Wednesday, December 28, 2005


I spend hours scouring the Internet some days. Nope. Not for free porn, however noble a pursuit that may be, but for broadcast journalism courses at this fine nation's colleges universities.

Because I need the lesson? Ha! Ha! You're a regular Seinfeld, you are. But no. I'm looking for places to market a DVD (A Reporter's Guide to the Art of Television Storytelling) I produced this past summer.

I look through a school's web pages, which in some cases requires quite the detective work, to find courses whose students can benefit from the DVD and the professors who teach them. I e-mail the prof, or the department chair, and offer to send a demo copy.

Technically, I suppose I'm spamming. Except I'm not sending random bulk e-mails. And the product offered is actually something useful. Even better for the targets, I'm not asking them to buy anything, just to require (or at least recommend) that their students buy it. So I suppose I'm not spamming after all.

How do I know I have a useful product besides the fact that if I made it it must be good? Because the first two college professors I asked to review it both adopted it into their course materials. And because all of the actual working professionals I asked to review it thought it was great too. Some even said they learned from it themselves.

Praise doesn't get any better than that.

So why didn't I start my e-mail campaign sooner? Because I know television storytelling a lot better than I know marketing, that's why. I should be happy the thought struck me at all.

I've sent out about 80 e-mails so far -- right during the holiday break when no one's in school to read them -- and I've still gotten more than a dozen requests for copies of the DVD. I've been collecting names and e-mail addresses for more contacts and will wait until after the new year to pitch to them. If the people I've already e-mailed come back next semester and flood me with replies, I don't want to run out of DVDs to send, especially considering I'm also filling some orders for paying customers.

I've got to set up a method for taking orders over the Internet. PayPal scares me. It's too much like a bank without any of the regulatory oversight. And I've read some horror stories. So I'm looking for alternatives. One recommendation I got was for It's got a low set-up fee and low commissions. If you know anything about this stuff and have ideas to pass along, please do!

Family Documentary

Still needing to acquire more pictures to complete the family documentary about my parents I've mentioned, I went ahead and finished the audio portion, minus any music I might decide to add later. I broke it down into eleven chapters and made mp3 files of each of them. Click on the title to play it.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Should I Worry?

Thanks to my new bestess buds at, I can see how many people visit my web site ( and even get some idea who they are. Don't worry, it doesn't give street addresses but it will say who the Internet Service Provider (ISP) is and what city it's based in.

That means if you visit me from an AOL account, it registers as coming from Reston, Virginia, so it's not like you're giving me the keys to your front door. Mostly it's a neat way of seeing that two people have come to my site from England and two from Canada.

Oh, and also to learn that my site's video page gets almost as much traffic as my home page thanks to people finding it by searching for things such as "girls fight," "kids fight" and "naked news clips." My apologies for the letdowns they must have suffered.

One visitor is apparently not disppointed. Thirteen times in the past two days, someone from the domain has made an appearance. So I paid a visit to and discovered that Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison is a law firm with offices in New York, Washington, Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong and London.

What on my site could possibly fascinate an international law firm enough that it would stop by more than a dozen times in two days? I don't know, either, but it's got me a little spooked. Maybe you can check it out for me and see what's on there that could get me sued.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Family Documentary

About a year ago, I got my parents to sit down and do interviews with me about their lives. Twelve months of procrastination later, I have finally finished a script for their story.

I put off recording my narration because I've had a cold and my voice isn't right but today I finally buckled down and recorded it. Looking at the .wav file of the recording in my sound editing software you can see my voice level weaken as I go through the 50 minute session. I didn't realize how much I had written but after editing it down to the takes I preferred, there was still almost 17-and-a-half minutes of my voice alone.

Never mind how much we're going to hear from my parents. This is a much more mammoth project than I thought. Maybe I wasn't procrastinating all year. Maybe I was working stuff out in my mind.

Oh, BS.

I have spent a considerable amount of time shooting video of and scanning the pictures going back more than 60 years that I'll use. I shot some video of Mom and Dad at the local horse racing track and some shots of Dad golfing. Plus, I discovered a video made from home movies my maternal grandfather had made when my mother was a child. They're in color!

Over on my video blog if you scroll down far enough you can see a couple of montages edited to music I made of my parents' lives. They run 3-4 minutes each.

This one will run 30-40 minutes it looks like.
Dover, Delaware is not a world-famous sports town. But twice a year it swells to accomodate tens of thousands of NASCAR fans who converge on Dover Downs International Speedway for NASCAR race weekends. The track began as a harness racing track for horse racing. A one-mile oval was added later for auto racing.

In June of 1989, Dale Earnhardt won the Budweiser 500 NASCAR Winston Cup stock car race at Dover with your humble correspondent on hand, shooting the race and later reporting the results.

