Step One: New Boots

I finished with the paperwork side of things a few weeks ago, but I’ve got a long way to go before I leave for Iraq. Two weeks — that’s how long I’ve got before I leave. I stopped by a store today to get a pair of hiking boots, my first real provisioning for the trip.

It’s the 31st, and I leave on the 15th. I’ve got two weeks to get the following (from the USF–Iraq embed checklist):

As an embedded journalist, you must provide:
1. Hygiene items
• Soap/shampoo
• Toothbrush/toothpaste
• Shower shoes
• Towels
• Feminine hygiene products
• Toilet paper (optional for when you are away from the compound)
• Baby wipes (optional)
2. Sleeping Bag
3. Waterproof sunscreen
4. Flashlights (include red lenses)
5. Climate appropriate clothing – Mid Oct-Mid May nights are cooling down and it gets very cold in the desert. By the end of NOV temps can drop to below 30 degrees Fahrenheit and vary by 50 degrees during the day. Dress in layers and pack a rain- resistant shell or jacket during this time frame. In the summer months the heat is extreme. Bring light, loose clothing and a hat for protection from the sun when not wearing your protective gear.
6. Phone (optional)
7. Equipment needed for filing/transmitting media products
8. Hand carry all prescription medication and a full supply to last throughout your embed.
9. Bug repellent (with Deet)
10. Cash and/or Debit Card (PX accepts debit/credit cards but card system may not always be functioning)
11. Ballistic Equipment (protective vest* & helmet) (LEVEL IV recommended), ballistic eye protection, long sleeves required for transportation on military aircraft.

Most of it I’ve got or can get pretty quickly. The ballistic equipment I’m renting, except for the eye protection, which I ordered and should be arriving soon.

It’s still surreal, but it’s getting more real quickly. Two weeks isn’t long. I better get ready…

News Spot

Busy day of work today: finish up a story about a change in the law that affects who you can pull a gun on (it goes in effect Saturday), report a story about an “armed” robbery in Ossipee (the note said he had a gun, but no one saw it) and run over to Fryeburg to watch an old dowel mill burn down.

That’s news. I was at the fire alongside three vans from Portland-based television stations. And there weren’t even flames. That’s a long ride for smoke.

I have to admit, I like reporting about legislation and town government more than fires and robberies. The term prurient interests comes to mind. A fire is news, in the most basic sense of the word, but it is less than crucial information for a citizenry hoping to self-govern.

I know that may seem a little over the top, but the forth estate is protected by the U.S. Constitution because information is central to democracy. Factual and relevant information is what the founding fathers hoped would enable people (Ok, in there day it was only landholding Christian white males, but still) to join together to make the best decisions for the plurality. The free press was and is crucial for that.

But it also has a seedier side — one interested in crime, death and destruction. Why does a fatal accident matter? One doesn’t. If there are a string of them, tied to an unsafe vehicular design or a dangerous stretch of road, then maybe it does. A newspaper should point out the latter, I believe, and ignore the former.

But if it does that it’s ignoring news. There is a distinction, between relevant news and sensationalized news, and it can be difficult for a paper to walk. The smoke at today’s fire was clear from Center Conway. People are going to want to know what happened. And this was the third time the same Rite Aid pharmacy has been robbed. That’s a pattern, I would say.

These are important stories, but they aren’t (or shouldn’t be) a paper’s bread and butter. A story about legislation that changes how gun owners can brandish their weapons when threatened — that’s something every citizen should know. Abuse within a residential care facility — that’s worth noting. Legislation that changes taxation and fees for a group of people — that too is worthwhile.

As are the “boring” stories about town hall, city council and school board. At least on the local level, those can’t be undersold. If all politics are local, then all reporting should be too.

NYC Amidst the Mayhem

Unlike most people who were in New York City for the storm of 2010/2011, I got out just fine. But as we were wondering around the Museum of Modern Art (where I shot this photo), the snow was dumping outside. My wife kept going on about how wonderfully romantic it was to be in the city when it was snowing, but since I was under-dressed I was less enthusiastic.

The city always captivates me, however, because of how much it offers. I don’t think I could live there full time, but it’s a wonderful place to visit. And it’s a wonderful place to be trapped in a snowstorm.

Honestly, I don’t have anything significant to write about right now. I’ve got a post percolating around the challenged the city faces in the snow (and I’ve got photos to go along with it), but that isn’t what I’m doing now. Right now I’m just catching up and posting a few photos from before the storm really struck. Enjoy.

