Just around the corner…

February 11, 2011

I read a quote by Joyce Meyer this morning: “When you are tempted to give up, your breakthrough is probably just around the corner.” That really struck a chord with me, because how often have we (read: I) given up, thrown in the towel and walked away… only to wonder, “what if…?” On the flip side, how many times have you (read again: I) hung in there with tenacious loyalty, only to be extremely let down in the end wondering, “why in the world didn’t I quit/leave/bow out earlier?”

That quote – and the thoughts that accompany it – remind me of a day a few years ago, when life seemed pretty bleak. July 7th, 2009. I remember only fragments of that day – most of which include tears, telephone calls and being so tired. Not like “I had a bad sleep” tired. More like, “I’ve not slept a regular night through in years” exhaustion. It was the day I just knew I was done with a portion of my life. A good portion, too. A near-decade’s worth of time. And without even saying the words out loud, my heart and my head were in agreement: this is it. Enough. Is. Enough. Funny thing, though: even at that time, when life seemed black and bleak, my heart and my head also gave me another message: It’s bad now. But: It won’t be bad in a year. A year from now – this will all be over. A memory. That wasn’t quite a turning point… but it still brings a bit of a swell to my eyes even now as I type, because at a time when it would have been so easy to wallow and give up or give in to despair – something deep down wouldn’t let me.

It’s not like my breakthrough moment came quickly after that. In fact, I slept a good portion of that July ’09 away. Sleep I hadn’t gotten in years, but really needed. I woke up to August, and to my mom’s concern and love wrapped around me like warm bath towels fresh out of the dryer. (If you haven’t ever experienced bundling up in warm towels out of the dryer – try it. Especially on a cold day. It’s even better when you’re a kid. But, I digress…) September came and went in a daze. Then I found myself on the other side of the world (see my blogs on India). Then Christmas in Canada. New Year, new opportunities. New paths. I think my “breakthrough” may have been gradual. But, looking back on the past year and a half – it was well worth the wait.

Perhaps you can identify with what I’m talking about – and if so, I encourage you to have courage. Listen to your heart – and your head. In the end – you’ll know it’s right, when both are in agreement. Joyce Meyer may call that a breakthrough. To me, it’s a miracle. And you never know: it could be just around the corner…

ps: I’ll always be “Burgess.” Or even “Burgie” to some. But I’m officially a Leibowitz now. And that’s fantastic. ūüôā But now I have to figure out how to change my profile name…

Channeling Churchill

February 4, 2010

I have a confession to make.

I work in espionage…

…and I’m a double-agent.

I would like to say you can find me disappearing into the twilight wearing a stylish trench coat, heels clicking down the sidewalk as I chase my leads, peering out from under the brim of a smart hat to survey the scene.  But, that would be incredibly impractical for Phoenix.  Especially during the summer months.

Nope. ¬†I actually don’t own a stylish trench coat. ¬†I have run in heels and it’s not a pleasant experience. ¬†The only hats I own are baseball caps and a few beanies for snowboarding or skiing. ¬†Yet, even with that plain persona of mine, people still willingly share information with me and I do what I can to pass it on to the other side.

I’m on a big case right now. ¬†In fact, it could be a game-changer. ¬†I hope it is. ¬†So do a lot of other folks. ¬†However, this case was a bit too much for me… so I had to call in someone who could help sniff out where to go. ¬†I know Bloodhounds are usually used in a situation of this nature. ¬†But, I needed a Bulldog.

Winston Churchill said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. ¬†It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. ¬†It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

The case: a quiet feud building among the broadcast media and public information officers (PIO’s).

The criticism: it appears there is a major disconnect between how each side communicates and how each side works.

The good news: war has not broken out yet. ¬†In fact, with a few diplomatic discussion points, we may be able to reach a victory for both parties. ¬†And I will use Winston’s wisdom to get us there.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Read that again. ¬†I remember a few times as a reporter, when I dashed to a story (I was probably running in heels, too, come to think of it) and I really had no idea what the story was. ¬†I’m deeply ashamed to admit that. ¬†It happens. ¬†Not just to me. ¬†(Don’t worry, reporter friends… I won’t out you.) ¬†But, there are times when we charge ahead, assigned to tell someone’s story… and we have no idea. what this. is. all. about.

Winston’s right. ¬†It takes courage to sit down and listen. ¬†Or, to put it in reporter terms: we’re all so scared of not making our deadline, we may fear sitting down to do some preliminary research because time is precious and usually in short supply. ¬†Or, maybe we feel so confident in our skills, we assume we can figure it out when we get there. ¬†Take heart, and take time. ¬†Knowing the basic foundation of a story will save you not only time in the field, but also allow you to save face among experts who are on scene. ¬†I’m talking about the PIO’s. ¬†A few of them leaked this precious information to me. ¬†They’re getting irked by reporters showing up unprepared. ¬†They want to -believe it or not- help you do your job better. ¬†So, do ’em a favor: learn some basic material before you show up and speak, pretending you know… when you really have no idea. ¬†Which leads me to the other area where to have courage: if you really don’t know, speak up. ¬†I’ll give you this info as a former insider. ¬†Repeat after me. ¬†Or type it in your BlackBerry notes: “I appreciate your time to meet me. ¬†I have to be honest: I have no clue what this is all about. ¬†Can we talk off-camera before we start the actual interview?” ¬†Be courageous. ¬†Be honest.

