Monday, August 25, 2008

Ambulance chasing

I have been on the job since mid-way through June and I have yet to see a body. 

My landlord, Carl, was a correspondent in the same territory I have maybe ten years ago now. Driving back from a charity softball game in Manchester a couple of weeks ago we got to talking about the ins and outs of the job. 

"Have you seen a body yet?" he asked. 

"No," I said. "Been to a couple of accidents, a house fire and a home declared unsanitary, but I haven't seen a body."

"You will," he said. 

He has tossed me a couple of war stories from his days before he moved over to the Internet and working on print journalism from the other side. He said he once stood out in the cold during the middle of winter to take photographs of police carting off a homicide victim. Before that he helped EMT's work around a car accident, setting up a stretcher for them to haul a victim away from the scene. 

Today I ended up on Interstate 93 northbound, just before the Cluff Crossing bridge and before Exit 1 in New Hampshire. A van had rear ended a truck hard enough that the emergency responders had to use the Jaws of Life. I got there just as the helicopter was lifting off, bound for a hospital some eighty miles south in Boston.

 If you've never seen a helicopter take off from a highway with the sun setting behind, the red and blue lights of emergency vehicles flashing behind it, kicking up the dirt and dust nearby's a sight. 

I still haven't seen a body yet and I know it's only a matter of time, really. I'm not quite sure how I'll react. There are times when I worry I'll get freaked out or end up vomiting on myself, but more often than not I'm afraid it won't do anything for me. It'll just be another story rolling past in a body bag. 

Journalism on the march

Check out this cool new feature from the National Review Online. You may not agree with the politics, you may hate the analysis, but the concept is A-1 (as in the steak sauce). 

The only downside I can see, is that print journalists still need to work on getting comfortable on camera. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ghost Recon's silver lining

I've been caught up with the coverage of the Olympics, the Georgian Crisis and all the other excitement that seems to have propelled the generally boring dog days of summer into high gear. After four years of studying both history and political science, including one entire class that revolved largely around Soviet politics and the "new" Russia's role in a world of international institutions, you can forgive me for watching way too many reports coming out of the Caucuses instead of updating the blog. 

Watching Operation International Handwringing these past few weeks has been a bit depressing and the lack of good concrete coverage of the initial struggle over South Ossetia and then into the heart of Georgia has been downright upsetting in this day and age of technology. Still, that seems to have stabilized in recent days, though the best coverage of the international political cage-match has come out of the BBC. 

Here is something of a silver lining - of which there don't seem to be many coming out of that region of the world - for both the United States and the rest of the NATO allies:

What a difference a short war can make. By sending its 58th Army through the Roki tunnel into South Ossetia, Moscow hoped at the very least to deepen Nato divisions. 

The opposite has happened. Instead of arguing that the crisis proved her point about the need for restraint, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has explicitly endorsed Georgia's bid for membership. France may still have its doubts. if so, they remain private. There are two main reasons for Nato's newfound unity. First, there is a strengthening consensus that Moscow would have acted with more restraint had Georgia already been in Nato, protected by its principle of collective security. 

As one expert with long experience of the region put it yesterday: "The thought of the US Air Force on its way would have deterred even Vladimir Putin."

Read the rest of the Times Online here.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The story least taken

Stories have a lot in common with bad pennies. They always turn up and often in the places you least expect them. 

It's something I've known for a while, but never put any proper thought into. Covering the Fourth of July celebration in Salem I found out that most of the proceeds were going to the town's Special Olympics team. A better example would come from a recent trip I took down to the Salem Senior Center.

I originally wanted to do a story on computer lab the center had for seniors - five motley looking machines that were outdated by at least five years or so. The Council on Aging had donated three new computers to replace the center's existing administrative computers. In return those would replace some of the older models in the lab. 

On a nice Wednesday morning I made my way over to the senior center and wandered up to the second floor to take a look at the lab and meet some of the kindly senior citizens checking their e-mail and doing their banking online. 

What I found was an empty computer lab. And a room full of guys staring at me. 

"Are you from the newspaper?" one of them asked. "They said someone from the newspaper was going to come today."

When I nodded they lit up. 

What ensued was an hour long conversation with constant interrupts, interjections, and rude jokes about male anatomy. These guys got together three times a week to shoot the shit and then some pool. Retirees for the most part, they enjoyed spending their time with each other rather than wasting away alone at home.

"Look at'im write," said another as I scrawled half remembered quotes onto a notepad. "He's gonna have a novel."

Afterwards they clapped me on the back, telling me what a great paper the Union Leader was (much better than that rag the Eagle-Tribune) and thanked me for stopping by. When I left they were arguing over whose turn it was to shoot. 

"We talk for 15 minutes and then no one can remember whose supposed to shoot, who's high and who's low," said a third. "We spend most of our time arguing about it."

It wasn't the story I was looking for, but it was a good story. 

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Blogging political

As I recall, blogging as a journalistic tool was just coming into being during the last presidential election. At the time many were unsure of how to properly utilize the power of the blogosphere or what the role of new media would and should become in American politics. 

Four years later there are still no concrete answers to those issues and despite this the unregulated, shapeless and uncontrollable power of the blogosphere has taken a prime spot in how the news - especially politics - is reported. 

Blogs are no longer the mouthpieces of the fringes, the soapboxes of cyberspace, but a collective that has come to represent the underlying subconscious of the American people. Where, in 2004, bloggers were still struggling to break out of the "nut wandering up and down Mass Ave with a sandwich board sign proclaiming the coming of the end and handing out pamphlets on Jesus Christ" mold, now they command the healthy respect of both journalists and the informed public. 

The role of blogs in the 2005 "National Guard papers" debacle at CBS that led to Dan Rather's early retirement certainly had something to do with it. 

Only a few years later, with Internet access available to almost anyone who wants it in the continental United States, the long decline of print media and the seemingly general malaise towards the accepted establishment and authority of this country by the public, bloggers have become everything from a source of the news, commentary on current events and a weather gauge for the American people.

Just look at this story on the rapidly expanding "race" controversy that has both presidential candidates shadow boxing with one another: 

"As Mr. Obama carefully addressed the issue on Friday, his campaign's formidable network of grass-roots activists, and the Web sites crafted to give them "talking points" to carry into battle against republicans, remained uncharacteristically quiet on the matter, even though the issue dominated political blogs for the second straight day." - Michael Powell, NY times.

While it has not yet become apparent whether mainstream media has fully come to an understanding about blogs and their role in reporting, the paladins of new media have begun to grasp their role in shaping the political world and how journalists report it. 


Blogs of Note:

While the wide world of the blogosphere can sometimes seem beyond comprehension, there are few "truck stops" for the political junkie to get a quick slice of pie and a good cup of coffee.

Metaphorically, that is. 

Here's a few that seem to do well for themselves:

  1. Huffington Post
  2. The Daily Kos
  3. The Blog (
  4. The Corner (
As always, take them with a grain of salt...and maybe an aspirin.