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Archive for March, 2009

I am back in Central Time, meaning it is 1:38 a.m. in Columbia, Mo. My bed is still unmade, my bags are still packed and I have to be ready for a Jefferson City shift in about nine hours, but I can’t sleep because:

  • I’m thinking about just how much I have to get done this week,
  • I’m reflecting on how incredible this past week was,
  • I feel like going to sleep means completely closing the door on this past week and forcing myself to resume life as a student and reporter,
  • and I need to correct a few things from the previous blog post.

The biggest thing I need to correct is the mileage. I originally said we put about 3,000 miles on Esten’s CR-V this trip. His spring break odometer actually reads 4,040 miles. Granted, some of that is from his camping trip the weekend immediately prior our roadtrip, but certainly at least 3,700 miles of that are from our adventuring out West.

Another minor correction: yet another attraction we didn’t get to check out was the Petrified Forest. And I probably spent more than $200, but I really don’t feel like adding up numbers from my on-line checking account.

Also, here are some more numbers, just for fun:

  • I took 1,175 digital photos this trip.
  • Of those, 371 are for HDR (high dynamic range) purposes. Hurrah for bracketing and, consequently, necessitating a lot of editing!
  • Of the remaining 804 photos, 169 have survived the preliminary edit. Meaning, those 169 will be examined more closely, and those that survive the second edit will be toned/etc. From there, those that survive the third edit will appear on-line at some point.
  • I shot three rolls of Fuji Superia 100 and nine exposures of a roll of Fuji 400. I can’t decide if I should try to use up the remaining 27 exposures on the 400 or if I should just get all four rolls developed so I can see how my film turned out.

So, um, yeah. I have a lot of editing to do. Especially in the HDR department, which should prove interesting since I’ve never edited HDR before.

Again — hopefully I’ll have some photos ready by this weekend. In the meantime, I just need to plow through all the schoolwork, reporting and cleaning I have to get done before I can start playing with photos.

Finally (and also in the meantime), I already miss the West. I already touched on this in the previous post, but damn. Driving through eastern Colorado, Kansas and half of Missouri en route to Columbia made me realize just how spectacular the West is.

I mean, I’ve been West before. I’ve spent three full summers and part of four other summers in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northeastern New Mexico (i.e., Philmont Scout Ranch). But everything I saw on this trip (exception: today’s drive) was something I’d never seen before. If only we had more than a week — and the funds — to truly explore the great American West.

Someday. Someday I’ll return.

But for now, as Davy Knowles sings in one of his songs, I’ve gotta roll away.

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ALAMOSA, Colo. — My feet are just now thawing out after adventuring in the Great Sand Dunes more than seven hours ago.

We concluded today (Day 6, Saturday the 28th) at the Dunes. Well, actually we just returned from Pizza Hut, which is apparently the only restaurant that offers anything vaguely resembling Italian cuisine in Alamosa. But anyway.

At the Dunes (where we didn’t have to pay an entrance fee, as was the case with Black Canyon of the Gunnison), we took the road all the way to the primitive, four-wheel drive section which ended at the Sand Pit. From there, we crossed the creek, which is how my feet — shoed only in Chacos and socks, once again — came to be so wet and cold. I’m pretty sure that water was just above freezing.

And then we adventured around the dunes until a little after sunset. And now our socks and shoes/sandals are still damp and sandy and gross-smelling. But no regrets.

L-R: Jeff, me and Esten at the Great Sand Dunes! We look ridiculous.

L-R: Jeff, me and Esten at the Great Sand Dunes! We look ridiculous. Photo by Jeff.

IN REFLECTION — So tonight is our last night on this epic spring break roadtrip, and tomorrow we make the very long drive back to Columbia, Mo. We guesstimate the drive to be about 14 hours, and none of us is looking forward to that or to schoolwork.

But this trip was nothing short of amazing. Let’s take a look at the numbers:

  • Approximately 3,000 miles from start to finish.
  • Seven days and six nights on the road.
  • About $200 spent by each of us, give or take $100. (Big range, I know.)
  • Two pairs of jeans for me. They were both pretty ragged already anyway.
  • Two nights of camping, although originally we were supposed to have three.
  • Four national parks and one state park visited in six days.
  • Fourteen cameras among the three of us.
  • Six flash units/strobes among the three of us.
  • Who knows how many batteries, memory cards and rolls of film among the three of us.

