Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Pegasus umbrella

Dallasite Miranda Baumgras (left) shelters Case Ridinger (right) with an umbrella as they talk during a free weekly concert and mini-festival at Pegasus Plaza in downtown Dallas on Wednesday, April 28, 2004.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Patient listener

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Rev. Lloyd Facen, pastor of the Warren Avenue Christian Church, (left) listens to Mattie Dodd, 4, at the church on Wednesday, April 28, 2004. Rev. Facen helps feed the homeless and distribute clothing to the needy in the South Dallas community.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Some days don't work out

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Firefighters extinguish hot spots in a burned out apartment at the Country Club Apartments in Carrollton on Saturday, April 24, 2004.

Some days simply don't work out as planned. It doesn't mean a PJ did anything wrong, it simply means plans didn't happen.

Friday I shot a sportrait (Sports section portrait) on deadline, got safe shots of a festival in Tarrant County and left to shoot the Fort Worth Symphony for the overnight page. I checked with the festival assignment editor and I could get additional shots on Saturday to fill out a package.

On my way to the Symphony, I got a call to do an overtime shoot on Saturday morning several hours drive from Dallas. No problem. The shoot was a birdwatcher's outing at a state park three hours drive from Dallas at 8 a.m.

I transmitted the symphony shoot and came back to Dallas to pick up a 600 mm f/4 lens for the morning shoot. I got home, ate, and crashed at 1 a.m. At 5 a.m. the alarm went off.

The assignment said it might be canceled if the weather was bad. It was, but I still needed to proceed until I got the kill call. I stepped out of the shower when I got the call to cancel. So much for overtime. Oh well.

I couldn't go back to sleep for a while, but thought I better get a nap or my day would really be rough. I took a nap, and woke up to, at least, get some additional shots the festival in Tarrant County before my assigned evening shoot. I had safe shots, but no "eye poppers." As I prepared to leave home, I got a call to go to Collin County for a double homicide (supposedly execution-style).

I got there quickly, and set up. I shot the police sealing off the area. Then, they were ready to have a public information session (let us know what happened). I shot the investigating officer as he spoke with the reporters.

He said the death was basically an elaborate suicide with a terrified wife as a witness. In other words, I may as well stop shooting because it wasn't going to be printed. Newspapers and broadcast news typically don't report suicides unless it involves an additional homicide or some other very strange public event (like jumping off a major highway overpass into oncoming traffic).

I left the scene and started rolling toward my actual assignment (also in Collin County) because I couldn't make it to Tarrant County and back before the next shoot. However, I got another call to go to a three-alarm fire back in Dallas County.

I got there after the flames were under control, but the firefighters were still extinguishing hot spots. I got an OK shot, but nothing to scream about.
I transmitted the shot and raced back up to Collin County for the assignment.

At the assignment, I found the owner of the Indian grocery store was not there and the employees weren't great English conversationalists – and I don't speak Hindi. They called the owner and handed me the phone.

He explained the subject I was there to shoot had called him earlier in the week and told him she would be in India for the next month. So, he didn't go to the store because there was nothing for me to shoot.

End result?

After 16 hours, I had spent the day racing from county to county. I had transmitted one shot on deadline from my truck. It didn't make the main Metro section because of space, but got in the Collin County edition.

I did everything right. I covered two breaking news events and one scheduled assignment. I shot more than 200 frames and traveled almost 200 miles for the day, but didn't make the main paper.

Some days don't work out.

Enough for now,

Friday, April 23, 2004

Segway safety

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Southlake police officer Darrell Mayhew rides one of the department's new Segway personal transports during the Art in the Square festival at Southlake Town Square in Southlake on Friday, April 23, 2004.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

North Texas Young Journalists will meet

I'm too old (poor me), but I thought I would pass this along to any whipper-snappers who would like to talk shop.

