Monday, December 31, 2007

My end of the year tirade

I don't think I realized when I got in to this profession how profoundly my life would be impacted. Not just by the people who's stories I tell, or the things I see that so many others will NEVER see first-hand, but also by the people I work with day to day.

I am so lucky to have made very good friends since moving to Naples. I wonder if our profession is unique in the way it brings us together? We share dreams, ideals, passions. Not like working in a cubicle where you isolate yourself from others all day crunching numbers or entering data. We are curious people. We want to know about other people's lives, which inevitably leads us to knowing everything about each other. Or trying to.

The photo staff at the Naples Daily News has always been a family. We band together and have tried to be a united front in the face of some major BS that is happening everywhere. But, our little family is shrinking. Our staff is down to four. From nine. I realize this problem is not unique to NDN, and I'm used to the revolving door. It's a smallish paper that obviously lends itself to the exit of some great people as they move up the ladder of the profession. But this year... Sheesh. I've said goodbye a lot. Most recently, this morning. And I'm pretty damn of sick of it, really. Not only do we say goodbye to our friends, but the void that is left because their positions aren't being replaced is a GLARING daily reminder of their absence.

This was originally going to be a blog about how I will miss you, my friends, bidding you good cheer in the upcoming year and wishing you all the very best in your upcoming endeavors. And it still is. But, it's morphing into this:

WARNING: a rant is about to occur.

I just got done talking with a co-worker about how we're all running on a shoestring. Not just the photo department, but the entire newspaper. How do you put out a product that people want advertise in, let ALONE, pick up and read if EVERY department is down to less than half staff? We've lost two city editors in a matter of two weeks, only have two features writers, no graphics person at all, and all we do is respond to press releases and go to meetings, because that's what our skeleton crew has time for.

It seems to me the bean counters are fulfilling their own prophecy (the one about newspapers dying and no one is reading them anymore) by not reinvesting in their employees. And reinvestment does not only mean to put money into the people CURRENTLY on staff, but also hiring new staff so we can replenish each other's work. We can collaborate on ideas and get back to JOURNALISM, not just telling you on the website that there is an accident at the corner of yada yada and yada yada. Or that a new restaurant is opening up on Friday.

Reader polls tell us what readers want. So, ok, maybe they want to know that that bistro is opening up... but shouldn't we also be giving them what they NEED to know? Most of the time, the reader may not know what they NEED to know. So, it's our job to tell them.

For instance, my friend showed me the current issue of National Geographic this morning. The main story is about High-Tech waste and how all of our old t.v.'s, computer cases and monitors are being sent to Ghana, polluting the area and all the ramifications that occur because of it. Did I know anything about this? No. Did I need to know? Yes. Would I have ever thought once about it before I saw the article? No. But am I glad that NOW, I do know? Absolutely.

The point, blondie?

How do we tell them anything, if there is no one to write the story? Or if the writer/photographer doesn't have time to research the story? If all I'm doing is reacting, then I'm not really being a journalist, am I?

So, here is the scenario. Most journalists didn't get in to journalism for money. Obviously. We got in to it for the purpose, the calling. But, if we are relegated to being reactive, rather than proactive, by simple virtue of lack of time (not for lack of drive), AND we aren't being paid enough to add a certain amount of quality to the REST of our lives, then WTF is the point? It gives one pause, and it makes it at least understandable when you see people leaving to work for the Sheriff's department, or to do PR for the city, rather than bleeding your last drop in to the newspaper.

Forgive me. I am usually optimistic. I'm an idealist. I think there is a way that things SHOULD be, and there's always a possibility of achieving that. But, I'm feeling pretty beat. Don't get me wrong, I'm not giving up. NO NO. I can't jump ship. I thought about it, believe me, but I can not. I don't know what my life would be without journalism. Not to mention, if EVERYONE jumps ship, then who is left to push against those who are trying to sink it?

My one piece of hope, of solace.... is that those friends of mine, the ones who have left this paper, and the ones still here, AND those of you I have linked to the left, still want to do good work. And YOU are still fighting the good fight. Let's work as hard as possible in 2008 to show the collective THEM that journalism isn't dead. Newspapers ARE NOT dead and show them every day why they still need us.

Now, for pictures. A few of those I will miss, but who are continuing to inspire in work and life.

Jessie Bonner, Tristan Spinski

Jakob Schiller (being held in the arms of his biggest fans)

Jimmie Presley

Tracy Boulian, Garrett Hubbard, David Ahntholz

Darron Silva, Tracy Boulian

Garrett Hubbard

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ah the joy of christmas!

It hasn't felt much like Christmas around here. Probably because it's still 80 degrees. Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining about beautiful weather. But, Florida and Christmas just don't really mix. But, today I went to the mall for my assignment to photograph the Santa Photo booth. Part of me rolled my eyes when I got this assignment, because let's face it... ugh. But, it was so fun. Pure entertainment. I loved watching the different reactions from the kids...and some of the parents.

Happy Holidays All!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bailar: The Passion of Julio Y Coco.

