Portfolio

I’ve added a portfolio page/tab to my blog. I guess I’ve been pining for journalism of late (I really, really miss interviewing all sorts of fascinating folks and the opportunity to have amazing experiences), and this way at least I can show off my past endeavors.

Here’s a sample of what you can find in my portfolio:

WEB Single mom fireThe photo of Phylicia and her son Jace won me a first place award in the news photo category of the 2011 Montana Better Newspaper contest. Still, I wish her house hadn’t burned down. That poor gal had had a very rough run of it when the house fire occurred. Makes me wonder where she and that little boy are now.

All the current samples are pages from the Hungry Horse News, where I was managing editor. I wrote the stories, edited the stories, shot the photos, and designed the page layout. All in a day’s work at a weekly newspaper with a small staff. Work to be proud of.

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Good luck, Cairo

Wrote this column for the Hungry Horse News this week. I’m reading the news about Egypt obsessively and I’m elated that the Obama administration has withdrawn support for Hosni Mubarak. I just hope Egypt can maintain its excitement for democracy and elect someone who will help them get there.

Watching the protests in Egypt over the past week has been a unique experience for me. Why? Because I lived there.

I spent the summer of 2007 living on Zamalek, the island in the middle of the Nile in Cairo where the majority of the embassies are (the American embassy is not). I was there on a Fulbright trip learning about what it means to be a foreign correspondent.

While there, the group I was with — other young journalists — met with a number of different people, ranging from journalists to political leaders. Including a man jailed because in the election several years before he’d had the audacity to win a mere 11 percent of the vote.

In our free time, we roamed the city, learning about Egyptian culture and digging up stories. We smoked hookah in crowded restaurants. We ate falafel and street food. We got sick, we got better. We took terrifying taxi rides in cabs driven by manic, chain-smoking drivers. We went to the mall, to the museums, to mosques, to churches. We took sunset falucca rides on the Nile. We sat on bridges over the river with thousands of other people on Friday and Saturday nights, enjoying the cool breeze in the sickening heat.

Feluccas on the Nile at sunset.

We took Arabic classes several days a week. We stood in the sweltering visa-issuing office for hours, waiting to renew our visas, pitying the women in their heavy, dark clothes and veils, and thankful for our T-shirts and shorts. We listened to the call to prayer rise above the city like smoke five times a day, echoing off the concrete.

We made friends with other foreigners we met in “foreigners only” bars. The bars and liquor stores restrict their clientele to non-Egyptians. Even the Egyptian Christians — Copts — are not allowed to even procure wine for religious ceremonies.

We made friends with well-educated Egyptians who spoke English and often worked as our “fixers,” the people who translate and procure tickets and a myriad of other tasks.

We visited Alexandria and toured the famous library there. We went to Luxor and visited the Valley of the Kings. We learned about the slaves that built the temples and the pyramids (we visited those too). We went to the Red Sea and snorkeled the turquoise waters. We stared across the Bay of Aqaba toward the brown smudge of Saudi Arabia. We spent a night around a fire in the desert with the Beduin, sipping strong, sweet tea and jabbering back and forth in our respective languages, not caring we couldn’t understand what the other was saying.

Sunrise from Mount Sinai (where Moses received the Ten Commandments).

It was a fascinating trip both from the eyes of a tourist and from the eyes of a journalist. I wrote articles about the election process (very corrupt) and articles about the Zabaleen, the trash collectors. I wrote about non-governmental organizations providing education opportunities to some of Cairo’s poorest residents.

So now, nearly four years later, reading about the Egyptian protests is a strange experience. Journalists whose bylines I recognize, and with whom I sat on a beach and drank cheap Greek beer, are covering the protests. One was recently interviewed on ABC. Of them, I’m jealous. They’re living the foreign correspondent dream. They’re in the action. And all journalists are action junkies.

And I scan Facebook daily, checking the status updates of my few Egyptian friends. One is a wife and mother. The other is a journalist for an English-language newspaper. I want to make sure they’re OK as the protests turn violent.

Here in the safety of my cush American newspaper office, I’m voicing my opinion. President Hosni Mubarak is a man who has no interest in democracy (he’s been in office for 30 years and there’s fears he plans to pass the “presidency” onto his son). Egyptians loathe and fear Mubarak. I know because many told me themselves. President Barack Obama said in his state of the union address that the U.S. supports democracies globally and now is the chance for the administration to back up its claims. Obama has urged Mubarak not to seek reelection this fall, effectively withdrawing American support for his regime. Now America needs to make sure it backs a person interested in practicing true democracy.

Inside the Alabaster Mosque (of Mohammed Ali).