Bud 500

This media file's URL: Link

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

So I graduate college. Not by much but I make it. My claims to fame being that I finished in four years without going to summer school and I never cheated.

Before my senior year I landed a job at WCHL-AM in Chapel Hill. So I was a real live professional before I finished school. But at $4.50 an hour I wasn't going to make my living there.

I got my TV break four months after I graduated working for WMDT-TV in Salisbury, Maryland. The first year I worked there the station produced a separate newscast for its bureau in Dover, Delaware. I anchored the sports there and reported for the mother ship.

Click here to see an early story I did for the station in 1989. I still hadn't learned how to use ambient sound, having always used music in stories, but for a first professional effort, it's not bad. BTW, the music came from my own keyboard.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

At the end of the fall semester in 1987 I resigned as the producer of Campus Profile and became the show's sports director. I anchored, produced, reported and shot a weekly segment called "Sports Review."


For the last show of each semester, I edited a music montage of that season's highlights. Here are my efforts for the spring semesters from 1987 and 1988.



Wednesday, November 23, 2005

It's been a while since I produced any new video and I don't have anything on the burner right now. In the interest of filling time until I shoot something new, I'm going to invade the archives to create a video travelogue through my development as a writer, reporter, shooter and editor of video productions.

That would go back almost (gasp!) 20 years to my days at the University of North Carolina. The school had a student run TV station called -- ready for this? -- STV. I started working there my freshman year and never left.

I started as a videographer for STV's news program Campus Profile. By the middle of my sophomore year, I had become the show's producer. That meant that I did whatever needed getting done to finish the show. I shot, wrote, reported and edited.

The memories are little hazy so I don't have exact dates for all of these clips. I think it was in the fall semester of 1986, my junior year, when I reported a story about a student protest against the university's investment in companies that did business in South Africa, which at the time, lived under strict and often oppressive segregation called Aparteid.

Although I had some of that fake "news voice" working, much of the deepness of my voice in narration was because I recorded it after an all-nighter and my voice always sounds deeper right after I wake up for some reason. It's probably phlegm or something equally gross but it gives the voice a wonderful timbre. Or something.


Friday, November 18, 2005

Southern Comfort

In the more-than-occasional periods when I feel like I don't live enough life, I go blog-hopping hoping to read about people whose lives are more exciting.

The ones where they talk about sex are particularly fun.

This one, despite its title (Get the Milk for Free) doesn't talk dirty, though a boy can still hope. Thirty-something former cheerleader, former TV writer -- perhaps future cheerleader and TV writer too -- in Los Angeles writes about her ups and downs. Lately it's been mostly downs.

Things are looking up, she says, thanks to regular visits to a fortune teller.

She acknowledges that people will think she's crazy. As I commented on her blog, she probably is. So what? The longer I live the more I see why people drink, do drugs, see shrinks, go to church or visit witch doctors -- sometimes in combination. And the more I realize there are very few of us who are not nuts.

For good reason.

It's a painful world out there and getting harsher every day. It's becoming harder and harder for me to blame people for finding comfort wherever they can. She's probably found one of the less destructive places.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Home Stuff

I spent a fun-filled (not!) at a lawyer's office where my parents had their living wills, designation of health care surrogate and durable power of attorney documents drawn up. I had to be there to sign some of them. How lovely to begin the day with the reminder that our lives are going to end.

After that I had the pre-construction meeting with my home builder. "Pre-construction" is not completely accurate since they have put down the two-by-fours into which they will pour the concrete foundation.

The model units' exterior is finished and I went inside the one that is the same size as mine. It's similar to the townhouse apartment I had when I lived in Tampa the first time between 1997 and 1999. It's possible they'll be ready to close as early as January but that's only if there are no delays. Apparently one of the factors in completing a home is the competition for materials. The project manager said they were delayed last year because China was buying up all the available concrete to build a massive dam somewhere in the country.

That could have been baloney but they have an incentive to finish the work because they don't get paid until I can move in.

Work Stuff

I need to keep lists. When you freelance, or try to, for a living, there are little bits of things that collect themselves and it's easy to let some slip through your fingers if you're not keeping closer track of things.

A considerable part of freelancing is networking, calling people, keeping in touch, staying in people's minds so that your name will come up if they hear about something for which you might be a good fit.

I'm also working to market a DVD I produced. "A Reporter's Guide to the Art of Television Storytelling" is now a required course material for a broadcast journalism class at the University of Florida and is also being used in a class at the University of South Florida. Feedback I've gotten tells me that I have a winning product on my hands. Now it's a matter of making contacts at more schools, getting the DVD into their hands and working with them to see how they can integrate it into their teaching material, preferably in a way that compels students to buy it!