That said, PIO’s, listen up. ¬†Reporters are a dying breed. ¬†In this race to get information out to the public, a new figure is emerging: the multi-media journalist (MMJ). ¬†You can ID them by 1) they’re alone 2) their arsenal. ¬†Camera? ¬†Check. ¬†Tripod? ¬†Maybe – if it wasn’t the heavy one that no one wants to use and usually gets left in the car. ¬†Nice suit? ¬†Perhaps… depends on if they’re more reporter-turned-mmj or photojournalist-turned-mmj. ¬†The latter of which will always be identifiable by comfortable footwear, ample ease in setting up the gear and getting the white-balance to work properly.

PIO’s: the MMJ is a super-hero. ¬†Someone upon which the honor of great responsibility has been bestowed. ¬†Handle this hero with care. ¬†Theirs is a large burden: find the story, make the contacts, drive to the scene, find interviewees and set up equipment. ¬†Conduct interview. ¬†Log tape. ¬†Write story. ¬†Write blog. ¬†Update Facebook. ¬†Update twitter. ¬†Send cell phone pictures back to the base (aka: station) with brief updates that are meant to entice the web users to watch the broadcast. ¬†Tweet more. ¬†GO LIVE! ¬†Drive back to the station. ¬†Update story with fresh content for the next newscast. ¬†And… done! ¬†*Whew* ¬†I got tired just writing that. ¬†I hope you gained some empathy from reading it. ¬†So does the MMJ.

PIO’s, I know you want to help this fascinating news machine. ¬†Here’s how (straight from my close connections, in fact, this is a direct quote from an email): “When it comes to Public Information Officers, being AVAILABLE is key. Once a newsroom knows you’re dependable, flexible, and willing to help out in a crunch… the relationship is solid. ¬†Your phone will be ringing off the hook because you’ll be the first one someone thinks of for great comment. ¬†That, of course, means you’ll want to take an aggressive approach: ¬†send TIMELY story ideas, regular updates, even reminders to as many email addresses as possible. As they say in the news biz, the newsroom never sleeps… so chances are, you’ll catch the attention of someone…” ¬†To which I would add, have things set as best as possible for your MMJ so upon her arrival to the scene, you both get the message of the story communicated correctly, efficiently, and effectively.

“Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.”

Getting through these challenges together will win the race to get timely and important information out to the public.  Here are just a few short items of note, to supplement the information above.  Warning: the eloquence is gone.  The gloves are off.  This double-agent is not necessarily tired from hearing it from both sides, but Рenough is enough.

“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”

Thanks, Mr. Churchill. ¬†Let’s just jump right in, shall we?

-You know that saying, “Less is More” – news flash: less is not more. ¬†Less sucks. ¬†Television news needs pictures to go with the story. ¬†PIO’s keep this in mind: plan for some compelling images, and you will have just made a fast friend out of the press members who cover your event. ¬†In addition, more information can be used in other mediums, like a station’s website for a side-bar story. ¬†More. ¬†Give them more. ¬†The news beast is a hungry one. ¬†Feed it. ūüôā

-Another one of my favorites: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” ¬†Reporters: if you don’t have a pertinent question, don’t ask a stupid one. ¬†Here’s another favorite saying of mine: “Google it.” ¬†Enough said.

-Everyone: remember, this is not a glamorous business. ¬†There may be times you have to cover a plane crash, a forest fire, a murder out in the rain standing on an unpaved road that is now turning into mud caking onto the Michael Kors wedges you got on sale at Nordstrom Rack. ¬†(Yes, I would know.) ¬†Reporters: keep a good change of clothes at work. ¬†Shoes, boots, a jacket. ¬†You never know where the day will take you. ¬†Besides, isn’t that one of the reasons you got into this business in the first place? ¬†On the flip side: PIO’s. ¬†You can help by alerting the press that there may be certain requirements on certain scenes. ¬†For example: one day, I was heading out to cover a forest fire. ¬†I had heels on. ¬†My boots were in the news car. ¬†(Good thing I thought that far ahead, at least. ¬†I just didn’t think to put them on. ¬†I’m tough. ¬†I can hike in heels.) ¬†A PIO who was heading up the media walked over. ¬†Looked at my shoes. ¬†“You know, I can take you into some really great areas on this fire, you could get some great shots!! ¬†But, I can’t take you in those.” ¬†He winked – knowing he just baited a sucker for a good b-roll opportunity.

