Either I’m damn good or…

…there’s no competition out there anymore. Who knows, but twice in the past month unapplied for accolades have come the way of this blog.



(Don’t know if I’m at the bottom of the lists due to “V”s place in the alphabet or because I just slid in under the line…)



Photo courtesy Kathleen Newell (http://www.kathleennewell.com)

Heads up – this is a “shameless self-promotion” posting. My visual storytelling business is up and running.

While small (with intentions to stay that way), I have plans to make it big – in quality. Although I’ve dabbled a bit with video production and its many challenges, I find my love of news and storytelling is leading me back into news – both feature and general.

So…if you want to keep up, check me out at the following sites:
My visual storytelling business site.
thinknews facebook site
twitter account

Just FYI: work is progressing on The Basics of Videojournalism, although life is getting in the way some days.

And I will continue to post from time to time here on this blog – my first and favorite. Thanks for dropping by.

Getting my sea legs…

USS Makin Island (courtesy US Navy)

…took about the time it took to walk up the ramp and board the USS Makin Island at her berth in Pearl Harbor.

Now here is where I should insert swashbuckling tales of past experiences on the ocean and all of my adventures.  Um…no.  Embarrassing as it is to admit, all of my time in the past asea, with few exceptions, was spent occupying a three foot section of rail and feeding the fish my breakfast or lunch.  Whichever I ate last.

But this was a new day and a very new adventure.

Middle daughter Pearl’s ship was returning from deployment in the Middle East when she sent word that I could join something called a “Tiger Cruise” once the ship hit a safe harbor.  That would be Pearl.  Harbor.

Tiger Cruises are the Navy’s way of saying thanks for loaning us your (son, daughter, father, husband, etc) and letting us send them in harm’s way.  Here – you can hop on board and ride the final (safe) leg of the trip to home port with them.

So here’s my story, written as I rode the high seas.  Enjoy.


Thursday, June 14 began early when I rolled out of bed at five am.  Literally.  My bunk, at 8 feet long and about 2-1/2 feet wide was generous in every way except height.  If I’d tried sitting up, it would have been an awakening jolt, since I had less than a foot of headroom.  And since I was “ground floor” or bottom bunk, I rolled right onto the deck, about a foot below my mattress.

Welcome to life on board the U.S.S. Makin Island – the newest hybrid ship in the United States Navy.  For the nine days I will be answering reveille’s call each morning, reporting to duty stations, eating meals with sailors and Marines, and bedding down every night in my metal coffin as the ship makes its way across the Pacific, returning from a seven month tour of duty in the Middle East.

I’m on a Tiger Cruise, sponsored by my daughter, Pearl Green.  There are 264 other Tigers on board for this cruise.  Tiger Cruises began decades ago by the Navy as a way to welcome families on board ships and allow them to experience first-hand the life of military personnel at sea.

DC2(SW) Green is a Petty Officer 2nd Class (Surface Warfare) and has been with the Makin Island since before its commissioning in October 2010.  She has already sailed around the Straits of Magellan at the tip of South America on the Makin Island’s maiden voyage from Mississippi to home port in San Diego in the summer of 2009.

And I’m her 62-year-old mother, on board to observe both my daughter and my Navy at work.

The Makin Island is a monster of a ship, one size smaller than an aircraft carrier.  At 847 feet long and 118 feet at her widest, she measures almost the length of three football fields. Standing, the ship is taller  fifteen stories high.

The Makin Island is a bustling city afloat, with everything from a TV station to barber shop, to airstrip/flight deck, restaurant/mess deck and more.  The 1100 sailors who run and maintain the ship are joined by a contingent of around 1700 Marines.  Its mission is peacekeeping…to tour foreign ports and oceans, maintaining a presence…a position of strength, both for show and as a detriment to possible hostile action.  And ready to act, if need be.  (Unlike a cruise ship, this little lady comes loaded with weapons.)

