Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Air & Space Museum

My brother Jim and I went to the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum at Dulles Airport. Our visit included a 30-minute guided tour that lasted two hours and 20 minutes.

Our guide was very thorough.

He explained that 10% of the Smithsonian's pieces are displayed at its museum in DC, another 10% are on loan to other museums and until the facility at Dulles came along, the rest were stored in a Maryland warehouse.

Now they're not. Here are a few shots, including some of the Enola Gay, one of the Concorde and one of a bald guy somehow related to me who turns 42 next week.

On the drive to and from the museum from my brother's place, we drove on Rt. 50 past one of our childhood neighborhoods in Chantilly, Va.

Pictures from the Road

As my brain slowly regains normal function after an arduous two weeks working on the road, I'll try to extract interesting tidbits from the trip to share.

One of the aims of the Legal Rebels Tour was to incorporate many different kinds of media in the daily updates. Besides the video I shot, the ABA Journal folks wrote text posts, uploaded volumes of photos to their Flickr account and made photo slideshows using a free online service called Animoto.

Simply choose which photos you want in what order, pick your song and Animoto does the rest. Here's an example from the last day of the tour. I took only one of the photos. I did, however, provide the music.

A lot of the services the ABA Journal incorporated into the trip cost little or no money, including the Animoto and YouTube. Their Flickr account costs about $25 a year.

They also incorporated a Google service called Latitude, which uses GPS information from your cell phone to plot your exact location on a map. You can embed the map on your page, as seen on the main Legal Rebels Tour page.

Google Latitude could also come in handy for tracking wandering politicians like Gov. Mark Sanford.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Twitter Gag

Media outlets often decry the lack of transparency in the organizations they cover. This is ironic since they seem not to grasp the concept.

An editor at the Washington Post expressed personal opinions on his Twitter feed and the paper responded by closing the curtain on staffers' personal expressions on social media.

This post on PaidContent.org includes the complete text of the new policy, which the Post did not reveal itself.

In the Post's view, the problem is that Raju Narisetti, one of its two managing editors, tweeted, “We can incur all sorts of federal deficits for wars and what not but we have to promise not to increase it by $1 for healthcare reform? Sad.”

And: “Sen Byrd (91) in hospital after he falls from ‘standing up too quickly.” How about term limits. Or retirement age. Or commonsense to prevail.”

That's not the problem. The problem is that the Post apparently believes that keeping its employees' biases secret from the public is how to maintain a pretense of objectivity in its reporting.

All journalists worth the the title try to keep their opinions out of their stories. But one's worldview can't help but shape their vision of stories.

Revealing reporters' and editors' personal views better informs readers about stories. Few even reasonably observant people still believe that any but the most basic who/what/where stories are free of bias.

It's not a conspiracy to spin stories a certain way. It's that pure objectivity is impossible because, like beauty, objectivity is in the eye of the beholder.

The problem, and this may be the fear of many news outlets, would be if openness about personal opinion revealed that an overwhelming percentage of the staff shared the same biases. But that, too, is something readers should know.

Lift the veil. Open the curtain. Let in the light. Transparency is good.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Greetings From a Tired Traveler

Greetings from the nation's capital, Washington, D.C., as my freelance job with the American Bar Association's ABA Journal continues. It's Tuesday, which I know because I checked. Otherwise the days have been tough to track.

Some of the days have been long. Yesterday was one. We had a shoot in Manhattan yesterday afternoon, got in the SUV and drove here to D.C. The editing, rendering and uploading took until nearly 3 a.m. because we decided to post a 30-minute conversation in its near entirety.

That takes time. But it was worth it. It featured Steve Brill, who if you're interested in media at all, is always worth the listen. So here you go.

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

The interviewer was David Lat, creator of the legal tabloid blog AboveTheLaw.com. Roughly 600,000 people generate 8-10 million page views a month to that site, which is at least half a dozen more than this blog gets.

Lat was an interesting guy, which we don't get a great sense of since he was content to let Brill do almost all the talking and Brill was more than content to do all the talking. The Legal Rebels Tour website focuses on Lat and his role in new journalism, legal-related or not.

The editor and publisher of the ABA Journal, Ed Adams, gave me a mention on that same website.

The salient point:

Maybe the smartest decision we made before hitting the road was to hire John McQuiston, a freelance videographer with extensive experience both in front and behind the camera at local TV news operations, as our video guru. He’s made rank amateurs look semi-pro.

