CHASING NEWS STORIES
THE NEWS CHASER
News and event photographers are a unique breed. You bear witness, you see the events that others see later. Well, sometimes... You have to be objective and stand clear of the emotion, you have to be above it, you need the instincts of the hunter and the brazenness of a party crasher and good legs, you will be standing and walking and running a lot.
Rarely do you pick the assignments, you are chosen, some fun, some great and some so against anything you believe in. When I was a tad younger I enjoyed the chase. Some call it the “Gotcha Syndrome".
It is believed the bigger the paper, the more interesting the jobs. It's called access and communication with sources. Smaller papers in small neighborhoods seem to scale the excitement to the level of that area and some of the topics never seem to make the big screen unless something goes horribly wrong.
There is no question, disaster sells papers, even in this modern age of the screen and the cell phone and the iPods. Many of the great shots are simply because you were there, you got there, or you were lucky enough to be “ re-positioned by close association with a snitch”.
PATIENCE OF JOB
ON THE JOB
From the Bible Book of Job where Job demonstrated faith and patience with God while suffering many severe trials. Political chasing is work, tedious, waiting for the moment, not getting in the way of handlers and press boobies. Pictures tell you a lot. Especially if the question is not the one there is a prepared answer for or the answer is not a good one. Boom mikes miss little and careful answers are a must. Thus, the word 'mis-quote and the word mis-spoke" are very commonly used. In journalism "retraction" is an absolute.
The questions usually come while trying to escape to their car and the Kumbaya News Marathon usually surrounds the escapee trying to get to his car. Most of the time the protection runs blocking, but some like Charlie Crist is not shy while getting the questions from one of our local town reporters whose specialty is a cross between investigative reporting and Tampa Bay public affairs.
Besides the late Bill Young, Charlie Crist always had or made the time for me and I appreciated that. he didn’t play dodge ball.
And when some ran or didn’t answer, we sent in John Sipos of CBS and WFLA.
And he relentlessly at times would get in your face. Gotta love it. Reporter and friend, John did an excellent job of getting the truth out.
Almost a lost art with the creative writing skills of some pseudo media outlets pretending to be news. With John the poignant question did get asked out loud and the mike will be ready for an answer. When it comes to news he has no reverse gear. Sadly this August, 2016 John passed away during heart surgery.
SOCIETY OF ST VINCENT DE PAUL
One year, as you will see, things come your way unannounced or unexpected. I received a call from John asking what I had planned for the day and I explained things were up in the air and nothing concrete since I did not get a panic call from any of the charities.
Grab your gear, and pick me up he said, we’ll head down to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, one of the larger street aid facilities in the United States. They have fed on the average as many as 700 people a day in the St. Petersburg facility.
OK, I grabbed my camera bag and my Chef’s knife case, just in case, cooking for charitable causes with skills learned which paid for my college. I usually do volunteer during holidays, I was prepared to multi-task Thanksgiving. Whats up, I asked John in the car and he said, “Oh, the Governor will probably show up around 10:30”. I thought he was kidding. We do that a lot to each other. I said, “You didn’t tell me that".
John and I arrived about ten and there were people all over the property which is a good sized facility in St. Petersburg. They were awaiting the Thanksgiving meal. Their new kitchen replaced a smaller one that had been operational since 1985. They offered for their guests, a warm welcome, and three nutritious, quality meals every day of the year, averaging about 700 a day, 21,000 per month, 252,000 a year.
GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER?
About 10:28, two black large SUV's turned the corner, parked in front, and after checking the area, the FDLE, the Governor and Mrs. Crist stepped out. In trail, these folks move fast, we went into the facility through the kitchen entrance, trying to get a few shots.
About twelve or fifteen staff were in the kitchen doing what kitchen staff do. We called it “ The conga line" where I learned kitchen chores on a mass scale. They were prepping hundreds of plated meals. What a well organized event.
People knew what they had to do and they followed their assignments. But as I entered the main hall, I was floored by the amount of people who had volunteered. I can take these floorings everyday, this is what volunteering is all about, serving others.
It was like a small army. I saw teams setting tables and chairs, food servers, pie servers, and drink servers all split up into groups to make the large service work as smooth as possible. I was impressed.
Within a few minutes the doors were opened and each of the "guests" were warmly welcomed by staff, an army of volunteers and they were seated for their Thanksgiving meal. One of the directors gave the invocation and then asked Gov. Charley Crist to say a few words.
It amazed me, I had tasted some of it in the kitchen. Excellent restaurant quality literally seasoned with a lot of love. Cooking for four or five and cooking for four or five hundred is a different philosophy.
The menu consisted of turkey, with stuffing, cranberry, pole beans in a hollandaise sauce, mashed and sweet potatoes, home baked rolls and muffins, and tea. Fresh baked pie for desert, a very traditional and hearty meal.
