Holy crap, it’s a real newspaper!

IMAG0095_PerfectlyClear_0001-w1200-h1200During my tenure at FoxCT I got to work closely with the reporters, managers and staff at the Hartford Courant. It was sad to see them feel they were on a sinking ship. In aggregate, these were the smartest people I’d ever worked with.

It’s not specifically the Courant that’s going down, but newspapers and print media in general. Times have been tough. Profit margins in print have vanished and turned to losses.

When I came to New Haven we subscribed to the New Haven Register and Journal-Courier. Two daily papers in little New Haven. Those days are gone.

With all respect to my friends on Sargent Drive, the Register is a pale shadow of what it was. What a shame. It suffered under horrible mismanagement long before print soured.

I came to California with low expectations for print journalism. We subscribed to the Orange County Register at Helaine’s insistence. She wanted local news.

Holy crap, it’s a real newspaper! If it’s possible to judge by a week’s worth of reading, it’s a pretty good newspaper.

A fat paper has arrived at our back door every day. Multiple sections. Big sections. Real local advertising–which is valuable information.

There is lots of local content from staff reporters and columnists. There is plenty of national news too, including syndicated stories from the New York Times, Bloomberg and AP.

The editorial page makes no qualms about its conservative, libertarian bent. We will disagree.

My cousins tell me the OC Register hit bottom before its current rebound. The reporting staff has been boosted. Its local footprint expanded. You have to pay to read, as its website has been cordoned off behind a paywall.

The economic climate is different here. SoCal is rebounding from the recession faster than Connecticut. There are no Orange County TV stations to compete against, even though the county has over three million residents. The Register is the only game in town.

No one knows if the OC Register’s current incarnation will save it or if its just digging a deeper hole. Spending to put out a better product is a concept seldom seen. Only time will tell.

I’d like to see their investment pay off. We all benefit if print gets healthy again.

Pressroom Pilgrimage

“I feel like a kid when I’m here,” I told Slim. He’s a powerful man with rough workman’s hands. He was in blue coveralls, wearing ear protection and watching over a massive Goss offset press.

“That’s how I felt when I first walked in here 36 years ago,” he replied.

I suspect he still feels that way.

The Hartford Courant presses roll early on Thursdays. I was reminded as soon as I started walking downstairs. You feel a press run before you hear it. Your feet pick it up. The stairwells vibrate.

My intention was to get a soda. It ended up a pilgrimage to the pressroom. I hadn’t been there since before my surgery.

“I feel like a kid when I’m here,” I told Slim.

He’s a powerful man with rough workman’s hands. He was in blue coveralls, wearing ear protection and watching over a massive Goss offset press.

“That’s how I felt when I first walked in here 36 years ago,” he replied.

I suspect he still feels that way.

All around me men were getting dirty as they climbed on these behemoth machines making adjustments. There is pride in making sure the paper looks just right.

Nothing in the press room is said quietly. You’ve got to outshout all the machinery… and there’s plenty.

I walked around and said hello to everyone. This is their crunch time. I didn’t want to bother them or distract them. They work with equipment that is dangerous and unforgiving.

There is something pure in this massive three story space. They are making something. They are producing a real physical product. I’ve never been in a business where you could hold what we sold in your hand.

I love this place.

My Story In The Courant

Though it doesn’t officially run until Sunday’s Courant, my recap of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene is online.

I love writing and am thrilled the Courant chose to publish this. Thanks to Carolyn Lumsden, Editorial Page Editor, and Peter Pach, Op-Ed Editor, for saying yes.

Print journalism is special. It is the seed corn from which most of what you read elsewhere originates. These are tough times for print. Print needs to find a way to survive.

I Help In All Departments

I checked and double checked and at one point even had someone looking over my shoulder to make sure everything I said was absolutely right.

If you walk into Home Depot you see people wearing aprons saying: “I help in all departments.” That was me this week at work.

I was in the Weather Center Thursday afternoon when Hugh Owen walked over. Hugh is the front page editor for the Courant. FoxCT and the Courant are one and the same. We are commonly owned and share a newsroom.

Hugh was there because Mara Lee was writing a story on the impact of winter. I was asked to add some technical expertise to a second story showing the nuts and bolts of this crazy weather.