The Association of Young Journalists (AYJ) plans to meet in Arlington. The group is open to budding journalists or professionals 35 years old or younger. Kristen Holland, regional AYJ chair, stated, "We're mostly recent grads now, so we'd love to have some younger voices join the crowd."

The North Texas AYJ meeting will be at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 28 at Sherlock's Pub. It's located at 254 Lincoln Square Center in Arlington.
Please, let Holli Estridge, State AYJ Chair, know if you intend to come to this meeting.

Membership is free. Food and drinks are Dutch. More information is available online.

Enough for now,

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Take pictures of signs and rosters

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Customers wait in a line at the Feedstore Bar-B-Que in Southlake on Saturday, October 11, 2003. The Lafavers family had run a feed and seed store at the site for about 30 years. As the community moved from a farming community to a bedroom community, the family adapted its business strategy.

Many of the photos we take are actually informational background shots. We photograph the outside of buildings and stadiums to know the proper name of the location. We photograph any signs near interesting items to have additional background information for cutlines. We photograph street signs to verify the intersection of accidents. We also photograph name tags to match faces with names and clothes.

When we arrive at sporting events, we go by the press box for team rosters. Typically, there are only two rosters available. The mom or dad elected to make the team announcements guards them with ferocity. We're frequently told we can write down the names, but we can't have the rosters.

Instead, we smile, hold up our cameras and say, "The original photo copy machine." We check the roster for clarity (most are hand written) and shoot a copy shot. We can then shoot the game and know we're covered.

The additional benefit is the archival intent of the info shots. In 10 years, the information is securely saved with the other negatives or digital files. There is no searching for a scrap of paper in a shoebox of old notepads and flyers. Anyone can pick up the negatives and write a meaningful cutline from the information held within the negatives.

This is also a good idea for vacationers. Instead of wondering when or where something occurred during a vacation. Turn off the camera's date stamp (many good images are ruined by the annoying orange numbers). Instead, photograph a watch or calendar to set the new date for the negatives. Any frame after the date frame should be from this date.

Likewise, when a family photo is taken in front of a waterfall or scenic outlook, find the historical society sign or the "Welcome to ____" sign to place the images.
For digital cameras, this habit is free. For film cameras, it costs about 10 cents per frame. It's money well spent when trying to organize negatives later.

If one wants to be very frugal with film, have a family member or friend stand next to the sign. Then the image is a two-for-one special. However, make sure to be close enough to read the text of the sign through the viewfinder. If the text can't be read through the viewfinder, it's unlikely to be clear in a print either.

Although the plan isn't to print these frames, sometimes the location or informational background shots get printed in the newspaper as a detail or inside shot (so make sure they are sharp and compensate +1 or +2 stops on manual cameras for white paper or signs).

I've seen similar images appear in friends' scrapbooks to let unacquainted viewers understand the context of the photos. This is faster, more secure and a space saver compared to keeping all programs or documentation presented at events (weddings, graduations, award presentations, recitals, little league championships, etc...).

Informational images aren't limited to text either. Rather than spending $100 to collect coins and bills from different countries. Spend the same $100 to get one of each bill and coin available per country. Photograph the currency and then spend it or exchange it for the next country's currency.

I have bills and coins from across Europe. They're more meaningful to me since the Euro conversion, but pictures honestly would have been fine. I could have shown more bills than I chose to bring home (it didn't make sense to invest $50 per country for mementos).

This same theory can be applied to other colorful items of interest in markets around the world. Yes, the red sombrero and coconut monkey are cute, but do you really want to drag them back home - through the airport customs? Get a nice image and make life simpler.

Make the camera work
If you want the items, make the camera work. Shop and shoot as you go, but don't buy yet. Digital cameras give you super leverage in large, open-air markets.

Shoot the items you want and negotiate prices along the way. Leave the vendor with a promised price, but without the merchandise. This keeps your hands free and saves the strain of carrying heavy bags all day. As you shop, show salespeople your digital images and compare prices. See if they want to sell for less. If they do, take a portrait of them with your family (three-for-one bonus since you'll save more than 10 cents) and enough information to find the shop again.