If anything, this trip has both pacified and exacerbated my desire to explore and take photos and travel. Having spent the greater part of the past three years either in Columbia or New Mexico (and the past 20ish years in Houston, Texas), I’ve developed a case of cabin fever… which is only part of why I was so excited about this roadtrip and am so excited about spending this summer in Washington, D.C., as an intern for washingtonpost.com.

At the conclusion of this roadtrip, I’m happy that we were able to complete our itinerary as planned, with the exception of Kodachrome Basin and camping out in Black Canyon. But: I didn’t think it could happen, but I’ve fallen even more in love with the West than I thought possible. My thirst for photo adventuring has only been further whetted, and now I know I have to return to the West sometime, to explore it more thoroughly. I have no idea when I’ll have both the time and funds for such an extended photo adventure, but I know it has to happen.

I have a lot of work cut out for me next week. Tomorrow evening, we’ll be back at school where classes,  exams, work and other such real-world responsibilities face us. My room is still messy from my scrambled efforts to pack for the trip. Thanks to the embargo on all economic/political/etc. news that Jeff placed on me, I have a lot of catching up to do before I resume reporting in Jefferson City on Monday. (But no regrets!)

So who knows when I’ll have the time and energy to edit all the photos I’ve taken? But I’ll try to start posting photo entries by this weekend. In the meantime, I’m so glad we could have a week-long photo adventure in the great American West. Peace, y’all, and next time I post to this blog, I’ll be back in Missouri!

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ALAMOSA, Colo. — We hotel’ed it up last night (when I began writing this post), which was not according to our original plan. But it’s fine by me, because it means I could dump the contents of my full 4GB memory card into my laptop, as well as Tweet and blog.

The past however many days (I’ve lost track) have been amazing. Everything’s been blending together — only yesterday, I wasn’t sure if we’d had lunch at the Little Wonder Cafe in Richfield, Utah, yesterday or the day before. Thank goodness I’ve been writing small updates in my actual journal every day.

On Day 3 (Wednesday the 25th), we headed north to the Grand Canyon after breakfasting at the Downtown Diner in Flagstaff, Ariz. (Aside note: Flagstaff — or what we saw of it — was fantastic.) I am pretty much in love with the woodsy area north of Flagstaff, especially where the aspen trees grow. Those are my favorite trees.

The Grand Canyon was beyond anything I’ve seen. As cliche as this is, I have to say it: no photos can do it justice. I can’t count how many photos and other depictions of the Grand Canyon I’ve seen in my lifetime, but when I saw that big hole in the ground for myself, I was simply stunned.

Jeff, Esten and me on the Bright Angel trail at the Grand Canyons south rim.

Jeff, Esten and me on the Bright Angel trail at the Grand Canyon's south rim.

We took the Bright Angel trail down the canyon for about an hour, at which point time constraints forced us to head back up. After sailing through a Navajo reservation where the dust and sky and rocks were so very red, we dined at a Fiesta Mexicana in Page, Ariz. We ended the night in Panguitch, Utah, just as a snowstorm was coming in.

Day 4 (Thursday the 26th) was an epic day of driving, and marked our first eastward mileage of our trip. We awoke to find about an inch or two of snow on the ground, and headed out almost immediately. After we lunched at the Little Wonder Cafe in Richfield, Utah, we continued east and saw just how ridiculous Utah’s terrain is along I-70.

The snow-dusted Rockies turned into orange desert, and then we spotted Devils  Canyon bordering the southern side of I-70 — so of course we had to stop and take photos. Then we passed through the San Rafael Swell, and then more orange desert… which was, like the Rockies, also dusted with snow from the previous night.

We ended the day at Arches National Park. Actually, we ended it in a campsite just outside of Arches, along the Colorado River where it was 20 degrees and fiercely windy. But before we had our one night of extreme camping, we spent a few hours in the park, where we hiked up to the Delicate Arch and photographed that arch just in time for sunset.

Normally I wouldn’t go into detail about dinner, but I have to say this:

  • We ate at Burger King.
  • Esten tweeted about burger shots.
  • We followed the NCAA tournament MU-Memphis game (Sweet Sixteen!) via Jeff’s phone via ESPN. Go Tigers!

Finally, yesterday. We began Day 5 (Friday the 27th) along the Colorado River, where we woke up barely alive from the cold and windy night. We photographed the sunrise along the river’s rocky bluffs and then headed back into Arches to take photos of the Windows Section.

After a lunch break at Pablo’s Pizza in downtown Grand Junction, Colo., we pretty much shot straight to Montrose, Colo., where we encountered some confusion (and hilarity) with the Days Inn situation there. We then headed out to Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

A note about this national park — none of us had ever heard of it before. My older brother Matt had been there last summer, when he and two friends roadtripped the West and hit up 20 national parks in 33 days. (His trip was part of the inspiration for ours, at least when I first seriously started thinking about spending spring break on a westward roadtrip.)