Over the next few hours I spoke with Hugh, business editor Dan Harr and graphic designer Wes Rand. They questioned and probed.

TV news and news in a newspaper are very different. Newspapers have much more room for detail and depth. I’m not sure an entire newscast would fill a full newspaper page! That demands everyone involved have a more thorough understanding of the story.

I was excited and pleased to be involved. I checked and double checked and at one point even had someone looking over my shoulder to make sure everything I said was absolutely right.

Friday morning the Courant hit the street with the product of our labor. I was quoted in the story and credited for providing the data for the graphic. Between those credits and an ad for FoxCT I was mentioned on the front page three times. Usually you need to commit a major crime to get that level or notoriety!

I’m pretty buzzed about it. No lie.

When I went to work on Broad Street I hoped I could get involved in this way. Mission accomplished.

I Took Clicky To My Favorite Place At FoxCT (photos)

This is not a dainty job. It’s staffed by hard working people who get dirty! They must stay focused. The equipment doesn’t forgive mistakes.

We don’t just produce television where I work. We publish a newspaper, The Hartford Courant. The whole shooting match is done in our building, right down to printing the paper.

Saturday, during a lull in my hurricane tracking duties I went to the presses. They are three stories tall! Powerful. Loud. Massive.

In a typical week well over a million papers run through those presses. On a typical day it’s millions of pages.

This is not a dainty job. It’s staffed by hard working people who get dirty! They must stay focused. The equipment doesn’t forgive mistakes.

Take a close look at the facility. Beautifully maintained. Spotless. A lot of pride on display.

Here’s a little of what I saw.

After An Exciting Weekend It’s Back To Work

Dan told me I could show up at 3:00 PM Monday. Yeah, fat chance! It’s my first day. I’ll be early.

It was a rainy Sunday night, but I still took the drive up to Hartford to get another look at the weather equipment I’ll be using at FoxCT. The forecast itself will be formulated the same way as before. How I show it is totally different!

Dan Amarante was there tonight working. He helped me get a feel for it. Comfort and ease won’t happen overnight!

It’s been a pretty exciting weekend. Over 5,000 people have shown up on my brand new “Fox on Fox” Facebook page (click the like button on the right hand side of this page to be part of the fun). A new 15 second promo began airing Friday. Today’s Hartford Courant was wrapped with a single sheet which included a half page ad featuring me.

We all have our weaknesses. Mine is print journalism! Seeing this ad in the newspaper is just incredible. I can assure you an ad like this is a first for me.

Monday is my first real working day. Dan told me I could show up at 3:00 PM. Yeah, fat chance! I’ll be early.

I’m very excited.

A Busy Day At Work And I’m Not Even Working Yet!

I love my friends back in New Haven, but only now do I see what we were missing.

I’m suffering jet lag without leaving the state! Up very early (for me–not real people) the last two days I’m in some sort of blurry stupor. One more early day to come Friday. I’ll be on with Chaz and AJ on WPLR 99.1 at 8:00 AM then Colin McEnroe on Connecticut Public Radio (www.wnpr.org) at 1:00 PM. I hope the car knows the way home on its own!

I was at work by 10:00 AM to join the celebration of FoxCT receiving three dozen Emmy nominations and to be officially announced as a new hire. Three dozen Emmy nominations at one station is a pretty big deal.

The rest of the next few hours were taken up shooting photos with the weather team and taping pieces of promos which begin airing this weekend.

I want to try and explain the differences between FoxCT and WTNH. The most obvious is size!

With both newspaper (Hartford Courant) and TV station sharing a large newsroom there’s an obvious focus on news gathering. Desks were populated. Folks were on the phone working stories. The assignment desk was buzzing.

The whole place is orders of magnitude bigger than where I’ve been working. In New Haven we had around 100 employees (maybe less by now?). In Hartford there are over 600. There are departments of people the economies of scale wouldn’t allow at the old place. It shows in how the vehicles and equipment are maintained.

I love my friends back in New Haven, but only now do I see what we were missing.

More than anything the attitude is different. At FoxCT people seem to feel they’re working with a viable product and the business can be grown. Back on Elm Street it often felt the main goal was to control the bleeding.

Maybe this sounds like sour grapes? I’m the first to admit I’d still be driving to Elm Street had I been offered continuing employment. On the other hand I wouldn’t have known any of this had I not lucked into this situation.