Good news, the first paycheck from the work I did in Louisiana came today. I was happily surprised to see it so soon.
I have produced short documentaries with my own equipment but most of the work I've done on video have been stories for television. Here are a few QuickTime movie files as examples. The station for which I did them is in parentheses.

News Montage (WTTA-TV, Tampa)
Epiphany Day (WTTA-TV, Tampa)
News Montage (WCPO-TV, Cincinnati)
Bee House (WCPO-TV, Cincinnati)
Colleague Tribute (WTVQ-TV, Lexington, KY)
Daytona Week (WFLA-TV, Tampa)
Sports Montage (WFLA-TV, Tampa)
Conway Fire (WBTW-TV, Florence, SC)

Newest clips are at the top. They get older as you go down. "Colleague Tribute" was for a news anchor in Lexington named John Lindgren. He died of cancer in January 2001 and the day of his funeral the station devoted its early evening newscast hour to remembering him.

I'll add more as I go through my old tapes but these clips will give you some idea of what my work on TV looked like.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Citizenship Test

You Passed the US Citizenship Test

Congratulations - you got 10 out of 10 correct!

Nice to know that if I weren't already a real life nephew of my Uncle Sam, he'd adopt me. I ran across this on, of all things, a blog from Norway. Its author scored only three of ten, which I bet is as good or better than most Americans could score.

They should thank their lucky stars that being born American means we have to keep you. If not for an accident of birth, most of the sitcom watching morons who populate this land would never earn their way in.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Unquiet Slumber

Is it a nightmare if what you dream is real? Ever since I came home from the Gulf Coast, the haunting scenes of the Gulf Coast have unsettled my sleep.

I don't remember them exactly. They're not specific images, just fleeting glances of the absolute destruction of some parts of Louisiana when I was there. They seem to be causing a feeling that everything can be washed away in a moment, especially disturbing since the permits have just come back on the new home I'm having built. The feeling that has invaded my dreams has not changed in the four nights since I've been home.

Could I be investing most of what I have into something that could be taken away?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


I thought this trip would last longer. I also thought I'd more diligently detail my experiences. Strangled by bureaucracy, we weren't able to do the work we intended. Exhausted by the effort, I wasn't able to do the writing I wanted here.

My blogging will continue at The Queue.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Few Thousand Words Worth

Forget balls or bells! This holiday season, deck out your tree with a delivery truck! This is from Plaquemines Parish southeast of New Orleans.

The next one also comes from Plaquemines Parish. These don't do justice to the extent of the devastation. The place looked like an angry child had smashed his Lincoln Logs. Trucks, boats, homes -- all tossed about like socks in the dryer.

In New Orleans, buildings in large sections of the city have brown stripes on them. They're not decorations. They're the lines marking how high the water rose when the city flooded. I'm going to spare you the shots from inside. Let's just say this: Mold 1, New Orleans 0.

The day was not without beauty. The last shot is of the "skyscape" as we drove out of New Orleans. Let's not tell my insurance company that I took it while driving 60 mph on I-10!

Sunday, November 06, 2005


The exit off I-49 said "DERRY GOREM." I don't know if that's the name of one town, two towns or a Jewish holiday.

We passed it as we drove three hours to visit a trailer park in Natchitoches. We learned a few things about the town. This is where they filmed the movie Steel Magnolias. We passed the Natchitoches walk of fame. In stead of stars, of course, there are Les Fleurs. John Wayne and Julia Roberts have theirs names enshrined here. So do former professional athletes Joe Dumars and Bobby Hebert.

One thing we did not learn about Natchitoches is why locals pronounce its name "NACK-a-dish" so don't ask me.

We went because a family there has offered use of its property for a mobile home park that will house hurricane evacuees. Anita Dubois (said "Doo-BOYS" not "Doo-BWAH") watched heartbroken as images of desperation in the days following Hurricane Katrina filled her television. One day she noticed a crawl at the bottom of the screen asking people who had resources to contribute to visit FEMA's web site.

Anita is on the left. The other two people are her parents. FEMA is paying Anita to lease her land but she's not sure she'll make a profit because of the the cost of installing the utilities and sewage facilities it needed. The deal does help her eventually because she wanted to turn the space into a mobile home park anyway.

Neighbors aren't thrilled. One who lives across the street has complained to Anita about letting the looting thugs from New Orleans settle near them. Town officials, not informed at the outset, also have reached out helping hands with very short arms. FEMA gets roundly, and often rightly, criticized for its slow action but one of the biggest roadblocks to temporary housing are local officials who don't want "those people" polluting their neighborhoods.