A sign posted on the entrance building announcing no entrance fees during winter was a very pleasant surprise. So was the rest of the drive, during which we simply drove through the park, stopped at the various viewpoints and did our thang. The canyon is gorgeous and its walls are sheer and steep (the canyon’s average slope is a drop of 43 feet per mile). Perhaps best of all, a) we were there in time for sunset light and b) the snow from two nights ago highlighted the canyon walls’ ridges. These combined for a great photography experience.

Here’s where I discuss why this blog is titled as such. I must admit: when it comes to getting photos and adventuring, I’m a little reckless of my personal safety and wellbeing. (This is why my mother worries about me so much!) This reckless side of me especially came out at Black Canyon, as I was walking around in the snow wearing Chacos and socks.

Its a shame you cant see how deep the snow is, here. But at most of the viewpoints where we stopped, the snow was 2-4 inches thick.

It's a shame you can't see how deep the snow is, here. But at most of the viewpoints where we stopped, the snow was 2-4 inches thick.

I was also sitting on top of the railings at the various viewpoints and climbing on top of the rocks that are there to protect viewers from falling into the gorge/river below. I eventually had to stop because Jeff and Esten were fretting.

What can I say? I take risks. The West does things to me.

After we left Black Canyon, we ate at a surprisingly good Chinese place in Montrose and then went back to our hotel. As I mentioned in my first sentence, this was not according to our original plan, wherein we were to have camped at Black Canyon. But again — there was snow, the temperature was dropping and we’d already had one (sleepless) night of extreme camping.

Today, Day 6 (Saturday the 28th), we continued east after browsing a Montrose camera store. On the way, we went over Monarch Pass and the Continental Divide at 11,312 feet above sea level.

Now we’re in Alamosa, Colo., and about to hit up the Great Sand Dunes once the MU-UConn game reaches some conclusive point. I should have one more blog post up tonight, and then hopefully photo posts to come later this week!

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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — In Central Time, it’s currently 1:33 a.m. on Wednesday the 25th. But where I am, it’s 11:33 p.m. on Tuesday the 14th. Apparently Arizona does not acknowledge Daylight Savings.

Depending on where you are, Esten, Jeff and I are either on Day 2 or 3 of our epic spring break roadtrip out West. I’m sitting in a Days Inn in Flagstaff along Route 66, and this is the first time we’ve had Internet since we began our journey. Because of time constraints and limits on my laptop’s hard drive space, I don’t have any photos ready to post here.

On Day 1 (Monday the 23rd), Jeff and I arrived at the Tulsa Greyhound station at 5 a.m. Esten picked us up shortly thereafter. We breakfasted at Waffle House and stopped for a few photo opportunities in Texola, Okla.

Then we arrived in Amarillo, Texas, and lunched at The Big Texan — yes, that home of the free 72 oz. steak! But it’s free only if you a) eat it within an hour and b) completely consume a fully loaded baked potato, salad and rolls along with it. None of us attempted the challenge, but as a native Texan, I finally feel complete after dining at that landmark restaurant.

We camped out in Palo Duro Canyon that night, where we completed two hikes. I got pretty scraped up on the first hike; Jeff has photos. The damage is worse than anything I’ve ever had at Philmont: terrible scrapes on both calves, my upper right thigh and my upper right arm, as well as a pretty deep splinter on my left index finger. That’s what I get for messing with Texas.

On Day 2 (Tuesday the 24th), we set out at 8:30 a.m. and reached the New Mexico border in no time. We breaked for lunch at this little Mexican restaurant called Padilla’s, in Albuquerque. Jeff’s dad found the place for us, via Google, and upon hearing that it’s cash-only and next to a laundromat, we knew it had to be good. And it was. Unfortunately, my chicken enchilada was swimming in green chili sauce. Fortunately, the sopaipillas were amazing and soothed my tongue.

We spent two hours or so at Sky City on the Acoma reservation, which is west of Albuquerque. Then we tried to make it to the Petrified Forest before it closed/sunset, but didn’t quite make it. So we trudged on West on I-40; stopped to take photos at a corner in Winslow, Ariz.; and are now lodging at Days Inn.

Tomorrow, we go to the Grand Canyon. I’ve never been to any of these places, so I’m super excited.

And I think it’s time for me to brush and get offline!

