Layoffs, cutbacks, business model shattered. What is the future?

October 28, 2008

I took the above photo the day before my job interview nearly six months ago.

Today, in a 10-minute period, I received two e-mails from folks at other Gannett papers. Attached was a memo saying that there would be a 10-percent cutback in the workforce at Gannett papers nationwide.

Moments later, I received the same e-mail from our publisher.

Moments later, the editor came into the newsroom to make the announcement.

The catylist was the poor economy and plummeting stock prices, but the real reason is a failing business model.

The band-aid solution? Cut back the workforce. Cut back the size of the paper. It makes sense, since those are the two biggest expenses. The possibility of a two-section paper was raised twice today, but exactly what a two-section paper looks like is unclear. The necessity of figuring in Internet content with our future was acknowledged. Again, implementation is uncertain.

But what comes next? Will the community follow us online if that’s the only way we can afford to distribute news? And if the community will follow us online, will advertisers? What can I do to help?

Today in the news industry, there are many more questions than there are answers.

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Pensacola in pictures

October 25, 2008

Not everything can make it into the paper, and sometimes, my favorite things about Pensacola and this job have to be left out. In the last few weeks there have been some things that really stood out to me. For some, I was lucky enough to have my camera…

Last week, I was working a feature story about the auctioneer at the Pensacola Interstate Fair. He’s been helping kids sell steer for more than 40 years.

I drove out to his farm to talk to him. He surprised me by loading me up on a mule cart and taking me out to see his livestock. (The mules names were Kate and Alley, after Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, ha!)

A pair of donkeys named Tom and Jerry…

And a little mule-cart-riding dog named Pearl…

During Hurricane Gustav, about a dozen ships from Louisiana came to Pensacola for safe harbor. Calls flooded into the newsroom with people wondering what was up.

A local company called ARC Gateway that helps people with mental disabilities find meaningful employment was competing for a grant to expand their program. I was touched by their dedication, and deeply moved by the people I met there. These two people were sorting Marti Gras beads and newspapers for recycling.

A local community in the heart of Pensacola became the site of one of the largest EPA directed resident location projects in the country after officials found out that the area had been contaminated by dangerous chemicals from a nearby plant.

I covered the Clarinda Lane farewell celebration where former residents gathered at the cleanup site to celebrate the relocation of the last resident to a new home. A former resident and pastor spoke about the old days on what she said wasn’t just a street, it was a family.

What the old neighborhood looks like now, cleanup in progress.

I covered a military “sundown” ceremony where pilots, current and former, at Pensacola Naval Air Station gathered to retire an aircraft type that nearly all had learned to fly in. The “Tubby-Two,” in the foreground, flying with it’s replacement, the T-34 Goshawk.

A terminally ill patient at Covenant Hospice spoke with me about how well the people there were taking care of her. She was a wonderfully friendly and happy person.

The hospice is seeking a $100,000 grant to buy 16 new, more comfortable, beds for terminally ill patients. About 50 people a month pass away while in their care. Covenant wants to make sure patients are at peace. One of the current beds…

Local political shenanigans. An unknown person put fliers on cars in a Wal-mart parking lot that accused a local Sheriff’s candidate of frequenting local strip clubs. The candidate was not happy about it.

Three men were given an award by the local fire department for rescuing an elderly man from his burning house. I tried for three days to get in touch with them, but was repeatedly stood up. I went to the burned house to take photos and one of the rescuers crossed the street to talk to me. He promised me he would be at the City Council award ceremony that night.

None of the men showed up for their award. I felt a little better after they stood up the City Council also.

I stopped by a public safety day that was put on by the Escambia County fire department. It was a surprisingly cool event, with a really good turnout. But sadly, there wasn’t room for it in the paper the next day because of a shooting that happened later that night.

Bomb squad robot. Bomb suit in the background. Cool…

And finally, the sunset from the parking lot of the Pensacola News Journal after a particularly stressful day.

These are the reasons that, even when it’s tough, I just keep on writing.


The good with the bad in Pensacola

October 24, 2008

The last couple of weeks have been a bet hectic in Pensacola. Reporters are starting to use up the vacation they didn’t make time for earlier in the year, and the staff is getting spread kind of thin. A couple more long time newsroom employees have said that they will be leaving the News Journal by the end of the year to pursue jobs elsewhere.

But in spite of that, the last couple of weeks have had some good moments too.

Yesterday, Leroy White called me to thank me for the story I wrote about his granddaughter, who died in an accident at a dangerous intersection. (I wrote about it in this blog post)

He said that since the story came out, the DOT has been very helpful and they just finished installing a flashing warning light at that intersection, which is what he wanted all along.

The managing editor came out of her office to tell me I did a good job on a couple of local campaign stories that are set to run this weekend. It was great because I was stressing about those… Political stories are still really new to me, and I’m worried about being biased in reporting them.


And yesterday morning, a Marine LT out at the naval air station gave me a call and said the commanders were “enamored” with the hummer article that I wrote, and they wanted to get a hold of a bunch of extra copies.

Woohoo! A threefer! That might never happen again…it’s like winning the triple crown.


Triple duty on Humvees

October 14, 2008

Three mediums, one journalist.