And who are waiting for their kickback. This is Louisiana.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


For a place that's not supposed to have any people New Orleans sure has a lot of cars. I-10 and its offshoot I-610 were jammed as we left the city tonight. They wanted things to get back to normal. At least rush hour traffic has.

(And that was before the accident outside the city that stopped us dead for at least an hour.)

We actually got something done today. Hooray! We shot one story and then shot another interview that might stretch into two more. They won't be great but, as I was reminded today, "these aren't news; they're information." Meaning that they're not really stories. But it's the first time since Saturday that I don't feel guilty for not doing enough to earn the money I'm making here.

We spent some significant time in New Orleans for the first time. Parts, including the French Quarter look undamaged. Others are totally dead. Block after block of abandoned homes with lines marking how high the water reached. Streets empty of people but full of trash.

Driving is difficult because so many of the traffic lights are still out. Stop signs regulate major intersections and I don't know how many of them I simply blew through because you don't expect to see stop signs on such big streets.

We went drove through the heavily damaged Ninth Ward on the way to our first story. There are still road blocks to keep people out of certain parts of town. I don't know if looting is still a concern but our ID badges got us through.

Stevedores at St. Bernard Port don't have to worry about passing checkpoints. They live on board a merchant marine ship and walk to work. The port shut down after the storm and could not reopen when it was ready because all the workers had been flooded out of their homes. They had found temporary housing but it was nowhere close to New Orleans.

That's where the MV Cape Vincent comes in. Based in Beaumont, Texas, it usually serves as a transport vessel carting military vehicles around the world. Now it's docked at St. Bernard Port and its cargo is not tanks or humvees. It's 18 travel trailers hosting about 75 dock workers. The ship was modified to add extra plumbing and ameneties such as washers and dryers. The workers live aboard the ship when they're not working.

"Where is your home?" I asked one we saw as he went to do a load of laundry.

"You mean where WAS my home?" he said. He had lived in the Ninth Ward. Home destroyed. Same with his roommate (trailermate?) from Chalmette. Nothing left. They didn't seem thrilled with their situation. They didn't sound ungrateful as much as they seemed shellshocked. Neither knows what he's going to do. "I take it day by day," the guy from Chalmette said. How can you figure out what's to do next when you haven't processed what happened last?

We also shot an interview with a guy from the EPA about how it's sending crews around the city to collect whatever hazardous home waste (more than a million pounds so far) they find. We might stretch that into two stories. Remember, it's not supposed to be interesting; it's supposed to be informational. And in large quantities.

Kind of like what you're reading right now.

Racing against the setting sun, we went back to the Ninth Ward to shoot more video there. A woman came across the street and introduced herself. "I'm Mrs. Kador," she said. "And I just wanted to come over and say hello." She had come from a bright blue building with murals painted on it. Her late husband wrote a song called "Mother-In-Law," she said. My father often sings the chorus and I mimicked my father's rendition and asked her if that was it. "Yes it is," she said, flashing a good toothed smile.

Dad laughed when I called to tell him about it. I should have taken her picture.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Lucky Lafourche

Heading south on route 1 almost due south of New Orleans that runs alongside the Lafourche Bayou the scene stunned us. Lafourche Parish (instead of rivers and counties Louisiana has bayous and parishes) seemed out of place. I heard someone describe nearby Plaquemines Parish this simply: "All that was missing was the mushroom cloud."

We already had preliminary plans to go there Friday so with nothing on the plate today, we figured we'd document the damage in another parish. When we turned onto route 1 we stopped for food and gas, figurning it could be a while before we found the next place that sold any of either.

As we waited for the wasteland to begin, we began having the oddest mixed feelings. While happy for the people whose region appeared to have miraculously survived the destruction all around it, we were supposed to be shooting hurricane damage and as mile after mile ticked by, we had yet to see any.

We'd see some debris piles on the side of the road and some "blue roofs," those that were using blue tarps to cover holes or leaks but nothing like we had seen Saturday in Slidell.

This radio tower torn down in the storm was one of the few exceptions. Its lying down made it stand out. Most of the buildings survived the storm intact, even wooden homes built along the Gulf. Water had risen and done some damage but you would never think that just 30 miles east entire towns had been flattened.

Next time we have a free day we'll go to either St. Bernard or Jefferson Parishes. We know there's wreckage there.

And our mixed feelings will be far different.

Monday, October 31, 2005


My brother Jim wrote to me to say that from the pictures I sent it looks like they need an army of bulldozers.

Yup. Bulldozers needed. In some places they can just let it rot. No one's coming back. In southwest Cameron Parish, entire towns were wiped off the Earth by Hurricane Rita.