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WESTWARD HO!

hitchhike800

This spring break will be one of friends, adventures, photography and the West.

Tonight, Jeff and I will board the Greyhound to meet Esten in Tulsa. From there, we’ll begin our epic roadtrip. You can check out our general route below:

route

The green markers are where we'll be staying overnight. The routes between the markers will certainly deviate from what's shown in this map, especially between points E and F.

So, what’s the point of this roadtrip?

TO TAKE PHOTOS.

Actually, this roadtrip was the brainchild of my friend Chelsea and me. I’ll put it this way: we were not happy with things in the East (that is, east of the Mississippi), and one night, I said, “Screw the East. Let’s just roadtrip West over spring break.”

That was in mid-October. Since then, we recruited Jeff to join us, Chelsea dropped out and Esten hopped in on the plan. Jeff, Esten and I happen to be pretty avid photographers — hell, we study photojournalism — so what was once a trip to escape the clutches of the Midwest and East has now become a prolonged photographic adventure. Each of us is armed with at least one DSLR and one film camera. (Knowing Esten, he probably has four or five film cameras in tow.)

We’re pretty damned excited. Here’s why I, for one, am pretty damned excited:

  • I love roadtrips.
  • I love photography.
  • I love photo adventures.
  • I love the West. It’s so damn romantic. Mountains, deserts, long roads, big starry skies — it’s majestic and real, and empty and full at the same time.
  • I’ve spent the past five summers in the West, either as a participant or employee at Philmont Scout Ranch. Now, for the first time since 2001, I’m going East in the summertime, as I’ll be interning at washingtonpost.com. Call me sentimental, but I view this trip as my farewell to the West before my big adventure East.

Of course, you can expect to see photos. We should have Internet access twice on this trip, so I don’t plan on having any photos uploaded until we return to Columbia next Sunday. That also means that this blog will be a little empty for a while, as well as my Twitter. But there will definitely be plenty photos up in the coming weeks, depending on how quickly I can get the film developed and edit everything.

That said, I’m signing off this blog for a little while. Maybe I’ll have some brief updates when we do have the Internet those two times, but who knows? We’re on this trip to explore what regions of the West we can fit in a week, and having fun and taking photos are our prerogative.

P.S. Regarding the big photo above… no, I was not actually hitchhiking on the Taos gorge bridge. And no, the photo (taken by my good friend Stephen Bush last summer) will not represent actual activities to be attempted during this roadtrip. For serious. And the text comes from a song that only Philmont aficionados would know; it’s called “I Don’t Mind.”

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I love color. I really do. To attempt to explain why color is such a dynamic force in visual sensory input and photography is absolutely pointless, so I won’t try.

But I hate white balance. Especially when your photo has multiple light sources whose color temperatures are vastly different. For example, this photo taken in December, of my soon-to-be sister-in-law Emily, who’s listening to my older brother’s instructions on how to give him a haircut:

See how BRIGHT BLUE that area over Emily’s shoulder is? That’s my brothers’ room. (This photo was taken in the upstairs bathroom.) And that’s how different the color temperatures are between the light in my brothers’ room and the bathroom. Absolutely hideous.

For this assignment in Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism, we were to take photos in two kinds of light: fluorescent and tungsten. For each environment, we were to:

  1. take a few JPG shots, with the camera set on daylight white balance and without using a flash;
  2. keep the daylight white balance BUT use a flash;
  3. change the camera’s white balance setting and add a gel to the flash (correspond the color of the gel and the white balance setting to the kind of light in that environment); AND
  4. switch the format to RAW and repeat steps 2 and 3.

This week has been absolutely crazy for me, so of course I shot everything kind of at the last minute.

For my tungsten take (which I did tonight — er, yesterday, since it’s now 1:30 a.m. on Thursday), I photographed Comedy Wars at Memorial Union. Comedy Wars is kind of a “gimme” for photojournalism students here at MU: it’s a regular weekly event, it has honest emotion (laughter, shock, etc.) and it’s just fun. I hated to have to use it, since it’s such a staple/crutch and has been shot for every single photojournalism course in the history of this school, but hey — I got my take. And Comedy Wars wasn’t my first choice, either. As several of my friends can attest, I attempted two other shoots, both of which were canceled.

Fortunately, we have to turn in only one select image, and fortunately, my photos from my fluorescent light take turned out much better than my tungsten photos.

For my fluorescent take, I went to the Columbia School Board candidate forum on March 16. It was jam-packed; there was actually an overflow room wherein attendees could watch the forum of eight candidates (one candidate didn’t show up) via a livecast on the TV set.

