Tweeting Joplin

This is an incredible blog post by New York Times reporter Brian Stetler about the power of Twitter when reporting is most needed. It’s worth a read. It’s also worth noting that whether covering a disaster in this country or a war somewhere thousands of miles away, connectivity is key. It isn’t reporting if you can’t get the word out. It’s funny how Twitter bridged that gap in this case.

Republican Candidates, the GOP and Ray

So obviously I caught up with Newt the other day. Next week Rudy Giuliani is scheduled to stop by. The campaign is warming up, and already people are looking to 2012 (including me).

I’m not originally from New Hampshire, and I didn’t go to college here. I only began studying the political landscape here in the last few years, when I started covering it. It’s still funny to me that the governor of this state only serves two year terms — I’m used to four. And then there is this thing called the executive council that oversees everything he does — I’ve never seen one of those before. And I haven’t been around during primary season before. I’m already looking forward to the next visit.

When I spent the day with Ray Burton, the executive councilor from the first district, he called himself a Rockefeller Republican, meaning someone who comes from the center-right, not the right-wing of the party. They are not the branch of the party currently in charge.

But that is a branch that typically does well in New Hampshire. Social conservativism doesn’t fit with the state’s libertarian streak. I’m interested to see in this Tea Party-powered election cycle how that plays out in this state. How will it play out for moderate Republicans like Jon Huntsman? What will a good finish in New Hampshire mean as its overly white, traditionally moderate electorate becomes more and more distant from national voters?

And what does that rightward influence mean for candidates like Burton? New Hampshire has seen a rise of fierce conservatives, as the House numbers prove. It will be interesting to see where it all ends up.

Newt!

We got 10 minutes with former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich at the office today. He was swinging through town on his first visit to New Hampshire as a candidate. I was able to shoot video of the entire conversation, which I will post as soon as it finishes uploading. Here’s to the start of the 2012 GOP primary in Conway!

Getting It Wrong

I’ve been working on several stories lately that are so complex there are more opportunities to trip up and get it wrong than it is likely I’ll get it right. Today another possible beat got tossed my way: Healthcare. My response? Cool.

But that wasn’t the getting it wrong trap I half fell in today. No, it was a simple story.

The guy who took a 1,000-foot fall ice climbing this winter died recently, someone told me today, of a blood clot. Michael was his name. I was shocked — I’d written about the accident and the rescue, and I’d had an in-depth interview with him weeks afterward. Just recently, in fact, I’d given his number to another writer who wanted to write up his story for a climbing magazine.

One part of my job sucks — making the hard phone call. I didn’t want to have to call his widow, a young woman with a child, but I knew I had to. I took a breath and dialed.

Ring!

“Hello.” It was a man’s voice.

“Michael?” I said.

“Yeah?” he replied.

“It’s Erik, from the Conway Daily Sun. I heard you were dead.”

Try to imagine how the conversation went from there. Sometimes it isn’t so bad to get the simple stories wrong. Just try to do it before you go to print.

Two Years

Where were you two years ago? Where will you be two years from now?

Two years ago my father was battling throat cancer, I was just over six months married, and the ground was still quaking from economic meltdown. I was also starting this blog.

I started LPJ because I had just begun a full-time job at a newspaper, a medium that had been hemorrhaging for years. The job was in a town that had been hemorrhaging as well, Berlin N.H. The industry and the town were two of the same. They were used to the good times, to American dominance, successful manufacturing and booming profits. Newspapers and Berlin were built for the mid-twentieth century, and the early twenty-first was wearing on both of them.

But I had a job, so I was flying high.

The Reporter wasn’t interested in giving me a blog on their website, so after a couple weeks of trying to convince them I decided to start my own. It focused mostly on Berlin and what I was covering at first, but over time I began to look more and more at journalism in general. Where was the industry going? What are the opportunities for people like me who want to continue to tell the stories both at home and abroad that are too often overlooked? How can I make that happen when the financial mechanisms that supported reporters for the last 100 years are proving inadequate?

If someone wants something, however, it’s up to them to make it happen.

If you had told me two years ago I would soon be riding a Humvee through the Mideast I would have said you were crazy. But then I made it happen.

I don’t know where I’ll be next. I’m now working in Conway, N.H., for the Conway Daily Sun, a great little paper with a fantastic atmosphere. I also still send stories to NHPR, something I’ve been doing for even longer than I’ve been running LPJ. I’m not sure where I’ll look next or what the next adventure will be, but it’s nice to see what can happen over two years. Hopefully the next two have as many surprises.

More Pics…

The point of this post is not to show a slew of pictures I’ve taken lately, but to remind me to jump back behind the glass.

So much of my work recently has been chasing down leads about the disappearance and death of a 20-year-old woman, and then flipping through court files on the men accused of robbing and killing her. What I haven’t been doing has been taking photos.