First impressions were that functionality rules over aesthetics.  The driving force behind the design of the ship seems to be a melding of efficiency and tradition.  Electrical wires, gas lines, pipes run along walls and ceilings.  There are few square doors…they are mostly oblong.  And thankfully, as a concession to the many Tigers on board, the portholes leading between decks have been opened up so we can traverse the stairs with less effort.  Without the Tiger mix, ranging in age from eight years old to seventy-four, personnel would disappear through holes in the floor to access the stairs.

These “stairs” are more akin to ladders on land, tilted at close to 75 degrees.  “Ladders” are straight up or down, at 90 degrees.  Probably 95% of the human traffic I see each day sprints up and down the stairs…at times backing up three or more deep to wait their turn. 

There are several large ramps to accommodate moving large loads on carts and forklifts and elevators to move large loads from the main deck to the flight deck. 

Extremely heavy loads include jets and helicopters, which ride on two enormous external elevators.

Lines form, predictably, three times a day leading into the mess deck.  Breakfast was manageable – we were in early and sitting within five minutes.  Lunch was a long line snaking back at least fifty people, but moved quickly and had us seated in 30 minutes.  The CS/Culinary Specialist crew feeds the entire crew three times a day in a buffet line offering simple choices of main dish, sides, and drinks.

Life on board a Navy ship is built on routine…with bells and whistles announcing wake-up, meals, the hour, and musters.   Drills and true emergencies can shatter this routine. 

A “man overboard” announcement had all hands and Tigers scrambling to report to their respective shops for a head count.  

Even though this was a drill, it was taken very seriously.  Two members of the Engineering crew who were stationed elsewhere were tracked down and accounted for before a final all hands accounted for report could be filed.

I was introduced to the location and use of the EEBD/Emergency Escape Breathing Device built in to my bunk right after I stowed my personal belongings in a locker. 
In the event of a gas leak or smoke I’m to don it and make my way topside.  The EEBD gives me 10 minutes of oxygen to make good my escape. 

It’s things like this that remind me that I’m not really on a cruise…but cruising on a military vessel.  There are few comforts…other than seeing a daughter whose voice and emails have been our only contact for the past seven months.  And we’re heading home.  The countdown on board has begun and you can feel the excitement and see it in the smiles of crew, anticipating leave with loved ones. 


By day three on the U.S.S. Makin Island everyone had slipped back into their regular routine.  Today the reveille bell didn’t ring as softly, the wake-up music blared, and fewer sailors rose and dressed as urgently.  It appears that reveille at this stage of deployment is more a suggestion to get moving…and some sailors use the surplus time for sleep rather than eating breakfast.

That made life for us Tigers easier with fewer crowds in the showers and bathroom, not to mention the breakfast chow line.  After waiting in the long snaking lines for lunch yesterday, my daughter and I gave up on eating dinner in the mess hall, opting for some of her squirreled away stash of microwavable soup.

Once again we mustered in the Engineering Department where the First Officer gave the orders of the day.  While I waited my seatmates, Pam and George Carter from Colorado, told me a bit about their experiences on board and their son.  John Carter, I discovered, was the young blond sailor who was checking names off during the man overboard drill yesterday.

Pearl and I joined other Tigers and sponsors on the main deck, which had been set up as a giant show-and-tell display by many of the ship’s departments. 

We wandered from the Engineering display of paraphernalia used as part of their firefighting duties over to one of the open bays where Tigers were learning how to patch a broken water pipe, but more fun, getting a chance to go hands-on with a water hose.  

As luck would have it, the Carters wandered by and I got to watch Pearl walk Pamela through how to hold a fully charged fire hose while George snapped photos. 

We were out on one of the massive elevators, used to lift aircraft to the flight deck…suspended perhaps a hundred feet over the Pacific Ocean under a bright blue sky.  It was surreal.  The ocean this far out to sea is a totally amazing shade of blue, which I’d never seen before.  A pure blue, almost translucent, stretching to meet a paler blue sky with clouds far on the horizon. 

After the fire hose demonstration we continued to watch Tigers, both young and old, learning how to handle firearms under the watchful eyes of Marines.

Further back on the main deck mats were laid out and a dozen sailors were practicing martial arts.  I learned from Master of Arms First Class Lorenzo Garcia of Stockton that their duties include law enforcement and defense of the ship using small arms and hands-on combat.

