Tag Archives: florida

Thanks One-Legged Bill

Life has a funny way of working out.

Even when the pessimistic side of you is sure it will never work out and that most likely you’ll end up dead in a ditch before anything good happens things seem to sort out in a most unexpected way.

They never teach you this in journalism school, but this job has a way of sucking the life out of you.

The past few weeks, I’ve found myself unhappy, depressed and negative about … well, everything.

Which, honestly, is not me – it’s not who I am or who I want to be.

Last night, God convicted me of the way I’ve been acting and feeling. He has such a way of showing me that despite all the terrible things going on in my life He has a plan, a purpose and it all works for His glory.

I guess I just forgot that for a minute.

Friday afternoon I got called into my editor’s office and the Negative Nancy in me thought, Great, what did I do wrong this time? He sat me down and instead asked if I would be interested in going to Washington D.C. for a story. Umm, YEAH!

Although even then I thought that most likely something will come up, someone else will somehow get to do it and I’d be disappointed once again. Like I said, I was not looking up at life.

Then this morning we got a call about a man who was on his way home after some locals decided to do good for someone else.

Meet Bill.

He was crippled in an accident a few months back, left with only one leg and stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He ended up homeless and broke in Tallahassee with no way home – which happened to be Iowa.

After months of sitting around, Bill decided he was going to get home one way or another. He made it nearly 150 miles in two days from Tallahassee to Destin in his wheelchair when a local man decided to pull over and help.

I talked with the man and asked why he pulled over. Honestly, I drive by homeless people all the time and the only thing I do is check to make sure my doors are locked.

But this man said simply that since he became sober eight years ago he has been doing a good deed for someone he doesn’t know everyday.

His good deed for that day was to give Bill a ride to a nearby hotel and pay for him to stay the night. As he told the hotel staff Bill’s story they too wanted to help. Long story short, the staff and friends of friends paid for a ticket to get Bill home to Iowa.

I realize that while life has its tough times, its cry in the bathroom times and its “I want to quit life” times, there are also beautiful moments where you see compassion, love and tenderness.

Thank you for those moments.

Living the Dream: Reporting on Slimy, Smelly Sludge

There’s nothing like the smell of dead fish in the morning.

This morning, I got an email that said I would be doing the centerpiece story on the mystery “sludge” that has washed ashore on the beaches.

I won’t lie, hearing the word sludge will probably never excite me.

The beach was disgusting. I walked on mushy/hard/crumbly sand that sat in between fishy, green seaweed and algae.

Just what I always wanted to do as a little girl: Grab my notepad and camera to do the exclusive on green crap that smells bad.

But as I am going to be a positive person no matter what, a decision I just decided on, I will look at the positives.

I was able to talk to a local couple who knew why it was nasty and explained quite articulately all the going-ons of beach seaweed.

Then I interviewed a woman, who made me feel like a hippo because she was so skinny, and talked to her about why on earth she would get in that nasty water and what it felt like.

Side note to you skinny girl: One day a cookie will be shoved in your mouth and I will be that hand doing the shoving. You’re welcome in advance.

Then I went on the pier, passed the perverted guy that collects the toll after a long discussion on my polka dotted dress, and talked with a guy who has been fishing in the area for 50 years and gave great quotes. Plus, he caught a fish as we were talking – nice.

I hate sludge, slime and seaweed. It’s gross and smells, but getting out of the office and talking with various folks definitely makes it worth it. Plus, I got myself a large Diet Coke from Sonic, yum.

Sadness Always Seems to be Looming

I don’t know how it came to this point. Perhaps it was my general interest and, honestly, complete astonishment in the amount of DUI cases in our area.

Perhaps, it was that I’ve been effected by death through DUI cases, not personally, but there’s not been a week that goes by that I don’t talk to someone who has lost a loved one due to someone’s irresponsible actions.

Through all of this, I expressed my interest and the idea for a centerpiece story all about DUIs was decided on and the research began.

Today, I interviewed a father who lost his daughter four years ago.

She was driving to her boyfriend’s house when a woman trying to outrun the police hit her head-on.  She was hit so hard it knocked her to the back of her car and the small dog she loved so much that was riding in the back was killed instantly along with her.

She was 20. She had just gotten accepted into the university I graduated from and was home for only four weeks.

