Small Market: My Pros and Cons

Photojournalist Jennifer Retter wrote a wonderful piece for Ninja Journalism titled Small Market Journalism: The Pros and Cons, and she inspired me to add a few of my own pros and cons. You can add yours in the comment section at the bottom of this post.

Fewer bosses

In community journalism you often have one boss to answer to, and in most companies I was with that boss interfered very little with my work. It was the job of the boss to worry about money and logistics and my job to get the news and make the paper rock. On the other hand, I was in a bigger news group for a few years with layers of managers managing other managers and all answering up the ladder and all needing to be kept happy.

More responsibilities
Some may put this on the con side, but I enjoy small market papers because they give me freedom to do more and cover what is needed rather than only what I am assigned. It also gives me the opportunity to expand my skills in multiple areas because one needs to multitask in a smaller staff. I once met a young journalist from the Fort Worth Star Telegram who said his job was to write photo cutlines and that was it. I would feel like a hamster on a wheel after a month of that. Things changed drastically after the recession beginning in 2008 and large market papers now require their employees (what few are left) to multi-task to some extent.

Big fish
In major market, seldom is what you are covering of interest to a majority of your audience, and if it is that big of a story the reader can just get it from another source. However, in community journalism you are the big fish in the small pond and everything you do is relevant because you cover local news, school events, local sports and human interest stories close and personal to your readers.

Being treated inferior by outsiders

On a few occasions when big breaking news happened on my turf I struggled with outside authorities and law enforcement officers who didn’t know or respect me.

There was an incident in a new housing development where a backhoe operator burst a major underground fuel line. I rushed to the location only to find an unfamiliar law officer blocking traffic about three-quarters of a mile from the scene. I showed him my press pass, pleaded with him, brown nosed him and even showed him my bigass camera but he would not let me through. Even after we saw multiple news helicopters landing in the distance at the scene he would not let me pass. Finally, he called on his radio, “Yeah. I have this guy here from….Who did you say you are with?” and I was allowed to rush to the scene and an outdoor news conference already in progress.
I did more often turn the tables by being the local news guy knowing the local authorities. I will share those on another post.

Read Small Market Journalism: The Pros and Cons by Jennifer Retter here and find other informative posts by this talented writer and reporter.

Comment below and subscribe to Ninja Journalism by email in the right column.


The Moment

Photojournalism is most often quick and spontaneous. Art photography, although more often planned or sometimes a waiting game, can be just as fleeting. This post shows how even on the artsy end of photography one must sometimes be fast.

Mark McAdams is an outdoor enthusiast, a photographer and my dentist. He stepped outside his home near Brock, Texas one evening last January and saw the moon chasing the sun into the horizon. The sun had just set with a blaze of color and the small moon was fast to follow.

“It was cold and clear outside and somehow that makes everything clearer and brighter,” Mark described. The sun was putting on a brilliant show behind the Earth and a quarter moon was falling into the colors. He immediately took the shot.

Had he taken the shot five minutes earlier, the setting sun would be higher and drown out the moon. Had he waiting five minutes for the moon to get closer to the horizon the show would be over. He got this impressive picture:

On the other hand, there is failure:

Tuesday night I was leaving a church in Fort Worth and looked up to see a beautiful full moon on the rise over the building. To my delight, I could align the moon glowing directly behind the steeple.
I quickly popped my large lens onto my camera as I pictured in my mind this amazing shot I was about to get. But the camera would not focus. I checked the camera settings and lens settings while fumbling in the dark. I finally took the lens off, laid all my equipment on the hood and examined the lens with a flashlight.
I corrected the problem and aimed to take the shot but it was gone. The moon had risen too far so I put my camera in the back seat and drove home a little disappointed in myself.


Amazing cancer story

This week I post an earlier story for your study and enjoyment. For you journalists, see how I attempt to bring the reader into the interview by describing what is going on around us. It is a feature I did on a family and a controversial treatment for cancer. Please share this story with anyone you think would enjoy reading it.

Stranger helps Aledo family in fight with cancer
Christopher Amos

It sounds like a fairy tale: A loved one is dying of cancer after all treatments have failed, a stranger comes to the home and offers a mysterious homemade elixir, and then everyone is healthy and happy ever-after.

But to get to the fairy tale part, one must first go back to when Brian and Jackie Capers of Aledo, Texas were told their son was going to die.

“He was walking along beside us and leaning on me like he was being lazy and tired,” Jackie explained as we visited at their modest home. “I kept telling him to straighten up. Later on, he just flat-out fainted.”

Caleb Capers was diagnosed with an accelerated brain stem cancer called astrocytoma. The life-degenerating growth in the back of the three-year-old’s head blocked fluids, hindered normal body functions and was quickly spreading its roots deeper into the child’s brain.

“The doctors said we can let the tumor grow and watch what happens – basically, watch our son die – or try a new high radiation thing called gamma-knife,” Jackie said. The family decided on the dangerous but possible life-saving operation.

The following brain operations, five in all, were experimental last-ditch efforts to extend the child’s life. Then came the staggering news that destroyed what little hope the family held. The child now had two separate tumors.

The family was told the child would die shortly after Christmas and he was medicated and released so he could enjoy his final Christmas at home. However, Brian was not their normal son when he returned home. With much of his brain affected by cancer and conflicting medications pushing his life a month further, the child was almost out of his mind.