I was probably carrying about $5,000 in equipment when I ventured out to Pensacola Naval Air Station earlier this week. Everything from a steno pad to a high-definition camcorder. I told the group of a dozen or so Marines that were waiting around for me, “I’ll try not to screw this up.”

My video from the day. This is the first video I’ve ever hosted online in high definition. If you click the Vimeo link in the lower right of the video, you can watch it in full on high-def glory at the Vimeo.com

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The budget line for this story:

1A: MARINES TAKE HUMMER TRAINING TO PENSACOLA STREETS

Training commanders at PNS call Pensacola “Club Hedonism,” and young Marines
with too much free time hear its call and get into trouble. But due to crowded
classes and complex scheduling, many trainees at PNS are forced to wait weeks
(or months) before starting school. In the past, commanders filled this “free
time” with time-wasting activities like cleaning and chow hall duty. But today
this time is dedicated to teaching marines skills that they will take straight
to the streets of Iraq. Armed with a caravan of 23 armored Humvees, trainees
use the streets of Pensacola to master driving and maneuvering skills that
they traditionally would have had to learn after leaving Pensacola. Training
commanders love it because it gives trainees a good outlet for their energy.
Taxpayers love it because training is now faster, cheaper and more efficient.
TRAVIS Length: 15-20 inches.

I didn’t mention it in the budget, but from chatting with the young Marines, it’s obvious that they love it too.

After I took this photo, the guy on the hood said something like: “Whaddaya going to call me in the caption? Mr. October?” Ha!

Staff Sgt. Seals is in charge of the training program. He was an alright guy. He’s a native of the area and he lives up in Milton now. I had to get suited up in a camo flack jacket and a helmet just like these other guys. I wasn’t the only one that had some trouble getting the chin strap to work right. Although, as always, I looked much less cool after putting on the gear.

Staff Sgt. Seals has this aura of badass about him. Sometimes post-it notes say it best.

Somehow, I managed to pull it off, albeit about three days late. On the day I was going to write this story, there was a shooting that I had to cover. I ended up doing a lot of the work on the visuals for this at home over the weekend.

There was one photo from the group that stood out to me, although I don’t think it will ever get used in the paper. I’m not sure what it is about this picture, but it just sucks me in:

I don’t know. It just seems…gritty…

See all the photos after the break!

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Unexpectedly awesome

October 12, 2008

The lighthouse. Who would have thought it? That thing is cool!

One hundred and seventy seven steps lead to the top of this 150-year-old lighthouse. People who are scared of heights are a little bit taken aback on the walk up. Quite a few people pause for a good long while at the many windows along the way. They’re taking in the view, but also catching their breath. Their pensive glances back toward the staircase betray their hidden worries about venturing back out to the twisting ascent.

At the top, the original Fresnel lens spins slowly in it’s huge rack, casting rainbow refractions around the room. It has to spin, even during the daytime, or it’s lenses could focus the sunlight in one spot and start a fire.

And it goes without saying that the views from the top are spectacular. A photo gallery, after the break.

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office romance

October 8, 2008

They say office romances are never a good idea. But some nights, you just can’t resist bringing a fine piece of company equipment home, in hopes you might get a little bit “better acquainted.”

Tonight, I spent the evening with the company camera. A Sony HVR-A1U. I’ve pushed all of it’s buttons and twisted all of it’s knobs and now I’m smitten.

The worst part — there is video evidence of our encounter. I just hope things aren’t awkward at work tomorrow.
Vodpod videos no longer available.


When “IT” happens…

October 2, 2008

Early morning assignment. I’ve got the directions, I’ve made the phone calls, I leave 15 minutes early to make sure I’m there on time — but the journalism gods have other plans.

The Navy public affairs guy said that I’d see them all standing on the side of the street, but I don’t seem them anywhere. I turn around again and again on the half mile stretch of road lined by aircraft hangars and parking lots. Where are they?

My 15 minute head start evaporates. This is supposed to be a groundbreaking ceremony on a 100,000 square foot training facility, how in the world are they hiding from me? If I miss this ceremony, my editor is going to kill me. I’m writing the story, shooting the photos…everything.

Finally, I spot them — hear them is more accurate. They are on the far side of a fenced off field, hiding behind a huge pile of dirt. Sheesh!

Ten minutes late, and slightly panicked, I sneak through a construction gate and strike out through the ditches, dirt mounds and construction equipment.

I get there just in time to write down the last line of the general’s speech, then snap the standard white-helmet-and-golden-shovel photo.

Whew. What a morning. I think I feel some gray hairs coming in…

This job is way more stressful than my last job, which kind of came full circle today, because I used to be in the Air Force. I got a little bit nostalgic today…

For me, there’s nothing quite like feeling the flight line under my feet. “My Airfield, My Domain,” was the slogan of my career field. I used to help organize events like this.

Seeing the camaraderie out there was also kind of nice. Me and my active duty friends used to always kind of roll our eyes at “mandatory fun” events like this, but looking back, there really was a spirit of teamwork and cooperation that I’ve missed out here in the real world.

After I snapped these shots, an airman came up to me and asked if I could e-mail them the photos. I wish that I would have gotten there a little bit earlier and taken some better ones…

Finally, one last thought for the day. I’m not a photographer, but I try hard to think about photos and take good ones. Which of these “golden shovel” photos do you feel would be best for the newspaper: smile for the camera formal, or hard-hat confusion personality…