Still full from breakfast, we grabbed fruit from the lunch line.  Pearl explained that often the fruit was whatever could be obtained locally…so today we had Asian pears, mangos, grapefruit, and blueberries.  At other times they had more exotic fruit such as dragonfruit, guavas, and starfruit.

While she sat handing out assignments to her crew, I worked on some videos and then headed up to Vulture’s Row to watch Flight Ops rev up the engines on some of the helicopters on the flight deck.  One chopper took off and passed by the ship several times before relighting on the deck.  

Every vantage point was crowded with Tigers and sponsors, enjoying another clear windy day upside.  Marines in brown camouflage and sailors in blue camouflage explaining the scene below or just relaxing in the sun together…an interesting juxtaposition of peaceful family life on a warship.

Pearl finally finished her duties and caught up with me and once again we headed into the bowels of the Makin Island. 

I was finding that there was a real mix of hard work and relaxation as the ship headed across the Pacific towards its homeport.  While the morning muster was formal, interchanges between supervisors and the work force were friendlier, to the point of banter.  Work was assigned, reports handed in, and occasionally a serious undertone would score the importance of certain assignments.  The mission at this point was to make certain all duties were completed before touching home base…otherwise leave might be endangered.


Navy time is sometimes confusing. 

The Tiger handout I received on boarding showed a 5K walk/run this morning at 8am…however times change daily and we didn’t check the announcements the night before, so we nearly missed the 7am gathering time to sign in along with dozens of other sponsors and Tigers.

Already on deck were a handful of Marines and sailors doing their PT (physical training).  The Navy has strict weight and body fat requirements and will crack down on individuals who do not stay within required parameters.

By 8am everyone had signed in and the event began with half of the runners heading towards the bow and the other half towards the fantail.  A brisk wind I’d estimate at 20-25 miles an hour slowed progress forwards but made walking to the back of the ship easy.

Events such as this one really highlight the purpose of the Tiger Cruise.  Fathers with daughters, mothers with sons, generations sprinting together or ambling side by side just enjoying some time together after a long separation.  

You could see the pride of Marine dads as they allowed their daughters to keep up with them…and Navy sons slowing down to let fathers keep up.  Or the young boy who used the heavy wind to fly past his Marine mother.

Once back at Pearl’s station one of Pearl’s officers told her to check the news because he’d heard of a fire between Stockton and Lodi. 

The Navy takes care of its own – and part of this is a system to enroll family members into their system so that the military umbrella reaches out to ensure family is safe.  This means checking in on family if there are floods, fires, or over events and if necessary, making sure they are evacuated.

After a tense fifteen minutes to enroll my husband into the system (he is still back home in the Lodi area) we learned that the fire was actually 35 miles east in the foothills.  A false alarm, but it was gratifying to know there was a system in place to give service members some peace of mind about their families.

The bond between the sailors in Pearl’s department is a big part of the support system that makes life bearable during extended deployments.  The Makin Island left back in November, just before Thanksgiving.  During the past six months former strangers have become friends and family.  Everywhere I go on this ship young people step aside or offer a hand.  They wait patiently when I have at times struggled with the steep descents and ascents.  Chairs are pulled out in offices.  My title is either Ma’am to people who don’t know me or “Mom” to the young people in Pearl’s office.

I came on board three days ago…and already I feel as if I’m home.


Sunday we began rocking and rolling as the Makin Island hit weather on the way home.  Most of the time the only movement has been a gentle tilting, barely noticeable.  Today it became very evident, with the tilt becoming at times a lurch. 

Sunday is the only day of the week when reveille is not sounded and sailors take advantage to sleep in late (or all day).  A “steel beach picnic” had been planned for the Flight Deck, but due to inclement weather it was held on the main deck.  Four long lines between two buffet tables with hot dogs, hamburgers, barbequed chicken, and spare ribs and all the sides.  A game of basketball went on to there rear of the deck.  Music blared.

Pearl and I chose to sit in the mess, which was only slightly quieter and then decided on an early bedtime. 