From the Archives:
I'm seeing a pattern. When I have a creatively slow week, I pull from the Guatemala archives. This is Julio and Coco, two of the best salsa dancers I've ever seen. I have no idea if they were partners in life or just partners on the dance floor, but their passion was intense.

p.s. someday I hope to dance like Coco. :)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Andy: King of the World

And the winner is:

For Andy Zheng, it's a typical playground. It has dinosaurs, paper boats, paper airplanes and lots of friends who come and go.
But it also has honey chicken, fried rice, beef and broccoli, and sweet and sour pork.
Seven days a week, Jasmine Chinese Restaurant on Radio Road is Andy's domain and where he spends all of his time after
school and on weekends while his mom, Emily Zheng, and dad, Chung Zheng, work everyday.
Three years ago, Emily and Chung, who are originally from Fujian, China, moved to Naples from Tampa to take over her uncle's restaurant. The small dining room allows for about 30 or so people to dine-in, but most customers pick up to take out.
Those customers have become Andy's friends.
"Sometimes I come in when there's no one in here and we have karate fights," says Mark Stillwagon, a regular customer who comes to Jasmine once or twice a week.
"Hey, watch," Andy demands. The 6-year-old does a cartwheel in the middle of the dining room in front of Stillwagon and two women who are waiting for their food.
"Well, I could do that," says Stillwagon.
"OK, do it," Andy replies.
Stillwagon makes a face at Andy's challenge and looks at the ladies who are smiling at Andy. "OK, I can't do it."
Andy throws his head back and laughs. It's something he does often, as if he has just said the funniest thing he's ever heard.
Emily calls out that an order is ready. The ladies grab the bag and say goodbye to Andy.
"Bye. See you next time," he says. It's his typical response.
Stillwagon gives Andy a high-five and gets on his way as well.
"This is his way of life," says Heather Lucas, an employee at Jasmine for the past four months. "I really like working here because of Andy. When you come in, he's excited to see you."
Although Lucas was only expecting to work at Jasmine a couple of months, she's stayed. It would be hard to leave because she would miss the family, she says.
This may be Andy's way of life now, but Emily doesn't want this to be his way of life forever.
"I don't want him working in a restaurant," says Emily, adding that when you run a restaurant, there is no time to do anything else. "I want him to go to school and get a different job."
Andy has his own plans. "When I grown up, I'm going to be Spider-Man," he says only to change his mind five minutes later.
"I wanna be a bat man when I grow up," he says, throwing his head back and giggling to himself, as if the thought of being Batman just made his day.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Andy, Part 2

Well, still not many customers tonight at Jasmine (at least not while he was awake.) But, maybe I can show you who Andy is without them. I don't know. I have this picture in my head that hasn't happened yet. Maybe it won't. And maybe that's ok. I will probably go back tomorrow night for a third try (plus, I promised him we could play another game.) But, due to deadline pressure for my photo column, it will be my last chance before publication. Here are some from tonight. They are better than last week's attempt. But, maybe tomorrow will be even better.

I think we're becoming friends. He wrote me this note today on the back of his parent's business card.


This is Andy. He is the 6-year-old son of Emily and Chung Zheng who run Jasmine, a Chinese take-out place near my apartment. Andy is my next photo column. He greets all customers with "hi, how are you?" and says " Bye, see you next time" as they leave. Chung says the customers don't come for the food, they come for Andy. The restaurant is his babysitter. The customers his friends. He does his homework there, he naps there, he plays there. And this picture is my failed attempt last week of photographing him. There weren't many customers the day I went in to do the story. So, he sat and talked to me the whole time. We played with dinosaurs and read the newspaper together. Actually, I read the newspaper to him while he turned the page and said, "ok, now, what does this say?"

Anyway, I'm going back tonight. Hopefully more people will come in and I can make a picture showing his personality. Wish me luck.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Lago de Atitlan

This is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Thanks again Jessie for letting me be there with you.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


I went to a senior living home today where some high school kids went to put up a Christmas Tree. My favorite photos had nothing to do with the tree.

Monday, December 3, 2007


If I were going to tell someone about my brief interaction with Domingo, I would tell them that his eyes were kind. He was warm and responded "sí" when I held up my camera and asked "esta bien?" We met him on the boat from Panajachel to Santa Cruz. He was on his way home from his job as a wood worker to another village around Lake Atitlán. We said "mucho gusto" and "adios" as we parted ways. Thank you Domingo for humoring this gringa and her camera.

Gris, pero hermoso.

While in Guatemala we were based in Antigua. But, a couple different days we took shuttles to towns three hours away. While driving into the mountains, it was like we were driving through a cloud. I really wanted to get out and photograph everything. But, since we didn't get to stop, I shot what I saw through the window of the van. I may make a print of it for my grandma. :)

Moving forward

Sometimes we hit the wall. It sucks, to put it plainly. But, if we're lucky, and we happen to look around, there might be a pathway right next to it that moves us forward. Keep walking.

"Count your blessings. Once you realize how valuable you are and how much you have going for you, the smiles will return, the sun will break out, the music will play, and you will finally be able to move forward the life that God intended for you with grace, strength, courage, and confidence." — Og Mandino