Archives for category: News

Speakers PodiumThe journalists have arrived. We are now a news room. Production started in earnest. The rest of the technology team came in today, and all our planning has come together. To celebrate, I slept in late. I arrived on-site around 10:00 AM, this morning, still well ahead of the bulk of journalists, photographers, columnists, editors and bloggers we are supporting.

Most of the day consisted of bringing the operational staff up to speed on what we have built, putting in some extra monitoring, and double-checking everything to make sure it was working as expected. After tomorrow, I am headed off to St. Paul to begin setup all over again for the Republican National Convention. So I want to make sure that I leave things in good hands.

The entire convention technology team went out to lunch today, passing a demonstration march as we did so. I have been interested in the demonstrations and protests that have peppered the setup week before the convention. The most visible protesters have been anti-abortionists. They have brought out loudspeakers and camped on strategic corners and rented a fleet of trucks. The trucks carry large banners with graphics of their message and have circled the convention site for several days. This sort of presence I expected. The demonstration march was from the other side of the political fence: the far left. They were perhaps a thousand people, with their primary message one of demilitarization across the globe with particular attention to Iran and Iraq. While we ate lunch, the march moved down Auraria Parkway and camped out in front of the single pedestrian security checkpoint into the convention site. This had the delightful effect of shutting down the security checkpoint entirely. No one in; no one out.

So when we finished lunch, we climbed right back into an 90-minute queue to get back to work. This time the sun was up and I finally got sunburned. But that’s alright. I get sunburned pretty much every day I step outside. So that’s not really news.

Suppelsa and Payne 2It is with quiet anticipation that I got a chance to actually meet some of our editorial staff. I talked White Sox baseball with John Kass from the Chicago Tribune. Los Angeles Times photo editor, Jay Clendenin, showed me some some post-processing techniques. And I stopped by the Tribune Broadcasting suite to observe the production of some live shots for WGN-TV, WPIX and several news shows affiliated with our Washington DC bureau.

It was interesting to me to compare the differences in approaches between publishing and broadcasting. I looked on as Mark Suppelsa and Allison Payne first went over the rundown of their pieces and then practiced their ad libs. Marvin Scott from WPIX really wanted to get his cameraman to push in on the seats of the New York delegations. The logistics of the space was making that request difficult– if not impossible– to adequately fulfill. Grant Rampy played the chameleon as he went over the headline speeches at the convention. He did this almost thirty times, at least once for each of our broadcast stations. I had to admire his discipline as he hit the same notes and emphasis time and time again.

And at the end of the day I got an assignment. My colleague, Jim Robinson, who has been the primary overseer for technology for the conventions knew I had headed into the bowl with my camera to just look around and play tourist. He got a call from the Los Angeles Times desk looking for some explanation on the layout of the floor. They were putting together a diagram of the space for tomorrow’s paper and wanted a bit more context. Jim called me with the request and I took some shots. I went on assignment. — Granted, not a very sexy assignment, and at the end of the day, they did not need the shots at all. Still, it was kind of cool to be asked.

And I suppose that sums up a lot of what I’ve been going through this past week. Odd requests, some of which get fulfilled, some get called off, some are successes, some are failures. But at the end of the day, it was cool just to be asked.

Michelle Obama is the headline speaker tomorrow, opening night. Stay tuned!

Checkpoint JoeyToday was not quite a setup day and it was not quite an full operations day. The convention officially begins on Monday, but the setup part is mostly over. Yesterday was shortened due to the impending security sweep so we hurried to get everything done before 5:00 PM that we possibly could. We’d been told that the site would be open again at noon today. So I relaxed and took a lazy approach to the morning. We headed over to the site a little after noon to see how things stood after the sweep. Things stood in line. A long line. Everyone– DNC personnel, media personnel, vendors, contractors– was funneled through a single checkpoint, and security was unprepared for the volume of people and equipment that needed to move through. So we encountered delays. It took a little longer than an hour for me to get through the security checkpoint. Once inside, the activity level continued to rise.