Over lunch, review your images and choose the best deals. Then, gather your bargains from the people with the best prices – you know where to find them from the photos.

This principle can also help get travelers back to their hotels after a few too many Margaritas. Again using a digital or an instant-image (Polaroid) camera, photograph each major landmark as you explore a strange city.

Start with a photo of the exterior of your hotel. This is probably the most critical image of your entire trip. As you wander further away, shoot major landmarks and buildings. When you are completely lost, you can backtrack via landmarks on the digital cameras.

You can always show an image of your hotel to a taxi driver to get home. If you are a really heavy party animal, pin an instant print or a postcard of your hotel to your shirt. When someone finds you asleep on the beach, they know where to send you.

Enough for now,

Monday, April 12, 2004

If it's not a scream, don't use it

While I'm mentioning pet peeves, I may as well get this out of my system.

An exclamation point (!) turns an entire sentence into a scream. Using this punctuation after one to five words can be appropriate. It's particularly applicable if it's used with a quotation of someone who has lost an arm or leg within the last few minutes. Using it after a long list of proper nouns is forbidden.

The rule of thumb is to stand and shout the profoundly punctuated sentence. If the author's air supply expires prior to the end of the sentence, delete the punctuation and use a period.

Before I started journalism, I was as guilty as the next person of using it to express emotion or importance. To be fair, people have gotten more computer savvy and use fewer exclamation points. This is good.

The original problem may have been typewriters. There was no easy way to write bigger or bolder. The only options were to underline the sentence, change to a red ribbon or type the same letters again and again over each other until the words became darker. So, the exclamation point was used (incorrectly) as shorthand for bold or italic fonts.

I disliked my first (mechanical) typewriter for this reason. There were many reasons I disliked my first typewriter, but I'll save those thoughts.

However, I loved my daisy-wheel typewriter. I remember how quiet it was and the letters could be erased (see, I restrained myself from using the exclamation point). It actually remembered an entire line of text. How amazing! <-- This one is OK by the rules set forward.

I need to write about my typewriter one day. It was so cool.

Enough for now,

A title is not entitled

The fastest way for me to stop reading or listening to a story is to use "entitled" in the place of "titled." I honestly change radio stations and close books. Furthermore, I won't pick up the offending book again because it's no longer worthy of my time.

In my mind, this misuse of simple, clear words by the author makes him/her ignorant at best.

Once and for all:
A being is entitled to life.
A composition is titled "Life."

No composition is entitled to anything. It can have a title, but entitlement to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is meaningless to a statue, opera, book or recording.

"The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual" states:

  • entitled Use it to mean a right to do or have something. Do not use it to mean titled.
    Right: She was entitled to the promotion.
    Right: The book was titled "Gone With the Wind."

Please save me from a future aneurysm and use the correct words. I know people say it (incorrectly) on NPR from time to time, but what do you expect for free.

Enough for now,

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Editorial is editorial only

For those just starting in the fields of photography (art, editorial, commercial), get accustomed to acquiring model and property releases. This lets your images cast the longest shadow and possibly save your butt in the future.

I'm working on an entry about the levels of legal problems by field of photography, but don't want to give you two heavy blogs in a row. For now, consider the following story and how it could have been avoided.

Newsweek photographer and White House News Photographers' Association Lifetime Achievement Award-winner Wallace McNamee of Hilton Head, S.C., took a photo. The photo was later licensed to Corbis Corp. of Olympia, Wash., an online digital image company. They licensed it to a greeting card company.

This is a normal use of images like a butterfly on a flower. However, this time it was a woman smoking and drinking before a wedding – more than 20 years ago. So, she's suing.

Obviously, something went wrong at the super-conglomerate photo service. Editorial images are for editorial use. Commercial images are for commercial use. The line between the two should not be blurred - particularly when there's no model release.

