Droning on and on and on and on about DRONES

 

fallsMonday night I was working the late shift and scheduled to shoot a basketball game in Rumford. I had been wanting to get to Rumford and shoot the frozen falls for a while. The weather looked like it would cooperate

I scrolled through my Drone Apps to make sure there were no new NOTAM’s (Notice to Airmen) to make sure there would be no new restrictions since I last flew in the area. A number of other factors all have to be in the green in order for me to legally fly per my FAA Commercial Pilot’s license. Wind speed, number of satellites available, sun flares……etc. That all sounds impressive and “official” but it just means I passed a test that allows me to use a drone for commercial purposes and I know how to read a map and download and figure out a couple apps.

Practice, patience planning, and caution are the most important components of flying a drone.

I called the Rumford Town Office and talked to the code enforcement officer to make sure they had not written any new drone restrictions that I didn’t know about. Some towns, like Bethel, have restrictions or other requirements, like in Bethel where they require a 48-hour notice that needs approval before you can fly  (at least that was the rule last year when I inquired)

FYI….there are many other places you can’t fly and is the pilot’s responsibility to know where they are, like within 5 miles of an airport with a manned tower unless you get approval. And it’s good practice to notify any smaller ones near you. I have an app that automatically sends Auburn Lewiston airport a notice whenever I file a flight plan nearby and usually get a reply text message acknowledging they received it.

I talked with a few people from Lifeflight about it last year and let them know about the app and while I don’t get a reply I’ll bet they subscribe to AirMap or they may even have something more advanced that it communicates with and knows I filed a flight plan. It is amazing the technology that is available and always advancing. I digress again.

I told the Rumford code enforcement official that I tried the PD but nobody answered and he said I should be OK as far as the laws were concerned. I asked him if the town would have a problem if I launched from the tourism rest stop by the falls and he said it was a public place and gave me his blessings.  One of the cardinal rules before flying is to get permission from the landowner wherever you launch. I also like to notify PD in any small town I want to fly over so if they get a call from a panicked or pissed off resident they won’t be alarmed.

I have no problems in LA and in fact they even have called me but that is another story.

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Dave Mathieu of D&D Fabrications of Lewiston hands a co-worker a piece of wood to provide temporary protection from the elements at a historic home on Academy Street in Auburn that was ravaged by fire last year. The cupola, at left, will be removed in the next few days and capped. The owner wants to “button up” the property to prevent more damage from the elements while figuring out if it will be possible to renovate.

Before I could leave for Rumford I had to find a “ local feature” to anchor the local section so I loaded up my drone case and laptop into my car and drove around LA until I found a “feature” and boogied up Route 4 toward Rumford.

I knew I was going to launch from the bottom of the falls by the bridge and the big falls were pretty far away. falls2Lot’s of power lines in the area so I drove up the long hill toward the top of the falls to get a better look at any lines across the river or other obstacles or obstructions or issues I may have flying over that area that I might not see from where I was planning to launch and fly the drone. Planning and safety are always paramount.

I had a quick flight as I only had half the life in my battery as it had been sitting for 10 days since my last flight and had started to discharge. I have 3 that I rotate out and always have 2 charged and ready to go. It was also cold as ice and my fingers were freezing. We were at the bare bone minimums of the temperature threshold that is considered safe to fly. People have flown in wicked windy and below freezing conditions that their drone survived but I don’t’ want to take any risks or shorten the lifespan of my “precious” so I don’t push the limits.

I landed, inserted a new battery and drove down the river to the library by the bridge near the mill. I had asked permission in 2016 when I last flew in town but the library was closed and nobody was around so I “assumed” they were still OK with me launching from there, especially since after I flew the first time I got a nice note from somebody at the library thanking me for the beautiful video.

The sun was setting fast but the “golden hour” light still falling on the mill made it look spectacular.mill

After landing and packing up the drone I headed back up the hill and over to McD’s to jump on their free wife and grab a cheap but good Newman’s Organic Coffee and edit and send in my “local feature” and a few stills from my flight. Editing the nearly 45 minutes of video I shot took a lot longer than I expected, partially because I was using a company laptop older than most of my kids.

I lost track of time and before I was finished I realized I had just enough time to get to the game before it started so I quickly chose a song from the free YouTube library and made sure the transitions were decent, added some text but didn’t have time to adjust white balance and lighten up some of the clips like I should have but such is life and it would have to be good enough. I hit export and while the software was doing it’s thing I drove to the game.
At halftime I broke out my laptop and tried to jump on the high school wifi but it was password protected so I turned my phone into a hotspot and uploaded the rendered video to YouTube while I edited the basketball photos.

Put away the laptop and headed back to the car for the uneventful drive home and the end of another day I decided to drone on and on to you about.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO ON YouTube

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Rollover-Road Rage & Chowdah Remorse

CITrollover001P041018My quiet and calm day rolled over and turned into a rage of all sorts in a hurry.  After a relaxing flight over the construction site at the new elementary school in the afternoon, CITaerialConstructionSAPV041118I headed back to the office to process the photos and produce a short video.  I got caught up on a bunch of projects I have been putting off and set off to the annual chili & chowder taste challenge.

I was halfway there when I heard a call over the scanner of a 10-55 rollover.  My first thought was how many times have I heard that and get there to find the car had rolled back onto its wheels and the person walked away with little damage to the car.  Nothing to shoot.  But when they said the vehicle was on its side and the driver was trapped, I was glad I had already turned around and headed to the scene.

Halfway there I heard the driver ” self-extricated” and became disappointed.  Is that morbid and cold?  I would later be punished for my evil thoughts.