I changed my shoes. ¬†I love good fire video… and I’m a sucker for a wink.

Bad moves and brass tacks

February 1, 2010

It was early in the newsroom. ¬†The “daysiders” as they’re called (those who work 8:30 a.m. to after the 5 or 6 p.m. newscast) still hadn’t arrived. ¬†It was somewhere between the end of the morning show and the beginning of what traditional scheduling deems the “regular workday.” ¬†My mind was foggy. ¬†It had been a rough night of storms in the Valley, I didn’t get much sleep. ¬†In an effort to stay moving (because my desk was looking like a comfy place for a brief and unexpected nap) I got up to get my mail.

I walked over to my little mail cubby, expecting it to be empty.  Oh joy!  My mental fog lifted a bit.  I love letters, and I had gotten one!  I snatched a dirty envelope out and began the trek back to my desk.  I envisioned an elementary school student carefully drafting the letter with her doting teacher looking on.  Innocence and sweet youthful verbiage sealed with a stamp.  I sat down to examine who may have taken the time to send actual written correspondence.  Oh.  Oh no.  Uh-oh.  The image of my little writer was replaced with something much more sinister.

The return address was a state prison. ¬†I received a letter from an inmate. ¬†It’s ok, I told myself. ¬†It’s probably just a nice letter from a viewer who happens to be behind bars. ¬†No biggie. ¬†I unfolded the two pages of handwritten scrawl. ¬†I felt my head get faint as my eyes took in the words: ¬†“…when I get out, I will find you and make you sorry we ever met. ¬†You will pay…” ¬†I swallowed. ¬†Blinked. ¬†Checked the name. ¬†Did a Google search. ¬†I had never met this person. ¬†I never interviewed him. ¬†In fact, I wasn’t even sure he had ever made the news. ¬†Yet, he felt it necessary to contact me. ¬†I suddenly felt very vulnerable.

I got two more letters from the aforementioned prisoner.  I learned how to drive with one eye on the road in front of me, and the other checking the rearview mirror.  I cried.

Those weren’t the only crazy forms of correspondence I got while anchoring. ¬†I received emails. ¬†Each day for a few months, I got a morning email from the same viewer who took it upon himself to write an eloquent rap song about the morning show, among other things.

Then, there’s the real face to face contact. ¬†Being in the field as a reporter is a blast. ¬†You and a photojournalist racing around, swapping old stories and making new memories. ¬†It was a smart move, whoever decided to put a photog with a reporter. ¬†The buddy system works. ¬†Especially when you meet “P.J.” (name has been changed) from (a Valley area) for the first time, in person:

P.J: WOW! ¬†It’s really you! ¬†You don’t just live in my TV!

Me: (weighing whether to explain to him that no, I don’t in fact, just live in *his* TV… I like to split my time evenly among all morning viewers.) ¬†Yes! ¬†Hi! ¬†It’s so nice to meet you (hand shake)…

P.J: It’s P.J. ¬†And you’re Jenn. ¬†(Yep. I am. ¬†P.J. was grasping my hand a little too long and inching closer, bending his face down into my personal space) Well, I don’t care what they say, you’re a lot prettier in person. (He winks. ¬†I wince.)

Me: Oh, that’s really very sweet of you. ¬†It’s the make up. ¬†(Seriously, make up does wonders. ¬†Trust me. ¬†I mean it. ¬†For those of you who have actually seen me “outside of your TVs” and on my off-days, you know what I’m talking about.) ¬†So, P.J., you, um, obviously watch the morning show. ¬†Thank you! ¬†Must be up early to see it…

P.J: (interrupting me) Oh, I don’t miss it. ¬†You’ve got a face that would make anyone get up, early. ¬†Yep! ¬†Man! ¬†It’s SO GOOD TO MEET YOU! ¬†(He was breaking out in a bit of a sweat. ¬†It was February and not that warm.) ¬†What are you doing in (certain part of the Valley)? ¬†Do you live here? ¬†I see you from time to time in (a certain store) and I’ve always thought, she’d be the type of woman I would want to date. ¬†Do you have a boyfriend? ¬†You must be married. ¬†Some lucky (expletive) probably snatched you up…

Ok. ¬†Obviously not everyone is a P.J. ¬†And it really is fun to meet viewers! ¬†It’s been one of the biggest joys of my career. ¬†But, there are just some things that cause concern. ¬†I call them “bad moves.” ¬†Writing suggestive rap songs: Bad move. ¬†Being too forward: Bad move. ¬†Writing a death threat? ¬†Beyond bad.

So, let’s get down to the “brass tacks” of encountering public figures.

Public figures realize the importance of meeting people. ¬†They need what you offer: whether that’s your vote, your money, your viewership.