Thats why they had teams because as soon as one person finished their entree, the pie servers were right on the spot so as to open the seat for the next guest. Very efficient. This allowed fast turns as many were waiting on line.
A rough guess was 160 seated at a time. All the seats were filled. Both the Governor and Mrs. Crist took their turns at serving the meals assisted by the volunteers.
It gave the Governor the opportunity to get some feedback from these folks who simply asked for jobs that would get them out of their situation.
I felt something good happening that took place this day. If I went back 24 hours in time, before I knew what we were doing, I felt some anxiety and thus I could tell you how people feel during the holidays with no real plans.
I understood what “ Holiday depression" can be all about. I once did a story that involved my own family. My wife, was always very ‘ Cautious’ about the Holidays. One Christmas she lost a brother to a fire that was intentionally started at a Christmas party by a recently fired disgruntled employee.
She was upset at the company, and tossed a strong alcoholic drink on the Christmas tree followed by a match. My wife’s brother missing a friend, ran back in to the fire, he was the only one lost. A year later, her niece died driving to a Christmas party also in Colorado during a freak and sudden snow obstruction, ran off the cliff in the high mountains, took three days till someone found the wreck.
The holiday season, begins with Thanksgiving and continues through New Year's Day and folks have to focus. Especially those who have been displaced by mis-fortune. Realistically, holidays are stress creators. Relationships are key, every family has some form of dysfunctional apparent in some way to each other and to those outside their family. To others, gifting and shopping is stressful, trying to be both politically and financially correct. These are really sociological stress points of the season.
Real depression can be loneliness, no home, living on the street, not knowing the future, no plans, or chances for change. Organizations like the SVDP may be the most important and closest link with civility these folks have. And thats because of the special people, the volunteers. There was little I could of added to help. They had all the bases covered. We stayed about three hours and the Governor left for other commitments.
ONE FOR THE BIRDS
SPIFFS - I remember covering the downtown one day with two noobie shooters, very new photographers. It was, during a city celebration that pertained to all the ethnicities we had living in our town. It’s called SPIFFS. The St. Petersburg International Folk Fair Society brings it on every year with the parades and dances, exhibitions, arts crafts and FOOD. Great FOOD and that always catches my attention.
Incredible diversity, and tremendous exposure to other ethnicities and did I mention great food. So great it ends in a great eat-off containing live entertainment and every ethnic food available. It was worth attending just for the food alone. I liked that idea since I got to eat too, swapping prints for ribs, baklava, and jerk chicken. Love that jerk flavor and a cold one. It’s also a great chance for me as I write a food blog and hack away in the kitchen as a hobby.
But, it was otherwise predictable since it occurs year after year. Nothing unusual, and I was looking for something for a story. I was dreaming of being in Daytona at the 500, or at Lakeland for the Sun and Fun Fly-in. The things you do that make the job interesting. Since I love fast cars and faster airplanes I write a lot of what I like. Yes, there was a ladies dog walking precision team, marching to music...no Pulitzer for that one.
Today was not going to be that day. Very hot for November and doldrums were getting to me. Since it was on the waterfront, I grabbed my two trainee sidekicks, swung over to and near the great water ski exhibition. Ok, the only real action shooting other than beer crashes in the parking lots. Hmmm...maybe we could get some aerials of the ski-jumpers.
All was normal till the pull boat swung wide and slips thru a flock of Sea Gulls waiting for their turn on the smorgasbord. Some didn't make it and some were crippled floundering with obvious injuries.
Now I’m no fan of gulls since I live near the water and they are noisy and like our NAFTA agreement tend to dump on us whenever they want, especially after you washed your car. BUT animals, injured, any animals in pain, those rescues are another story and I approached the ski-boat driver and asked him nicely if he would take me out there and I would bring in the injured birds, being experienced at it, like myriads of rescues.
He told me where to go. I politely asked him again. My two interns on my signal were cranking away. And so was my blood pressure, and more important my Radio Shack cassette tape player was going. This was a while back like thirty years ago.
Something about three guys with cameras and I asked one more time, and explained I had his comments, I had the pictures, and I also knew I had a story, not a favorable one for him but presented right , I could make him a hero or a villain.
Instead he had a change of heart, no choice really, and agreed the show could wait a minute or two and that he really was an animal lover. I handed my gear to the new guys and two of us got in the boat, I grabbed the dead bird, put him/her in a box and then the fun began.
Grabbing a wounded sea gull is work for handlers like myself who do this for the now defunct Seabird Sanctuary. But no one told the birds I was there to help them. We got the two survivors after much nipping and biting, of me ...
We took the birds to the Seabird Sanctuary on the beach and thinking we would just drop them off, I figured I was done. Nope, Dr. Heath, noted Avian veterinary surgeon, performed a wing removal and I photographed the whole operation on the first one; the other really guy was too far gone and died.