I shot a number of photos from numerous angles and was watching the amassing crowd when a car came from a side street and slowed to rubber neck and slowly squeeze past the ambulance…… but then stopped.  Road RageAn angry dude began shouting at him to move and the driver said something back to him.  The angry dude seemed to be looking for a fight so I shot a few frames of him yelling at the young man who remained calm and seemed aghast by the aggressive nature of the guy.  For what?  Stopping and looking for a second.  It was literally a few seconds that he had stopped before the white dude went off on him.  I said to myself, “typical downtown Lewiston.”  And then thought, “God’s gonna punish you for thinking that.”  After all, I had no idea what was said and became judgmental.

I was now running late and the chili-chowdah thing was gonna wrap up within a half hour so I had to hustle to the Ramada.  I was feeling good about the photo I got from the accident and thinking about the road rage incident (insert foreshadowing here) when I pulled into the parking lot where somebody had just backed out of a spot right in front of the entrance.  I was thinking of how lucky I was to find a spot so close.  What I missed was a car backing up to pull into the spot.  I thought he was parked, waiting for somebody to come out but when I got out of my car, he let me know that he was going for that spot and I was a jerk.  I apologized profusely and told him I would back out and he could have the spot.  He was not impressed and said he would take the other spot that was open 3 spaces away.

It was not until I was driving home did I think of how I missed a golden opportunity.  Instead of having a man and his wife hate me for what I did, I could have taken the opportunity to offer to take a family portrait of them to help appease them and try to make things right. They had two small children.  Instead, I just made another enemy today, along with the people involved in the accident that are sure to be angry with me when they see their photo in the newspaper in the morning.  Actually, I doubt they will see the newspaper photo as not many people read it anymore but somebody will surely share the Facebook post or article on our website.

At the end of the day, I met so many old friends and associates at the tasty assignment and had a bunch of laughs, so it wasn’t a bad day after all.  CITchiliNchowder001P041118If all the days were filled with troubles like this I wouldn’t mind.  In the grand scheme of things and compared to other days where I have to cover death and destruction, I shouldn’t complain about today.  Besides, I will be done my day just in time to watch the last few innings of the Sox beating up on the Yankees.  Life is still good overall despite some thoughtless decisions on my part!

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GOOD, BAD, UGLY, COMIC and HORRIFIC

Very few day’s go as planned. Some, like today, begins as a light and easy one with only 3 local assignments scheduled but as they often do, go sideways fast.

GOOD:

I was up on Upper Street in Turner Saturday morning shooting a photo for Monday’s paper about a young boy from Turner who has won a bunch of awards at fairs showing his 10-month-old Holstein Paddy.

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Reeve Twitchell walks his 10-month-old Holstein Paddy behind his barn on Upper Street in Turner Saturday morning.

It was a quiet and uneventful drive and a quick and easy shoot. I scooted back to the office to process before heading to my next assignments.

BAD:

Just as I was finished uploading the cow photos, a call came over the scanner for Auburn units responding to a possible attempted abduction. A Lewiston canine was called to track the perp. It was an uncomfortable situation with the police talking to the victim as the police and Ice, the dog, fanned out.DOGsearch

After patiently waiting and “lurking” around, there was a momentary lull when I approached the police supervisor on scene. I explained that I was ready to push some photos to the web…..breaking news…..but he said to hold up. “We are not sure there is even anything to the story.” Off the record he relayed to me some information that it may have been a young girl that had a fight with mom and ran out back in the woods, coming back with this story. He recommended holding off. I obliged. He promised to let me know if it turned out to be valid. I have not heard a peep, so it was good I held back.

UGLY:

The weather was beautiful, the free food was delicious and the table was set for a great afternoon of football as Bates took on Trinity for their homecoming game. Fans packed the stands and ringed the sidelines. It got ugly real fast for the Bates team and fans. Before the first quarter was over, our Bobcats were down 31-0. SPTbatesFOOTBALL01P092417I had a couple pertinent photos so I headed toward the armory. My best move of the day was finding a parking spot between the field and the armory. Both were packed and spaces were at a premium but I lucked out with a spot in front of the middle school.

COMIC:

CITcomicon01P092417I love it when I have an assignment that has visual potential. And this one did not disappoint.CITcomicon02P092417 It was so good, I had to shoot a short video. I have thousands of dollars of video equipment that has not made it out of my trunk in a long time. Most days I just leave it at home unless I have something planned. My iPhone fits in my pocket and for YouTube videos, it is often sufficient. Click here to watch the video to decide and be wicked entertained. As I worked on my video, my stomach began to rumble. It was dinner time, but my stomach turned a different way when I heard the sad and concerned voice of the 911 center dispatcher sending units to Pleasant View Acres in Lewiston where a young child had been run over. She said they were performing CPR on the scene. Not good.

HORRIFFIC:

CITfatal02P092417As I rolled up on the scene people were gathered in small groups here and there, obviously distressed and sad. As I got out of my car, somebody called from across the street. “Russ, you don’t want to be here!” Got that right. I told her “some day’s I hate my job” and started taking photos. I had no intent to shoot video, especially live. Even so, I could feel the daggers in my back as dozens of spiteful eyes glared at me, some people making vulgar comments directed toward me.  It is not uncommon to be physically harassed or have items thrown in my direction.  Fortunately, that did not happen today.  But it did not ease the pain for anyone.CITfatal03P092417They have no idea how much I didn’t want to be there, but it’s my job, like it or not. I didn’t spend much time as the wails of the friends and relatives of the young girl began to haunt me. Different voices today but the all too familiar sound of despair I have never been able to get over. They are all different, but the same. Grief, anger, despair. Bad news but important news to report. I won’t pontificate about the merits of being there, but if I didn’t believe it was important, I would never have put myself through it.

