Crushing dreams for being realistic?

We all have dreams. A better life. Being thinner, richer. Sometimes material things. Sometimes something else. Hopefully though we all have a way to balance our dreams with the real world and not spend life wallowing in regrets.

When I look back at my life I see that many of my dreams never materialized through either my own poor judgement or circumstances, but I don’t let it bother me. Much more than a twinge…and then I move on. I’ve been lucky enough to have two careers that totally absorbed me. Three girls who have grown into women I could never have imagined…like me they forged their own paths. And a husband who is so much a part of me that I can’t imagine life without him.

Enough about me though…here’s the rub. How do you explain to the upcoming generation how to balance reality with dreams?

I’m a cheerleader for our young people. Volunteer with high school and college age students, nudging them to excel. Mentoring more young people via the Internet, again nudging them to think about their choices. And I like to think I’ve never told a young person that they can’t do something. All things are possible. If they prepare themselves.

Now in the case of the high school students my advice is primarily take the right courses and focus on passing with a good enough grade they can move on to college and a career. In some cases I’ve actually told students they can flunk. Harsh? If you take a student who has flunked English or math or science from middle school forward pep talks don’t work. Tutoring can help but not with every student, especially if their life and home situations place barriers to becoming better. So I give them permission to flunk with the following advice.

Sure – flunk English. But you want to be an auto mechanic (or warehouseman…or beautician)? Then learn how to write a solid resume, learn how to write a business letter. Pick up a good solid workplace vocabulary…know the language of the career path you have chosen.

Sure – flunk math. But learn how to add up services and products to write a receipt. Don’t forget to include tax (a percentage of the total). Know how to write an estimate for repairs. Understand how to read your paycheck…not just the total or amount after taxes. Have a handle on all those niggling little details like FICA and state and Medicare (how big a bite those deductions take out of your hard earned money).

And now. On to college.

There are students who you know just naturally are gonna make it. They may struggle with this course or that course but they are willing to give it their best shot. Take the core hard classes and go into class with the intent not just of passing but learning. I am very proud to be acquainted with a number of these golden youth.

And then there are … the others. Those with a dream, but unwilling to be realistic. Those who just know they are going to be great but are unwilling to put in the time and effort to pay their dues at the bottom in order to earn their way slowly up the ladder to success. (Success by the way, as defined by me, is not money…but happiness in both your career and life paths.)

I run into them both on campus and the Internet. Had a discussion with a young man from India (much) earlier this morning. He tried to join a professional site I moderate which doesn’t allow students…after explaining that to him, he told me he really wanted to learn how to be a travel journalist…and after more probing, a travel cameraman. One – he is studying to be an engineer. He has no background of any kind in any phase of journalism. Not insurmountable, but his dreams are not going to happen soon.

And then more…he desperately wants to get away from home (and possibly his down-to-earth parents), travel to a foreign county (Europe or the US) and go to journalism school. And become a glamorous travel journalist/cameraman.

The implication that all a cameraman does is point and shoot. Anyone can do it. I heard that so many times over the years from folks with a home handycam…”Hey, I’ve got a Sony too. Bet I can do your job. How to I apply?”

Not. Gonna. Happen.

So more guiding…and explaining the complexity of the job. Shooting, research, scheduling, logging, transcribing, writing, logging, editing…all with the intent to pop out a concise visual story. He is much subdued but listening to the advice to consider going into engineering and working on his passion weekends. A paying job and a dream to work towards.

Meanwhile the on-campus students. The students who don’t “do” tripods. Or want to know manual controls. Just pick up a camera and wave it. Or sit in front of said camera (maybe with a shaky friend holding it) and pretend to be a celebrity interviewer. Forget about light, audio, exposure, sequencing, framing, writing, editing. It’s all in the moment.

Unfortunately that moment isn’t even their fifteen minutes of stardom. It is a momentary flash seen only by themselves and a few friends.

Yeah…the terminal termagant is crabbing today. Again…I never tell students they can’t. But also never lie to them and say they can…

Dreams are flights of hope and passion…but making them real takes dedication and work.