Though the gull will be an amputee, it will live at the Sanctuary and procreate and be fed, otherwise having a normal Sea Gull life, minus one wing, and I named him Jonathan... I think they named him Jonathan 21,326, oh, that was before the web... I had the story… and a tetanus shot later that day to play safe upon the advise of the good Dr. Heath. I also learned that Seabirds, almost all birds don’t get a pain killer as we know it, heart and pumping system can’t handle it. They get a hallucinogen and a pretty wild trip. I learned something every day on the job.
ENDLESS COMMUNITY ACTIVITY
Then there's the public relations stuff, the endless stories of what's going on about town. I got that too, from the boring community parades that showcase the girls twirling team; the latest mix-up at the tax collectors office; to the constant barrage of politicians getting in hot water; the clergy misadventures in abuse; and affairs between teachers and students.
Sooner or later we get a biggie but much of the chasing is routine and certainly will not put you in contention for the next Pulitzer Prize.
In the old days we had scanners conveniently tuned into the police frequencies and the supplier of these crystals was no other than Radio Shack. They also used to publish a book that had all the police and municipal frequencies for the United States.
When portable phones came about, we had these ten pound boxes in our cars hooked to a dispatcher. One or iPhone does it all now or a Samsung with its most popular ring, the theme from "Chariots of Fire”.
TEACHING IS A GREAT REWARD
One of the best pastimes for me was taking groups of students who were enrolled in my photo classes on field trips to local places of interest like parks, museums and zoos. On of my favorites was Busch Gardens and a certain young lady who took my classes became years later the photo editor for the most prestigious women’s magazine. I first met her when she was thirteen. The gal with the million dollar smile on my right was Dolly my wife of thirty-one glorious years till she passed in 2007.
PRESIDENTIAL AWARD FOR TOMMY FRANKS
(The Times Forum) Tampa Florida - These are photos of the private pre-ceremony party which took place before the Change of the CENTCOM Command was changed over. Retiring General Tommy Franks who led the war to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban and Iraq from Saddam Hussein turned over the Regimental Colors to General John Abizaid.
Tommy Franks then retired after receiving the award from Donald Rumsfeld.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was the ranking official at the ceremony spoke of the importance of these two warriors in the battle against terrorism. Who knew at this time there were three years of door to door fighting and 4000 American Troops Killed in Action awaiting us.
Poor after planning and a lack of good intelligence left us in an unfavorable position in the world, economically, strategically, politically and with ramifications and debt our children will have to absorb.
In attendance were friends of the General, from left to right Mr. Neal McCoy, Mrs. Franks, Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Newton and various local dignitaries. Country Singer Neal McCoy and Crooner Wayne Newton donate many unselfish hours to the USO and entertaining our troops overseas along with many of the stars that appeared at the Freedom Concert.
CENTCOM MEMORIAL FUNDRAISER
September 1, 2003 Hyatt Hotel, Gen. Tommy and Mrs. Franks are bordered by Dolly and Alan Jacobson.
Tampa, Florida- Guest Speaker Gen. Tommy Franks (USA Ret.) - A guest appearance and speech by the architect of the "March to Baghdad", the fast assault on the regime of Saddam Hussein and his gang of thugs.
This was followed months later by the "Mission Accomplished " statement by the President which officially started the Grand Ten Year War of Insurgency which continues on today.
General Franks returned to his home state after retirement serving his country above and beyond the call of duty. Today he makes frequent appearances on the speaking circuit. Well the times have changed and he was lucky he got out at the right time.
Things move quick, 24 or so hours after this shot of Gen. Petraeus and myself was taken he was redirected to Afghanistan. Less than a year later he's back to run the CIA. We both had the steak with Brazilian Chimmichurra dressing. Many of the Generals who retired in the past five years have served the Central Command (CENTCOM) with the latest field commander being General Petraeus appearing about every five months in front of Congress.
I truly believe he like many great warriors would rather be on the lines in Afghanistan rather than in the Congressional do nothing war zone. at least in Afghanistan you can shoot back….
St. Petersburg Times Forum
(The Times Forum - TAMPA -June 11th, 2003) Photograper: Al Jacobson
An incredible evening, a musical “Thank You” to our servicemen and their families at the St. Pete Times Forum. The concert was attended by over 13,000 service members, retires and their families. Among those Country music’s best were:
• Charlie Daniels • Lee Greenwood • Jo Dee Messina • Darryl Worley • Chris Cagle
• Rebecca Lynn Howard • Ashley Gearing • And a surprise solo by General Tommy Franks who brought the house down. But he wasn’t offered any contracts or future events.
The real stars were in the audience...The concert, which was free to all attendees, drew over 13,000 people, and was attended by Gen. Tommy Franks. Gov. Jeb Bush and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio who served as the Honorary Chairs of the event.