Reveille sounded loud and clear Monday morning and Pearl rushed through breakfast while I met a new Tiger – a retired Sacramento police lieutenant, now living in Arizona.  It seems every new Tiger I meet is from another state, so it was nice to talk with someone who actually knew where Lodi was.  So far I’ve met Tigers from Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Arizona, Texas, Washington, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.

When I caught up with Pearl at her muster, she was telling her DCPOs (Damage Control Petty Officers) that there’d be extra clean up tonight unless someone confessed to trashing their working area the night before.  (She and another team member had swept and cleaned up before leaving and someone had messed up overnight.)

I then got a personal grand tour of the ship; from Medical (where I got some naproxen for my hip and knee pain) and then down six decks to the Central Control System where all ship systems are monitored.  This is how the Damage Control crew keeps an eye out for potential problems and monitor emergencies as they occur.  They can see and control everything from the septic system to water pressure in fire mains to hot spots on board.

Then it was up five decks to the access ladders to get four decks down to the main engine room, where I got to see both the gas and diesel systems and the main drive shafts for the propellers.  These are the only areas on board I’ve been that were not chilly…but comfortably warm. 

Back on the main deck Pearl perked up when she learned the ship’s mess was putting out free cases of water and Diet Coke for the taking.  Sailors from different departments were grabbing cases and heading down to their shops, so she grabbed two cases of water and handed me two cases of soda – the reaction down below was upbeat when the free supplies arrived.

So here we sit…with a happy crew around us awaiting their assignments for the day.  We are more than halfway home at this point and I’m ready to see land myself.  The thought of working on this ship for as long as these young people have – more than seven months – and for some, days without seeing the sky, is more than I can imagine.   What I can imagine is the explosion of bodies once the ship hits port and the crew is heading down the ramps to family and home.


Along about Day 8 the adventure began to become old.  The constant movement of the ship…the engine and ventilation noise…the bone-piercing cold and metal walls penetrated and made real what our sailors and Marines live with for months on end.  This is not a fun cruise, but day to day existence in a metal hull…with each individual performing their duties as part of a whole.

It is only now that I realize the yearning for solid land and home that our service men and women have and why with each wave we pass over and every minute that passes their smiles are broader and their steps lighter.

Along with the endless duties to keep the ship in perfect working condition and shipshape, aka clean, much is done to keep spirits up.  From Monday’s lobster tail dinner to Sumo wrestling to last night’s Bingo game…from the library and college classes available…there always seems to be an event or opportunity to forget for a few minutes where you are.

But only for a few minutes.

One thing I do know.  I will NOT be standing between any sailors on board when the gangplank is lowered and leave begins.  And not just because they deserve an unfettered leave, but also for my own safety.  I foresee a stampede to dry land in the near future.


I missed reveille for the first time this morning…or so I thought.  In reality Pearl and most of the other females I was bunking with had been up for an hour or more, ironing their dress whites, applying make-up and helping each other with their hair. 

Today is homecoming.

All of the sailors mustered on the hanger deck in their dress whites and then marched up the ramp to the flight deck.  It was time to “man the rails.”  Sailors marched around the edge of the flight deck until they were spread out within arms reach of each other, totally encircling the deck.  More sailors were stationed below on the catwalk and above in Vulture’s Row. 

It was cold and blustery and many of the young “tars” were shivering.  But everyone was breaking into smiles as we made our way through the channel and past the Naval Air Station.

We passed the U.S.S. Midway, now on display in downtown San Diego – with its Welcome Home sign.  Under the Coronado Bridge and towards Naval Base San Diego, and finally we were pushed up against Pier 13 by massive tugboats.

Below hundreds of family and friends waited and cheered.  Everyone broke for below deck once the formalities were over, quickly packing and grabbing bags and heading back to the hanger deck to get into one last line. 

The line out the door to freedom.

Being inside we missed another Navy tradition:  first hug, first kiss, and new dad. 

120622-N-FH966-180 SAN DIEGO, Calif. (June 22, 2012) Damage Controlman 2nd Class Jordan Bailey, who serves aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), greets his son after returning from the ship’s seven month maiden deployment. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David McKee)
Drawings were held for the first two, with two random sailors allowed off the ship before anyone else to greet their loved ones.  All new dads were next…getting first glimpses of children born while they were at sea.