Happy Holidays!

I’m a nondenominational kind of guy, generally unaffiliated as the saying goes, but as it is universally called the holiday season I have to say it: happy holidays. I’m doing a short day today and talking Monday off to visit family in NYC, but I’ll be back on Tuesday. Hopefully everyone has a wonderful weekend, and LPJ will be back next week. It’ll be time to generate New Year resolutions. What’s yours?

Not Fun, But Still a Gift

Some stories aren’t that great to tell, but they are invaluable nonetheless.

My Christmas story this year, which hopefully won’t come out on Christmas, is about a 10 year old special needs child who was physically assaulted in a local residential treatment center. Her mother was going around desperately trying to find someone willing to listen to her story about her daughter, who was put in a choke-hold, pulled out of her chair and dragged down a hallway floor by her arm.

Those aren’t great stories to tell, and they aren’t great stories to tell two days before the holiday weekend. But they are stories that need to be out there. They suck, but they are also the reason I got into this. I will touch up the story tomorrow, and it will likely run next week, but what I did was give this woman a voice. Hopefully no other disabled kids suffer the same fate.

That’s not a bad present, is it?

More Mill

This is the former pulp mill, not the paper mill. Here’s a copy of the utility assessor’s testimony on behalf of the city of Berlin on why the Laidlaw project should go ahead. Chris Jensen has been doing some good work on this story for NHPR, but this popped up on Twitter and I’m not sure it’s been out there yet. This is just for those who want to dig a little deeper. I’ve been out of it a bit, but this made for some interesting reading.

Real Quick

Just a quick note about an earlier post. I was very disappointed to see politics hold up a bill to support 9/11 first responders who are now dying because of their willingness to help when it was critical. Jon Stewart went after this issue on the Daily Show, and now it looks like it might turn around. That’s the role of the media—to bring attention to injustice. It’s sad there are three 24 hour news networks, but it took a comedian to address this specific case. But luckily someone in the media was there to speak up against this blatant miscarriage. Thank you Jon Stewart.

T-Minus…

…something like 25 days.

I got confirmation from USF–Iraq my paperwork is complete on their end. I still have one more thing to do, get my visa from the Iraqi government, but otherwise I’m good on that end. At least, that is, as far as paperwork is concerned.

My ballistic goggles are supposedly on their way, along with some ballistic sunglasses. I’ve made arrangements to rent a bulletproof vest for two weeks for something around $200. With that comes rifle plates and a kevlar helmet. The $200 figure may be wrong, but regardless its significantly less than the $2,000 buying that stuff would cost me.

I’m starting to realize I’m actually going. I am looking at dates for meetings I’m supposed to cover and realizing I won’t be here for them (tonight it was a public hearing about the transfer station). I am looking forward to having some time to dedicate to improving my radio reporting and how I tell stories with sound, which this period should allow me.

I was interviewing someone for a follow up piece about long-term pass holders at Wildcat today, and they mentioned they’d heard my piece on NHPR on the Cascade mill. And yesterday I got a comment on Facebook from a friend and former Memorial Hospital board member about how much they liked my article on health care in the Sun. I’ve been busy lately, and it’s had an impact. People are noticing stories.

But at the same time I’m trying to squeeze stories like that of the Cascade mill into a day of reporting, and then further squeeze it into four minutes. That’s tough. I colleague commented that they expected more from my mill story, because of the depth and severity of the situation. I can see that perspective. I talked with someone today who was instrumental in getting Fraser involved the last time the mills were in trouble, and he didn’t think this proposal has a chance. That’s a hard story to tell, though it may be true, and yet at this point it’s only one person’s opinion. I’ve said before I think the North Country needs a documentary, not a sound byte, because the interwoven future, past and present are so complex.

But that’s hard to do with a full time job. That’s hard to do with a daily deadline. That’s why I’m looking forward to a different kind of daily deadline—the kind connected to a radio deadline. The breadth of the stories waiting to be told both here and elsewhere are breathtaking. This trip will be a good “boot camp” for that work.

Jumpstart

I’m trying to get all my video work up on YouTube, so I can put a video page on LPJ. This is something I did when I was in college for a local non-profit in Portland, Maine, that provides scholarships to immigrants so they can learn English. It’s already up on my YouTube account, but at the time they didn’t allow large files, so it’s low resolution. But now they take big files, so I’m reposting it. I did the photography and the editing, but I had a super team working with me. Enjoy.