The new media model is not the kind where someone gets to do only one thing and do it well. Specialization is OK, but in the fractured journalism today it’s good to have experience in print, in electronic reporting, and in online journalism. The fact that I can record and edit audio adds depth to my reporting. When the news about Krista Dittmeyer was breaking I was often accompanied by Jaime Gemmeti, the Sun’s photographer. He is fantastic, consistently giving us a visually strong front page to place stories around.

But durring the Dittmeyer extravaganza, while he was shooting stills I was recording video. We came back from the press conferences with video of the entire thing, which wound up getting more than 4,000 hits on Facebook. The same thing the day of the accused murderer’s arraignment: when the senior assistant attorney general made a statement we were ready. He got a great shot from a distance that captured the pack of reporters as well as the AG, and I caught the whole statement on video.

But the downfall of a fulltime photographer is I haven’t been picking up the camera enough. Jaime is great. He is a one-man photo department. His photos inspire people to pick up the paper. I certainly don’t want him to go anywhere, but I need to tap into that inspiration to pick up my camera more.

It’s funny, because I’ve been picking up the camera for more than 15 years. I know how to use it, but in a busy news day sometimes it just falls by the wayside. The story is more important to me, granted — I’d rather miss the photo than misquote someone. But there is something about the art of photography that is enthralling.

It’s actually the same thing that draws me to radio, and it’s very different than my experience with print. When I write a story I feel like I’m braiding together a rope. You can’t ever let go of any single strand for two long, otherwise you’ll lose its place. Instead each strand has to be intertwined with the others. There are ways to massage together imperfections, but overall it’s pretty formulaic.

Audio work and photography are different. They still both retain a bit of mystique, a bit of the art. They are more pliable, more what the practitioner makes of them.

It’s funny, because I don’t consider myself an artist, even when I’m working in those mediums. Print, radio, photo, they’re all just different ways to tell a story. I’ve said before I don’t consider myself a writer, I consider myself a reporter. If the audience gets my reporting through the written word that’s fine, but my ultimate goal was to inform them, and writing was simply the means.

But it’s a means I’m pretty accustomed to. Not that I’m fast at it, mind you, just that I’ve learned how to weave. I’m still improving my audio weaving, although Iraq helped it get a lot better. Photo, however, is less weaving, is less formulaic, and requires a bit more from me. That challenge is something I relish. After a bit too long watching someone else focus the Nikkor, it’s time for me to get back behind the glass.

Iraq, Four Months Later

I was just scrolling through a bunch of the photos I shot while I was in Iraq for New Hampshire Public Radio. It’s a bit crazy to think it has only been four months since I was getting on a C-130 headed for Victory Base in Baghdad, but I’m itching to do something like that again. It was terrifying, didn’t always go right, and it was probably a bigger leap than I intended. There were nights when I wanted nothing more than to be home (especially after I missed my flight), but it was a fantastic experience all the same.

I’m not sure what the future of reporting is, but I know the places where we have to scroll through pictures to remind ourselves we were there are the places that likely need another set of eyes. I’ve been watching the latest iterations of the Arab spring thinking that’s impossibly fertile ground for stories, ground far to threatening to just dive into. But that is where the stories are.

I’ve been covering a murder case for several weeks now. The experience has been revealing for me. Watching roving reporters elbow each other out of the way for details that they’ll all get eventually illuminates exactly why people look down on the profession. The best day for me as a reporter in this story was when I found out who the father of Krista Dittmeyer’s child was. The worst was the following day, waiting in a parking lot alongside every other reporter for the official word on the body in the pond.

Show up in Libya right now, and I’m in the parking lot. There will be better financed reporters just itching to broadcast the story, one that is essentially spoon-fed. But somewhere out there is the story no one is paying attention to. It’s in some random place, where everyone else already isn’t. Those are the stories worth telling.

And looking back on Iraq, that has become the story no one tells. It’s crazy that people acknowledge we have 50,000 troops there, but it still isn’t enough to be the national story.

To hell with national, tell the story that needs telling. What that is right now? I’m not sure, but I think it’s time to start digging…

More War

This story by New York Times executive editor Bill Keller is a great explanation of exactly what it is that makes me want to go back to places like Iraq. It isn’t about hanging it out there and putting my life on the line, it’s about realizing that there are stories out there so terrible no one wants to hear them. Those are exactly the stories that ought to be told.

Particularly with photographs, journalism from war zones can redirect the future. Our lives, here in the United States, are pretty easy. Life here is good, even in the worst of times. It’s easy to forget that rape is used as an offensive strategy in the Congo, or that Mexicans are dying every day in a war fueled by Americans’ drug habits. Reporters have the job to go where others won’t, to find out what isn’t obvious and make it known. Sometimes those places are courtrooms, sometimes it is the battlefront. The reminders, however, have to happen, because otherwise it’s too easy to forget.

The article did a good job getting that across. I’m no daredevil; I’ve remarkably conservative, actually. But those stories need to be told, and I’m not going to leave it up to chance that they do.