“His brain was frying. He was seeing bugs crawling all over the wall and he had to have everything in a certain place. He had horrible dreams. I just couldn’t see him like that,” Jackie said. “That’s when we called the guy.”

A relative had seen a small classified ad offering possible help for cancer suffers, and the desperate but skeptical parents reluctantly called.

He was a very simple man, the parents recall, and he came to their home in an older model white pickup truck. He put two bottles of clear liquid on the table with homemade labels and told the family his own son died of cancer before he discovered this medicine and he was now seeking parents who would try the remedy. He boldly told the couple that in three days Caleb would begin to act like a normal kid again.

“I hate to say it, but I flat told him to his face that he was full of it,” the mother recalled.

The bottles contained hydrazine sulfate, a controversial substance that has been both praised and buffooned for decades. The man left instruction for doses to be taken with fruit juices over two weeks.

“It must have tasted bad because we had to watch Caleb to make sure he took all of it,” Brian said.

“Three days after giving my son hydrazine sulfate, he started bouncing around the house like a normal boy,” the father recalled. “He started playing with his brother and running around. He was Caleb again.”

Brian said he later learned hydrazine sulfate, although used as a treatment for some cancers in a few countries, is not approved in the U.S. by the FDA and is normally available only in highly diluted forms as a dietary supplement. Some articles written by hydrazine sulfate supporters offer a “Big Brother” theory, surmising that a medicine which may be effective against some forms of cancer would tumble the nation’s multi-billion dollar cancer industry. Other articles on the internet flatly stat the elixir is a hoax.

At this point, the conversation is suddenly interrupted by a now ten-year-old Caleb as he bounds into the room shadow boxing and kicking as he makes “pow-pow” noises with his mouth.

“I like to exercise,” the aspiring super-hero exclaims as he takes more swings at an invisible opponent before leaping abruptly into his mother’s lap.

“It cost us nothing!” she exclaimed as she struggled to contain the bundle of energy squirming in her lap. “The man charged us nothing. He gave it to us for free! I feel bad that we can’t find him now, but look – I have my son.”

Jackie said the mysterious man returned once a few weeks after his first visit to check on Caleb, told the family to “enjoy your life,” and left.

Caleb still sees his doctors and his cancer is classified as being in remission. His parents report the doctors now schedule him for less frequent visits to monitor his progress.

“They were totally against it back when we told them we were giving him the stuff and they were very serious about it,” the mother said of Caleb’s doctors. “After a while they were like, ‘Whatever you are doing, just keep doing it.’”

Jackie reflects on what might have caused the drastic improvement of her son’s health.

“We can’t honestly say if it was the new medicine or God’s will,” she said. “We were praying for him and we had others praying for him and we gave him this stuff. Now look at him.”
Subscribe to Ninja Journalism by email with the window in the right column and comment below. Please read earlier posts and share this blog with other photojournalists.


Photography: a look back

This week’s post is not about journalism, but a reflection on photography of days past and how equipment and people have changed.

I enjoy displaying my antique camera collection and occasionally do show-and-tell with young students. Even when I am asked to speak to a journalism class I normally end the session by passing around a few old cameras for the students to handle and see the roots of photography. I have to tell them not to hold the camera out like a digital camera or phone but to look through the view finder. I have about 40 of them and made myself quit picking them up at auctions and estate sales.

1936 Kodak Six-16, 1939 Kodak 30th Anniversary Special and 1945 Encore
Hollywood disposable cardboard camera.
I was sitting on a rug in a public library with second graders explaining photography and passing around cameras when one child exclaimed, “Oh look! There’s pictures on here!” as he unrolled negatives and held them up to the light.  Suddenly, all the kids lost interest in my cool antique cameras and began digging through the box of negatives. It was then I realized these children have never seen film or negatives. Not only have they not seen film, few have held a developed photograph because most pictures they see are on a phone or tablet. I paused for a second to find the right words to explaining what film was and forced myself to start with, "Back in the old days..." (sigh)

Where have all the pictures gone?
I know people who have their digital cameras or phones full of pictures and never take any to be developed. You know them too. When Thanksgiving rolls around you huddle around their phone looking through ten thousand pictures to find their 2012 vacation cruise.

Technology has made photography easier, better, faster and cheaper. However, it saddens me a little to know we are loosing the traditions of photo albums, family pictures on walls and a drawer filled with packages of baby and vacation photos.

A bit of history
I own some of the best digital equipment available, yet I marvel at how advanced photography was more than 100 years ago. We have quality photographs from the first moon landing (1969), the first airplane flight (1903) and battlefield scenes from the Civil War (1861), all taken with cameras that work to this day.

Although viewing reflected images dates back to the 1500s, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce of France is credited with inventing the first camera in 1816, about 70 years before the automobile was developed. Using a wood box and silver chloride, Niepce darkened reflected images on metal plates. His handmade device captured images but he had not developed (pun intended) a way to stop the process and the images soon turned dark. Within 10 years he had a wood camera with adjustable focus that took pictures we still have today. Many of his cameras in museums and collections still work.

This was my wife’s family camera, a 1950 Kodak Duoflex. It was passed down to
her and we have a picture of her as a child on vacation with this around her neck.
Original price, $17.25.  Today's value, priceless to me.

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