Enough for now,

Thursday, April 08, 2004

When can a newspaper be closed?

Although I'll not shed a tear if I hear something unfortunate happens to anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, someone must look at the actual facts surrounding the newspaper closure and the immediate escalation of violence in Iraq. Judging from the facts available, the CPA's and therefore the U.S. government’s actions appear misguided at best.

What al-Sadr advocated, said and did after the newspaper closure and arrest of his deputy definitely falls into the unlawful category. No doubt. No problem.

However, there are some problems. There are also some disturbing parallels. This newspaper closure doesn’t look fair or as legal as I had anticipated.

I plan to share some media law relating to the situation and cover some legalities of concern to journalists. I'll primarily reference a 10-year-old text. I wouldn’t expect a landmark overturning of the final few cases, but it could have happened (I never expected the USA PATRIOT Act to pass or Congress to hand the keys of the military to the president – these are unusual times). If there is a specific case which makes the following moot, please send me a note so I can be accurate and up to date.

I've seen a lot of grumbling on both sides of the closure of al-Hawza, the radical, anti-American Shiite weekly Iraqi newspaper linked to al-Sadr.

When I started writing this entry, I expected to briefly explain some landmark Supreme Court cases about how any U.S. newspaper could be legally closed. I (mis)understood al-Hawza had published one particular story calling for the death of so-and-so or some other act of violence - as would warrant a newspaper closure (it's unlawful to call for violence).

I hunted around the Web to find a translation of the actual story which lead to the closure of al-Hawza. I even have a literal in-house translator. Instead, I find the paper was closed because it reported falsely, didn't have correct facts, lied, whatever.

Hopefully everyone knows the majority of the Middle Eastern media make American supermarket tabloid publications appear legitimate. Additionally, this particular publication is widely portrayed as exceedingly intolerant.

However, I'm concerned when international news agencies accept the CPA explanation and didn't ask for the specific story which caused the closure of a newspaper.

Most publications state something similar to a UPI story, which states, “The CPA said the newspaper was closed for 60 days because it advocated violence against the coalition.”

This is not the primary source. The UPI story didn't give a translation of the original text or explain the nature of the original text. It truthfully reports the CPA "said" something, but it didn't check the underlying facts. This may be precisely the problem that caused the closure of al-Hawza. They quoted someone without independently investigating the facts.

According to an Associated Press story, "the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, ordered Al-Hawza closed for two months on Sunday because its articles ‘form a serious threat of violence’ against coalition forces and Iraqi citizens working with them."

He used CPA order No. 14 as his legal basis. He wrote the order, therefore he should darn well know the order's terms. It clearly states "incite" violence or disorderly conduct. This is not the U.S. standard set to halt a press.

In the U.S., there must be a specific story making a specific and actionable call for violence against the government – not an implied threat to possibly make this call. By definition, Bremer didn't even adhere to the order he wrote.

Common Dreams News Center, a less-than-neutral-source, reports “the incident that precipitated this whole round of violence was the closing of his newspaper, al-Hawza, a blatantly undemocratic act. In fact, the paper was not closed for directly advocating violence, but simply for reporting one eyewitness claim that a supposed car bombing that killed numerous volunteers for the New Iraqi defense forces was actually done by plane (and therefore by the United States).”

U.S. Standard to close a newspaper
In short, a newspaper – any newspaper in the United States – can be closed by the government. However, the government can ONLY order a closure once the paper has already called for the violent overthrow of the government.

Furthermore, the government isn't allowed to exercise "prior restraint" (censorship). Rather, it must pursue "subsequent punishment" for dissemination of an unlawful form of communication. Meaning, the government can't close or censor a publication because it thinks it might call for some violent action. The publication must have already called for a violent action against the United States government.

This is a tough standard.

Luckily for the CPA administrators, they're not acting in America. Otherwise, they would need to deal with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Legal precedents
The First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

This Amendment allows newspapers to exist relatively unfettered by the government. If Congress can't make laws prohibiting someone from running a press, nobody else can impose rules, laws or ordinances against this same press.

