate occasion, and found it pretty straight forward. In a journalistic tone—that is, factual and dry—Downie explains a series of award-winning stories his staff worked on during his time as editor. I haven't finished it.

There's no doubt Downie would make an excellent addition to the faculty here, however. He's definitely sharp, tactfully deflecting a questioner who seemed hell-bent on blaming all newspapers for the war in Iraq.

He also understands—as anyone who has worked in a newsroom does—the pressures and responsibilities of the journalist, but can explain them without sounding self-righteous, a rare ability in j-professors. I hope I get a chance to study under him.