Generally, public figures are nice. ¬†Everyone has a heart. ¬†Some are just warmer than others. ¬†A public figure will usually engage you in some form of surface conversation. ¬†There is a finesse to this part of your encounter. ¬†Obviously, it’s great to start a conversation! ¬†Ask questions, keep it professional. ¬†Being involved in a conversation does not necessarily mean you can cross the line from business to personal. ¬†Use common sense and recognize the person has unseen boundaries. ¬†I understand: you see them more often than they see you. ¬†To you, a public figure may seem like familiar territory. ¬†It does not give you a hall pass to talk about personal issues (ie: weight, money, family, relationships, love life, etc). ¬†Those topics can come later, if your public figure senses you may have a mutual rapport and trust.

Avoid major sarcasm. ¬†To you, your peers, or your family, your humor may be the best thing since Comedy Central. ¬†However, you want to give your public officials a sense of approachability. ¬†You’re cool. ¬†You’re smart. ¬†You’re great to be around. ¬†You don’t want to turn them off with remarks such as “some lucky — probably¬†snatched you up.” ¬†Bad move, dude.

Avoid awkward circumstances, such as talking about other public people with your subject. ¬†I know everyone has favorites. ¬†For example, some snippets of real conversations I’ve had with viewers:

Viewer 1: “I like (so and so on this channel) but, wow – (that person) has the most annoying laugh. ¬†But, the others seem ok. ¬†Do you like them? ¬†Are they nice? ¬†(This person) seems annoying…Do you guys hang out?”

Viewer 2: “(news anchor) seems like such a (again, with the expletive). ¬†Oh, I hope you don’t know her…”

Actually, chances are, I do. ¬†Entertainment and news are very small worlds. ¬†Don’t put your public figure in the awkward position of having to maneuver through a dicey conversation. ¬†As Anchorman Ron Burgundy so eloquently put it, “You stay classy, San Diego…” ¬†Well, there’s more to that quote. ¬†But the important message: keep it classy.

One more thing. ¬†Did you ever visit a museum when you were little, and your parents, teacher, etc. told you not to touch the paintings or the statues? ¬†Well, that’s a good rule to live by. ¬†I’m not saying every public figure is a work of art. ¬†I’m not saying a handshake is out of the question. ¬†Just remember, this is the first time a public figure may have the honor of meeting you. ¬†Do you hug everyone you meet for the first time? ¬†Unless you’re Tommy Boy meeting his step-brother, “Brother’s don’t shake hands, brothers gotta hug!” – No. ¬†Do you brush a strand of hair from their face? ¬†I tend to think of Jonah Hill‘s character in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” ¬†The clips of him start at 1:18. ¬†Do the opposite.

Simple advice to live by…

Plus, it will also keep you from becoming a “P.J.” in a future blog entry.

Time to dust off the cobwebs…

February 1, 2010

After much neglect, I was inspired recently to revisit my blog.

Hello.

I look at my blogging like a homeowner looks at the attic of a house… but not the kind found in an Arizona house, just so we’re clear. ¬†The attics here are unbearably hot and I don’t know anyone who wants to go up into 135+ degrees to find extra storage and solace. ¬†Sweat, on the other hand…

No – writing this blog is more like stepping into the kind of attic found in a great old home back east, or in the Pacific Northwest – filled with clunky brown trunks hiding heirlooms and yellowed pictures from bygone eras under their lids. ¬†In this attic, dust flits though pale shafts of sunlight and disappears as soon as it passes into the grey darkness beyond the boundary of the sunbeam. ¬†This is the kind of attic where you may get lost in thought, read a book, or build a fort and have a great game of pretend if you’re a kid. ¬†Or, a kid at heart. ūüėČ ¬†You get the idea: writing a blog is a pleasant pastime… when there’s time.

Therein lies my problem.  This attic, my blog, is built on top of the dominant living area of my house.  My attic is the most neglected room, because life, and a busy one at that, happens on the main floor.  Thankfully, though, I found some motivation to climb the rickety stairs from my hectic life to this quiet place, dust off a seat, and revel in the solace that is me, my thoughts, and my laptop.

So, now that I’m here and taking a moment to¬†reflect, I’m realizing it’s been a crazy year already. ¬†Life down there on the main floor of my house has been so full – busy – and as an entrepreneur, that’s good. ¬†Still, we’re only through a month of this fresh, new start called 2010. ¬†I do remember saying to my parents over Christmas, “I’m going to do what I can now, so that when 2010 rolls in, I can¬†hit the ground running.” ¬†The gun went off. ¬†I’ve been sprinting ever since. ¬†It’s nice to sit down and stretch out. ¬†I do feel a bit guilty: I should be working, I should be planning. ¬†It’s 1:30 a.m. as I write this, I should be sleeping.