Other media – specifically radio and television – are transmitted on public airwaves and can be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). So, I'll only address press-based media (newspapers, magazines, journals, handbills, and {possibly} Web-based publications) for this entry.

This protection allows for a free exchange of ideas in the public arena. Since the written word – and photographs by association – require the active participation of the reader, the same reader has the right not to read anything they wish not to read. Again, other media are different because of their passive nature. Right Miss Jackson?

Although this is a critical entitlement in America, it's balanced against other protected rights. For example, the right to live is more important than freedom of religion, speech or press. This explains why newspapers are prohibited from publishing certain names in some specific instances (i.e. court "gag orders").

However, there are some exceptions. Evince the 1919 Supreme Court decision in Schenck v. U.S. (249 U.S. 47). The case resulted from the Espionage Act of 1917, which was expanded in 1918 by the Sedition Act. Congress passed the act shortly after the start of World War I. It was designed to stop anti-war activists.

According to "Major Principles of Media Law" (1993 edition), anti-war activists (specifically socialists) distributed 15,000 leaflets for military recruits and draftees. The textbook states, "They urged the draftees not to serve and called the war a cold-blooded venture for the profit of big business."


Anyway, the socialists' First Amendment argument for the legality of the leaflets was rejected. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. stated:
  • "We admit that in many places and in ordinary times the defendants in saying all that was said in the circular would have been within their constitutional rights. But the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent." (emphasis added)

Holmes also made the analogy: "free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."

If the legal precedents ended here, then the CPA would be justified in its actions. However it doesn't, and they aren't.

Holmes eased up his minority views in later sedition cases, but most cases were upheld during the war.

The 1940 Alien Registration Act, known as the Smith Act, was attached to an unrelated bill and passed under the radar of most free speech advocates for several months. This new law not only prohibited advocating the forceful overthrow of the government (with little or no proof of ability to do so), but it also made it a crime to participate in or advocate any such group (i.e. communists). Furthermore, this new law applied during peacetime as well as during war. Meanwhile, politicians invented the term "Cold War" for additional rump coverage.

This law was continually upheld at the Supreme Court and led to McCarthyism through the 1950s. In 1957 a newer Supreme Court member, Chief Justice Earl Warren, helped curb the Red Scare and restore freedom of speech.

In Yates v. U.S. (354 U.S. 298), the court reversed convictions by focusing on "the advocacy and teaching of concrete action for the forcible overthrow of the Government, and not of principles divorced from action." Consequently, proof was required to convict.

Then came the Vietnam War and millions of vocal protesters. Most wanted to change the government and were allowed to voice their opinions because the way was cleared by the Supreme Court.

Believe it or not, the freaking Ku Klux Klan then expanded free speech further in Brandenburg v. Ohio (395 U.S. 444). The court ruled the First Amendment should not permit sanctions for political speech unless it threatens to provoke imminent lawless action.

This decision created the need for later "hate speech" laws.

Let's recap: The socialists, the communists and even the KKK secured the speech freedoms extended to all Americans. These aren't loved groups. American democracy is hard to live with. It means we must protect the rights of extremely dislikable people to ensure our own rights. During this unusual time, American resolve is being tested. Let us not fail.

Enough for now,

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Online petition seeks BOP and POYi reunification

The Web site A Photo A Day launched a voting petition to reunite the NPPA sponsored Best of Photojournalism (BOP) and Missouri School of Journalism annual Pictures of the Year International (POYi) competitions. The two organizations separated their competition a few years ago.

Consequently, there are now two competitions. BOP is free and open to all professional photojournalists. POYi has an entry fee and is open to all competitors.
On the surface, it looks like this allows more opportunities for photojournalists to be recognized for their accomplishments. In reality, the same photographers win the same awards in both competitions. Occasionally they don't, then one must speculate which set of judges was better. Either way, it creates more work for time-strapped photographers to enter two contests with two different formats without a true "national champion" for the year.