Unfortunately, the effort to earn such plaudits has made it difficult for me to put my own thoughts together for you to read here. So my apologies for the scattered thoughts and lack of story. Right now the 140 character limit that Twitter allows is the extent of my coherence.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Going to Letterman

Going down Broadway yesterday as I walk from Central Park to the Museum of Modern Art, I stop to take a picture of the Ed Sullivan Theater, where David Letterman tapes his show. The front door was open. I go in and see that they're signing people up for the ticket lottery to see a taping of the show. It's free so I sign up for tonight's show.

We're starting work early Monday so if it goes as planned, I'll be finished in time to go. I take the clipboard the assistant gives me and put my name and contact info and the date and time of the show I can attend. Dave tapes two shows on Monday and takes Friday off.

After I hand the assistant (probably an intern) the clipboard back, she asks me some questions. How often do I watch the show? Not often, I'm dumb enough to confess. What parts of the show do you like -- any of the bits? Mostly I like the monologue and Dave's interaction with the guests.

If I'm not disqualified yet, I'm sure I will be when she asks if my phone has voice mail. I don't know. I'm using a borrowed BlackBerry Sprint gave us because it is one of the sponsors of the project I'm on. I assure her that if someone calls, I will answer because the phone is always on me, and I point to it hanging on my belt.

She writes "not sure if he has voicemail" on my form and I figure that will doom my chances. She thanks me and says someone will call if I get a ticket. Like it matters. It's a TV show I rarely even watch. I like Dave but if I don't get in, it won't break my heart.

I go on to MoMA and forget about it. I'm in the museum, wondering how long I have to stay to justify the $20 admission ticket, when the phone rings. It's CBS, which I know because the same number shows up on caller ID when CBS News calls me, however infrequently, to do freelance work.

Believe it or not, that's who I thought it was. Never mind that I've had this phone for a week and it's going back in another week, I thought something had happened in Tampa and the CBS Early Show wanted me to go to the scene.

It is not, as I'm sure you realize more quickly than I did. It's the Letterman show. They're calling to tell me that I've won a ticket and to give me instructions on where and when to show up.

It happens that we start work early today so I'm going to finish in time to go.


So much for my grand plans to document my northeast adventure in photos, videos and, of course, volumes of verbiage here on the blog. I have been shooting video and photos -- though I did not bring my SLR with me for lack of luggage space and I will not make that mistake again if I have to carry the camera in a body cavity -- but time to put all the material together and detail it has been elusive.

I have worked long hours on most days, though it has gotten better here in New York, in part because our subjects have been only a short cab ride away so we're not spending significant parts of the day commuting.

I'll write more here when time and thought permit. Meantime, I am posting regularly on Twitter @ JohnMcQuiston and on my Facebook page @ facebook.com/John.McQuiston.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Legal Rebels Tour - First Video

I'm told that today was, in fact, the first day of the Legal Rebels Tour. Yesterday involved no touring, I guess, and no interviews with any of the people the ABA Journal has identified as Legal Rebels.

So it didn't count. And yet there's a video to show for it. This is from Sunday, the day we landed to begin, but did not launch, the Legal Rebels Tour.

If you were looking for me, sorry to disappoint. I'm working behind the scenes on this one. You did hear me narrate the opening but this is the ABA's show and the folks you saw in that video are the ones you're going to see if you follow the Tour online at LegalRebels.com/tour.

If you are supernaturally bored, at times we are riding in our rented Lincoln Navigator, you can watch a live webcam stream of our travels. That's right — you can watch people ride in a car! Live on your computer!

At least you will know where I am.

The other three people are Ed Adams, Editor and Publisher of the ABA Journal, Molly McDonough, the Managing Editor of the ABAJournal.com and Rachel Zahorsky, a reporter for both the print and online versions of the ABA Journal.

And because I have to go edit now, I don't have time to ensure that I spelled their names properly.

Legal Rebels Tour - Day One

It's actually day two now but yesterday began with a 4:30 am alarm setting, a 7:10 am flight to Boston and ended when I finished editing the first day's tour diary at 8:20 pm. I planned to shoot and post my own video diary but I hope you'll forgive my laziness this one time. As opposed to all the times you haven't forgiven it.