Upon deeper thought, I’m realizing I’m¬†sprinting a course that is not so different from the life I led last year. ¬†Sure, I’m living more normal-human hours and not operating as an adrenaline-driven zombie. ¬†But, I’m glad I was inspired to pause for a moment and analyze proceedings thus far. ¬†I decided after leaving abc15 that I didn’t want to get back into news. ¬†News is exhilarating. ¬†It’s exhausting. ¬†It’s a very public, yet very isolated life. ¬†It can also get pretty lonely in the spotlight: always on, always friendly, yet always guarded: VERY guarded. ¬†(That will lead to another blog post, later.)

So, as I sit here in my attic, I have some decisions to ponder. ¬†I guess it’s not so much the path I’m on that could lead to burn-out, but rather the speed at which I travel. ¬†I’m so excited to try new things, develop a business (or two), explore new avenues. ¬†However, I left the news for the chance to slow down enough to catch the scenery life has to offer. ¬†I don’t want to miss a great view, or a precious moment. ¬†I cautiously want to lower my guard. ¬†I also want to spend more time here, in this cozy attic space… filling it with thoughts… and perhaps even some inspiration for you, too.

On that note, I’m going to climb down from the attic now, and into the living space of my house. ¬†I’m not going to work, though. ¬†I’m not going to hop on project planning. ¬†No. ¬†I’m actually going to get some sleep.

Haiti Help

January 14, 2010

Hi everyone!

I’ve never done this before, but figured there’s no time like the present to act and “get it done.”

Reader, here’s the deal: ¬†Haiti needs help. ¬†Now.

My brother’s company Duron Energy makes small solar units – you can check them out here.

I’ve seen how these units work in rural villages in India, and they would really help in Haiti – especially right now! ¬†I’ve been in contact with the company’s president, and he’s working the logistics from India as I type.

The thing is, because they’re a start-up, they aren’t able to donate much more than 5 units. ¬†However, he did tell me they could work with an NGO (non-government organization) to sell between 500-1000 units at a discounted rate (to be worked out between the parties involved) and shipped to Haiti along with ground support for technical/set up. ¬†Basically, as soon as I find an NGO willing to look into this, I will put you in touch with John Howard, the president of Duron Energy asap.

I want to help facilitate this process… so please, if you have any idea at all, will you please leave a comment with what I can do to help get these solar units from India to Haiti…

I just know if my mom, dad, brother or best friend was stuck in the mess there, I’d want someone on the outside working to do whatever they could to help. ¬†So, please, if you have experience in this area or know what more I can do – please let me know!!

Thank you so much!

shedding some light on solar

November 29, 2009

This is probably one of the best write-ups on solar I’ve seen (only because it’s easy to understand and a quick read).

It’s an email from my brother, James, who is a solar engineer currently working in India at a company he co-founded, Distributed World Power: “a leader in affordable energy generation products designed specifically for off-grid use in emerging markets.”

He wrote this email in response to a twitter conversation I was having with a friend in Phoenix about having to clean solar panels.

Here’s the tweet, written by Ian Lisk:

“Windmills and Solar Power will not support the energy needed. Did you know that solar panels need to be cleaned. Anyone thought if tht¬†wrks”

Upon reading the tweet, I fired off a quick email with the subject line reading, “Help!” to the experts.¬† Fortunately, the twitter conversation was happening late enough at night to make it late morning in Bangalore, Karnataka¬†where DWPower is currently based.¬†

Here is James’ reply to me, via email:

“Yeah. ¬†Solar panels need to be cleaned.

But imagine the labor required to wipe dirt off of panes of glass compared to the labor required to maintain and operate a nuclear power facility.. or a coal plant.. or an oil drilling rig…

So what? ¬†Clean em! ¬†Not hard ūüôā

You only need 3670 square miles of solar energy to power the entire country’s electricity needs (60 miles x 60 miles).¬† Spread that out in sunny CA and AZ and you’re done.

While that would cost 57 billion dollars, think about how much good our 700B (actually now 1T+ and counting) stimulus bill has done. (hint: not worth it so far).

Now, we still need fuel (gas/oil) for our cars and trucks and machines, and electricity can’t easily replace that until we switch to electric transportation (a huge undertaking that’s probably not worth it yet).¬† Also, it’s not sunny at night, so we’d need a way to store the energy for night-time use (and storage is expensive). ¬†But the demand at night is much less, so we could keep some oil/coal/nuclear plants around for
that.

I’m not sure what the tweet is referring to, but it is true that Solar (and wind, and anything electric) won’t replace all of our ENERGY needs — but it could replace a huge portion of our ELECTRICITY needs.

James”

. . . . .

on excellence

November 23, 2009

In a moment of honesty, and a feeling of what seems to be a homesickness and a heavy heart for colleagues still in TV news…you go, reader:

I had lunch recently with a good friend who works as a television journalist. ¬†This person is a no-nonsense type with a quick mind and sharp skills. ¬†This person doesn’t talk a lot, but when words are spoken, ears listen. ¬†Which is why, when the words, “I would get out tomorrow if I had another job” came out, my heart broke.