I spent most of the afternoon working with the photographers that arrived on site. Our one outstanding issue from yesterday was power on the central camera platform, so that was a concern to not just our photographers but all the photographers who had positions there. The rest was primarily familiarizing them with what we had set up and how they could expect it to work: in our workspace, in the digital darkroom, on the photo platform. I took Tom Ferrara of Newsday on a tour of the photography facilities in the bowl. Talked at some length with Milbert Brown of the Chicago Tribune about possible ways to mount cameras on the central photo platform.

Don't Look So Surprised, Your HighnessAnd after all of that I turned into a paparazzi, myself, as CNN started doing live shots from the convention floor. I got a couple photographs of Gloria Borger, Wolf Blitzer, and Anderson Cooper setting up for their evening show. The extent of CNN’s presence at this convention is impressive. I’ve already talked about their takeover of Brooklyn’s and conversion to the CNN Grill. Yesterday they were doing shots from the roof, patio and interior of that building, from their two suites in the bowl, and from the convention floor. While the breadth of their coverage is impressive, I wonder about the depth of the coverage. This may be my prejudice toward print journalism and the written word. I do wonder if universal access– meaning cameras everywhere– adds significantly to the quality of the news being reported.

Ferris WheelThe night ended with a party for the media at Elitch Gardens. The Democratic National Party has bought out Elitch’s for two weeks: the week preceding and the week of the convention. We got a chance to go inside. Most of the rides were running. They had food and drink catered. One of the treats my parents gave me growing up was to take us to Elitch Gardens at the end of the summer. It has been a long time since I have been back. A lot has changed, including the location, but much of it remains the same. I wandered around the grounds thinking I was twelve-years old again.

Tomorrow will be a big day as almost all of our editorial staff arrives and looks to get set up.

It’s all happening. It’s all happening!

Podium From Center Camera PlatformToday was our last major day of setup and the energy of the approaching convention was palpable. The Democratic National Convention Committee promised the people of Denver an opportunity to see the convention site. They had vowed to make this convention the most transparent, open and approachable convention ever. So they held an Open House today. This was the moment for the Big Reveal of the speaker’s platform and stage design to the public. So those pictures I took of construction and setup back on Monday are now fair game, as the secret is out. Thousands of people queued up outside the Pepsi Center to get a look at the bowl and to find out how national party conventions fit into the American political system.

I worked.

We fulfilled the final technology setup obligations today. The last piece being securing positions on the central camera platform for our still photographers and fitting them with adequate network connectivity. In working on this element, I got the chance to sit in the middle of the bowl and take it all in. — Fortunately, some previous connectivity problems had required me to bring my backpack into the bowl to troubleshoot what was going on. Which meant I had my camera with me as well. So when we proved everything was working correctly, I was able to take out the camera and pretend to be a big time photojournalist.

Press PhotographyAnd just to demonstrate how much I am not a big time photojournalist, I took a couple pictures of the camera rigs of real big time photojournalists while I eavesdropped on the conversations the real journalists were having amongst themselves– and with their editors– regarding platform position allocations, shooting strategies and editorial obligations.

Tonight is the primary security sweep through the entire convention area. Everyone was to be out of the site by 5:00 pm tonight so that security– Secret Service security, among others– could make their inspection. We should be allowed back into the site sometime tomorrow afternoon. The big convention news was the speculation surrounding Barack Obama‘s selection of his running mate. There were also a number of related stories regarding a variety of hoaxes involving the selection being perpetrated against both party supporters and the Washington press corp.

I have a couple minor points to finish up tomorrow afternoon. Our editorial staff is starting to trickle in. Paul West, the Washington bureau chief for the Baltimore Sun was the first to arrive in our workspace. I expect more people to arrive tomorrow and almost everyone to be here by Sunday. At that point we will shift into operational support for Sunday and Monday and I will get to see firsthand whether the time and effort I’ve put into this project will pay off.