I came back to the office where we had a lengthy debate on just that and in the end, the consensus was that it should be published.  While the higher-ups debated the subject, I went back to editing my comic expo video. I finished it up and while it was exporting and uploading to YouTube, I composed this blog after which I will head home for a much-needed cold beverage and a quiet walk with my four-legged girlfriend before I call it a night.  Before I know it, the sun will rise again and it’ll be a new day with a fresh start.

 

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Flowery Confrontation

CITpickflowersSAP072117Heavenly smelling lilacs remind me of my mom.  I stop to smell them this time of year at every opportunity.  It gives reason to pause, be thankful and pledge to carry her torch.  Give, forgive and be appreciative for all that we have been given and share as much as you possibly can for it is not what you have, what matters is what you have given to others.  It’s the most rewarding.  Having a big boat, vacations to exotic destinations and lots of money in the bank would be nice.  But I’d probably end up giving it all away anyway.  I can’t afford any of that, but often think I have a more fulfilling life than many that do.  I am sure many who have, give plenty.  But for those like me who have nothing to give except time, energy and self-sacrifice, you know the feeling.  I can hear my wife Ann rolling her eyes reading this.  She calls me the Blabbering, Blubbering, Blogger.  I digress.

RIVERSIDEflags-19Coming from a beautiful Saturday morning’s assignment at Riverside Cemetery where volunteers were placing flags at veterans gravestones for the upcoming Memorial Day Celebrations, I was coming down Ash Street, thinking of my mom who I visited at the cemetery after taking my photos.  moms headstoneIt seems every time I think about my mom, something good happens.  I passed three kids picking, what else, lilacs, my mom’s favorite,  from a tree.  In a split second, I had to make a decision to stop or not.  My first thought was that readers would complain about the kids picking them.  The second was the one that has made photographing anything in the past decade difficult.   A growing distrust of the media, parents afraid for their kids and the fact that I might get punched out for taking pictures of kids weigh heavily.  I knew we already had a tight news hole, so there probably wasn’t even any room…..and there was a car on my bumper.

CITpickflowers02SAP072117So I slowed and banged a left and went around the block.  I inched up to the intersection and the kids had their backs turned.  They were picking and talking while I fired off a half dozen photos until they noticed me.

I watched their expressions change.picking flowers-4

I grabbed my press pass and threw the lanyard around my neck and slowly approached, making sure to keep a good distance and quickly identify myself, then asked if their parents were around.  One of their mom’s said something from the second-floor window where she was taking it all in.  After I explained what I was doing she gave her consent.  When I asked the kids what they were picking them for, they said, in unison, our mom’s, “and my sister” one added.   To hear the mom AWWWWWW from above was priceless.

Just then, one of the boys’ father approached, and he looked mad.  He was glaring and walked aggressively towards me.  My defense mechanism kicked in.  I adjusted my stance, put on my most disarming smile, then grabbed my press pass around my neck to show him who I was.  While he relaxed a bit, he was still not happy.  I explained that I often find “slices of life…..good news photos that represent the positive nature of our community” when driving around town between assignments.  I told him we like to publish positive news and photos whenever we can.  He was not convinced and still had a suspicious look, but when he turned to his son and saw the bouquet and the smiles on the kids, he relented.

 

As he walked away, he looked at me sideways, but now I had 2 out of 3 OK’s.  I took one last photo of the three together and sent them on their way with my business card.  Five minutes later, Jonah’s mom called and she was excited not only to get the flowers but was eager to have her son’s photo in the paper.  She was most concerned about finding out when it would be published.  I told her the same rehearsed line of “I can’t make any promises because as it all depends on what else is going on and I wouldn’t know if there was enough room for it until later.”  I told her if nothing else, it would appear online at sunjournal.com.  It had been a great morning with only a baseball game and exhibition left to photograph.  picking flowers-5

 

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Two-year-old found wandering in the middle of the street.

To Publish or Not to Publish.  A conundrum explained.

I was at my desk Monday morning processing photos from an earlier assignment when a call came over the scanner that got my attention.  A 2-year-old was standing alone in the middle of Bates Street by the Nutritional Center.  Without hesitation, I grabbed my camera, bolted out the door and across Kennedy Park.  The young girl was sitting in the passenger seat of the LPD meter maid’s small pickup truck seconds later, playing with a rubber glove she had blown up like a balloon to distract the child.  The ever-present downtown parking enforcement officer was just around the corner when she too heard the call and beat me there.

Within a minute or two of my arrival, a man came running, frantic and then relieved when he noticed his missing daughter sitting in the vehicle.  The young girls’ cries of DADDY!!!!! and a giant hug complete with tears convinced everyone he was her father.

I recorded some dramatic images that will never see the light of day.  For a number of reasons, we chose not to publish them online or in print.  This decision will please some and frustrate others, especially many photojournalists.   As I age, perhaps I am becoming “soft”, or just more pragmatic and compassionate?  I have a feeling that 20 years ago I would have been jumping up and down lobbying to use the photos.  After all, they were dramatic, told a story of something that happens all the time and might be a good reminder for young parents to keep a better watch on their kids.   Back then I didn’t have a lot of thoughts about compassion and fallout created when we publish photos that put people in compromising situations.

After numerous events where we have regretted publishing a dramatic scene in print, online, and especially LIVE,  I have taken to heart the part of our mission statement that reads: “Consider the effect on people, families, and community.”   Having empathy, sensitivity and kindness play as big a role in my thought process now before pressing LIVE or submitting a particular photo for publication.  I want to be first with breaking news, publish thought provoking, emotional, gripping images that tell a story and be a technology leader and innovator.  But I now put more consideration into the ramifications and fallout.