Then it was time for the rest of us.

Out the hanger doors, down three flights of stairs and onto solid ground for the first time in ten days.  We passed through a guard gate and all around us sailors were greeting loved ones…and beyond the crowd was Pearl’s little sister Alexis, who grabbed and hugged her tight.

All that is left is the trip home for a relaxing night together.

Tomorrow is another day.  Pearl has a 24 hour duty starting early in the morning, so her true freedom does not begin until Sunday.  An interesting thought – that our soldiers and sailors live apart from family and friends, treasuring moments off ship and off base so that the rest of us are protected and can lead our lives free – often totally unaware of their service and sacrifice.

Yep.  It WAS an experience.  And what I experienced was just a moment in time compared to what our troops experience daily.

And now for the link to Videojournalism.  The story of what I did and why.   Some of the resulting videos are linked above…what you may not have realized is about 95 percent of what I shot on this trip was done on a Kodak Playtouch z10.  Yep – a point and shoot.

The book I’m co-authoring with Larry Nance will cover all bases/all gear from P&S through consumer and prosumer with a dash of DSLR thrown in.  While I’ve used the last three, I only had a passing nod to the P&S gear.

Until now.

And I will tell you that with all of the climbing up and down ladders ( I refuse to believe anything that steep is a staircase…sorry) having a camera I could shove into my pocket was a real savior.

In fact – here’s my gear kit for most of the shooting I did.   One small camera bag.  One Playtouch.  One mini-jack lav mike.   An extra battery.  And two teensy tiny super-cute lens adapters (wide angle and tele).  I took along a tripod but only used it once – and because the wind very nearly swept it away on the flight deck along with the camera, I returned to hand-holding the camera for security.

Shooting was a real lesson.  Cameras at this level are pretty basic – fixed lens with digital zoom.  So I had to zoom with my arms and legs.  No manual control.  Goodbye aperture control, while balance, focus.  Oh wait – there was a switch topside so I could take (mountain icon) kind of infinite focus shots or (flower) close-ups.  Not enough heft to help me balance it properly…I had to learn the correct way to hold it, all the while avoiding touching the touchscreen (which was very sensitive).

And my shooting style changed and along with it, my editing style.  While you can tell a full story with a variety of angles and shots and you can (thanks to the mike input) do interviews with good sound, you have to think it through and plan accordingly.  

My plan was to shoot a series of short nats videos to post quickly and have enough back-up video to eventually produce two more longer videos.  One on the trip itself and the other on how I used the camera on the trip.  And that’s where I pulled in my Canon HV30…to shoot some standups with me explaining the Playtouch and to get some shots the Playtouch couldn’t – good telephoto shots of aircraft flying by and LPACs coming and going.

By way of closing, I’d like to recognize PAO (public affairs officer) MCCS Donnie Ryan for tolerating my pleas for help and helping post videos and send postings while underway.  He struggled mightily with the ship’s balky Internet until he saw success.  Thank you for your efforts.

Going in circles, biting my…

…well, not fingers.  Work on The Basics of Videojournalism progresses.  The focus this week is to get the chapter on shooting done, complete with illustrations.  Those we take care of tomorrow with former McNair broadcasting student (and someday film cinematographer) Louis Martinez, who will be acting as our model for illustrations for the book.  Author Larry Nance’s son Amani will be helping out too, being interviewed on camera.  

All the while Larry is snapping the stills I will be shooting video.  Yeah, this is gonna be one interactive book.  We’ll not only show you with words and pictures how to do it, there will be a DVD (or two) with demonstration video and raw videos to show what you should be shooting (steady, well exposed, good light, etc).

Problem is…the more we write, the more we realize we need to write more.  

Shooting was supposed to be a pretty basic chapter that has now expanded, is growing, and is taking on its own life.  It seems to me that too many “how-to” books pretend to tell you “how-to”, but don’t really.  So when Larry and I say, “This is how to…” we plan to show the basics and then some. Read, look at the photos, view the video showing HOW to, work with raw video files to see how it should look. Interact and learn. One thing I learned in years of teaching is that there are different learning styles…and I suspect a lot of folks who want to learn video are visual and kinetic learners – they learn by seeing and doing.