Brief aside: LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt is one of my favorite photographers. He’s best known for his iconic sailor-kissing-the-girl-in-the-parade photo, but this is my favorite photo of his:

This photo was taken in 1963 in Paris, at a puppet show. I’d grown up poring over those coffeetable books of famous LIFE (and other) photos, so I’ve always been familiar with the photos whose impact earned them a place in visual storytelling history. But it wasn’t until fairly recently that I saw the above photo. As I’d just switched majors from print/digital reporting to photojournalism at the time, I instantly recognized and appreciated Eisenstaedt’s capturing the true image from that puppet show: not the puppets themselves, but the children whose imagination and attention were so caught up in the show.

Which is why, at the school board candidate forum, I opted to turn the camera onto the audience after I snapped a few shots of the candidates themselves. My images aren’t nearly as compelling or exciting as Eisenstaedt’s, but hey — these images of the audience tell a greater visual story than the candidates do.

Here is the original copy of my select image:

And here is the toned copy:

Eight-year-old Isaac Bledsoe tries to pay attention during the Columbia School Board candidate forum at the District Administration Building on March 16. Bledsoe - with his mother Ann and his 10-year-old sister Cayley - attended to support his father Marc Bledsoe, who is one of nine candidates running for a spot on the school board.

Eight-year-old Isaac Bledsoe tries to pay attention during the Columbia School Board candidate forum at the District Administration Building on March 16. Bledsoe - with his mother Ann and his 10-year-old sister Cayley - attended to support his father Marc Bledsoe, who is one of nine candidates running for a spot on the school board.

And here’s another shot from the same forum, of the overflow room I mentioned earlier:

Judy Brivitt (foreground) watches a livecast of the Columbia School Board candidate forum in another room of the District Administration Building on March 16. The room in which the forum was held was standing room only, forcing other attendees to watch the livecast nextdoor.

Judy Brivitt (foreground) watches a livecast of the Columbia School Board candidate forum in another room of the District Administration Building on March 16. The room in which the forum was held was standing room only, forcing other attendees to watch the livecast nextdoor.

A gelled flash was used to make both images (as well as many others). The color temperature in both the forum room and the overflow room wasn’t as awful as it could have been, but nevertheless was not quite ideal. I think my photos from this take turned out relatively well. My Comedy Wars photos, on the other hand — well, let’s say that shooting in tungsten is something I should probably practice on.

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I am going to Washington, D.C., this summer. Yesterday afternoon, Dee Swann — the multimedia deputy managing editor at washingtonpost.com — offered me the photo/multimedia internship for which I applied. After a quick chat with my mother, I accepted the internship.

wapo.com

I am going to Washington, D.C.!

Wow wow wow.

This year, I applied for internships in either photography or reporting at probably three or more dozen newspapers. As I noted in an earlier post, I’ve received three times as many notifications of cancelled internship programs as I have actual, outright rejections. This is a sad market for journalism students seeking internships, and let’s not even talk about jobs post-graduation.

So, I am absolutely thrilled and honored to have been offered this internship. I know it’s going to be a challenge and a lot of hard work, but I am so ready for it.

That said, it’s been about 18 hours since Dee called me, and I am still in a state of shock. In shock that I’ll be going East — and not West — this summer for the first time in four years. In shock that everything actually worked out and I actually landed an internship this summer. In shock that it’s at washingtonpost.com, of all places!

My starting date is May 26. That gives me a little under a week after my last final exam to pack and laze around before I start interning. I still need to figure out housing and the end date and a lot of other things. And I still need to work out a food allowance/etc. with my parents. But all those things will come along in time.

In the meantime, I am just so pizumped that I’m going to be interning in a profesional newsroom in Washington, D.C., this summer. And yes, I used “pizumped” — that’s how pizumped I am!

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Photographers. We like to shoot and flash people.

With our cameras.

Sorry, I just had to throw that one out there!

Anyway. Our latest assignment for Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism was to use a single flash to overpower the existing light in our photo. We were to do this in two different takes:

  1. Bounce flash — This could be either on or off the camera.
  2. Direct flash — This had to be off-camera, meaning a shoe cord would be necessary.

I’ve done some flash work before, so I wasn’t as uncomfortable with this assignment as I was in the studio for our classmate portraits. Although I’d never used guide numbers and formulas to calculate how I should power up my strobe, I’ve done work with both manual and TTL flashes before. When I worked at Philmont Scout Ranch in 2006, the photo department was still using film (Pentax 6×7’s — what glorious old beasts!), which we developed and then printed ourselves. So of course any strobe work we did was completely manual, and I’m still very proud of a few exposures I made wherein you can determine that a strobe was used only by a few small shadows.