Lowering the BarYesterday I promised I would get a picture of the building CNN has taken over for their convention coverage. Here it is. I took a few different shots because I wanted to capture just how dramatically the cable news network had seized the space. The entire building is theirs. They have painted the bricks on all four sides. They have flown in top chefs from New York to cater for them. They have created a back porch looking on at the Pepsi Center: the CNN Grill. I do wonder what prude made them drop the bar. I also noted that on tonight’s CNN broadcast they had begun inserting establishing shots of the exterior of the Pepsi Center taken from the CNN Grill between segments.

Work proceeded apace today. The energy around the Pepsi Center is growing as Monday looms nearer. More people, more activity, more manic phone calls and vendors more harried than ever. I got a chance to spend a bit of time with Joe Keenan, Director of the Senate Press Gallery. We needed to work out some confusing logistical details regarding seating arrangements in the press stands in the bowl. I would have liked to have taken some pictures as we walked around the press stands, but sadly the no photography rule is still in effect.

Pepsi CenterWhat I did appreciate was the sense that these seemingly anonymous elements of the government are actually run by real people, who laugh and joke and get serious or crabby just like the rest of us. It was a simple thing, really, moving some seats from one section of the press stands to another, but it also reminded me in some ways that government is– despite what we may say from time to time– an essentially human enterprise.

After we called it a day in the media workspace, I decided to forgo the fancy dinner with my colleagues and headed out into lower downtown Denver with a couple bucks and my camera. I just wanted a little time for myself and to explore a little bit. I’m staying at a hotel just a couple blocks from the 16th Street Mall, so I headed over that way to walk around and got a couple pictures that I’m particularly happy with.

Street Performer 1Street performing has been popular on the mall for a long time. I headed over there thinking I might add one or more of the performers to my 100 Strangers project. The sun was going down and it was getting somewhat dark by the time I came across a man I thought would make an excellent candidate for the project. He was playing music on a large collection of glasses filled with various levels of water. While I watched, he played classical pieces from Mozart as well as some Beatles and some traditionals. Every time the performer took a break between songs and I thought I had an opportunity to approach him a woman off to his left would begin explosively describing a vast litany of conspiracies and unreflected political theories. — This is also part of the character of the mall. So I snapped a few pictures and moved on.

CalvoI did get a chance to approach a clown named Calvo who was barking up interest in “Burlesque As It Was” at Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret. He claimed that Barack Obama had already made his reservations for both of the special Monday and Tuesday night shows they are putting on to coincide with the Democratic National Convention. I think this was just an attempt to be relevant. It is very difficult to escape the notion that Denver is the host city for the convention. It is everywhere. But now that I think about it, Calvo made no mention of whether Michelle would be accompanying Barack. It makes me wonder.

In convention news, Obama has stated that he’s decided on his running mate and will announce that decision on Saturday in Springfield, Illinois. Also, rumors continue to circulate the Pepsi Center that the stage will be revealed to the public tomorrow. I hope that means that the restrictions on photography inside the bowl will be lifted.

Tune in tomorrow and find out!

The Daniels and Fisher TowerHurry up and wait. Today was dominated by the call to action: hurry up and wait. I hurried to make sure I would be available for vendors to deliver office equipment– monitors, keyboards, televisions, printers– only to wait to learn they will arrive early tomorrow morning. I hurried to make sure our assignments from the Congressional press galleries in the press stands, the central camera stand and the digital darkroom were what we had requested and been allocated only to learn that some of the spots were either confused, missing, still under construction, or left off the construction plans. So I waited for the press galleries to straighten things out with the contractors. All of this was not as bad as I may be making it out to be. It allowed me some time to catch up with other bits of the project. I got to do some work on QoS policy writing, performance testing and connectivity testing.

Some of the more interesting moments today were the meals. For lunch one of the broadcast engineers from KWGN took us to the Paramount Cafe. As soon as I walked in I immediately recognized it from when I would come up to Denver and go to Wax Trax on Colfax to buy records and then come down onto the 16th Street Mall for lunch. That was twenty years ago. Today a startling wash of nostalgia came over me as I stepped inside and sat down.