I'm based in Baton Rouge, about 80 miles northwest of New Orleans. So it's relatively normal here but I'll be traveling all over the state to shoot stories. Some of the southernmost parishes have roadblocks you have need special permission to pass. Our ID badges should gain us admission.

We've had enough roadblocks inside the bureaucracy we deal with. The mission for the Recovery Channel is supposed to be to serve the evacuees. That may be so but our liasons often want particular officials included for political reasons. This person or that needs to be included in an on-camera interview, I'm told. Does it make the story more relevant to someone left homeless and jobless by the storm? No but it will make someone happy somewhere and it's clear that this is the real mission.

That's the sad part. The funny part is that we're told to include these elements and then the people we're supposed to interview are not available.

But the Recovery Channel can be a useful venture and I'll keep pushing to make sure it is.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Picture Day

We didn't shoot a story today. The FEMA people we deal with here are still learning what goes into producing stories for television. They come up with nebulous ideas to which I respond, "Where are we going?" I'm trying to get them to think of stories in terms of location. Whatever we do we have to have a place to go to shoot it. Once we pick the place, we'll find people.

So I ask, "Where are we going?"

Maybe they'll get it someday. But not today. So I looked at a map, picked a parish near the gulf, called the field PIO (Public Information Officer) for that area and went to shoot video of destruction that we'll use to illustrate stories we do later.

The pictures are from Slidell and Eden Isle in St. Tammany Parish. That's in the southeastern-most part of the state. The parts that the Gulf did not swallow went under water from Lake Ponchartrain.

The picture with the toilet sitting on top of a home's foundation, the concrete slab being the only thing left once the house blew into the water behind it. Look closely at the background and you can another home stripped down to its frame.

Eden Isle, where I took the above shot, is home to upscale lakefront houses and condos, proving that Katrina was an equal opportunity offender. The picture to the left shows photographer Jan Brown shooting a house. That gives you some perspective on the scale of damage to it. The last shot shows me standing with our camera where we stopped to shoot more video along Route 11 between Slidell and Eden Isle.

Here's the thing the pictures don't show: It's not that you see damage. It's that you don't see anywhere there is no damage.

We came back to Baton Rouge through New Orleans. Block after block you see water lines. Home after home, business after business, all ruined. Some places had portable storage units sitting outside. Some stuff inside can be salvaged but a good portion of the city not destroyed by the storm (No one says its name; it's simply "The Storm.") will have to let bulldozers do them in.

We drove through part of the French Quarter. It escaped heavy damage but it still looked terrible. Maybe that's how it always looked. Even the better parts of town look soiled now. And when it gets dark the smell reminds you of the rotting you can't see

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Travel Trailer City

In a former cow pasture owned by the Louisania Corrections department, a town of 2,000 people rose in one month. It's not an official town. It's one of FEMA's travel trailer cities built to house evacuees until they can find permanent homes.

Wonda Bouffine has stuck fake flowers into the ground in front of her trailer. Don't plant real ones, she was told. She understands. No one is supposed to put down roots here. "We're only here temporarily 'til we get settled," she says.

Wonda was not the only resident to bend my ear today. Nevermind that I'm only a contractor working as a reporter for FEMA's new Recovery Channel, carrying a microphone and everything. Because I have a FEMA credential, someone thinks it's my fault that their heater doesn't work.

One woman had a posterboard with what she said was a partial list of unit numbers plagued by malfunctioning heaters or septic systems. Later a snaggle-toothed bleach blonde, who might have been attractive if only she had ever learned the value of flossing, accosted me to complain that FEMA had yet to pay off on her application for aid.

What do you do? I stood there and tried to listen sympathetically, figuring I would wear them down with non-commital nods.

Most people we met weren't angry. Why would they be. Two weeks ago, most were still sleeping on a floor somewhere with hundreds of their closest strangers. A private trailer with working water, heat and appliances must have seemed like paradise to some of them. Evacuees staying at travel trailer shelters FEMA has set up.

Unfortunately I spent so much time trying to extricate myself from conversations unsuccessfully that I didn't have time to stop and take any pictures. I've got to make a point of keeping my camera ready.

Shock of shocks, the FEMA PIO leader signed off on the script I wrote about Disaster Recovery Centers. I was sure that she'd want to suck every bit of the human-interest out of it but she only asked me to add a few details about the program.

John's Gulf Journal

The job in the Gulf came through.

I'm going to try to detail my days in Louisiana on a separate blog called -- are you ready? -- John's Gulf Journal.

See you there.


FEMA has formed someting called the Recovery Channel. It's an outlet designed to inform evacuees from the Gulf Coast scattered across the country about the status of the recovery. A company FEMA has hired has sent me to Louisiana to do TV stories for the network.