Had she lived, we would have gone to the same college at the same time. She would be where I am today if she had lived. She would be a 24-year-old woman working to make something of herself and trying to make her parents proud.

Her father showed me a video tape of his daughter after I asked what she was like. She was nice, pretty. I think we could have been friends.

He showed me her old bedroom and the closet she and her sister wrote in. Boys names, significant dates and hearts scribbled all over the once white walls.

I fought back the tears as he explained how his life has changed the past four years. As he talked about his oldest daughter getting married and the charm of her sister that hung from her bouquet.

She lived her too short of a life to the fullest, her father said.

I knew diving into this subject would not be easy, but I never knew how personally connected I could feel to someone who died four years ago. Someone I never met.

Then I got angry. In Florida, the maximum sentence for DUI manslaughter is 15 years. A life is worth 15 years if you drink and drive.

I thought about the number of arrest reports I write up where someone is caught driving under the influence. Even now, I’m sitting at my desk wondering what to do. How can I help to effect change.

God has put me in an odd place in this world as a journalist. In a sense, I have the power to help effect change. This is just the first time I realized the position I am in and the importance of doing something good for the time I am here.

Now, I just have to write the story.

Weathering the Work

They’re cliché, have been done a million times and pretty much no one reads them past the second graf. Dun, da, da, dun: They’re weather stories.

Since starting at the daily I can’t begin to tell you how many weather stories I have done. It’s really rainy, it’s really cold, it’s snowing, it’s spring time and yesterday it was really hot.

Yes, that is correct. I wrote a story about the heat, which personally speaking as someone who has lived in Florida for 23 years it’s kind of a given.

It’s hot in Florida most of the year.

Alas, I am general assignment and I was asked by my editor to put it on my calendar.

I’ve really taken a liking to writing out things in “Step” format. So here is how I write a weather story, typically.

Step 1: Call the National Weather Service

Step 2: Talk with a meteorologist and somewhere in the minutia of weather talk get a funny anecdote about the weather to add some element of fun.

Step 3: Get two more sources and you’ve got yourself a Centerpiece story full of fun weather facts.

Now Step 3 is where you can really add your own personal twist to the story since its open to just two other people. Well Thursday my brain was not in work mode it was in “I really want this day to be Friday and almost over” mode so the ideas really weren’t flowing.

That’s when chatting with work folks really pays off. They offered me all kinds of suggestions. My favorite was calling someone who serves cold beverages.

So I typed in Sonic and up popped all the local joints. After a quick chat with the manager and a detailed list of their customers favorite summer drinks, I was on my way.

Next up I decided to think of who would be stuck outside working in the heat: lawn care workers.

So I opened up my phone book and scanned. Perhaps this thought strikes you when seeing interviews, how do reporters choose one company out of hundreds?

Well I decided to go with the one with the best name: Looks Good Lawn Care, priceless.

Then a story was born. It was simple, took less than an hour to do all the interviews and the writing was easy as pie.

Weather stories may not be the most entertaining, they may not get the juices flowing and people may not care to read too much of the actual story, but by golly as least they’re easy to write.

I’m Sick of Oil

It’s terrible to say, but since April our paper has been consumed with all things oil and I’m tired of it.

At first it was kind of exciting, I went to the beach, touched the tar balls (I realize this is a no-no, but c’mon you would want to do it too) and even brought some back to the newsroom for show and tell. My desk was very popular that day.

Now, months later, I’m done. Tired. Over it.

We get more calls on oil than anything else. What was BP’s insurance? I know how to stop the leak. I worked on the site, but no I won’t give my name or proof I was there?

Then there are all the false reports. Oh no, it’s an oil slick! Nope, it’s just a mixture of coastal lake water and ocean water. Oh no, it’s more oil. Nope again, it’s just the ocean, which is sometimes a dark brown color.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s bad and the news part of it has been great for the paper. A typical month gives us about 5 million page views, last month we had 8 million – that, ladies and gentlemen, is a lot of people looking at nwfdailynews.com.

I went on a ride-along a week ago to see what the beach patrol officers do everyday to check out the oil situation. Let me tell you something, it’s incredibly dull.