The petition has a space for a comment and photographers can choose (vote) to agree or disagree with the petition. They are posting the names and affiliations of voters, but not the direction of the vote.

Enough for now,

04/13/2004 UPDATE:

NPPA's Best Of Photojournalism Contest Committee member Joe Elbert responded to an online petition with an open letter to concerned parties.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Pulitzer Prize congratulations

The Pulitzer Prizes were awarded today. Congratulations to all the winners.

I am particularly happy about David Leeson and Cheryl Diaz Meyer winning the Pulitzer for breaking news photography. They won with their coverage as embedded journalists with U.S. military units on the way to Baghdad - Cheryl with the Marines’ Second Tank Battalion, and David with the Army’s Third Infantry Division. Please read about it here and see the entry presentation here.

Enough for now,

What’s in the trunk?

PJs tend to have cluttered cars. This clutter is partially to camouflage our expensive equipment. Newspapers are light and cover a lot. I use two black queen-sized sheets to cover everything. The rest of the clutter is all the stuff we occasionally need but never know we need until we need it. So, we carry everything every day.

I started my pro PJ career in a 1968 Volkswagon Bug packed with all kinds of things. The title of this blog mentions a trunk. Bugs don't really have a functional trunk. I simply threw all this stuff - along with tripods, light stands, etc. - in the back seat and the funny-little-clown-car space over the engine. Now, most of us have SUVs. So for the sake of this blog, let's count the whole vehicle as our storage space. OK? Cool.

Duct tape
First, two words: DUCT TAPE. Technically, we use "professional gaffers tape." It's matte black and little more expensive, but it does the same job. There is no underestimating the importance of duct tape for holding down wires, keeping items together, sealing holes and being extra hands.

Gaffer's tape is waterproof and leaves less residue when removed. It's also harder to spot in images because it's black and non-reflective.

Cell phone
Equally important is a mobile phone. Even if it's a pre-paid, use-only-in-emergencies version, get one. I lived without one for years. Now I can't. It's a literal life saver in some instances.

Auto safety
Before I go too far, I'll give a note of caution about theft. As equipment has gotten more expensive and easier to use, the underworld has started targeting news vehicles for smash-and-grab theft.

Consequently, an alarm is required equipment on a PJ's vehicle. It's a tax deduction as well, so there's no reason to be without it. Many newspapers reimburse PJs for the expenses when the bean-counters hear the one-time $300 system is protecting $20,000+ equipment.

As an additional protection, some PJs bolt steel cases with locks and padded interiors into their trucks to protect equipment from theft.

Another car-related side note is to always keep headlights turned on. I've covered many horrible wrecks and many could have been avoided. Headlights allow other preoccupied drivers to see your car quicker. They also trick drivers into thinking your car is closer than it actually is.

Seat belts and airbags are good once you're in the wreck. Headlights prevent the wreck. I prefer the latter.

Since we're talking about light, flashlights are extremely useful. I keep at least two (one is rechargeable). They are useful from car repair to finding stuff hidden in the pile of junk we are talking about today. In an absolute worst-case scenario, tape it to a light stand and get the shot you need when your flash dies.

Keep detailed (atlas version) map books of any common metro areas you cover. There are several different city guides for Texas metro areas. I have many of them. PJs also need state and national maps or atlases to cover breaking news during emergencies.

First aid and tools
We all need some emergency items. Keep a first aid kit. I'll dedicate a future blog to this topic. We also carry road flares, a heavy-duty jack, jumper cables, a tow rope, a can of Fix-A-Flat, fuses and a well-stocked tool box. Many times, we carry these items to help other people. But when we need them, they are handy.

Food and water
Next, we tend to always carry food and water. Bottled water is best. I carry a case of small bottles so I can offer it to people as needed (reporters rarely carry water for some reason).

Food is wide open. As a general rule, carry something that can withstand extreme heat, cold and won't rot.