Most recently, I photo’ed senior portraits of my friend Chelsea’s brother Zak. In preparation for this shoot, I photo’ed Chelsea herself and was really pleased with how the below image came out, what with the sunlight acting as a hairlight and the flash acting as the main light source:

But for this class assignment, we couldn’t set anything up. So for my first take — in which I used the strobe as a direct flash — I went to open mic at Mojo’s on Monday. Here’s my select shot from that take:

Sam DAgostino and his daughter Anna perform together during open mic at Mojos on Monday. DAgostino - who used to manage Mojos and The Blue Fugue - and his family often play music in a group they call Pop Fiction.

Sam D'Agostino and his daughter Anna perform together during open mic at Mojo's on Monday. D'Agostino - who used to manage Mojo's and The Blue Fugue - and his family often play music in a group they call "Pop Fiction."

I had a really hard time with the direct flash take. All my images of the first few performers at the open mic section were coming out terribly, as if they were taken with a dinky point-and-shoot camera and not a DSLR and off-camera flash… that is, everything was overblown and just awful. Awful, awful, awful.

Plus, I was using my flash on manual mode, not TTL. Before I even began the class, my good friend Esten told me always to shoot on manual. I said I would only if I wasn’t under pressure, at least not until I became more comfortable with strobe work.

Well, I changed my mind. When former Maneater photo editor Ryan Gladstone and I shot the Missouri-Kansas mens basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., in January 2007, he asked me what mode I was using to shoot. I said I was shooting on aperture-priority, at which he shook his head and advised me to always shoot on manual. I said I would start trying that after the game. And I did. And I grew to like having complete control over my exposures, and now I can’t shoot any other way.

(more…)

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The Missouri House Budget Committee convened at 8 a.m. Wednesday to review amendment proposals and vote on the House’s version of the state budget for fiscal year 2010. After breaking for 10 a.m. session in the House chamber and lunch, the committee reconvened and didn’t adjourn until 11:50 p.m. on Wednesday.

That’s 14ish hours of committee hearing.

I was there for 11 of them.

Right now (3 a.m. on Thursday), the only story I’ve got written and published is a pretty basic rundown of the 13 House bills that comprise the House’s version of the budget and that were passed. But I am currently in the process of collecting/compiling data to write up at least one — if not two or three — more story about the proposed budget that was just passed. Hopefully I’ll have those done before I head back to Jeff City around 9 a.m.

But just for fun, here are the bare-bones facts of my personal experience in covering the House Budget Committee hearing yesterday:

  • When I arrived (12:30 p.m.), the hearing room was standing room only. So I stood. In heels. And the day before (Tuesday), I’d twisted my ankle that I’d sprained a year ago. So that was a little painful.
  • I stood — in heels, with a bum ankle — for about eight hours. That’s how long it took before people started leaving and there were seats available.
  • All I’d eaten before arriving at the hearing was some soup and a cookie. When there was a 15-minute break around 7 p.m., I had a bag of baked Lay’s potato chips. Until I got home about an hour ago, that was all I had to eat all day.
  • When Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, found out I hadn’t been there for the morning part of the hearing, he told me I was disappointing my parents by not doing my job. When I told him I’d been in class all morning, he then said I was definitely doing my job. Hmm.

As for the title of this entry? I forget who it was, but when the new radio reporters arrived at the bureau this semester, I told one of them that Rule No. 1 in the statehouse is to wear comfortable shoes. A woman who was standing nearby said, “Very true” and nodded emphatically (I didn’t know who she was — and still don’t).

Comfortable shoes are a must if you’re going to be chasing legislators around the statehouse or standing in a crowded committee hearing room for eight hours at a time.

Unfortunately, I broke Rule No. 1 today.

I wore my black strappy heels — because they are the only dress/business shoes I can wear with my leg splint, which I needed because of my bum ankle. Put another way: because of my bum ankle, I had to wear uncomfortable shoes while standing for eight hours straight.

Of course, that’s just the way things always seem to work!

And now to hammer out this story/these stories before I get ready to return to Jeff City. I have about five hours to do this. Let’s go!

 

Update (10:35 a.m.):

My fuller story has been posted! Click HERE to read it.

And now I am back in the bureau, after getting two hours of sleep, and have no idea what’s in store for me today. Oh boy.

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Long story short, I am kind of obsessed with the economy.

