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.


Mapping out data

August 27, 2008

I’m a visual person. Give me a list, and I start visualizing what I’m reading. If I’m unable to visualize, I hit a wall and either move on, or start looking for a way to chart this stuff out.

Today I started work on a project I conceived the night before I interviewed for my job at the PNJ. I want to figure out what is going on with abandoned houses around the city. The specifics will be ironed out as the story presents its self.

So I found a list of code violations on a local government website and since I’m new to the area, I hit a dead end. (Although I did see my neighbor’s house had a violation.)

So after an afternoon interview was a no-show, I sat down and tried to figure out how to map out the addresses. A google search for, “Map out a list of addresses,” turned up Map A List.

It was the PERFECT solution. It’s easy to set up and interfaces with Google documents. I dumped in a list over 700 addresses with code violations and it gave me this: (click image to visit interactive map).

It offers tons of options for displaying data and can be displayed interactively on web pages that support iframes (wordpress blogs don’t apparently).

Me and Map A List are going to get very well acquainted.

Perhaps more importantly, I’ve found a way of presenting interesting information about derelict houses and problem areas to the public absolutely free of charge. Map-a-list is free, and the list of violations are public record. With a little tweaking, I can have the violations and the addresses appear when a pin is selected.

There are lots of possibilities. I think that the future of journalism is going to be in taking the interesting bits from the torrent of information avaliable on the web, and repackaging and presenting it in a way that makes sense.

Tools like these make this possible and cheap.