It is vitally important that Egypt remain a democratic nation. Egypt is America’s foothold in the Middle East, our somewhat moderate partner at an otherwise hostile table. It’s vitally important that the U.S. continue to send aid to Egypt, to foster Western programs.

The Saudis are infiltrating the country, radicalizing it. Twenty years ago, very few women wore the veil. Now burkas are common (if a woman doesn’t at least cover her hair, she’s considered a slut). And though we journalists joked about the BMOs — black moving objects — it’s vitally important the U.S. maintains a presence in Egypt to protect women’s rights there and in the region. The U.S. should not back the Muslim Brotherhood, which would see the spread of draconian Sharia law.

Looking at pictures of the protests in Tahrir Square, my heart goes out to Egypt, to its people. They want freedom, the same rights that you and I enjoy daily. The right to read newspapers that aren’t mouthpieces of the government. The right to vote without fear of retribution because they made the “wrong” choice. Looking at pictures of those familiar places filled with protestors and smoke, I can close my eyes and I’m back, watching the sun set orange over the Nile. Good luck, Cairo. I hope you succeed.

Good thing journalism isn’t a popularity contest

After several requests from friends, here’s my column for my newspaper this week. As editor, I write a column weekly. I’ve tried to steer clear of politics because the American public these days has a shocking tendency to assume that just because a writer states his or her opinion on the OPINION page, that opinion must trickle over to the rest of the newspaper as well. Maybe that’s the case in some publications (cough Fox News cough), but it’s not at my newspaper. I live in a very conservative area, so I’m likely to take some heat for this column. I’ll let you know if a good dialogue gets started. So, without further ado, my column:

While driving to work Tuesday morning, I switched my radio dial to National Public Radio. Over the airwaves came the announcement of President Barack Obama’s “compromise” (read: re-election strategy) with the Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax cuts another two years.

This is not good.

But before you throw your hands in the air and run to the telephone to give me an earful, hear me out.

The Republicans threatened to filibuster the tax deal if the tax cuts were not again extended to the wealthiest 2 percent of the American population, to people earning more than $250,000 per year. Look around you. Does you know anyone who rakes in that much dough every year? If you do, chances are you can count those people on one hand.

Chances are you know far more people who fit into the 98 percent of America. The people who do not make nearly that much. In fact, chances are most people you know make $200,000 less than that. The median income for Flathead Valley, according to the 2000 Census, was $34,466, and the median income for a family was $40,702. Males had a median income of $31,908 versus $20,619 for females.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for extending tax cuts to the middle class. To the people who need the tax cuts most. To the people who have one adult in their household out of work. To the people unsure if they will make their house payment this month. How many people do you know who have lost their jobs since the recession began? It takes far more fingers than I have on both hands to count the people I know out of work.

I am deeply opposed to extending tax cuts to people who have a vacation house in Vail, Colo. and a vacation house in Orlando, Fla. To the people who take vacations to Europe every year. And in the interest of full disclosure, I was raised in a family that took those vacations to Europe.

I think it is very accurate to say that the wealthy are holding the middle class hostage.

It is telling when people like billionaire investor Warren Buffett go on national television and ask Congress to tax them more. When interviewer Christiane Amanpour pointed to claims that the very wealthy need tax cuts to encourage business and capitalism, Buffett replied, “The rich are always going to say that, you know, ‘Just give us more money, and we’ll go out and spend more, and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you.’ But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on.”

Quoting Founding Father Thomas Jefferson is ever popular in newspapers, but I see no sense in breaking that trend now. In a letter to James Madison in 1784, in what would become part of the Federalist Papers, Jefferson wrote: “Taxes should be proportioned to what may be annually spared by the individual.”

An independent senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, made an appeal to the president on C-SPAN that eloquently summed up the problem: “In the year 2007, the top 1 percent of all income earners in the U.S. made 23.5 percent of all income. More than the entire bottom 50 percent. The top one-tenth of 1 percent earns about 12 cents of every dollar earned in America. Since 1980 to 2005, 80 percent of all new income created in this country went to the top 1 percent.”

Are you feeling the trickle down? I most certainly am not.

“We used to read the text books which talked about the banana republics in Latin America … about countries in which handful of people owned and controlled most of the wealth of those countries,” Sen. Sanders continued. “Well guess what, that exactly what is happening in the U.S. today.”

The tax cuts being extended to the top 1 percent of all American income earners will over a 10-year period equate to $700 billion in tax breaks (enough to pay for the health care bill, you know). If the legislators of this nation are truly concerned about helping the middle class and beating back a mounting federal deficit, they will see the error of their ways and extend tax cuts only to the people who make less than $250,000. People like you and me.

So what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Why?