Seems I’m having a lot of these lunches lately, with people who work in various types of media and who live in various states.

Most journalists I know have dedicated years to getting to their large markets or major publications. ¬†Most have logged many different zip codes, moving cities as they move up in their careers. ¬†They’ve sacrificed much to “make it.” ¬†They pride themselves in honing their skills, to be the best, and to keep striving for excellence. ¬†They have such a passion for their responsibilities as gate-keepers. ¬†They work in their off-time, they thrive on putting together quality stories, and they take criticism to heart, regardless of how “thick” their skin is, because in every story, they’ve injected their heart, sweat, tears, and frustrations. ¬†And they love it. ¬†And I’d be willing to bet they could all write books on their experiences. ¬†We all have different stories. ¬†Here’s just a glimpse into mine:

I was in television news (pause). ¬†Scratch that. ¬†I dedicated my life to television news for 10 years. Two of those were in college: giving up summer vacation to intern and study (good taste of what life would be after college…no more summer breaks), foregoing trips home for weddings and holidays to instead intern and study (welcome to life in TV news…which doesn’t allow itself holidays); and throughout the year, working at a student-run television station and nearly forgetting to study for my other classes because I loved television news. ¬†In fact, I spent more time in the “Com” building than anywhere else during my final years in college. ¬†Television was the path on which I pursued excellence. ¬†And I loved every step.

I wasn’t the only one.

I’ve met many exceptional journalists over the years, especially in Arizona – people who are pursuing excellence in their own way. ¬†I know writers whose columns, articles, or stories get more compelling with each sentence, who tirelessly research facts and investigate leads. ¬†I’ve worked with quick-thinking photographers who communicate beauty through their expert composition of images, and who always have the best ideas for getting soundbites or “the money shot” when such things seem impossible from my place in front of the camera. ¬†I’ve sat with editors who understand the intricacies of story construction, and the result of their work has a viewer on the edge of their seat. ¬†Editors can put together puzzle-pieces of a story and when complete, it’s a masterpiece. ¬†I’ve met on-air reporters with enviable delivery, and anchors with poise that commands attention, even under the most excruciating circumstances.

Put all of those elements together, and, you have grasped excellence for the moment. ¬†The exhilaration comes with knowing that the next newscast brings another chance at it…the bar pushing higher.

. . . . .

Sadly, I don’t see the pursuit of excellence anymore. ¬†What I’m witnessing is the trudge of mediocrity. ¬†I see talent completely disregarded with no logical explanation – or at least none that has been openly communicated. ¬†I see broken spirits among those who used to light up at the chance to shine and show their individual talent. ¬†I hear of stress resulting from having to submit to completed products that are¬†nominal, rather than celebrating an opportunity to be phenomenal. ¬†Beyond that, I hear, “I want out.” ¬†This, from some of the best in the business.

It’s discouraging when your passion is extinguished, and it’s worse when you end up owning that feeling of defeat. ¬†Or perhaps it owns you, sinking its claws into your thoughts: “just get it done. ¬†It doesn’t matter how. ¬†Just make your deadline.”

There are always going to be trends and new ways of doing any job, media-related or not, especially with the abundance of technology. ¬†I only hope that mediocrity is one trend that doesn’t last — for the sake of the viewers, and for the sake of friends who still pick up their pens and notebooks, their cameras and tripods, and head out to pursue excellence as best they can.

And to those former colleagues of mine, and there are so many scattered now throughout the U.S: it was truly an honor and a humbling experience working with you.  I admire and respect your excellence.

-Jenn Burgess

pondering 140 characters

November 12, 2009

I’m on tweet number 999 as I type this blog entry. ¬†Yes, I have a twitter account. ¬†I tweet aimlessly, with purpose, for fun, and because, gosh darn it, I can. Up to this point, I’ve thought it necessary to type 140 characters, 999 times. ¬†That number will roll over to 1,000 once I post this blog, then log into my twitter account, copy and paste the blog’s link in the little twitter-typing area and hit enter. ¬†I guess that means, if you’re reading this, perhaps you were guided here by my 1,000th tweet. ¬†In that case, welcome reader! ūüôā ¬†Make yourself comfortable… and enjoy!

Anyway, I wanted to do something monumental for my 1,000th tweet. ¬†So, figuring “monumental” would definitely need more than 140 characters, and feeling rather smug, I came up with the idea: I’ll write a blog for my 1,000th tweet! (which, I imagine, is not that original – so, there goes the smugness… right out the window.)