Based on the first two days, the biggest challenge won't be telling the stories, it will be working under the weight of federal bureaucracy. It's a culture in which deflection is the better part of valor, in which taking action involves taking risk which is to be avoided at all costs. Let's have another meeting instead. There must be someone else who can find another obstacle that will give us an excuse to put things off until we can meet again tomorrow.

That means that the story we shot today might never air because it didn't acquire the double secret permission apparently required before we did it.

Clinton, Louisiana is about 30 miles north of our base in Baton Rouge. They had opened a Disaster Recovery Center inside an antebellum mansion called the Marston House. The place had been pressed into public service before. It was used as a hospital during the civil war and then served as offices for administering New Deal programs during the Great Depression.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Going Away

I might have given up on freelancing too soon. A couple of weeks ago a video production company near me had called about a two-month assignment producing and reporting stories from the Gulf Coast for something called the Recovery Channel. It's a government sponsored channel designed to keep evacuees abreast of the rebuilding progress in Katrina-ravaged areas.

Because it's a government project, it had to ooze its way through untold layers of bureaucracy before we got the green light. It sounded so disorganized and -- frankly, because of the pay rate, too good to be true -- that I had taken the tact that I'd believe it when I saw the sign welcoming me to Mississippi.

We should pass it sometime late tomorrow. I got the call today that we were on.

I don't know exactly what I'm getting into. The only sure thing I know is that we have to produce ten minutes of material a day. That's a tremendous amount for a two-person crew to generate. In TV news, such a crew would be responsible for two minutes a day. That's a worry.

There's a lot else I don't know. Where we're going to sleep, for one. Far down the list of uncertainties is whether I'm going to have any access to the Internet or, considering the intensity of the assignment, any time left for blogging.

If you don't hear from me for six weeks, that's why. Otherwise, I might set up a separate blog to detail my Gulf odyssey.

Monday, October 24, 2005


I did my voice-over job (mentioned here) today. Because of the hurricane hitting the state a lot of things were closed, including the organization for which I do some volunteer work, so I called the producer of the video project I'd be narrating to see if we were still on.

"I'm up for it if you are," he said. I was and we were.

Driving to the production company's offices in St. Petersburg entails crossing Tampa Bay over the Howard Frankland Bridge. Though the eye of Hurricane Wilma had passed well south of us several hours ago, the winds were still strong enough to bounce my car around the road. Whitecaps rolled everywhere on the water. The bay looked as if it were confused, frantically sending waves in so many directions at once.

Water splashed on my windshield. I thought I had driven into a rain squall until I realized that it could not have fallen from the cloudless sky. It had blown off the bay onto my car. Come to think of it, I better get the car washed. Salt water can't be good for it, especially in such large doses.

But it survived the trip without apparent effect. It was cool enough outside that I could eschew my usual strategy of looking for the shadiest parking spot rather than the one closest to the door and I parked directly in front of the office.

Doing voice-over work can be tricky when it's work someone else has written. One of the byproducts of my broadcasting career is that when I read anything I hear the words in my head.* But the voice inside my head might not sound like the one the producer has in mind. My job is to try to read the words the way the producer hears them in his head -- even if I don't particularly like how they sound there.

I was narrating three stories about the Katrina recovery effort in the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They weren't vastly different from what you'd expect to see in a normal TV news story except they were a lot longer so I should not have been too far out of my comfort zone.

Once we'd set up and started recording, I'd read a section and look over at him. At first he often asked for another take. It took awhile to understand how he wanted it to sound. He said he wanted "conversational," but as we went along I realized that what he meant was that he wanted a delivery like you'd hear on NPR. I can do that but the imperious drone you hear on public radio is no more conversational than the affected news voice Brian Williams uses as he poses for you on NBC.

After a take, A head nod meant "close enough." An emphatic head nod meant that I had read it exactly as he had hoped to hear it. And the one time he nodded and tilted his head at the same time he told me he hadn't thought of it sounding that way but liked it better than what he had imagined. Words work funny that way.

The whole thing took about 90 minutes and I was back in my car braving the wind after making profitable use of my windpipe.

*It will hearten you to hear that after much practice I have conquered the need to move my lips while reading.


The Beatles'


The words blared across a black and white image of the Fab Four on this month's Reader's Digest. Come on. It's 2005. Are there really any untold stories about the Beatles left? If so it's because they're not worth telling.

Just so you know, I did not buy the RD in question. But I did peek inside to see that it contained such revelations as that the Beatles once had a drummer named Pete Best and that they replaced him with another drummer called Ringo Starr.