Mist in the morning (and stories at night)

Today, as I drove to the daily newspaper in the valley where I live for a long day of designing the newspaper on our asinine new computer system, I was treated to some spectacular misty views on the stage road. I couldn’t help but stop to shoot a couple photos.

Idyllic, no?

In this photo, I love how the fenceline undulates up and down into the mist, with the imposing mountains behind.

NaNoWriMo update: I have written 3,955 words so far! That’s about 600 words ahead of schedule. I’m having fantastic time with the writing so far. I sneaked home for lunch yesterday and spent most of it writing. After the school board meeting last night, I went home and wrote for another hour or two. Today, I drove back from the daily newspaper, shoved some food in my mouth and wrote some more. Let’s hope I can keep up the pace!

Here’s a teeny excerpt (please note all contents of this blog are copyright!):

As Tom negotiated the next curve, Clint craned his neck to stare at the sloping back of Summit Mountain. The verdant mess of pine crept up the stone and came to an abrupt end at tree line. Every time Clint passed the mountain he thought about Brody Thompson, one of his best friends from high school, who’d gone alone to snowboard down the bowl, triggered an avalanche and came home in a body bag three days and a long search later. Clint had gotten the phone call his sophomore year at Northwestern. He’d flown home for the funeral, the one time he ever did. He remembered Brody’s girlfriend’s sobs from the front of Two Ocean United Methodist, how they seemed deliberately out of sync with the hymns. Remembered Brody’s father’s face, which looked like all the light had drained out of it. Brody’s mother wore a black veil and didn’t move during the entire service.

Clint and his best friend Derek Wilson split a case of Bud Light that night in Derek’s truck behind the Get N’ Split. They talked about Brody in the glow of the radio dial.

“Remember when he sacked that mean sonufabitch from Chester High during the game when you blew your knee? You might’ve blown your knee, but that kid looked like he might worry himself up a tree until the end of the game,” Derek laughed around a gulp of beer. “Kept looking over his shoulder and hesitating, waiting for another wicked hit from Brody.”

Clint tossed an empty can over his shoulder into the back seat and reached for another in the cardboard case between his legs.

“Remember when he first started dating Laura?” Clint recalled, a faraway look on his face. “Man, he was into her. Even skipped practice once to go make out with her in the church parking lot.”

“Yeah, they made a pretty swell pair,” Derek mused and the two clicked their beer cans together. “To Brody, snowboarder, football player, friend.”

“To Brody,” Clint replied and chugged the remainder of his beer.

And sometimes you just get lucky

So, there I was, driving home from an assignment at a local school. I’d spent hours longer there than I planned. Somehow I got roped into helping students with their long division homework in the after-school program. I was waiting to get to the main event, in which the after-school program director was going to show the kids animal skulls and a lynx pelt. But they had to finish their homework first. Argh. Anyway, three and a half hours later, FREEDOM. (It had already been a 10-hour work day.)

I was driving back home and I saw this kid on a bicycle on the side of the road riding toward me. Then I noticed that he was sporting a foot-tall red mohawk. We gawked at each other as I drove past (me at the mohawk, him likely at the Nebraska license plate). I drove about half a mile and said to myself, “What was I thinking!” and turned around, hoping he’d still be riding down the road.

I found him, young Brandon, and pulled over. I coerced him (well, I think he was stoically excited, actually) into letting me take some photos of him for a feature photo in next week’s newspaper. What a good sport. Only had one person stop and ask if I needed help because my flashers were on (read: Are you trying to abduct this poor kid?).

 

‘What’s your passion?’ she asked.

Every job has its ups and downs. Being the editor of a newspaper can be extremely stressful. I get a nasty phone calls every now and then. We miss deadline sometimes. There is no such thing as 9 to 5. I attend meetings several nights a week. I cover games and events on the weekend.

But then again, I know a lot of people. I don’t have a desk job. I get to hike and boat and call it working. And every now and then, I come across a somebody really special and have the privilege of writing about them. I’m a storyteller. A woman asked me this morning what my passion is. That’s easy. Writing. Shooting photos. So many people have to do what they love on the side. I get to do what I love every day.

Tuesday night I spent a few hours at the home of a little girl named Hanna. Hanna’s dad died of cancer when she was younger. Hanna’s mom is recovering from aggressive breast and uterine cancer (she had a hysterectomy and both breasts removed). When Hanna’s mom had cancer, Hanna nearly failed every class.

So a few months ago, Hanna went to The Event at Rebecca Farm, a horsemanship contest that’s world renowned and right here in the Valley. At The Event, Hanna bought a $2 raffle ticket and entered a drawing to win an Arabian horse. Monday night, Morning View Arabians called to inform Hanna that she won. Tuesday, Centurion Bey, a 3-year-old gelding was delivered to Hanna’s house.