As I took in all the information, I began to ponder the situation.   The good samaritan did not want to be identified, the girl was a juvenile and the father was obviously distraught, concerned and now afraid of being the subject of a newspaper article.  He was clean shaven, well dressed, well spoken and clear eyed.  He was not some drunk or junkie too spaced out to know where his children were.  That should probably not be a consideration to remain neutral and unbias, but it was for me.  If it means losing credibility in the eyes of fellow journalists, so be it.  I was fortunate when I was this father’s age with my 3 young children.  I lived on a dead end street, so when they wandered away, it was not in the middle of downtown.  So right there I could empathize and it weighed on my decision.    Adding to the “don’t publish column” I had no names, there were no charges being filed and it was over and done with nobody hurt.

A young father hugs the man who stopped to call police when he found his 2-year-old daughter wandering in the middle of Bates Street in Lewiston. She had bolted out the door while the father was at work and his wife was distracted by her two younger siblings two blocks away.

The child and parents were already traumatized.  They would surely be ostracized by friends, family, and neighbors if the story and photos were published.  I was thinking that it could be good to publish what happened as it might contribute to other parents being more attentive.  A stretch, but an argument historically used to validate publishing many “news” photos. In the end, before I walked off,  I gave the well-rehearsed response of “I was told to come photograph this and I really don’t decide if it is used or not.”  The father was not happy but understood.  I was already thinking this story and photos would end up in the “not for publication” folder.

With a situation like this, I seek opinion and guidance from my supervisors who will also consider a number of factors.  First and foremost is my input.  It was my decision to respond to the scene as is the case with most calls we hear come over the police and fire scanner.   The fact that it happened so close enabled me to get there to record the incident.  A type of incident that is repeated throughout the twin cities several times a month.  I have heard many calls for lost or wandering young children and not reacted.  Proximity, scheduling, and other factors play into the decision to respond or not.  Most often they find the child or locate the parents before we could have ever arrived, so we tend not to go.  But it was across the street and I took the risk.   Taking a chance on something is the nature of the newspaper business.  The majority of the time I respond to something I hear on the scanner never pans out for more reasons than I have time or space to list.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I listened to the young father tell the police officer that he was at work when his wife called.  She told him she was tending to the other two younger siblings when she noticed the oldest was gone.  He bolted from work and began to drive around the neighborhood looking for her.  He was on the phone with the police dispatcher to report the missing child when he came around the corner and discovered the police and his daughter.  He was relieved but horrified to see me there blasting away with my camera.  The anxiety and stress on the family were clear and sincere

When I returned to the office, I brought up 4 of the best photos from the incident on my monitor and called over the two senior editors in the newsroom.  I told the story of what happened.  They both made the same basic arguments I had been pondering, pro and con.  They were each on the fence, one leaning toward publishing, the other not so much.  In the end, we all agreed that it would be best to not make the photos public.  I have included one of the less dramatic, but a scene setter with blurred faces to give readers of this article a scene setter.

Some days I take lots of photos that are never published.  Others I take only a few and they all appear.  It can be frustrating, but often rewarding.  I never know what I will encounter or the decisions I may need to make when I go to work every day.  Taking risks to get a great photo often never pans out.  And often great photos are never published.  It’s an adventure and one of the reasons I still look forward to coming to work.

 

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Top 100 of 2016

Darth Vader and over a dozen other balloons take to the sky during Friday morning's launch as seen from the balloon of Bill Whidden in Great Balls of Fire after taking off from Simard Payne Memorial Park at the Great Falls Balloon Festival.

Darth Vader and over a dozen other balloons take to the sky during Friday morning’s launch as seen from the balloon of Bill Whidden in Great Balls of Fire after taking off from Simard Payne Memorial Park at the Great Falls Balloon Festival.

It was a year of new highs and lows in my career as a photojournalist, or as some call us now, “visual journalists”.   Somebody will figure a way to insert the word audio into it as that aspect of storytelling is uber important.  I digress.

With the focus on the web using video, drones, 360-degree cameras and live streaming, I have been exposed to a new set of demands and decisions.  With that comes responsibilities that often call for split-second decision making.  “Back in the day” when we published once a day, our images were scrutinized and discussed with many voices having the luxury of time to decide what to publish and what not to publish.  Even with that, we made judgment errors.  I have certainly experienced hard lessons and growing pains.

I have always tried to be on the cutting edge of technology and pushed the envelope.  The push to be first with breaking news can come with a price.  I learned a sad and humble lesson recently when I decided to stream live from the scene of a fatal accident involving a young boy who lived around the corner from me.  I chose to push the button to go live.  While I tried to be discrete and respectful, the subject matter was just too traumatic and without compassion for not only the family of the victim but many of our loyal viewers who tuned in and saw and heard the drama unfold.  To this day I am haunted by it as well as many others who have told me the same.  Fortunately, I have many colleagues, family, and friends who empathize with me and know how I am struggling with it.  I will take great care the next time I am confronted with such a decision,.

Although the focus of our industry is developing into web-based journalism, our bread and butter is still the print product.  So while I embrace and lead the way down this avenue, I still have a passion for the still image.  A moment captured in time. I think the decades of putting myself into position to be in the right place at the right time has helped me with shooting video.  But I have so much more to learn, and still have the fire to learn and work hard.

While many journalists single out a half dozen or so of their favorite images from the past year to talk about, I, as usual, couldn’t make up my mind and decided to go hog wild.  Each image will have their original caption, and I will comment on a few.