The concerts goal was to recognize all members of the military and was being held in Tampa, because it's the home of the U.S. Central Command, Special Operations Command and MacDill Air Force Base.
The concert is part of the Department of Defense’s “Operation Tribute to Freedom,” a sustained and widespread program of activities in appreciation of our men and women in uniform and the families that support them.
THE COALITION DINNER
13 JUL2003 Al La Carte Pavilion, TAMPA Florida
Sponsored by Pepin Distributing, Outback Steakhouse, Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay with Over 40 countries participating.
The food was incredible. Provided by OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE Catering. Pepin Distributing handled the libation and the entertainment was provided by Busch Gardens. To preserve the fun of the evening and let all attending have a great time, we were told and they limited the amount of photography.
The Outback Steakhouse Corporation was honored by the Army for their participation in "Operation OUTBACK", One, Two and Three. Over 12,000 meals delivered to our troops in Afghanistan to give our soldiers a taste of home. Thats General Abizaid on the left.
A truly remarkable, unselfish gift by an outstanding American Corporation. In addition other companies such as Anheuser-Busch and Pepin Distributors deserve merit for what they do for our troops. Coalition dinners and other events hosted by these great friends of the Military go unnoticed in the press, it’s not about recognition... it's about giving.
And the Tampa Bay Community knows how to give. It goes without saying that Tampa Bay loves the Military and that the Military loves Tampa Bay. Mentioned and toasted at the reception, Tampa Bay truly deserves the recognition it deserves for it's support of the troops, their families and allied personnel.Companies such as The Outback Steakhouse and others have led the way.
Gen. Abizaid- Paul Avery President Outback
JEB BUSH'S READING PROGRAM
Governor Jeb Bush Launches Reading Program:
(TAMPA - 14 Sept 2006) Governor Jeb Bush today launched Read Together, Florida, the annual one state-one book reading promotion initiative. This year's program features The Zero Game by Florida-based author Brad Meltzer. Floridians are encouraged to read the book during the month of October which will include community events at libraries, bookstores and Starbucks locations, an online crossword puzzle game, an essay contest for high school students and a grand prize, drawing for a trip to Washington, DC, with the author.
The promotion is part of the Governor's Family Literacy Initiative, managed by the nonprofit Volunteer Florida Foundation. "Reading transforms lives. It is the key to opening up the doors of opportunity and achieving success," said Governor Bush. "Since 1999, we have strived to make reading a family value through our family literacy initiative. Read Together, Florida is an expansion of that great idea, and I encourage all families to participate in this year's event by reading The Zero Game.'"
This one was a gas. Indoor-outdoor in a difficult venue because when you stuff sixty to eighty people into an area that normally holds twenty things get tight.
Like an Australian Football Scrum. And that didn't include the bodyguards and three different police departments.
The not so funny part was with all the protection for the Governor and brother of the President the new library is in a “difficult area”. A noted bad part of town, and while we were going around the block three times looking for a parking spot, we were approached by some dubious but charming dealers offering us drugs.
Less than 100 feet from the Governors entourage and a ton of cops all around. You want some stuff?” I flashed my Neighborhood Watch
Badge and witnessed the applicants for the next Olympic fastest 100
yard dash in history.
With ten video guys and reporters in front of us and a tangle of booms, mikes and cable, finally I drove right into the front of the building, left the badge on the visor barely aimed down and the officer for some reason let me park there. I gave him a can of cold soda.
New MARINE Facility for Tampa
The vision for the next five years and beyond is to create a non-profit learning center for students of all ages to learn from hands-on environmental activities that motivate them to continue to support the renewal and restoration of our coastal ecosystems for future generations.
The marine center and educational facility on Tampa Bay will serve as program headquarters and provide opportunities for students to "dig in" and "get dirty" as they apply classroom principles in real life scientific projects that carry out the bay renewal and habitat restoration work of Tampa Bay Watch.
Tampa Bay Watch has set the goal for our capital campaign at $4.5 million. We have secured our program headquarters location at Cunningham Key near Ft. De Soto Park in St. Petersburg and begun construction on an office facility. This fantastic location will give students and Tampa Bay residents the opportunity to experience the bay first-hand and to encourage them to protect it for future generations.
To date we have raised, $1.2 million, but in order achieve our goals we need to raise additional funds to accomplish our mission. Tampa Bay Watch, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit stewardship program dedicated exclusively to the charitable and scientific purpose of protecting and restoring the marine and wetland environments of the Tampa Bay estuary, the largest open water estuary in the State of Florida.
By expanding community involvement in hands-on restoration and protection projects around the bay, we strive to counteract the huge loss of wetland habitat over the past 100 years. Tampa Bay Watch trains and organizes citizen volunteers, students, at-risk youth, and civic organizations to participate in environmental projects while heightening community awareness of the fragile nature and importance of the environment.