Afterthoughts added later…
Getting into a job as a videojournalist takes time and talent and work and to some extent luck. My crabbiness comes from seeing and listening to young people who think “anyone can do it”. Truth be told, anyone CAN do it. But to do it professionally (for pay) and in a style that compells people to actually WANT to watch you work (meanings strangers, not just friends and those who love you) takes more than a shaky hand, a dream, and being clueless.
And the journalist part is just as challenging. Knowing and understanding your legal rights. Being able to write in clear, concise English (or whatever language you own). Knowing what facts are and not “expanding” or “enhancing” them to make the story better.
Sure, I was a dreamer once. But I sweated blood and tears some days to even get in the door (which btw was pretty much closed to women in 1972 when I forged out into the work world).
Just remember all you need to do is work until you can’t move, learn until your head hurts, and aim for perfection.
Now that’s not too hard, is it?

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A shot visit to my roots…

…as a teacher. I never actually left the land of video but have been retired from teaching for some three plus years now.

Last month I returned to Middle College High School where I went through the horror of learning how to teach. That was a truly tumultuous journey…from a single Digital Video Production class to English and AVID (the college prep course, not the editing program) and more. Former co-worker Michael Kennedy honored me by asking me to take over his workload for a few weeks.

Now the English 12 classes went well since he laid the groundwork and made lesson plans. He’s also got AVID 12 in hand…all I had to do was follow his notes – which meant I let the kiddos research colleges and complete applications.

The fun stuff was his other classes. AVID 10. Journalism. The former went from kinda chaotic to totally out of my hands when the AVID tutors arrived. Talk about discipline…they entered the room and took over. My job went from teaching to taking roll.

And…journalism. A small class…minuscule by the standards of a comprehensive high school. Eight – yeah right, count ’em – 8 students. All mine to toy with and teach. And Michael let me have my way with them so I began with having them read the Five Pillars of Islam, the Ten Commandments, and the Eight Fold Path (of Buddha)…and then both the JEA and NPPA Ethics Codes. Final product – a compare and contrast paper which was supposed to lead them into understanding how the Mind of Man works. Why do all societies…all cultures…have similar principles?

20131014_134954Had them write what they wanted to learn from me on the board – and it was all good. Our Editor-In-Chief wanted to learn how to run the school website effectively. And the rest dovetailed into my plans – shooting and editing and writing visual stories.

Problem was that the computer lab the class was taught in was a terror. Every day everything they worked on disappeared – total erasure. And all they had to work with was Moviemaker. And one student’s personal video camera. So I brought in my arsenal of el cheapo cameras – from two Kodak Playtouches to a low end Samsung camcorder and my NX1000 and put them to work shooting the Seven Basic Shots. Then editing it.

How to deal with the problem of gear? Lucky find – a Flip camera in a second-hand store for $9. I guess the owner got rid of it because it wouldn’t allow any video to be recorded. Here’s the solution – plug into a computer and reformat it. Totally cleared up all of the gunk and it worked just like new. And while it shoots SD, that’s a good thing considering the computer situation. SD is oh so much easier to upload and edit than HD.

Next – how to handle the erasure of all projects. A simple solution, one that cost a few more bucks. I donated a 500gb portable hard drive. All raw media is loaded onto it and students were instructed to start a Moviemaker project then immediately save it on the hard drive and close and reopen it from the hard drive. That way all files they imported were linked to the hard drive copy. Kind of weird but a working workaround.

Final project (we were running out of time here) was a group shoot. They needed to learn how to shoot, log, write, and edit a real story. So off we went to the freshman AVID class where students were getting their Secret Penpal letters for the first time (written to them by the sophomores). Each of my J-kids was told to pick a freshman and shoot them as they got and reacted to their letters. Then we snagged a few and took them outside where each J-student had the opportunity to run my good camera and to hold the mike and get an interview. The next class meeting we logged the interviews and wrote the script as a class. My videots did the edit on my laptop and the E-I-C posted it. So now they had a foundation…and it will be interesting to see where they take it.

(I did check up on them a week or so later and the quiet junior girls had done some MOS interviews (man on the street) which nearly floored me. Perfect composition…good light…good quality audio. Fast learners all.)