More than a few of my friends, classmates and coworkers can testify to this.

In fact, when my Facebook status a few days ago was “Chris congratulates the Dow for its 3.3 percent growth today!,” one of my coworkers in the Jeff City bureau commented with, “haha, when I heard this on the radio earlier today, I thought of you :)”

I wasn’t always like this.

(more…)

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The Missouri Economic Stimulus Coordination Council released a report containing its “recommendations on how to best implement the ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009] in and for Missouri and its Citizens.”

The report is dated Feb. 27, but as far as I know, it was released today. At least, my editor Phill Brooks had Emily Younker come into the Senate chamber — where I was this evening — and deliver the 17-page report. Which you can see for yourself if you click HERE.

Here’s a general breakdown, as far as I understand it.

One of Gov. Jay Nixon’s first acts as governor was to sign three executive orders. The second executive order created the Missouri Economic Stimulus Coordination Council — which, according to the press release, was established to make recommendations on:

  • Coordinating job creation activities with the Missouri Congressional delegation and the current and incoming federal administrations
  • Identifying the best practices for the State of Missouri to utilize to ensure that the State of Missouri is included at the maximum possible level in appropriations from a federal stimulus package
  • Identifying any other practices that the State of Missouri should adopt to maximize its relationship with the federal government

Nixon specified that the recommendations report be delivered to him by Feb. 27 (hence the date on its first page) and that the council be dissolved on March 1.

The council has made 10 points and recommendations:

  1. Time is of the essence — Stimulus funds will be available at different points in fiscal year 2009 (or, what remains of it), fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2011. The council recommends that the state “suspend or waive certain rules in order to meet the threshold requirements to maximize the receipt of dollars” and that the funds “be spent as expeditiously as possible” (pg. 2). The council also recognizes that “this is a multi-year process, not an overnight miracle” (pg. 2).
  2. A cooperative effort is needed — The council diplomatically asks that stimulus funds appropriations not become hampered by party politics or divisions between the legislative chambers and the governor’s office.
  3. Missouri should have one application for competitive dollars — To maximize the state’s odds of receiving competitive grant awards, the council recommends that Missouri “have one submission for each Competitive Grant” (pg. 3). The council also urges the state to “establish a temporary Washington, D.C., presence focused on Missouri’s interests and issues under the ARRA and work closely with the Missouri Congressional Delegation” (pg. 3)
  4. A specific state agency must be assigned to each appropriation resource — There’s a typo (underlined) in this part of the 17-page document: “the Council recommends that each specific section of the ARRA be assigned a an Agency as the lead, responsible point of contact” (pg. 3). But anyway.
  5. A statewide focus is required — The council notes that certain parts of the ARRA focus on rural areas (especially regarding broadband access, public safety, safety net funding, business development and health care). That in mind, the council declares that “the ARRA itself and the mandates of bipartisnaship dictate that both rural, suburban and urban areas receive attention” (pg. 4). [NOTE: There are many comma splices and misuses of the word "both" in this document. Especially in this section.]
  6. Twinning increases the impact — Programs under the ARRA can be coupled (“twinned”) with other ARRA dollars. I’m not exactly sure what this means, but the council says, “ARRA dollars from one program can be invested or expended with other dollars authorized by this Act” (pg. 4) and recommends that Nixon’s Transform Missouri Initiative “work with all state agencies, the Legislature and all concerned governmental parties to identify and maximize twinning opportunities presented by the ARRA” (pg. 4)
  7. Recommendations by individual council members are submitted — Several council members wrote separate recommendations about certain portions of the ARRA. These recommendations have been submitted separately and are on public record somewhere. I’m not sure where. I wish the report told us.
  8. Sustainable jobs and programs should be created — The council outlines four areas where ARRA funds be spent “in a sustainable fashion” (pg. 4). These areas include 1) retaining workers in “hard hit sectors,” 2) enticing businesses to expand or grow in Missouri by creating incentives, 3) fund “long-term multi-year construction projects” and 4) “twinning investment and human capital for a long-term sustainable result” (pg. 4).
  9. An opportunity exists for long-term planning — MEDICAID.
  10. Accountability and transparency are required — Yeah. Okay. So I want to know: what about those individual council members’ recommendations, which were filed separately and are apparently “on public record”? Where are those?

The council concludes the report by emphasizing that the report “was a bipartisan, focused, short-term effort.”

The remaining 12 pages expound upon specific statements and examples in the report’s first five pages. Again, you can find the entire 17-page document HERE.