I look forward to what 2017 has in store.  Please come along with me for a fun ride, but for now, enjoy some of my favorite still images from 2016.

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All time high and low

Several hundred people raise their candels before blowing them out following 13 minutes of silence for 13 year old Jayden Cho-Sargent at Lewiston Middle School Thursday night after the LMS student was killed walking to school earlier in the day.

Several hundred people raise their candels before blowing them out following 13 minutes of silence for 13 year old Jayden Cho-Sargent at Lewiston Middle School Thursday night after the LMS student was killed walking to school earlier in the day.

In the past two weeks I have experienced the low point of my 35 year career as a photojournalist.  I also achieved new heights.  Technology has transformed what I do from a once daily endeavor into 24-7, in your face, watch the drama unfold medium.  Fewer and fewer people have the news delivered to them on the doorstep each morning.  Most everyone wants it now, on their workplace desktop, laptop, and mobile device, for free.

After 25 years of learning light, composition, planning and patience, I figured out the art of capturing an image.  I told stories with my half-tones that were published once a day. A dozen years ago,  the internet began to allow us to publish photos day or night.  As many as we wanted.  There was software to add music and voice in the background as images flowed across the desktop monitors.  They made my photos sing.  A half-dozen years ago I got a GoPro and an image stabilized HD video camera. My focus zoomed to moving images.

A year ago we started experimenting with live video.  From parades and balloons rising in the air to fires, accidents and rescue missions gone awry.  We began to bring our viewers news up close and personal as it happened.

Recently,  it got way too personal.  A middle school student was killed in a crosswalk on his way to school.  I live around the corner and heard the sirens as I walked to my car to drive my youngest son to the high school.  I knew it was something bad from the way they were driving.  I have learned to recognize the different sounds of the sirenes and engine noise from the responders between when they are going to a fire alarm in a Bates dorm for the 3rd time in a week that is usally a malfunction or burnt popcorn, or what is probably a bad accident, fire or some other catastrophy.  I was not working and wanted to spend what little time I had with my teenager talking about his life and future, and refrained from my urge to turn on the scanner to learn what was going on a block from my house from where I determined they were going from the sounds.  After dropping him off, I turned my scanner on to immediately hear LPD calling for PW to come with barracades as the road would be closed down for most of the day.  I figured there was an accident and a pole was across the road……or worse.   I parked my car in my driveway and walked to the scene and began to live stream.  A police officer I know and respect warned me it was a fatal, the young boy was under the tarp and they had not found the parents yet.

I should have taken a photo and sent it to the newsroom to be posted online.  Instead,  I chose to broadcast live.  I started with the two brightly colored sneakers on the wet pavement and panned to a backpack torn open withfatalsneaker books, papers, pens and note cards scattered along a long trail toward the truck covered in tarp 50 yards away.  I gave a 360-degree pan of the scene with the wide-angle lens when I noticed a woman coming up the street.  I had a sense it was the mother and turned the camera away and watched in horror as she fell to her knees and fell apart.  I should have ended the live broadcast then.  I thought the engine noise of the ambulance where I was pointing my new iPhone 7plus would drown out her hysteria.  But it was a new phone I have had a week, not the old android with a crappy microphone.  If you listened closely, you could hear her cries.  Many people were horrified and appalled.  We took the video down immediately, but the damage was done.

I have photographed fatalities more than I want to remember over my career.  But they were mostly static images, vetted and scrutinized before being shown to the public. We all see dead people on the national news on a regular basis and the violence on TV and in the movies is frightening.  But local, live and in stereo horror is sure to haunt and deeply disturb many in our community.   That is not compassionate or responsible journalism.  It borders on sensationalism.  I crossed the line in the eyes of many.  After much internal debate, I have to agree.

In the past week, I have heard from many who said its just reality and part of what we do.  They think it was justified and want to see more.  “How many parents have kids that get to school crossing that street and were worried sick it was their student.  But when you showed the sneakers and backpack they may have been horrified, but relieved it was not their child.”  At first, I just said thanks and moved on as I didn’t want to debate the issue.  Lately, as the initial shock and emotions have started to fade, I have become more vocal.  I tell those that bring it up that I should have been more compassionate and not live broadcast as I did.  I tell them that in the future if ever there is another situation like this, I will think more about how I approach.  Perhaps a 15 second video from the scene from far away may have been the way to go.  Perhaps just a still image would suffice.  But while I have a desire to be compassionate, it is my job to report the news.  Some people will be offended and appalled at whatever we publish, they will be upset wheter it is live or in print after everyone knows about it.  Some are even upset by the words we use to describe a scene.

Every assignment is unique and requires an immediate reaction.  Deciding where, when and for how long to live broadcast will always be a challenge.  Rest assured, I learn from  mistakes, especially the ones that way heavy on my conscience and humanity.

An aerial view of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston.

An aerial view of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston.

On an uplifting note, the past few weeks have been like technology Christmas.  I love getting tools for presents, and our recently arrived drone and 360-degree camera, all powered by my new iPhone has added to my journalist toolbox. Moving forward, after the next two weeks off for a much-needed vacation, I am excited to keep my foot on the emerging technology gas pedal, aspiring to use these tools to cover the news with a unique perspective, including interactive dialogue.