I’ve Got TV Visitation Rights

I wasn’t in the building five minutes when I ran into MaryEllen Fillo. This evening her Java blog proclaims: Geoff Fox Visits Fox CT Newsroom.”

Back when I was gainfully employed I seldom visited other TV stations. Now it’s different. I drove up to Hartford to see some friends at the Courant and FoxCT. It’s a very impressive place!

Both the TV station and newspaper are located in a state-of-the-art building on Broad Street at the edge of downtown. They share a common newsroom which meant lots of busy people. I miss that electricity.

I saw lots of old friends–all smiling.

I wasn’t in the building five minutes when I ran into MaryEllen Fillo. This evening her Java blog proclaims: “Geoff Fox Visits Fox CT Newsroom.”

Guilty as charged! However, as of tonight I have nothing to report… except they misspelled my name.

HDR Photography At Lake Watrous

There are a few other little tweaks I did which I’d mention, but Helaine gets upset when I fool with Mother Nature.


Over the weekend Ann Nyberg, who I work with, sent me an email with a link to a Hartford Courant column by Rinker Buck. I’ve written about Rinker’s famous telling-off-the-boss column in the Courant.

This time Rinker wrote about a photographer in Litchfield County who is fooling with HDR (high dynamic range) photography. It’s all the rage, though often it turns out overdone and unrealistic.

lake-watrous-components.gifI had a few shots I took at Lake Watrous and bracketed for HDR, but never processed. Tonight I found a tutorial by Bert Monroy and tried my luck. The result is the photo at the top of this entry. The sequence on the left is made from three of the images used to create the HDR.

Without HDR you can see the trees/lake or the sky, just not both together. There are a few other little tweaks I did which I’d mention, but Helaine gets upset when I fool with Mother Nature.

This is a lot closer to what I saw than “Clicky” can provide on his own.

Reductions At The Courant

It’s a sad day for journalism, for print media, for Connecticut.

Someone just passed a memo to me, no more than an hour old, from the publisher of the Hartford Courant to his staff. News pages will go from 273 to 206 per week. Subscribers will only be getting 75% of what they get now in quantity. The newsroom will go from 232 to 175. The reduction there is also to 75% of current levels. There will be voluntary buyouts and forced layoffs.

All this comes on the heels of the heavily leveraged purchase of the Tribune Corporation, the Courant’s owner, by Sam Zell. It’s a sad day for journalism, for print media, for Connecticut.

There is little public support for newspapers or print in general. The problem is, newspapers still perform an extremely valuable service. No one else provides the depth of reportage papers do.

The Courant’s memo follows after the jump.

Continue reading “Reductions At The Courant”

An Evening Of Higher Education

After last night’s 6:00 o’clock news, I headed to Southern Connecticut State University. Jerry Dunklee, a journalism professor at Southern who I knew as a radio talk show host when I first came here, invited me to join a panel on blogging.

The class was already underway when I walked in the room. I was glad to see little has changed. The students avoided sitting close to the front.

Sitting behind a table, facing the group, were Denis Horgan and Andy Thibauld. These guys are much better examples of what bloggers are all about than the navel gazing I usually post.

Andy publishes “The Cool justice Report,” while Denis’ blog is self named.

Both these guys are capital “J” journalists with backgrounds at traditional media outlets. Denis went though a messy divorce at the Hartford Courant, after editor Brian Toolan told him to stop blogging. I’m not sure of all the steps, but the Courant no longer has Horgan… we do.

As with my blog, though in a much more beautiful, writerly way, Denis choronicles his own life and experiences. A really good writer can make the mundane meaningful.

If that came off as a left handed compliment, it wasn’t my intention.

Denis is also author of “Flotsam: A Life in Debris,” reviewed quite favorably in the… wait for it… Hartford Courant. You can’t make this stuff up!

Andy Thibauld is also a print journalist gone web. This description probably doesn’t do it justice, but his site is an outlet for Andy’s investigative reporting.

Staunchly liberal (as is Horgan), Andy is answering a calling, more than doing a job. The fact that he’s doing this kind of expository reporting in a medium where there’s little chance for financial payoff means it’s passion driven.