Of course all of the above is creating more and more work and research. But taking into account Larry’s personal knowledge base (which is expansive) and all of my musings and blogs, we’re off to a pretty solid start.

Not quite -30- yet…

Time to take a hiatus…a break. This blog has been up and running for nearly five years. Not much compared with say Lenslinger. But five years of both inspired and forgettable postings. And now the reason to rant and post is slowly dying. Five years ago the concept of singular storytelling…videojournalism…one man bands…backpack journalism was fresh and debatable. Now it is not only getting old and institutionalized, but it’s also become the poster child of savings for news departments looking for fast cheap content, who cut staff and pile more and more on those left behind. This is not the dream we all had for VJs…solo storytellers who would research, shoot, write, edit stories with insight and meaning. Those are out there (check out the facebook Storytellers group and b-roll), but more common are the Q & D in-and-out folks who are either overworked and doing the best they can or newbies who just wanna be TV stars.

So for a time…I’m stepping away and focusing on areas of interest other than this blog. There’s a book to be completed…stories to be told…and sunrises and sunsets to enjoy…

And while I seem to have stepped back from this blog, I have not stepped away from visual storytelling. It’s in my genes, just as it is in every child who wants to talk about their day or curl up in grandpa’s lap to hear about his childhood. We all want to hear and tell stories. And I want to break it down so that others can understand the steps to creating a solid story that communicates a thought…a timeline.

So see me not as gone…just hovering in the background, pondering…

(re-written 9/12/11)

Long, long time ago…

…in a backwater little valley town called Sacra-tomato, change was afoot.

Broadcast news…long the bastion of white males wearing cameras and suits…opened up to minorities and women. (Thank you FCC.)

Enter into this a tough talking chick from New Yawk and a kinda shy kid from further south in the valley. They met, they meshed and for one year they were a team.

As we age, those golden days of our youth resurface in memories that are probably pretty accurate. Oh, we may be better looking and smarter in our recollections than in reality…but I can live with that.

Me…I was the shy valley girl. Picked up a still camera at age 12 and never let go. My goal was to become a newspaper photographer, but even with a college degree, getting an internship was tough. So I took whatever job I could after marrying the love of my life and moved on. Sigh.

The roller coaster ride was about to begin.

After a year or so Ron and I moved from said Sacra-tomato to the raisin capitol of the world, Fresno, to continue with our higher education at my ala mater – CSU Fresno. Where I was called Cyndy Mog and he was called Mr. Mog. (Took a while to get those surnames corrected.)

Somehow in this move I hooked up with the college community affairs department, writing press releases and shooting publicity photos.
My goal: somehow become a news photographer.

In the meantime, diminutive Joann Lee was laboring in one of the largest markets in the broadcast kingdom – Los Angeles – as a production assistant.
Her goal: somehow become a TV news reporter.

After researching and writing a nifty little story on a new intern program that combined federal, state, and local monies to get college students into low-paying jobs, I applied for and was accepted as the first fem-photog intern at KFSN, Channel 30. Fresno’s CBS affiliate.

Joann, meantime, had talked her way into the field and was following cameramen around on stories. And one day she talked one of them into letter her stand in front of the camera.

“Ginsing – an oriental herb.”

On the strength of that story, she landed at job at KXTV in Sacramento. (Tomato capitol of the state – or so they liked to think.)

Meanwhile I was finishing up my internship at KFSN…rolling with the cameramen, learning the craft of shutter speed, f-stop all over again with sound and motion added. How to wear forty pounds of camera, camera brace, audio mixer. Use of a light meter when there was time and how to make quick guesses when there wasn’t. How to load film and how to process said film. My specialities: mixing the chemicals and filing the film at the end of the day. (The new kid got the work no one else wanted.)

Magical times. Met my first dead body rolling out with Chuck “Boom Boom” Hoover, the station’s scanner freak, to a drowning in a canal. He also showed me how to artistically backlight broken windshields at accidents and once even beat the fire department to a fire (something I did twice more in my own career).