Murder, mayhem,  and mischief may appeal to some of our audience.  It is part of what I document that pulls at heartstrings.  Mine included.  I have shed more tears this past 10 days than the past 10 months.  About half were for Jayden.  But tears of happiness and joy also flowed.  When I live streamed the veterans and students at Farwell saying the Pledge of Allegiance, then hugs and kisses, the tears felt good.  The next day I live streamed the Veterans tribute at the Lewiston armory and thought of my son Ryan, who I have not seen in a year, but so damn proud and happy he is living his dream.  Watching the high school cadets march past, just like he did a few years ago.  Running into a superwoman at that event was the icing on the cake.  At one point I had to duck into the back hallway and have a full on flowing cry. I hope she will allow me to tell her story.  I met her when Ryan was in the cadet program in high school.  She and her husband had taken in some of the kids at various times. They housed or provided not only shelter and sustenance for many kids but was the only love and nurturing they ever received from  outside school.  She brought me up to date on many of the kids I knew from that time, even pulling out her phone to show me a Facebook page of one who never gave up and finally made it into and through basic training in the Navy.  I asked who the two really young kids were in the stroller and climbing on the rolled up pads were.  They were kids of mothers who could no longer take care of them. The latest kids that now have a chance at living up to their potential and not becoming a burden on society.   Stories of people like this and the thousands of birds, bees, trees,artists, musicians and heroes offset the death and destruction that I broadcast for the world, and my close net community to see and hear. It’s what makes me feel like I have the best job in the world.  Most days.

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Westminster Allie and Owen

Ann and I took Friday off and visited a business in Massachusetts that will help her put the finishing touches on the recipes she has been developing over the past 10 years.  Salves, balms, creams and tinctures.  All organic and the best for a myriad of ailments and preventative care.  More on that soon.

D3T_2839From there, we drove to Wachusett Valley where Ann’s sister Maureen and young family live.  We watched her daughter Allie Asadoorian at softball practice.  I took photos of the players and coaches, including her father Derek who is the head coach.  It’s a travel team she plays for.  Allie is the smallest by far and one of the youngest in the league, but one of the top players from what I could see.  Allie and her brother Owen had run me ragged in the back yard prior to practice.  In their makeshift ball field, we played wiffleball and tossed the football around.  After practice, we got an ice cream as the sun set on one of the best days Ann and I have had in a long while.  Life is good.  They headed home and we zipped across the street to the package store and got some libation.  Headed back to our motel in Leominster.  It wasn’t so super.  Clean enough, but quite a rough clientele.  Ann was wiped and didn’t even crack a beer.  She slipped under the covers and watched a show on her iPad.  I enjoyed a few Wachusett Larry Imperial IPA’s and watched TV.  We don’t have cable at home, so I couldn’t let all these channels go to waste.  Two hours later Ann woke up and I was gone.  She wondered if I was in jail, the hospital or talking somebody’s ear off someplace.  She called and I told her I was enjoying a stack at Denny’s around the corner.  When I strolled back after midnight, it was quite interesting the characters I passed, and no less than a half-dozen questionable people sitting in front of their rooms.  Cars were coming and going quite frequently.  Didn’t take me too long to figure out what was going on.  I locked the door, pulled the curtains, kissed Ann and  put my headphones on and hoped I would see the sunrise.

Despite my paranoia and wild speculations from the previous night, the sun rose and we skulked out of the room, in short sleeves no less.  We sauntered over to Starbucks for a vacation like treat and enjoyed an overpriced, overrated cup of Joe.   Walked to a Market Basket and stocked up for lunch and snacks, checked out of the motel with a number of issues and drove to Westminster to visit the relatives at their home.  After a short visit, Derek and Allie left to meet a girl who wanted to try out for their travel team, Central Mass Voodoo.  Ann and Moe went for a walk.  In a foreshadowing of what was to come later in the day, Owen beat me in extra innings with his speed on the bases and putting dents in the wiffleball.  Maureen drove around to show us the quaint town, Wachusett Mountain where I once skied 25 years ago.  They would be leaving early for Owens game and some errands, so Ann and I took off and got me some much-needed shirts and pants and I splurged for a wicked nice pair of North Face hiking boots.  The treads on the ones I have been wearing are like drag racing slicks, so it was time.  That and the dog even walks away from them when they come off my feet at night.D3T_2526 D3T_2542 D3T_2638 D3T_2643 D3T_2706 D3T_2814

I was thoroughly impressed with the facilities, coaches, parents and spirit of the youth league Owen plays in.  Everyone was having fun, there was awesome coaching and mentoring, and sportsmanship was paramount.  It was only one game that I observed, but I could tell winning wasn’t everything like some of the leagues my kids have played in.  Youth sports at it’s finest.  Owen played great, and his team won in extra innings.  We said goodbye and headed home.  After a three hour drive, I was tired but wired.  So here I sit, pounding the keys while the bits and bytes download.  Click here to view more photos

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Lewiston fire highlights monumental day

fire teaserMy schedule was full before I walked into the newsroom today, but looked easy enough. But before the end of it, breaking news had me hustling, huffing, puffing and fearing for my life.  I thought I might have a heart attack as I jogged, walked and waddled up the crest of a hill on Pettingill Street in Lewiston to find out the house on fire was still a couple hundred yards away.  It’s three hours later and I am drained after the adrenaline rush of the fire and push to get photos from the fire, a track meet and lacrosse game out before deadline.

I came to work at 2 pm to meet with editors and designers about our Sunday feature for this weekend. The one we had been working on for several weeks had fallen through.  It happens.  The main subject got cold feet after several interviews and a compelling story on a hotbutton issue.  We decided to bump up our Memorial Day package, which included a piece on the new memorial stone being etched at Collette Monuments.  Bruce and I go way back and he had promised me a month ago that he would let me know when they would be etching the names on the monument.  It was set for 3:00 today.  I knew getting everything shot and back before deadline would be tight as I had a track meet in South Paris that started at 3:30.  No worries, but I had a lacrosse game back in Lewiston at 6, so I knew I had to shoot and scoot at the track meet.  So I called Bruce and asked if they were working on it yet to buy me a little more time.  He said to come on over.  I blew off the rest of the meeting with the editors picking entries for the Maine Press Association annual contest and headed to outer Sabattus Street and through the construction gauntlet on the way.