Stereotypically, both men seem directly out of central casting for who they are. That Denis is an Irishman from Boston is totally obvious before he even speaks! Andy wears the same rumpled trench coat nearly every other investigative reporter wears.

There’s got to be a warehouse where these are given out to people who whisper, “I know this pol on the take.”

Both these guys are passionate about what they do. Neither seems to have a free will choice to stop. It’s just too deeply ingrained in their DNA.

I’m not sure how either puts food on the table. There’s no money in blogging… certainly in this kind of blogging. People write for newspapers because they need to write and they need to eat. Blogging only fills half the equation.

I can’t be sure the students got what we were talking about. Can you understand what drives these two guys before being driven yourself? Don’t you first need to understand what it’s like pounding your head against the wall for a boss who judges your work by quantity alone?

The students seemed attentive and asked good questions. It’s just, I’ve come to the conclusion experience cannot be taught.

It’s a shame the traditional media (print and electronic) are under such brutal financial pressure. Guys like these, to whom principle is king, are amazing role models for college students. I’m not sure if I belonged on the same panel.

There are never enough bright people with principles.

Telling Off The Boss

There’s an old joke. Two guys get together, and the first one says, “You know, I really feel like telling off the boss again.”

The second one says, “Again?”

“Sure,” comes the reply, “I felt like telling him off yesterday too!”

At some point, we all want to tell off the boss. It’s not limited to me. I’ve had ten bosses at my current job. Each of them probably wanted to tell off his/her boss too.

We seldom let loose in the face of authority. Mostly, we grumble to ourselves and suck it up. On those few occasions when emotion trumps restraint, it can be downright petrifying.

I remember one incredible screaming match with my bosses boss. This was nearly twenty years ago and I was much more hot headed… and expendable. He was hot headed too, so we just went at it.

I left that fight knowing I’d soon be fired.

I wasn’t and never figured out why. Trust me, it wasn’t because he liked my spunk&#185!

Anyway, what brings this up is what was said by Rinker Buck, a reporter for the Hartford Courant. He told his bosses off – questioned the marching orders they’ve given, and he’s done so publicly.

He hadn’t finished the first paragraph of his rhetorical treatise when he said:

Sub Base New London Saved

I am stunned. I never wrote about it here, there being so much controversy and it being a seemingly political issue, but when the BRAC commission originally announced the New London submarine base would close, I figured it was a done deal.

From the Hartford Courant:

Connecticut officials reacted with joy.

“Yahoo!” said U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. “Submarine base New London lives, and I think that it will live forever.”

Gov. M. Jodi Rell said she was in tears as she listened to the decision while in her car on the way to New London. The governor said she had someone in her office hold a phone to a television set so she could hear the vote. “We did it! We did it!” Rell said.

It seemed, as a Blue State, Connecticut had little pull in 21st Century Washington. The BRAC commission was supposed to be non-partisan, but…

Well, I could not have been any more wrong!

Forget about security for a moment, because I am not qualified to judge how much more or less secure our nation would be with submarines based elsewhere. My concern was Connecticut and how our state’s well being would be affected.

In terms of economics this would have been a tragic body blow to the state. All those people and jobs, all that money and commerce, all the subcontractors necessary to run the base – gone.

Before the advent of casino gambling, Southeastern Connecticut was an economic black hole. This would have brought us back to where we were before the casinos and then some.

Am I looking at this from a selfish standpoint? Absolutely.

Judgemental for Christmas

My friend Josh Mamis, who publishes the New Haven Advocate, asked me to come to their offices and judge Christmas decorations. Is there a job I am less qualified for?

I said yes.

The Advocate is a weekly tabloid devoted to local arts and entertainment. It is often the best place for ‘bite the hand that feeds me’ expository journalism on local politics and business. I always enjoy reading their longer feature stories.

In the past, the Advocate had been very unkind to my station in a story that I felt was vindictive and a maybe little heavy handed (though they were always nice to me…. even in that article).

Though once locally owned, it recently become part of Times-Mirror which also owns the Hartford Courant and Channel 61.

Josh knows I have a soft spot in my heart for print in general and the Advocate specifically. Though TV has more impact and is much more immediate, the written word has an elegance and permanence that TV can’t touch. That’s probably why I enjoy writing this blog.