There be Dragons!

Love this crawling quote on my husband’s computer: “It’s not that we say dragons are real…but we say they can be beaten…”

Dragons being, of course, totally (ahem) imaginary creatures that lurk in fairy tales and in the backs of our minds.

Well in the back of my mind lately there’s been a desire to cut out the seemingly endless hours I spend transcribing interviews. I’d looked into voice recognition software in the past and had an inkling there were some possibilities out there. What did me in was a marathon week of listening to and transcribing a panel discussion of high school debaters and interviews with five coaches. Oh – and presentations by the students too.

Word. For. Word.

Regular folks like to talk. Speech and debate folks take it seriously and my fingers and brain were seriously addled by the time I was through. Limpid fingers…mush for brains.

So I finally began my search in earnest and dragons kept resurfacing as a solution.

Dragons Naturally Speaking. Managed to finagle some coupons and points and got it for nearly half off and began my adventure last night. And was frankly pretty impressed. The program is set up for one voice and you have to go through a learning curve with the software. So I spent about ten minutes setting up my profile, which included reading sentences and learning how to insert capital letters and punctuation, how to start a new line and more and then I transcribed two short interviews in slightly more time than it took to view them. Wow.

The method to get this done could be considered multi-tasking to the extreme. Dragon was open to transcribe into MS Word. I had a screen with an interview playing back. I just had to make sure that Word was the active screen and I would repeat word for word whatever the interview subject was saying. Even transcribed some nats.

The only thing better of course would be to plug-in all audio directly for transcription…but this sure beats the old way of listen and type quickly and then back up and start listening and typing again. For my purposes I don’t need impeccable accuracy…so rough drafts are workable for scripting purposes.

And now I’m ready for that next big project – a series of interviews and nats for DSES…and trust me, it is gonna go together oh so much faster than anticipated.

Reinvention…

It’s a fact of life. If you can’t keep shifting with the shifting sands, you can’t stay in the business. Yesterday’s skills are so … yesterday. Griping and complaining don’t cut it. So shrug off that load of history and grab the best of what you are and move on…

The din from the “good ole days” group is getting louder. Haven’t heard it this bad since around 2005-ish. The complaint? The usual.

They’re hiring kids with no experience for cheap.
No one wants quality anymore.
Why I can remember…

Well, I can remember too. Remember graduating from college and not being able to get a job in my chosen career because I was (oh no) female. And I have friends from that era who were not part of the mainstream culture who were in the same position, if not worse. African American. Hispanic. Asian. One of them confided to me recently that he had to hire a white friend to front for him on initial contract negotiations so he could just get his foot in the door.

I can remember what you had to learn to get your foot in the door of a broadcast newsroom. You had to know everything about photography and shooting film. Aperture, shutter speed, light meters, how to light with proper filters, sequencing, how to mix chemicals, run the processor, work any shift, take any story, get to a story using only a Thomas Brothers map book in the middle of a cold dark winter.

Things have changed – the gear now is so…well, simple. Turn it on and (all too often) keep it on automatic. The worst digital camera image today is better than the first video camera images. Yes, it seems as if anyone can get hired. I hate to ask, it that YOUR decision? Are YOU the one calling the shots? Second guessing the decision makers will not change the course they are on…if you want to change things, you know where to go.

(pause for reflection)

Sigh. I feel for those who are hurting and passionate about visual storytelling who cannot find work. Went through the same thing myself after my first pregnancy. Had the skills, the experience, but wasn’t…what is that word? I didn’t “fit the profile” of what stations or news directors wanted. (Even heard through the grapevine that one chief photog said I didn’t “look” like a cameraman.)

Many of the current “used to be/wanna be’s” are in the same boat I was in once. Out of nowhere there was a paradigm shift and no one was looking. Carefully enough.

All I can say is – keep on plugging. Learn those new skills. Reinvent yourself. Really really look at what is going on in the media and see if you can fit the model. Maybe you want to make a living wage. Maybe then you’d better reconsider or being willing to work the bottom rung long enough to begin moving up again. Find that small market who will give you a shot. Or grow up and find a real job. The news business has never been one for softies. Remember – we eat our young.