Don Collette was picking off letters from the template before sandblasting.  colletteMy stomach still hurts from the deep belly laughs from his jokes and sense of humor.  “It’s the glue.” he half-jokes.  It was nearly 3:30 by the time I picked up a cheap iced coffee at Cumby’s and headed to South Paris.  While shooting the meet, I talked to a few Lewiston athletes who went to the prom with my son Chris this past weekend and coach Paul Soracco about Isaish winning the 800 at this past weekend’s Big 10 championships.chris  I got a great shot that I thought would be awesome at the top of our front page.  Long and thin with some text in the sky.  Later I found out the meet did not have a story.  They don’t like to tease without to just a photo package without a story.  But I did have some other pretty good photos that got great play on the front of the sports sections, so I can’t complain too much.

Runners take off at the start of the 100 dash during Tuesday's track meet at Gouin Field Complex in South Paris.

Runners take off at the start of the 100 dash during Tuesday’s track meet at Gouin Field Complex in South Paris.

Lewiston's Billy Bedard flies to the air on his second jump that won the long jump during Tuesday's track meet at Gouin Field Complex in South Paris.

Leavitt’s Billy Bedard flies to the air on his second jump that won the long jump during Tuesday’s track meet at Gouin Field Complex in South Paris.

Lewiston's Taylor Chamberlain jumped to a first place finish during Tuesday's track meet at Gouin Field Complex in South Paris.

Lewiston’s Taylor Chamberlain jumped to a first place finish during Tuesday’s track meet at Gouin Field Complex in South Paris.

Edward Little's Lauren Berube clears launches over the bar during the pole vault event at Tuesday's track and field meet at Gouin Field Complex in South Paris.

Edward Little’s Lauren Berube clears launches over the bar during the pole vault event at Tuesday’s track and field meet at Gouin Field Complex in South Paris.

When I got to the lacrosse game at Lewiston High, it was nearing the end of the first quarter.  I wasn’t having luck getting any good action, except one of my former neighbor, Roman Dennis.  But in the back of my mind I could hear one of the mothers I know, who also has a son or two that plays say to me when we met walking our dogs; “Can you try to get a photo of somebody besides Roman.  He is in every time.”  I thought, no problem, I have plenty of time.

Lewiston's Roman Denis tries to get control of the ball as Brunswick's Jack Hladky puts the pressure on him during Tuesday afternoon's lacrosse game in Lewiston.

Lewiston’s Roman Denis tries to get control of the ball as Brunswick’s Jack Hladky puts the pressure on him during Tuesday afternoon’s lacrosse game in Lewiston.

Just then I heard sirens.  I know the sound of firetrucks, and they were going hard.  It’s someting I have honed over the years.  I did a 360 degree scan and noticed a big black plume of smoke.  I started running….jogging and walking fast as I had the weight of the big lens on my camera, plus the weight of my girth flabbing around.  I called the newsroom as I hustled to my car.  Pettingill Street in Lewiston I was told.

When I got to the scene, I noticed our web guy, Larry Gilbert Jr. with his phone.  “Periscoping?” I asked.  “Yep”  We had that covered, so I thought we were good, but he was at the front of the building and I could tell the fire was concentrated in the back.  I ducked behind a few buildings and found a neighbor hosing down the grass that had caught fire.  He had no shoes on. I thought that strange and fired off a few photos.  I then decided to go LIVE on Periscope as I knew I had better stuff than Larry, so I pulled out my cell phone and started recording.  I am sure the video was a little shaky as I was still panting from my near heart attack induced run to the scene.  It got a little wobbly when I started shooting still images for print as I was shooting video with my camera.  periscopeMulti-tasker am I!  After getting images, I thought about the next element.  Victims.  I have found through the years that many people are ok with talking about what happened.  Or they tell you to screw off, or worse.  It is usually pretty evident before I even identify myself and ask.  Often I see the hate in their eyes or realize they have lost a pet or loved one, or just overcome with emotion.  I back off.  But John Goddard looked like he wanted to talk.  I asked if he wouldn’t mind me recording his story.  He obliged and we streamed his recanting what happened.  I have much more to tell, but I am tired and promised Justin I would buy him a beer at the Goose.

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Drugs, guns and politics

Pick your poison.

I got a taste of all three last night and am craving more, fear the worst, but hope for the best.  My drug of choice for the last 35 years has been the high I get from the adrenaline pumping in my veins when the shit hits the fan.  Breaking news, technical difficulties, innovation and moments of enlightenment mix together in a physical and cerebral intoxication.  It’s why I still chase that high every day.

 Working an assignment, at the Ramada, where I have memories that span decades, I listened to our governor conduct one of his town hall meetings.  Say what you want about the guy, but you have to give him credit for speaking his mind, taking punches, punching back and standing up for what he believes.  He needs some upgrades on his verbal filter, and we don’t see eye to eye on many issues, but I do agree with him on a few things he brought up last night.  Especially when talking about the heroin crisis, and whatever the next drug du jour will be.  Everyone with children is afraid. Those who have lost good kids who battled drug addiction can relate.  It is a growing problem that won’t go away unless we take drastic measures.