Time for convergence.

Some months after Joann got established at KXTV, I got my first ever interview with chief photographer Bob Helmes. He seemed to like what he saw and heard, and only had these words before putting me on staff: “If you don’t work out, we’ll never hire another female again.”

Gee. Thanks.

Of course, those being the times, I didn’t think twice about it. Just did my best to work up to and beyond expectations.

And totally screwed up on day two. Shooting some little nothing story at the local college, I forgot some shots, crossed my axis…horrible stuff.

And Bob – who was taking a quick nap in the newscar – commented: “Yesterday I was glad I hired you. Today, I’m not too sure.”

That rammed me straight back into the ground. Put me in my place and made me even more aware that I had only this one chance.

Fast forward six months or more on the weekend shift…got moved to nights and introduced to this tiny little thing with a big, opinionated mouth. My new partner.

How DO you DO?

I’m Cyndy. With two “y”s.

I’m Joann Lee.

We initially worked together warily…and I’m sure she was more nervous than me. No reporter likes working with a newbie cameraman. They don’t always know what they’re doing and they make you look bad.

Somehow we became a team…and I am sure the shortest (most petite) broadcast news team on the continent. I was five feet two…she was five one. I was afraid people would look at me and she could drill a subject with her voice and glare from one hundred feet. (Privately I called her the “Dragon Lady”.)

What brought us firmly together was our newness to the profession and our passion. It was us against the world some days…like the day when we got sent out to interview the family of the last man executed in the state. The angry family members’ response when we knocked at the door: “If you had been a male crew we would have beaten the crap out of you.”

The day we got sent to do a story on the local rice cooperative: “Why didn’t they send a real news crew? Why didn’t they send MEN?”

And talk about the times – often Joann was mistaken for Connie Chung – the “other” Asian reporter. Me, I never got mistaken for anyone. There was only me.

And the good times. Covering state politics in the days of Governor “Moonbeam” himself – Jerry Brown. Cruising the highways with scanner on high on summer nights. Pushing deadlines…telling stories of joy and tragedy; making chaos into something understandable. Partying together on weekends.

Eventually we both moved on…me to Washington, D.C. and then to the SF Bay area. Her to Chicago, then CNN in New York.

Somehow we both ended up in education. Professor Joann Lee (Chow) set up shop as head of the journalism department at University of Nevada, Reno at the same time I was starting my first program at Middle College High School in Stockton, California. She had more than half a million to spend…me, I had five thousand.

So we get together…less and less frequently it seems. Miles and lives lived apart have built walls that hinder meetings.

But those memories still surface. Those days when we were young, brash, invincible.

Goodbye Anaheim 2011…

I’m back in my digs after a two day hiatus to the southlands. Getting a bit old and creaky for this semi-annual run, but the few hours of dancing around in front of an audience and seeing students play with toys was worth it.

What made it different this year? Well, when I’ve gone to conferences and workshops, I’ve always loved to get my grubbies on gear. Listening is all very well and good and educational, but I’m a hands-on type of person. So this year I took a bunch of new and old equipment so the workshop participants could do the same.

“Establishing a Broadcasting Program” had a mini-studio setup, with my (older) Sima video switcher, two cameras, and monitor. Nothing fancy, but enough so that folks could see how a very basic two-camera setup works. We even did a trial talk-through of a show (Camera one on two-shot, camera two one-shot of anchor two, take camera one, switch to camera two…camera one QUICK! get in on one-shot of anchor one, take camera one…). Also went over EVERYTHING I could think of that you might need for a basic broadcasting program and what each piece of gear does. Hung onto the mike topic a mite long…but pushing for good audio is important.

The workshop that really got going was “Painting with Light.” Took the attendees from using natural light to reflectors to a one-light setup with umbrella and on to three-point lighting. Kinda hard in a room where I had no control over the ambient lighting AND had to demo using an LCD projector (washing out the image a bit with the lights). But when the workshop was over the KIDS came up front and stayed for half an hour to play with lights and the effects of moving lights up/down/around. Backlighting was their favorite from what I could see. Oh…that and down-under-up-in-your-face Halloween lighting.