Four more people arrived in Denver today from Tribune. One left. There are now nine of us in town doing setup work for the convention coverage. For dinner we went as one big group to dinner at The Buckhorn Exchange. In their own words:

Denver’s original steakhouse, The Buckhorn Exchange is located in the city’s oldest neighborhood. This National Historic Landmark and Western Museum has been serving the finest in Old West fare since 1893. Prime grade beef steaks, buffalo prime rib, elk, salmon, quail, game hen, and succulent baby-back pork ribs are just some of the marvelous offerings on the Buckhorn menu. Exotic appetizers such as alligator tail, rattlesnake and buffalo sausage are available, and no dinner is complete without the house specialty, Rocky Mountain Oysters.

To the best of my recollection, I had never been to the Buckhorn Exchange before. I had thought about bringing the camera along to dinner to maybe take some sunset shots of the city. Schedules with a large group have a way of stretching out and I lost the light and put away the camera before we’d made plans on where we were going to go. Now I wish I had taken my camera with me to get some pictures of the inside of the place. The Buckhorn Exchange holds Colorado liquour license Number One. Live musicians perform nightly. Its walls hold a rare 575-piece taxidermy collection and a 125-piece gun collection. Elk, deer, moose, bison, big horn sheep, mountain lion, Colt .45s, Winchesters, Derringers, and a 1889 Sharp’s sporting rifle– to name just a few highlights.

In convention news, we learned that the DNCC will reveal the stage on Friday, so I should be able to get in there and take some more pictures of what it looks like as well as publish some of the previous pictures I had taken during its construction. I also learned that my city mayor, Richard M. Daley will be speaking at the DNC convention on Wednesday, August 27th– not that Daley is a particularly inspiring public speaker, but it seemed slightly relevant at the time I learned it.

Tomorrow I am going to try and see if I can’t find a way to take a picture of the building outside the Pepsi Center CNN has taken over for the duration of the convention. CNN has completely repainted the outside of the historic brick building with sloganism and marketing. I find it fascinating in a slow-moving train wreck sort of way.

The Gold DomeSame song, second verse. Could get better but it’s gonna get worse. — Wait a minute. Wait a minute. That’s not right. That’s not what happened today. Yes, it is the second day of setup, and yes much of today was similar to much of yesterday. But things did not get worse. We made progress. We didn’t kill ourselves with excess work. In fact, the only really negative thing to happen today was an extensive collection of fliers mysteriously appeared all around the bowl at the Pepsi Center declaring: all photography is absolutely forbidden, violators will be escorted off the premises.

My colleagues were amused by this development with the restrictions on photography during the final construction phase and have taken to good-naturedly blaming me for the rule’s inception. I responded by asking: So, at an event that will have thousands of members of the media present, are you saying that I was the only one who thought to bring a camera? Crickets.

The DNC has not clarified the reasoning behind the restriction. The speculation among the people working on setup here is that the party wants to keep the timing of the revelation of their big bad voodoo stage on their time table, rather than allowing just any asshat with a camera and a network connection to spoil the surprise.

So let me just say that I think the stage in the Pepsi Center is impressive. I also wonder how the designers feel about the move of Day Four of the convention to Mile High Stadium– the big night will not take place on this grand stage they’ve put together. I know that if I had been working on the stage and that happened, I would feel let down.

Union Station at NightAnyway. No pictures of the bowl. — So this evening after we were done working, I took some pictures around downtown Denver. I’m assuming those are safe. I mean, I was on public streets shooting pictures of the exteriors of well-known buildings. Maybe tomorrow there will be an addendum to the memo. Something about the current threat level being raised to prismatic! All devices containing prisms– like cameras– will be confiscated. Okay. I admit. Maybe that’s a bit overboard. I’ll stop now.

Other tidbits: I got to visit the LA Times western bureau office. I got the wireless router that wouldn’t behave yesterday to behave and do my bidding. I introduced two of my colleagues to sushi. I fixed a packet-queuing problem before it really was a problem. A reporter from the Denver Post stopped by our workspace to talk to us for story they’re working on regarding media preparation for the conventions. Is it wrong for me to think that newspapers writing stories about other newspapers’ business of making newspapers is slightly incestuous? I’m just asking.