I hope I didn't spoil your surprise.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


When is the FCC going to start fining TV stations who interrupt pro football games with news of school closings and weather forecasts? Yes, I know there is a hurricane coming. I watched the Recommended Daily Allowance of hurricane coverage this morning. Wilma is not going to get here until tomorrow. I've planned accordingly and now I want to watch the game!

Station managers would say that they were ensuring the safety of their viewers by providing critical information about a potentially dangerous storm. Their true motive is less altruistic. The cut-ins, split screens and alerts crawling across the picture are designed less to transmit information and more to reinforce a brand.

Stations are willing to risk annoying viewers to convince them they're "on your side," "taking action for you," or that "we've got you covered" so that you might watch their newscasts. It would be like going to a restaurant and ordering a steak only for the waiter to remind you again that the day's special is fish.

Why do they do that? Simple. Stations make a lot more money from their local newscasts than they do from network programs. They'll weather the storm of angry callers for the sake of using popular shows to promote their storm coverage.

That's why we need federal intervention to restore our rights as Americans to watch football games unimpeded by the profit motives of local stations. I'm kidding about that but jeez.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Oh look! A hurricane! Haven't had one of those in a while, eh? And it's headed toward Florida. We better not "misunderestimate" the potential danger. We don't have Michael Brown to bail us out any more.

I am fascinated by watching hurricane coverage and amazed at the pictures that new technology allows us to get of these storms.

Incredible, huh? It's almost like the storm has a recognizable face. If we're lucky, Wilma will veer south and hammer Cuba instead. I don't particularly dislike Cuba but if the choices for who is going to lose electricity for a week are me and Fidel Castro, I'm going to let the communist dictator live without refrigeration or air conditioning.

I'm sure on his blog he says the same thing about me.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Lawn Mower Therapy

If you can't afford therapy may I suggest the next best thing: mowing the lawn.

I am not kidding. There may be few activities more mentally freeing than mindlessly walking in step, row after row, to the drone of the mower's motor. If I could write while doing it, this space would have a lot more content. Thoughts come in torrents as I push that little machine around the yard.

For someone who enjoys daydreaming as much as I do, it is a wonderful diversion that accomplishes something at the same time. Unfortunately (for me -- you might be happy about it), I never remember more than vague hints of my ethereal escape and, thus, can't share them here.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


I went to watch my cousin Rick get married recently. In forwarding pictures of the nuptials to my brother, I wrote with perverse satisfaction that our cousins on our mother's side were so screwed up that we appeared to be the stable ones of the family. He replied:
The stable side of (Mother's) family is akin to hanging off the side of the mountain by your fingertips and saying, "at least we're not on the snow covered side."
That might be something to keep in mind if you read any more of my scribblings.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Ma and Pa

I played golf badly, which is to say that I played it like I always do. I made par on two holes, bogey on a couple others and on the rest it was easiest to keep my score by counting how many golf balls I lost.

I played with my father, who is good at it. He often shoots in the 70s. He wanted me to become a lawyer and a golfer and if he had to choose one he might have preferred golf. Instead I became neither.

I suppose it's not too late. With lessons and practice I could learn to play competently just as with preparation I might score high enough on the LSAT to overcome my mediocre college grades and qualify for law school. My only acedemic bragging rights are that I finished college in four years with no summer school and I never cheated. My GPA was nothing to write home about, though it was something my father sometimes wrote to me about.

If my father's passion is golf, my mother's tri-pastimes are smoking, reading romance novels and listening to right-wing talk radio, preferably simultaneously. Understand: if she is addicted to cigarettes it is only a byproduct of her enjoyment of them. She does not want to quit.

The company for which she worked before she retired went smoke free and offered to pay for smoking cessation programs for any employees who smoked. My mother took the course, successfully quit, then a year later decided that she missed it and started again. She took lunch breaks in her car so she could puff undisturbed.

On the rare occasions she is stirred to move, she mows the lawn. It is her lone physical activity and it says all you need to know about my mother that she interrupts her exercise for smoke breaks.

You think I'm kidding. I assure you I am not.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I made this page to show off my video creations. But, as you may know, I also dabble in music. I offer a few selections from the John McQuiston songbook here. It's not a book, really, more like a pamphlet.

White Car*
Go On*
The Sea*
Step Up

* Song contains vocals. You've been warned.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

"He was very conscious of his standing in society," my mother said of her father. Besides the maid and the new car every two years, my maternal grandfather's effort to keep up with the Joneses included owning a color movie camera.

Although I would like to go back in time to teach him how to use it, I was no less thrilled to discover a videotape made from those old films, no matter how shaky and wobbly its images.

For her birthday this year, I edited a montage of those films with family photographs. Her reaction to seeing herself as a little girl so many years later shocked her as much as it did me. What also amazed me about her reaction was how it sparked her memory. My mother, bless her heart, forgets clothes in the washer yet she could remember the exact circumstances of a scene shown on 50-year-old film.