I’m not sure why the report was made available only today, since the council no longer exists as of three days ago. (For the record: I began writing this post at 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 4. When I’m done, it’ll probably be Thursday — and, therefore, “as of four days ago.”)

For the record: I’ve said this before, but I’m really not trying to turn this into a political analysis or political news blog. Really. This is all about transparency and public access to public information, and it just so happens that I’m the budget reporter… so it just so happens that whatever information I receive will be budget-/stimulus-related information… so it just so happens that, in the interest of transparency and access, I will post that budget-/stimulus-related information if it is public record.

Really. This blog is all about journalism and photography. I promise.

On that note, here are related, earlier posts and documents about the budget and stimulus:

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The whirl of activity and buzz with which the Missouri legislative session kicked off almost two months ago has diminished to a feeble heartbeat of a tremor.

Okay, so that was slightly dramatic. But that’s how I’ve been feeling lately. I cut my winter break in half to come back early to Missouri and cover the start of legislative session (as well as Gov. Jay Nixon’s inauguration), and the pace in the statehouse was absolutely frenetic. My being the only reporter in the bureau for the first two weeks only compounded the pressure and stress, especially since I first had to cover the preliminary stories (what legislators anticipate from this session, the inauguration, etc.) and then the state budget as that beat began to flourish. I began to expect getting thrown into the day’s biggest story/ies and churning out 30-inch articles daily.

Now, things in the statehouse have calmed down significantly. I’ve gone about two weeks without a breaking news story. Nixon’s already given his budget overview (via his State of the State address), the federal stimulus package has been signed into law and the House Budget and Senate Appropriations Committees are at work. The initial frenzy of activity has definitely died down a bit, and I am just aching for something to give me a break from working on the four features Phill has assigned me.

Not that I don’t enjoy working on feature pieces. These are definitely interesting topics, and I’m excited about them. But two of them need to be cleared by the governor’s office (so I can get access to certain people/names/information). One is a very long-term piece on which I am working with a radio reporter and would involve traveling around the state. The last is a profile piece I can work on whenever I can’t make progress on the others.

According to House Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley’s chief of staff, things should start to pick up after the legislators’ spring break. I sure hope so. The Jeff City blues are kickin’ in, and while I’m by no means less excited to be here in the bureau, I’d like some spicy legislative happenings to break up the pace.

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Just for posterity, here’s President Barack Obama’s 146-page budget overview for fiscal year 2010. Courtesy of The New York Times.

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I am blogging live as a volunteer at Pictures of the Year International, an international contest to which photographers send submissions in dozens of categories. Currently, the three judges are going through the final cut of the multimedia feature story category. At any point, you can click here to watch/listen the judging live.

I’ve also sat through the judging of science/natural history and science/natural history picture story. It seems that every year, I miss the judging of the sports categories — every year, for POYi and CPOY — because it’s always the first overall category to be judged.

POYi and CPOY always renew an interesting discussion among my photojournalism friends: the extent of post-shooting editing. I’m not going to single any photographers or images out, but the winning entries are more often than not the most heavily edited. Photoshop-induced vignetting, heavy levels clipping, massive amounts of over/undersaturation… those seem to be the overarching trends.

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The hours between 8:30 and 11 a.m. constituted the single most productive Sunday morning I’ve had since last summer at Philmont. Laura and I were partnered up for the class Metal & Glass assignment, wherein

You are paired up so that one can grip for or assist the other and visa versa [sic]. One of you is to photograph glass or translucent objects and the other will photography [sic] metal objects. When you are not the shooter, you are to be the assistant, which means the second set of eyes and hands on the shoot. (Syllabus)

I shot glass; Laura shot metal. Check her blog later to see her shots of the coins we donated and the piggy bank we destroyed!

For my shot, I bought six vases at Michael’s and used paintbrushes and dipping pens that I already own. (I knew I didn’t bring them from Texas for nothing!) We put in a few drops of food coloring into the vases without brushes or pens, at the last minute so that you can still see the coloring mix into the water.

I ended up with a two-light setup. Even though I checked all the settings between the light meter and my camera and am pretty sure I metered correctly, all my shots were underexposed when I imported them to my computer. Lesson learned: I should have bracketed. Oh well.

Here’s my select image, untouched by Photoshop except to eliminate some spots on the sensor and to sharpen the image overall:

Pretty underexposed, yes? I will definitely be bracketing next time.

For kicks and giggles, I toned my select image and the runner-up to look the way they should have:

The toned select.

The toned select.

The toned runner-up.

The toned runner-up.

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