And as a final note, because I know you all were very worried. Monday’s one-hour bomb scare closure of Market Street in lower downtown Denver has turned out to be a false alarm. These aren’t the mailboxes you’re looking for. You can go about your business.

I am in Denver, Colorado for the next nine days. After that, I fly to St. Paul, Minnesota and stay there for eleven more days. I am doing this in support of Tribune Publishing’s coverage of the two national party conventions. The Democratic National Convention begins Monday, August 25th in Denver. The Republican National Convention begins one week later Monday, September 1st in St. Paul. I am responsible for the networking needs for our newspapers for these two weeks.

Today was my first real day on the job. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been planning this work since November of last year. Then again, a lot has happened in the interim. Plans change. Sometimes plans change a lot. Sometimes plans change and you don’t even realize that they’re now nearly the opposite of what you thought they were in the first place. Or was that the third place? I forget. Plans change.

Anyway. It’s late. And I’m rambling. I thought it would be worthwhile to write down some brief observations about each of my days working on the conventions. I’ve brought the camera with me as well and am taking pictures. However I think I will publish the pictures a bit later, after the events have officially opened. I’ll tell you why a little later.

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Under the Banner of Heaven will be the third book I have read from author Jon Krakauer. The other two books include his moving non-fiction account of the harrowing 1996 summit of Mt. Everest, Into Thin Air, and the compelling research retrospective about the last two years of life for Christopher McCandless in Into The Wild. In Under The Banner Of Heaven Krakauer tells two stories: the formation and evolution of the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a 1984 double murder committed by members of a separatist polygamist sect of Mormonism. Krakauer’s editors and publishers have provided this description of the book on its back cover:

Jon Krakauer’s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. He now shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders, taking readers inside isolated American communities where some 40000 Mormon Fundamentalists still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God.

At the core of Krakauer’s book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multilayered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America’s fastest growing religion, and raises provocative question about the nature of religious belief.

Despite the incendiary language, the blurb worked. It got my attention. This text is not alone, however, in moving Mormonism and polygamy to the forefront of American cultural media. HBO’s series Big Love has garnered critical acclaim and two Golden Globe nominations with its attempt to make a fair portrayal of polygamy in America without being judgmental. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney helped to bring Mormonism to the national stage with his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Mainstream media covered Romney’s religious affiliations extensively in the 2008 campaign. Many political analysts considered Romney the top candidate until John McCain‘s Super Tuesday results proved otherwise. Most recently, stories surrounding the Yearning for Zion Ranch in West Texas and the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have been prominent in national news for the past month.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the primary church of Mormonism that rejected the practice of polygamy in 1890, criticized Under the Banner of Heaven even before the book’s publication, stating “This book is not history, and Krakauer is no historian. He is a storyteller who cuts corners to make the story sound good. His basic thesis appears to be that people who are religious are irrational, and that irrational people do strange things.”

My skepticism urges me to disagree with the LDS’ claim as to Krakauer’s basic thesis. My experience reading his two other books bolsters my opinion that Krakauer is a meticulous journalist with integrity and credibility. Krakauer has responded publicly to the church and I expect I will read the entirety of the church’s criticism, and Krakauer response after completing the book itself.

The wars in Iraq have figured as prominent cultural events in my adult life. I arrived in Berlin two weeks before the 1991 invasion and experienced firsthand the anti-American sentiment that decision fostered. When I returned to the States, I noticed how differently my experiences were from those of my friends and family. Germany’s perspective on war is different from that of many other nations, the US included. The last seven years have been characterized by various iterations of the terror war. I believe, in time, America’s involvement in Iraq will become the defining characteristic of my generation– more culturally significant than the Internet, the cellular phone, or Seattle grunge rock.

It is with this admission that I am surprised at how little I actually know about US involvement in Iraq. My condition is not due to lack of exposure. I know Iraq has not wanted for lack of copy or airplay. I know the wars in Iraq have dominated news, business and politics for at least the last eighteen years. Still I am left wondering: why? What is it we are doing there? So I intend to correct that oversight. Generation Kill is an award-winning book by the Rolling Stone journalist, Evan Wright. For two months in 2003 Wright experienced the most recent invasion of Iraq as an embedded reporter with the First Reconnaissance Battalion in the United States Marine Corps. The New York Times described Wright’s work.