Click here to see why the ending choked her up. As always, you need a Quicktime player and a broadband connection to see it.

My father's parents evidently never failed to purchase the school portraits. They also appear to have taken no photos of their own. Good thing Dad did a lot of school activities and saved his yearbooks.

His parents disdain for cameras passed down to him. My parents' marriage has lasted more than 44 years yet the wedding ceremony that marked its beginning was so humble that no one bothered to photograph it. Only in the last five years did they take pictures of the church in Yanceyville, North Carolina where they married.

I try not to fume too much that early pictures of their eldest son (and your humble correspondent) are black and white. Then again, as you will see, so were my dad's.

This is a music montage of pictures bracketed by two shots of Dad hitting golf shots (his favorite pastime). I edited it for their 44th wedding anniversary this past March. Click here to watch it. You will need a Quicktime player and a broadband connection to see it.

If you are not related to me, this one will probably bore you. It's a five-minute film in which I follow my parents to a day at the local horse racing track in Oldsmar, Florida. It will serve as the introduction to a documentary I'm doing about their lives. Rather than begin with their baby pictures, I wanted the project to start with moving pictures of them doing something. Here we get a small sense at least of who they are before I re-trace who they were.

No horses were harmed in the making of this motion picture. Click here to watch it. (If for some reason it won't work, try here instead.) You'll need a Quicktime player and a broadband connection to see it.

I worked in Cincinnati when periodical cicadas made their once-every-17-year visit to parts of the midwest and east. TV stations hyped their pending arrival so mercilessly I wondered how they could ever live up to their billing.

Yet for all the talk, the cicada invasion was still incredible. It took only the short walk from your front door to the car in your driveway for half a dozen of the large black insects to stick to you. And if you had to stand outside for any length of time, forget it. You were covered.

In between the endless string of stories I reported for the station for which I worked, I took my own camera out to capture one of nature's wonders. It turned out well, I think, and I wasn't the only one to hold that opinion. A local film society called Underneath Cincinnati chose it as one of its best films of 2004. Not bad for a one-person-production, if that one person does say so himself.

Click here to watch it on your Quicktime player.

As I learned more about my camera and computer editing, I wanted to tackle more topics. Sports was one. I had offered to cover stories for WCPO's sports department on my own time with my own equipment. If it's a story you'd like to have but not one you'd be able to cover otherwise, let me know, I told them. Nothing ever came up.

So I found something. A local high school official had organized a combine workout like the one the NFL holds for college players each year. The players run the 40 yard dash, test how many repetitions they can do bench pressing 225 pounds and undergo other measurements of their physical size and skills.

Only this one was for high school kids hoping to catch the attention of college teams. WCPO sports director John Popovich said that if I did a story, he would make room for it in a weekly high school sports show the station runs.

That gave me the pretext to ask the combine's organizer to let me do a story about the event. I would do a version for my own portfolio and then edit it to fit whatever length John wanted for his show. The original ran about 4:00. The station's show aired the whole thing.

Click here to watch it on your QuickTime movie player.

I noticed a CD on a co-worker's desk one night and noticed it was the work of a local band. I e-mailed the record label, which was co-owned by the bass player and drummer of the band, and explained what I wanted to do. I did not want to charge them money. I already owned all the equipment I needed. All it would cost is a few hours of their time.

They agreed. And the result was a nearly eleven minute long documentary The Light Wires. Click here to watch it on your QuickTime movie player.

When I worked in Cincinnati I lived across the Ohio River in northern Kentucky. Not far from me was a place called Rabbit Hash. Not even a town, really, it served as a great little getaway place for people winding their way through rural roads in the area.

On an unusually warm November Sunday, I took my camera there looking for a story. I didn't have any idea what I'd find but I wasn't worried. I always find someting. Besides, it didn't have to be anything profound; I just wanted practice shooting with the camera and editing on my computer.

It turned into a clever story lasting about five minutes. Click here to watch it. It's a Quicktime Movie file and you will need a broadband connection to stream the video.

You've probably seen or at least heard about a musical one-man-band. This guy sings, plays guitar, flaps his arms to hit a drum strapped to his back and picks at a bass lying on the floor with his toes.

I don't know what you'd consider this piece. Not only did I shoot and edit all of it, I set it to music that I composed, performed and recorded.

Music and video -- one stop shopping!

When I first got my camera, I did a few projects like this. I'd go somewhere, shoot some video and edit it to music just for the practice. I hope it does not feel too much like exercise if you decide to watch. Click here to do so. You'll need a QuickTime movie player and a broadband connection to see it.