I was in the back of the officer’s patrol truck while the Health Department worker and he poked their heads out the windows and stared at the beach sand going about two miles an hour. It took every ounce of self-control, will power and pure desire for me not to fall asleep. I figured it would be a little unprofessional.

I hate the oil, don’t get me wrong. It’s depressing hearing people say our gulf will never be the same and that the water, the air and the sand could all be dangerous.

I love the beach. I’m a Florida girl born and raised and would never want to see the beaches destroyed.

But enough oil talk, already.

There was a day that our entire front cover was oil. EVERY STORY WAS ON THE SAME TOPIC.

Thankfully, I wasn’t given the complete oil beat, but it’s something everyone has to cover because it is now our existence, it’s what we’re living with on a daily basis.

I remember back in April, the first week of oil coverage, that I was really ready for the oil stuff to be over. If only I’d have known that in July it would still be something that plagued our budget and probably will for a long, long time.

Oh, oil.

Snow beats the Elderly – hands down

I’m from the south, so hearing the word snow brings joy to my heart and a smile to my face. I can count the number of times I’ve seen snow on one hand.

In1993 it snowed in Florida. I made the most pathetic snowman, mostly made of mud, and remember it like it was yesterday. It was so magical.

In 10th grade, my family vacationed in North Carolina and my father woke my sister and I up at 3 a.m. to see the falling snow piling high. By the morning, the snow had already completed falling but the memory was already stuck.

Then, because I never like to do the typical thing, my friend DeAnne and I spent our spring break in Vermont. It was freaking cold and snow covered everything. I mean everything. We even spent a day in Montreal, Canada where the snow fell from the sky in huge chunks. My feet were soaked, my hands were numb and I loved every minute of it.

So when the news came last week that snow was a major possability in the Florida Panhandle I was a glow. Then I realized where I work is an hour from where I live where the snow was set to form. There was a zero percent chance that the snow would be falling at the paper.

What a bummer … or so I thought.

Friday I’m working on briefs and preparing for my assignment, Valentines Day with the folks at the nursing home. Don’t get me wrong, I love the elderly dearly — I worked at a retirement center for six years and loved it — but the elderly just can’t compete with snow.

So I was on snow patrol. I traveled an hour and saw the first flakes fall at a school of less than 500 students kindergarten through 12th grade. I saw children wearing shorts and flip-flops playing in snow for the first time in their young lives. It was amazing, and quite similar to a zoo.

I had a blast.

Tips On Being A Prepared Journalist

Similar to that of the boy scouts, I believe in always being prepared.

Sitting in my trunk is a pair of rain boots, an umbrella and a warm rain coat. I also keep a bag of Craisins in my purse, pocket knife and word find in my purse, first aid kit in my trunk and a bag with emergency makeup and every tool I can think I’d ever need.

By every tool, I range from Tylenol to a nail file with antibacterial hand gel and a tooth brush mixed in.

As you can see, I’m prepared. Being a journalist, preparedness is probably one of the most important things to be.

Extra pens, plenty of paper, voice recorder, camera and video camera should always be at the ready. Also being the cops reporter you need to be prepared for the elements.

Starting with the outfit. Layering is key, the office is always chilly and typically living in Florida is warm. Sweater, nice shirt, cropped pants and you’re there.

Layering prepares the journalist for any weather change.

I also keep my rain resistant things handy since I live in one of the rainiest states in the country.

So now I sound cocky and ready for anything — yeah right.

Today I reported on the Martin Luther King Jr. parade and had the brilliant idea to walk the parade route. Only I decided this a half hour before the parade began.

Today was around 45 degrees this morning, to any Floridian that’s cold.

So I park my car wearing my shirt, sweater, cropped pants, dress shoes and grab my adorable houndstooth heavy coat feeling good and looking nice.

I parked where the parade would end and hitched a ride to the beginning of the parade interviewing on the commute thinking I am about the smartest reporter ever.

I decided to start trekking ahead of the parade stopping to interview people as I walk. It was a great plan, I got great quotes and I got a nice feel for the parade.

Then the weather got warmer, the route kept going and my feet started blistering.

I was only half-way through and over it.

Lesson for everyone, keep some tennis shoes in your car, don’t walk parade routes and keep the cockiness down. You’re never going to be as prepared as you’d like, but each time you screw up prepare for that and you’re unpreparedness level will drop.