Mr. Wright’s portrait is nuanced and grounded in details often overlooked in daily journalistic accounts, like the desperate search for places to relieve oneself during battle. Or the constant use of racial epithets toward fellow soldiers and Iraqis. … [This is a] complex portrait of able young men raised on video games and trained as killers. There’s 19-year-old Cpl. Harold James Trombley, whom Mr. Wright describes as curled over his machine gun, firing gleefully, and whom he quotes, as saying: ‘I was just thinking one thing when we drove into that ambush. “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,”’ he says, referring to a video game. ‘I felt like I was living it.’

Like most things in life, I do not expect to find simple, elegant answers– as much as I might wish to do so. I am diving into this unknown with that apprehension and understanding firmly in mind. What I do hope to find is some bits of understanding– however small they might ultimately be.

I am away from home on business this week. I’m in Arlington, Texas, living out of a hotel. One of the perks of living out of a hotel– besides not having to make the bed or wash the dishes– is that the newspaper arrives right at my room every day before I get up. Granted, the newspaper I am receiving here at this hotel happens to be that stalwart of journalistic integrity, USA Today. And it is the lead story on today’s paper that has me once again asking the question: Why is this news?

USA Today’s lead story on the front page, above the fold complete with art, is: “Social, work lives collide on networking websites”. The story described how a woman updated her Facebook and MySpace pages shortly after she got married. She included pictures of her new wife. She received congratulations and blessings from her friends and family. And then a work acquaintance sent her a simple two-word note: “Nice pictures.” Her work life and her social life had collided.

Let’s walk through the basics of the story. She’s gay. People at her work do not know she is gay. She posts pictures of herself and her wife on the Internet. Unintended people find these pictures, view them, and then comment about having done so.

Again, why is this news?

I will set aside writing about the strong interdependencies between media and marketing for a moment: companies using the media to gain awareness with the public; media creating copy about otherwise flaccid goods and services in order to sell advertisements. I won’t go into that than to observe that social networking sites do not strike me as anything fundamentally different than the earliest college home pages I saw in the early ’90s other than to have a bit more automation and ease of use. Not that writing enough of the basic HTML to post “I ♥ Huckabees” is particularly difficult, but social networking sites have designed ways to make it even easier. That is MySpace’s contribution to the Internet, simple tools to make ugly web pages.

So we’re back to the fundamental issue of posting on the Internet. I liken Internet posts– of most any flavor– to walking into a very crowded room and broadcasting to anyone who will listen the intimate and mundane details of your life. Combine that with various methods of archiving data on the Internet, and those posts never completely die. They are always available in some form or another. Those stories were news maybe ten years ago. And for people who had been using the Internet since the 60s, I suspect they probably thought something similar in the 90s: this is old news. As a broader culture I think we started to realize sometime in the mid- to late-90s just how long a shelf-life data on the Internet actually has. Today, this is old news by any calculation. It is not relevant.

People are curious– some might say downright nosy. We want to know what is going on with people around us. From our innocent fascination with Boo Radley to the odious habits of Mrs. Grundy we all have a touch of voyeurism in us. The Internet expands our reach: we are no longer constrained to peeping in on our neighbors, but now can look at what is going on in most any neck of the woods. But the Internet does not fundamentally change the type of behavior, just the ease of access to it.

So the human behavior is certainly not new. Is it newsworthy for other reasons?

I am struggling to find a justification for the newsworthiness of this piece. I am failing. Yes, I understand that the boundaries between working life and personal life are blurring through technology. More people are working from home, or working on flexible schedules. More women are in the workplace than ever before. Mobile technologies like email, cellular phones, and laptop computers ease the ability to bring work with us wherever we go. This might be another example of that, I suppose. But it seems a pretty far reach to put a new spin on a story that has been developing for decades.

To paraphrase the voice in Field of Dreams, “If you post it, they will come.”