Obviously, canned food is best. Remember to rotate your supplies (replace cans with newer cans) fairly frequently because a car isn't a nice place for anything. Put canned foods in a larger plastic box to keep them from rolling around or becoming projectiles if your vehicle gets hit.

freeze-dried food are the best for long-term use. These are the best foods to throw in the trunk and forget until they're needed. They're also light weight and easy to carry to breaking news or the sudden assignment on a military base (where you can't buy anything without a military ID).

On the down side, these almost always require water to reconstitute. They also tend to be rather pricey compared to hydrated food.

Hard hat
A hard hat is a good purchase. You know where it has been (as opposed to those offered at construction sites - the pink ones for contractors who forgot theirs). These are really cheap and available at most of the super-duper home improvement stores.

I suggest investing a buck or two extra to get one with a comfortable headband and a foam pad between your scalp and the webbing. The one suggested above is the only OSHA approved ventilated hard hat.

Remember the brim interferes with a flash, so you might consider the ball cap style (worn backward). It's easiest to remove the webbing and reinsert it backwards. If you have great access to fires, invest in a more expensive firefighter hardhat.

Personally, I prefer to spray paint mine matte black to avoid reflections, but some worksites demand bright colors (white, yellow, orange) and may create some hassle.

A bright orange mesh safety vest with reflective tape is useful when you're too close to highways. It also makes you look like the other construction workers in areas where you might be shooting without explicit permission. *wink*

Although some people keep an entire change of clothes for last-minute funerals and such (I know, but it really happens), I only keep a spare shirt. I also carry two jackets: one leather and one hooded waterproof windbreaker (in a stuff bag). I have a third coat I actually wear, but these two jackets are normally in my truck. I have often needed to offer my jackets to other people.

Although some people prefer nylon jackets for their animal-friendly approach, I had one torch right off my back when I rode atop a Zamboni and leaned against the exhaust pipe. I've also had a few suddenly-off-the-motorcycle experiences and was thankful for the extra layer of skin.

I also carry waterproof pants (in a stuff bag). These are more helpful than you might imagine for sports. As an added bonus, the bright yellow makes you look so fashionable while covering roadside fatalities. I was too tired to take them off one night and Fayrouz literally fell on the floor laughing at me (she had never seen me actually wearing them).

I also have several pairs of gloves with slightly different purposes. My favorites are trigger mittens from my Army days. They are long mittens with wool liners and leather palms and a finger section protruding from one side. There is an arctic version of the same with fur and serious liners, but I haven't ever seen a pair for sale.

In the old days I carried a sleeping bag and tent, but I have never needed them for myself. However, I think a blanket is a good idea. In a pinch a blanket can be made into a litter to carry injured people.

Step stool
An item of great use is a step stool. A heavy-duty 4-foot ladder (the four-footed, freestanding version) is popular with many photographers. This will let you shoot over walls, crowds, or get a different angle on something mundane.

Place the step stool on a piece of plywood if you don't want to find yourself slowly sinking into the mud on location.

Power inverter
Electronically, a 400 watt or greater power inverter has become a necessity in the last few years. I use it to charge batteries between shoots and power my Mac laptop when I have to transmit from the truck.

I also have an older Sportcat scanner to let me know what's happening around me and where to follow breaking news. The daily chatter will drive anyone nuts, so I don't listen as often as I should. However, it is really helpful once I'm on breaking news.

Another good idea is to carry a tiny, inexpensive television set. With breaking news, the helicopters normally get to the scene first. The live images from them can help steer you to be in the best ground position. Sometimes their shots will even let you know how best to avoid police roadblocks or paths through natural disaster areas.

I am not suggesting it is a great idea to keep up with the daily soap operas, but the "emergency television" is a functional tool if you still had some room left in your stuffed car.

Another item of importance is hand sanitizer. I keep both bacteria-killing wipes and hand sanitizer with aloe in my car. Sanitizer is important.