And if you make it to the top of the scrum…remember. Don’t bite the head off the next down and outer who asks if you’ve heard of an opening. Look around, try to help. At the very least, give a word of encouragement, a cup of coffee, and advice. You owe it to them. And yourself.

(wishing you all the best in your efforts….)

Storytelling and storytellers…

Although there are many resources on the web to watch great videos, there’s one outstanding one if you are primarily interested in visual storytelling news style.

TV News Storytellers on facebook has daily posts from cameramen all around the country soliciting input on how to become better or posts from experts in the field demonstrating best practices.

So hop on over and take a look…and enjoy.

Now you see them…

It has come to this. Opened my newspaper this morning and there was only a page and a half of classifieds – the (former) staple of income for newspapers. You know them. Lost and found. Cars for sale. Garage sales, used stuff, pets, boats, farm goods.

There are (remember, Stockton is the former Ground Zero for real estate meltdown) three and a half pages of legal notices of trustee sales.

Professional Services has expanded from about half a page in former times to a full page. This includes everything from bankruptcy to tree services.

I wonder how much longer I’ll receive home delivery out here in a rural area?

You did WHAT?!?

Facebook reveals many things about your acquaintances – it’s a fun way to socialize and remember old friends and play catch-up. But I saw a posting today that I honestly cannot believe.

A former co-worker at KOVR (CBS affiliate in Sacramento) posted:

“So is it bad that I covered an accident involving a big rig over turned loaded with onions, and then brought back giant sacks of onions to the news room? The purple ones AND the white ones.”

In the words of my (former) students – WTF?

What was he thinking – or was he even thinking? That is an accident…basically a crime scene and he is scavenging. Of course if the corporate boss or even CHP asked him to help clean up the mess by doing that – I can almost understand. Almost. But in all my years in news I never even THOUGHT about what he did.

And he might reply, “but, hey, you took stuff” and my response would be, “yeah…a gift offered. A bottle of wine, a meal sitting with a family we’d been working with all day. Produce from a farmers’ group (shared with the newsroom).” And or course, each of these “gifts” could be questioned…but they were offered, not just taken.

Sound off folks. Was he right or wrong? Let me know.

(What bothers me – ten of the eleven or so responses to his posting thought it was okay.)

Update: This was a minor accident too. Here’s the link.

And yeah, I’m pissed at this unethical behavior and yeah, I’ve taken him off my friend list.

j-Pad in the newsroom…

I love bright and shiny new toys as much as the next person, but am cautious when it comes to spending cash or plastic on the latest and brightest and newest. I’d rather wait for others to figure out the bugs – so instead of having iPad 1.0, I figured I’d wait until version 2.6 or 3.1.

But one bright TV station is bolding moving ahead by using i-Pads to replace – PAPER!

WFXL in Albany, Georgia, is using the new devices to replace paper scripts given to anchors on the desk as backup to the teleprompters. Yes, they’ll still use paper in the teleprompter, although apparently – yep, there’s even an app or two for that too.

But the annual savings in paper scripts for anchors and producers is around $9600…well worth the price of low-end i-Pads at around $499 each.

The queen is bitter…

Been following localnewsqueen for a while now and am becoming disappointed. While the initial promise was there to point out failures in broadcast news (and hopefully ways to fix them), what I’m reading is more personal rants and complaints.

From coroners and oranges to the post office and potholes and reposting youtube videos I’ve seen before…the variety is there, the concept is there, but the writing is becoming weaker…less about news and more about her.

I’ve had a couple of friends in the biz point out the ethical issues of anonymity in a blog such as this one…a journalist exposing the guts of TV news. Yeah, that bothered me…and I’m beginning to suspect the reason for secrecy is that these stories may not be about one person.

Posted on the blog is the following:

Vent to the Queen
Do you work in local news?
Share a story:
Localnewsqueen@gmail.com
(Your name and email will remain anonymous)

So are these her stories, ideas, rants? Or someone else’s?

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