Having been in news for…a long-enough time…I thought I would dedicate my 1,000th tweet (and this blog entry) to positive things that rarely (if ever) make air. That said, here’s my list of things (in a very loose order) for you, reader, to ponder. ¬†Hopefully, it’ll give you reason to smile, rejoice, or quietly breathe a prayer of thanks.

The 1,000th tweet list which exceeds 140 characters:

FREEDOM.  Good health.  The ability to forgive. Parents.  Laughter (the good kind, not the evil kind).  Sitting next to a soldier on the plane who shared this with me:

“We were over in Iraq. ¬†Instead of the press covering every single roadside bomb that went off, why wouldn’t they report on the fact that a kid in Iraq was able to walk to school, and not get blown up, or shot dead! (This soldier wasn’t angry, just confused. ¬†This was good news, that didn’t make news.) ¬†We saw kids walk to school, and live!…Why doesn’t the press cover that?! (He was smiling at this point, his eyes alive and bright and full of the optimism that comes with seeing something positive happen.) ¬†Do you realize how great it is to see those Iraqi kids smiling and saying ‘thank you?’ A ‘thank you,’ because they are going to school… and living to tell about it.”

A thank you, now, to all the valiant, generous, and humble men and women of the Armed Forces.  You deserve better, more positive press.

The list goes on: dogs with tails wagging, because they were just adopted from a no-kill animal shelter run by volunteers.  Speaking of volunteers: they deserve more than 30 seconds of news coverage at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Thus, they get added to my list: volunteers helping in missions, soup kitchens, who help in schools, who give of their time, selflessly, all the time.  Close, trusted friends.  Flights that land safely everyday.  Mail that gets to its destination.  Recognizing the difference between fear and unfamiliarity.

Simple things we take for granted… but shouldn’t (like being able to go to church wherever we please, going to the grocery store and having a choice in products, picking up a phone to call relatives in other states, clean bathrooms, etc.). ¬†First responders and their life-saving, brave actions – no matter the day or time. ¬†Kids with big dreams and the courage to go for them…and the¬†adults who encourage those kids. ¬†Justice.

Peace.

Life.

Here’s to good news. ¬†Here’s to thousands of tweets… because we can. ¬†Here’s to the freedoms we enjoy, allowing all of us to tweet, chirp, sing, laugh, cry, criticize, learn, love and live.

-Jenn Burgess

 

 

 

the many uses of walls

November 6, 2009

When in any new place, there is always much to take in while driving around town. ¬†Having just touched down in Ahmedabad, my eyes were enjoying a visible feast as we sped away from the airport. ¬†A cow! ¬†What glee! ¬†My first “holy cow!” ¬†More driving. ¬†Many cows… A camel! ¬†More driving. ¬†More cows. Army headquarters (we were relatively close to Pakistan). ¬†More camels! ¬†Women walking, wearing sarees of bright yellows, greens, purples and pinks balancing baskets on their heads.

We passed burning piles of garbage.  We passed cows eating the smoldering remains of former garbage piles.  Dogs.  More driving.  We passed men on scooters, dressed for business with khakis and dress shirts.  We weaved in and out of women on scooters, the loose fabric of their sarees fluttering in wind, the sequins on the fabric catching the sun and sparkling Рdazzling beauty in the midst of such dust and dire poverty.  I saw children playing among the shanties that dot the side of the road.  Monkeys!  The plump, round little creatures were perched on the walls that line the streets, their tails draped over the side.

Speaking of walls – they were also adding to my fascination. ¬†They weren’t just walls creating a barrier, they had many purposes. ¬†The walls stand approximately 6 or 7 feet high on either side of the road. ¬†They provide monkey perches, shaded areas for cows and camels to lounge in, and ad space. ¬†After the animals,¬†I immediately noticed the paintings on the walls. ¬†Imagine ground-level billboards. ¬†Ads are painted on, adding vivid blocks of color to an otherwise cement-toned space. ¬†Bright spots that flashed as we drove by. ¬†Mainly, they looked to be in Hindi – swirly characters enticing the eye to give pause and read. Sometimes, the recognizable characters of the english language would be featured. ¬†I caught sight of one english ad as we whizzed by in the car. ¬†“SONY.” Want to buy a TV? ¬†I asked if most people could read and understand English. ¬†Yes, was the answer. ¬†For the most part.

Having been delighted to be able to read something in my native language, I nearly missed another use for the walls. ¬†Had I blinked a second later, I would have. ¬†But there, right out on the busy stretch of road carrying us further into downtown Ahmedabad, amidst all the commuters, cows and camels was a professional-looking man facing the wall. ¬†A scooter parked just a few feet away. ¬†I straightened up in my seat, curious, squinting a bit to combat the glare of the sun on the window. ¬†At first I thought he might have pulled off the road to take a cell phone call. ¬†Then I noticed he didn’t have a hand near his ear. Bluetooth, perhaps? ¬†No. ¬†But, that sure was an odd way to stand, facing the wall, when clearly the sights to see were out in the road. What… was… he…? Oh. ¬†It slowly began to dawn on me. ¬†Oh my. ¬†Oh no he wasn’t! Oh, but he was — along with six other men who had pulled their scooters off the road because while they weren’t able to wait, they were able to use the wall.