One of the staffers was covering a several-million-gallon sewage leak this week. He was walking in the soft, brown muck. He slipped. He fell. He was able to catch himself and support the entire weight of his body on one finger until he could regain balance. He used an entire bottle of sanitizer to clean his finger, hand, arm and anything else that might have been splattered with ooze. Sanitizer is important.

Insect repellents
Repellents are a must. Repellents with DEET are favored. I keep a can of Deep Woods Off because I love the smell. ;-)
Another itchy problems include sunburn (solved with a bottle of medicated aloe vera - the blue one). It takes the pain away when you feel like a piece of hard bacon after a long S.W.A.T. standoff.

If you live in the south, it might also be wise to carry some sulfur in a sock. Pat it onto your legs before you go into tall grass to keep the chiggers from making your evening into a scratchfest.

Back-up camera
Lastly, consider keeping a back-up film camera, an inexpensive lens and a roll or two of film in a cooler. I have wandered out my door with my equipment and gotten to the shoot to realize I forgot the camera bodies. OOPS!

I had a battle-damaged FM hidden under a seat, and it did the assignment. I was the only one (until now) who knew anything was wrong.

Some of the other staffers use consumer point-and-shoot cameras as main cameras when it's pointless to use the big rigs (hurricanes and sandstorms come to mind). Extremely rarely, getting "the" image is more important than the quality. I can't believe I wrote it, but I know it's true.

Enough for now,

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Championship jump

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Duncanville's Kenny Boutsabouabane (No. 2, right) jumps over the block attempt of Coppell's Jordan Roach (No. 18, left) during a boys soccer playoff game at Pennington Field in Bedford on Saturday, April 3, 2004. Coppell won the game 3-0 and advances to the state championship.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Il Mulino Zabaglione

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Il Mulino restaurant offers mixed berries with hot zabaglione at the restaurant on Thursday, April 1, 2004.


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Former American Idol finalist Nikki McKibbin prepares a sign for karaoke night at Fat Ted's bar and grill on Commerce Avenue in Dallas on Thursday, April 1, 2004.

Before you go, go

I was talking with Matt Rourke a while back and mentioned the importance of always carrying water and food in my truck. We never know where we'll be or how long we'll be there.

He agreed, but said he tries not to drink water during shoots. More importantly, he said he runs to the restroom before he scrambles to a breaking news assignment. These two facts are linked if you consider it.

He's right. It's darn hard to focus when you can't see because of the pain.

Once we're on location, we're frequently trapped. It's a matter of bearing the pain if we didn't think ahead. Consequently, it's better to be two minutes late than to miss the event because you had to (re)leave. More frequently PJs are "in position" (at breaking news) for several hours before something happens anyway, so it's time well spent.

Avoid taking the camera
Most of us know to visit the restroom frequently. An additional problem occurs on sports shoots or at public events. What do you do with the camera?

No matter how innocent it is to you, people give us strange looks if we march into a crowded public restroom with a camera. I think it would be even worse if this occurs in an area with predominantly children.

So, do everyone a favor and use the facility before you break out the camera. I typically tell the people at the gate who I am (without equipment) and tell them I would like to use the facility before I get my gear. They understand, and nobody gives me grief.

If the shoot is at a stadium, there's typically one restroom in the press box. Since you need to get rosters and such anyway, it's the best opportunity because nobody is going to mess with your gear while it's unattended.

Where are some other choice places?
Government buildings – particularly city halls – have nice, clean restrooms. City halls are typically labeled clearly on detailed city maps like those available in metro areas.

Gas stations are another likely option. However, some major convenience store/gas station chains don't offer public restrooms and others are just nasty.

Many public parks have restrooms as well. Most maps clearly show all the parks nearest your present location as well. But, these tend to be the poster-child of nasty. Avoid this option if possible.

Large banks tend to have really spiffy restrooms. However, I reserve this option for "special occasions."

More than enough for now,