They left happy and I was left exhausted. But happy too. Thanks all for dropping by and hoped you took something away with you.

1. Yes the camera (HMC150) was in manual mode. I told ya I don’t like auto mode, so the zoom was NOT in servo.
2. Yes the lights ARE hot. Use the C-47 aka clothespin.
3. What I use works for me…what I brought is what works for me. What you need may be something totally different…which means research (and yes, I’d be glad to show you how I research for gear).
4. Safety first and safety always. The lights are hot. Folks are gonna trip over cables and can get hurt. And please please be very very careful about posting student images online without all of the necessary paperwork. I may moan and groan about how restrictive administrators/districts are about allowing easy access for posting videos online…but I do NOT want to be the one responsible for any repercussions resulting from thoughtlessly putting a student in harm’s way.
5. About that printout of the Powerpoint I handed out? Teachers – the basic lessons are in the “Lessons” category on this blog if you are interested. Try looking at earlier postings, say from spring of 2007 on. Or use the search function and look for “Basic Shots,” “Animation,” “Autobiography.”

This ‘n that…

Summer is not approaching as rapidly as I’d like. What I thought would be a short term gig in the classroom teaching photography is now a full term of five months, so planning and prepping for my post-retirement production site is going slowly.

On the up side – I did order and have worked with my new camera: Panasonic AG-HMC150.

Went out on a trial run last night with dishcrawl. Think pubcrawl, but with food instead of beer. Nearly five hours of in-and-outs to four restaurants. Began by tagging along with official videographer Diane as she and dishcrawl founder Tracy Lee interviewed the owners/chefs at some of the restaurants. They allowed me to shoot some b-roll for them as well as work as backup camera on several interviews (This was a camera-only trial run, so I was mikeless. They plan to synch my video up with Diane’s miked video in post).

A challenging night. We began with setting sun light and shadows and progressed to full night, shooting by streetlight, in dining rooms, kitchens, and at one point even tried shooting as the crowd crawled past a dark corner. I got to test the little Panny out in a wide range of light temperatures and started becoming familiar with the placement of the buttons and dials.

Becoming familiar? A REAL videojournalist/shooter doesn’t even have to think about where her buttons and dials are on the camera. The camera should be as much a part of the VJ as their nose or fingers…an extension of their body. That used to be the case when I was in the daily mix of news…but it is now eight years later and I have to get back into the zen zone of shooting.

Back to the future. Over the next few months thinknews will have fresh new video examples, posted to vimeo and shot on my new camera. The intent is to show potential clients what I can do with current gear…what my current skill set is.

My byline has always been, “Can’t live without a camera in my hand.” So in retirement I do not plan to retire from who I am…but continue it at a pace that makes sense.

Life in a box…

…my former life, that is. And the lives of generations past. My husband and youngest daughter and I were out in the workshop today going thru boxes. Very dusty boxes…full of china, photos, negatives, letters…some had already fallen to the tiny teeth of mice and rats, but most was intact.

I found a letter from a Catholic priest to his counterpart in Lima, Peru…a letter of introduction for a young Australian woman with three children who was traveling to meet her American husband. That was my mother…and through one of those twists of fate we ended up in San Francisco, USA due to a medical emergency that required expert care for my father not available in South America.

And then there are the press passes and photos. I thought there were only one or two shots ever taken of me with camera…but more are showing up. It’s kind of exciting…and morbid also. Some toe tags from a multiple fatality accident I think in the 1990s down near Fresno on I-5. All I can remember is that at least nine/maybe more were killed. I wasn’t with the first crews on scene, but did the follow up over the next few days. One of the few times I picked up something from a scene…there were dozens of toe tags blowing around in the wind.

A pass from one of Vice President Dan Quale’s visits to the state. Me at a ball game at Candlestick (very out of focus). Lying down taking a snooze with a CP16 on the grass on a summer day in Sacramento.

Oh…and that photo above? Kindergarten. Montezuma School. Stockton, California. 1955

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