…..

It wouldn’t be my last time seeing grown men in their pressed khakis and pastel-colored dress shirts using the wall as a convenient urinal. ¬†In fact, it’s apparently common practice over there. ¬†So much so, that one time while my brother and I were out zipping around town on the scooter he owns, we drove by a stretch of wall showcasing words so clearly painted in english that the meaning was unmistakable: NO URINE HERE. ¬†And, right underneath, was perhaps the only man in Ahmedabad who could not read english, and who could not wait.

-Jenn Burgess

Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India

The many uses of walls

It’s me… and the dog.

November 5, 2009

I just made a monumental crossing. ¬†I’m not talking about the fact that I just crossed continents and oceans and time zones. ¬†No. ¬†I just crossed the street.

100 Feet Road is Bangalore’s Scottsdale Road… minus the orderly traffic and photo radar… and with a surplus of dogs, dirt, rickshaws, busses, scooters, bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians, and street vendors. ¬†All at once. ¬†All over the place. ¬†In every direction.

I’m sitting now at a small table at Gloria Jean’s coffee, catching my breath and silently praising the visionary business person who thought to put a slice of familiarity in the form of a coffee shop in the middle of one of India’s largest cities. ¬†To get to this table, order my iced coffee and open my laptop was no easy feat. ¬†I now invite you back in time, by about 15 minutes.

…..

I found myself timidly standing on the side, or what I deemed the side of 100 Feet Road, trying to wrap my mind around the cars coming from the wrong direction. ¬†(Think British – the cars go the “wrong way” than what we’re used to) ¬†Look left, they’re coming from the right. ¬†Look right… they’re coming from the left. ¬†They’re also just driving their scooters down the “sidewalk” – the unpaved dirt area I happened to be standing on, the expanse of 100 Feet Road opening up before me. ¬†Gloria Jean’s Coffee beckoning from the other side. ¬†“Come on, Jenn… I’ve got a large iced coffee waiting for you…”

I stepped out only to jump back to the relative safety of the sidewalk.  HOOOONNNNNK!  I nearly missed being maimed by a rickshaw which I swear sped up when it saw me attempt the crossing.  This is like a living video game.  Cross the road alive and you get a coffee.

In addition to dealing with the random traffic patterns, there’s the incessant horn noise. ¬†It’s not exactly honking; rather, it’s a sounding of the horn. ¬†Indian drivers lay on the horn to change lanes, to alert other drivers that they are right next to them, to alert pedestrians that you’re stepping too close. ¬†The horn, I was to learn, is key for offensive and defensive driving. ¬†Basically, survival in general.

Ok. ¬†Enough is enough. ¬†I ventured out again… and reversed course immediately upon seeing a bus barreling up the road towards me. ¬†You’d almost think they were playing a game called scare the silly tourist with the pale skin and blonde hair.

That’s when I sensed something a few feet away. ¬†A grey dog (or was it just dusty?) was pointing his nose out. ¬†This slight creature, ribs showing, left ear bent, was about to make his way across the street. ¬†Oh dear. ¬†I was about to witness my first Indian dog death.

Instead, the animal just pranced out into traffic, stopping rickshaws, causing cyclists to swerve, swerving himself to avoid the small cars that were buzzing up the road. ¬†It hopped over the barrier dividing one side of traffic from the other and did the little traffic dance all over again until he could have walked into Gloria Jean’s himself. ¬†Is it that easy?

I stepped out. ¬†Fortunately, there was a small break in the traffic, so I didn’t have to swerve and pause to avoid being a casualty. ¬†I stepped up on the dividing barrier. ¬†The other side was not so kind. ¬†The coffee called…

I took a breath and maneuvered between a rickshaw and a white car.  Horn.  Pause.  More horns.  Wait for bus.  Whew-that was close.  Horn.  Run.  Halt. Horn.  Rickshaw.  Run.  Horn.  Rickshaw.  The dog, I thought, was amused, watching from the steps of my coffee mecca.

I made it. ¬†I collected myself enough to order a large iced coffee and find a table, which is where I’m sitting now. ¬†The dog, my street-crossing mentor, long gone.

100 Feet Road

The road I crossed every day

…..

It makes me smile, now, to think of that experience. ¬†Someone I met at that Gloria Jean’s described Indian traffic as not being orderly, but rather, having a flow. ¬†Surprisingly, I never saw a traffic accident while I was there. ¬†Strange, because I could not decipher any laws¬†governing the traffic. ¬†It was just a river of transportation, me… and the dog.

-Jenn Burgess