LePage is against equipping law enforcement with life saving drugs for overdoses.  He cited an example of a Deering High School student that has overdosed three times, but was saved with the antidote.  The third time, he was able to go back to class.  From a high that nearly caused him to die, to being able to go back to class in a matter of minutes.  What lesson does that teach.  It is a reflection of our political and judicial climate. Drastic changes are in order.

LePage wants to bring back the death penalty.  I’m not so sure that is the answer, but am on the fence with this one.  However, he did touch on something that makes a lot of sense to me.  If somebody almost dies because of a drug overdose, they need serious help.  And there is not a substantive system in place to deal with this and so many other atrocities that are becoming prevalent in society today.  Habitual drunk drivers get off time after time until they get behind the wheel and kill somebody.  Spouses that abuse their mates with little fear of serious consequences.  Repeat offenders that time and again walk away with a slap on the wrist.  But a guy growing too much pot goes to jail for more time than a father that abuses his child? Isn’t this absurd?  There are so many layers of bureaucracy that our legal and justice system has become stagnant and ineffective.  Sweeping changes have to be made.  But how?

Photos from Wednesday night's town hall meeting in Lewiston.

One current example that was touched on last night seems simple to fix on the surface.  LePage vetoed equipping public safety with Narcan (Naxoline) because it gives users a safety net with few consequences.  He points out there is no current working system in place to treat and rehab addicts.  There are plans for a new facility, but it is a drop in the bucket.  Instead of wasting time on so many stupid bills that are sponsored each session, why don’t our elected officials work together drafting meaningful resolutions?  How about: if we equip law enforcement with Narcan with the caveat that when the situation is so dire that it must be administered to save somebody, the addict, no exceptions, is immediately whisked  away to a treatment facility.  Sure there will be complications, failures and lawsuits.  But, it is fare better than bringing them back from the throes of death and simply sent on their way to do it all over again.  Or just let them die? How can we deny a proven life saving tool because of politics.  It seems like a simple answer, but like always, lawyers, lobbyists, and civil rights groups will make it impossible to get anything meaningful enacted.  Our jails, hospitals and state run institutions are not currently equipped to handle treatment required at this time. And it would take forever to write bills, equip facilities and train staff.  So it is used as a political football and leverage on other issues with nothing resolved or enacted in a timely fashion.  I think the political quagmire is part of the reason so many Americans are rallying behind a presidential candidate that scares the crap out of the other sector.  A vast majority of Americans are fed up with the status quo and want drastic change at any cost.  It’s a scary situation no doubt.  There are solutions if our elected officials focus on the real issues and not concern themselves with self preservation and party politics.  Our founding fathers must be rolling in their graves.

I was putting together a gallery of photos from the town hall meeting back in the newsroom when a call came over the scanner that a pharmacy had been robbed by a white male wearing a ski mask with a skull or some type of skeleton on it.  I was having problems uploading the photos to the gallery.  I was looking for a workaround and troubleshooting, but nothing was working.  I used to get frustrated, angry and stressed.  Now I see it as a challenge and excited when I figure something out, but was ready to throw in the towel and go home.  If a technical glitch causes me to miss deadline or the print or online product goes without my photos…..so be it.  If it is FUBAR and not my fault, oh well.  Sometimes I screw up, like last night when I lost a memory card with an assignment on it. That one is on me. But life goes on and today is a new day, with new mountains to climb, or a swamp to wallow in.  It’s my choice.  Over the years it’s become a wicked easy decision.

Everyone in the newsroom was hearing the scanner traffic, but were not sure where the robbery was.  I had picked up enough to figure it was either CVS or Rite Aide on Sabattus Street.  It was raining and dark.  I was not worried, my new camera is awesome in low light, especially if nothing is moving.  The guy was long gone and the cops would be inside for a while interviewing staff and customers.  We were on deadline, so a scene setter from the parking lot would suffice.

Police interview customers and staff at the CVS store on Sabattus Street in Lewiston Wednesday night.

Police interview customers and staff at the CVS store on Sabattus Street in Lewiston Wednesday night.

I took the newsroom laptop and boogied out the door.  LaFlamme was on the way I was told. I won’t embarrass him by telling you he went to the wrong location, but when he finally arrived shortly after me, he ducked out of the rain and into my front seat.  He was impressed that I had created a bucket for the story and photos, and was ready to push the photo and his yet to be written story online.  “How are you connecting to the internet, their WiFi?” asked my intrepid colleague.  He was flabbergasted that my phone hat a built in hot spot that I used to connect to the internet.  We cobbled together what we knew and sent the link to the copydesk for them to check over and publish.

I got home in time to watch the  TV news and log on to my computer to see if our stories of the govenah or robbery had generated any social media traffic.  I opened Facebook and did a quick scroll to catch up on what people were blithering on about.  I de-friended a dear friend that I just could not stand seeing any more photos of what she was cooking for dinner ever night.  Had a laugh at another who posted they were going home because a plane circling downtown frightened him.  But was horrified by the scenario that went through my mind when I read a couple of comments on the pharmacy robbery.  Two guys were boasting about being prepared for just such a thing by always having their gun with them.  I wondered what they would do if they were there.  Would they pull it out only if the robber started shooting, but do nothing if there was no imminent danger.  Or would they try to be a hero and accidentally kill an innocent patron?  The what iff’s started.

My son carries a gun.  I have in the past, but choose not to now.  I believe, and am comforted that there are many out there that are trained, of the right mindset, and able to make rational judgement calls that have and will no doubt save lives and stop crime in the future.  It makes many criminals think twice about pulling out a gun.  However, I am just as afraid to be shot by some knucklehead who thinks he is Dirty Harry or Walker, Texas Ranger.  Can of worms for sure.

 

 

 

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