We begin today in Lexington, Mass. Forget Lexington and Concord and all that American Revolution stuff. The youngest of my three travel companions from the ABA summed up 21st Century perspective when we passed the sign announcing our entrance into town. "So this is where Matt Damon's from."

(The young lady who uttered that is very bright -- went to graduate school AND law school.)

Lexington is full of history but not so full of restaurants, and we wondered if people here still grew their own food as we drove our rented Lincoln Navigator in a fruitless (and vegetable-less) search for food until we finally passed a small cluster of downtown shops that included eateries. I'm sure that Molly was not distracted by hunger -- or fatigue -- when she nearly crushed another car while swerving the Navigator across traffic into a parking space.

Sprint is one our sponsors and it has loaned me the very cool Blackberry on which I laboriously type this while I pass time I should be using to sleep but, for reasons unknown, cannot.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


5:50 a.m. I'm at gate E69 at Tampa International Airport. It's me and a guy in a Red Sox cap currently waiting to board the 7:10 Delta flight to Boston. I don't think I'll be lucky enough for the plane to be that empty when it takes off.

Boston is the first leg of something I've mentioned called the Legal Rebels Tour. This means, of course, that I will miss most of the NFL's opening weekend. But sacrifices for the sake of work must be made.

Security was less of a hassle than I thought. Not that I'm particularly suspect but I have a lot of electronic gear in my carry-ons and I expected a thorough inspection.

So I enjoy the free Wi-Fi here until boarding.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

A Week From Today

I embark on the Legal Rebels Tour next Sunday. There will be four of us on the two-week-long excursion that begins in Boston (after a 7:10 a.m. flight from Tampa for me!), winds south to New Haven, New York City and, finally, Washington D.C.

The other three are from the American Bar Association's ABA Journal. (That's "bar" as in lawyers rather than taverns.*) The tour has its own website LegalRebels.com, which explains much better than I could exactly what a Legal Rebel is and the purpose of the tour. It also has that cool rendering of my photo. You can't even tell that I took it myself in my living room.**

I'm not sure what three-card monte is but, according to the crew bios page, I'm gambling my meal money on the game so I'll be spending any spare time I have on the tour learning how to play.

Editors. God love 'em! The rest of my bio was the one I provided. They were kind enough to leave in the mention of personal-documentary.com so maybe a curious onlooker will stumble onto my site from there.

*Sorry, Jim.

**Photo enhancement by BeFunky.com.

Dear St. Petersburg Times

I applaud you for offering video coverage of high school football largely abandoned by the local television stations, but your efforts demonstrate why you can't just hand a microphone to anyone and expect professional results.

To get to the first game story in the example below, a viewer must suffer through two bits of on-camera awkwardness, the first of which even a cameo by the classy Tony Dungy can't rescue.

I hope other viewers got through more of that than I did. I know times are tough and you don't have the budget to hire professionals to tell video stories. So I offer some consulting tips to your reporters free of charge.

  1. Microphones may seem too sophisticated for a novice to operate but they are not. Simply point them toward the person speaking. I did not realize that this took practice to master but you have not yet perfected this skill.
  2. If you are not funny, do not try to be funny. Oh, people will laugh. But for the wrong reasons.
  3. If you are not funny, do not ask celebrities willing to do cameos to play along with your bits. Viewers will feel embarrassed for the guest and antipathy toward you.
  4. If you are not funny, do not ask the athletes you are covering to play along with your bits. Viewers will feel embarrassed for the athletes and antipathy toward you.*
  5. If you are not funny — and even if you are, which is not an immediate danger here — keep the bits short. They won't be any less painful to watch but at least the discomfort will end sooner.
  6. Don't mumble your narration over the highlights. I understand that the whole video thing was probably not your idea and you're only doing it because your editor told you that there are a hundred hungry journalists waiting in line for your job if you don't want it and that the effort you put into writing and recording the narration is whatever you have left after writing the version of the game story that will appear in the paper. But it doesn't have to sound like that.
    *Also, there are no circumstances under which you should do a bit in which your legs are spread and your crotch is pointed at the camera.

I'm sure more thoughts would have occurred to me had I been able to watch more but to share them I'd have to charge a consulting fee. You don't want to pay consultants.

That would make you just like TV stations, who have to pay people to tell their reporters how to do their jobs because they are too cheap to hire professionals who already know.

If you get nothing else out of this, please, please remember the crotch at the camera thing.