I drove into Downtown New Haven and parked under the Omni Hotel. Though cold, today was a beautiful day with high thin cirrus clouds adding some texture to an otherwise blue sky.

It is only in the past few years that New Haven has had a first class hotel downtown. I popped up to street level through the hotel’s lobby and walked around the block to the Advocate’s offices. They are located on the 11th floor of a building over what was the Chapel Square Mall. The building had fallen into disrepair, but looked very good today. Obviously, someone has spent the money to try and turn it around.

The mall is long gone – a failure through a few incarnations. I was surprised to hear it had been converted to upscale apartments. What was the actual mall is now an enclosed courtyard with an open air roof and apartment entrances. Upscale apartments going into Downtown New Haven (and now a 4-screen artsy movie theater down the block) is another very good sign for the city.

Josh’s office is near the receptionist and has a killer view of the Green and then north to East Rock&#185. Very impressive… especially so with today’s weather.

We schmoozed for a few minutes and then it was on to the judging. To my eye, Christmas lights around Connecticut seem to less visible this year. The Advocate’s office maintained that trend. There really wasn’t a lot of cubicle decorating, though I did pick a winner.

The winning cubicle featured a very scrawny little artificial tree but lots of other little homemade Christmasy type accoutrements. It was enough to show real holiday spirit. That won me over.

As I walked around the office, saying hi to people and chatting, I noticed someone working on a page from the paper featuring a photo of a group of people. They were from a store called “Group W Bench.”

I smiled… actually chuckled at that name. No one else did. The name “Group W Bench” only meant something to me. My age was showing again.

“The Group W Bench” was made famous in the late 60s by Arlo Guthrie in his song “Alice’s Restaurant.” For 18 minutes Arlo told and sang the story of his arrest for illegal dumping… in the town dump… on a legal holiday… and led to his day at the local draft board.

And I proceeded to tell him the story of the twenty seven eight-by-ten

color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and the paragraph on

the back of each one, and he stopped me right there and said, “Kid, I want

you to go and sit down on that bench that says Group W …. NOW kid!!”

And I, I walked over to the, to the bench there, and there is, Group W’s

where they put you if you may not be moral enough to join the army after

committing your special crime, and there was all kinds of mean nasty ugly

looking people on the bench there.

Hey, it was the late 60s! Times were different and this story of a song became huge.

I left the Advocate a little disappointed – not because they didn’t know Arlo, but because there weren’t more decorations to be seen. But I also left feeling a little better (and this is a continuing, incremental process) about New Haven.

&#185 – At the end of the last ice age, as the ice retreated, huge chunks of rock that had been pushed forward by the glaciation remained in place. East Rock is one of these steep, sharp rock mountains. It overlooks New Haven Harbor and is a few miles from downtown.

Pro Tennis With My Camera

I was lucky enough to ‘sneak’ down to the photographers row at the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament being staged in New Haven, CT. Actually, I was properly credentialed to be there, though my job doesn’t include carrying a camera. I brought my three week old Digital Rebel and my two Sigma lenses.

The press photographers I sat with were evenly divided between pro Nikon and Canon cameras and lenses. Using my ‘thin’ Sigmas, I was giving up at least 2 f stops to everyone there.

The match started well after 7:00 PM. There was little natural light left. The majority of what we got was coming from the stadium lights.

I asked the Hartford Courant photographer to my left how fast he was shooting and he offered up 1/500th. That would be enough to stop the players but not the ball. I switched to shutter priority and ISO 1600.

The top photo is Elena Dementieva serving. This is a crop with my 18-125mm lens at 77mm f/5.6 1/500. All the photos received noise reduction, level adjustment and sharpening.

Next up is Claudine Schaul. It’s a full frame using my Sigma 70-300mm lens at 300mm f/8 1/500.

After returning to my office, a photographer I work with (now video, but formerly still) talked to me about timing shots. While I was shooting I heard a chorus of shutters every time the ball hit the racket. He said everyone’s a little off on the first day, but by the end of a tournament it becomes much easier to time your press to catch the ball in the frame.

I was surprised at how most of the photographers looked at their pictures between serves.

My final shot here is Claudine again. Full frame, Sigma 18-125mm at 125mm f/5.6 1/500.

Blogger’s note: Click on any image to see it in a larger version.