Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Milestone - My 40th Anniversary at The Mercury

Ivana and Donald Trump at Kmart in Sanatoga
     On May 20, 1974, I was hired by editor Bob Boyle and started my career at The Mercury as a copyboy. Today marks my 40th anniversary at the paper. It has been a life long commitment and if there is one person I owe thanks, it would be my wife Deb.
     She has put up with a lot over the years with me out on news events at all hours of the day and night. It's not easy to stay married working in the media environment but I try to keep it balanced juggling a home life while I continue to chase news. So thanks Deb, I couldn't do this without you. Luv ya.
     At one point years ago I interviewed with a printing company thinking maybe it was time for a change when the owner told me something that I had never thought of before. He said that he'd be glad to hire me but reminded me that I most likely wouldn't be able to stay inside working an eight to ten hour shift behind a desk after being on the streets all those years. The friend said I'd be like a caged lion. He was right and I didn't take the job.
Doehler's fire
     It was too late for me to change and I remind young journalists to make sure they know that this is what they want to do because the ink runs thick in your blood and I don't think any other profession would work for me. I grumble some days as no job is perfect but still glad to be a part of the news.
     I enjoyed working as a copyboy for two years cutting my teeth learning from Mr. Boyle and photographer Tom Kelly. I covered elections, wrote up news briefs, picked up area weekly and daily newspapers. And any other odds and ends the editor needed me to do. I rode shotgun with Kelly many days starting out at 10 am on my own time before beginning my 3-11 pm shift. I'd hang around the photo department and when he raced out the door on a fire or some other spot news scene I'd be right with him. I watched and learned snapping pictures on all the events. It was the days of the black and white newspaper, what I like to call the golden era of the news biz. There was something about developing b&w film, making a print in the darkroom, then running it out to the city editors desk on deadline for the front page.
      The USA Today forced all newspapers into the color era around 1993 and at first it looked like comic book color to me. I was managing the photo department and was responsible for taking us into color. We started with a Fuji film processor,  a Nikon scanner and a MacIntosh Quardra 950, the first desktop computer I would work on. The photographers made four color negative separations and black and white halftones which were then pasted up in the composing room. From that point changes came at a daily pace, if you weren't of the mindset to learn new techniques and updated computer programs there was no place for you in the newsroom.
     The best day came in 2001when Journal Register Offset opened in Exton and The Mercury was finally printed on a high quality brand spanking new offset press. Before that the paper was printed on an ancient press and the color always had a dusty look to it. Many a day I was called into the publishers office to explain why photos looked muddy. I had the pleasure of shooting the first papers coming off of the new press on startup night. It was an exciting evening, and basically in my mind I was vindicated when I saw the crisp and clean images reproduced.
Chilly Dog
     Shortly after that mechanics tore the press out and piece by piece removed the old beast from The Mercury building. It had served its time printing out decades of historic papers. I drove over to Mayer Pollock Steel Corporation where the steel was taken to be recycled. It laid in a heap on top of other worn out scrap metal.  I snapped a photo and printed it with a caption that stated "REST IN PIECES!"  I wasn't sentimental about the change though I saw many a paper roll off that old press after covering late night news.
Stirring Sunshine
     Now we are into 'the social media' era a far cry from where I started. Tweeting, touting, emailing, texting, blogging all in the name of speed. Constantly changing, faster now then at any time in my career. I'm using a Mac laptop and sending art from a MIFI jetpack.  We also use iPhones snapping photos and video then transmitting the news through cell towers to my twitter followers online.  The news cycles through in seconds. A desk editor will also pick up these news items and move it to the website for the masses who want instant gratification and news as it happens. There is no waiting until the next days paper but I have to say I still like seeing and smelling a fresh daily paper.
FDNY Remembering 9-11
     I have snapped thousands and thousands of photos over the 40 years. In that time I have had the honor of photographing many interesting people. The assignments about people are the ones I like most. When I'm out with someone of advanced age or a rather seasoned individual I will ask them the secrets to a long life. Some are teetotalers others drink wine, some exercise some don't, but the majority seem to be smiling happy people. I'll have to work on that.
Police on a shooting scene
     I've met famous sports figures and military heroes. These folks have stories if you can get them to talk. Most are modest and I remind them that they aren't bragging just conveying information that readers would love to hear.
    For the paper, I have travelled to California, Louisiana, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Florida. Mostly, coverage is within the tri-county area.
Spring-Ford wins state hoop title
    If the alarm sounds on my anniversary date, I'll be running out the door just like always. Only these days it's more like a quick jog to the car on a sore knee.  I tell people all the time, this job makes you old and this job keeps you young. That may sound strange, but I can be dragging one minute and the next I'm flying around like a 'twenty something'.
    It's a fast paced business that doesn't show any signs of slowing down.  I'll be out driving my black pickup truck looking for news that day.
     And I just want to thank my wife again and tell her I'll be home for dinner but I may be a little late if the fire whistle blows.


Monday, May 19, 2014

A Busy and Great Week Looking Through the Camera Lens

     Most weeks, daily photo assignments are mixed with some okay features along with others that open themselves up for chances at snapping some especially good photographs.  Last week was the exception, every assignment had the potential for a special moment if I was ready to capture it.
     The first one of the week was a late night fire that destroyed several buildings and vehicles. It was my day off but ran out anyway. The fire was mostly knocked down but still was the most important story of the day. Later, on Tuesday, the schedule called for coverage of two lacrosse matches and two softball games all held on fields at Spring-Ford High School. Times overlapped on these playoff games and I was able to run back an forth between games and transmit in time for deadline. It doesn't take long to shoot lacrosse with constant action and athletes battling for control of play. Liam Hare, a defenseman for Spring-Ford took possession of the ball and ran coast to coast firing the ball and scoring on the play. He was very excited as he doesn't get many chances on the offensive end and he celebrated his good fortunes. They won the game so we used that photo as one of the lead shots on line and in The Mercury. With time constraints I shot various photos from softball and transmitted them into the system and called it a night.
     The follow day's most important sports event was the PAC-10 boys baseball final between Pope John Paul II and Methacton. The game turned into a pitchers duel and moved along at a brisk pace. There were good photos to take during the game, but it remained 0-0 going into the top of the seventh inning.
     I checked the time after every batter as I was also shooting for a sister newspaper with an earlier deadline. If the game went into extra innings there wouldn't be any chance to stay and get photos to the desk on time.
     And then things unraveled for PJP, first with a Methacton batter hit with a pitched ball. Two batters later the bases were loaded and the Warriors had their chance to score a run. I focused on home figuring a ground ball would have the throw going to the plate. And this time my calculated guess was correct. Pat O'Neill grounded one to PJP second baseman and he fired the ball home. Pope John Paul II catcher Sean Williamson tagged the plate as runner Kyle Lowery slid by on a close play. The umpire called him safe and the Methacton celebrated giving me my lead shot.

     You have to be ready for these moments as they are over in a matter of seconds. I looked down at the camera's viewer and the slide and cheering photos were both in focus. I never take this for granted and never let down because I try not to miss the big play of the game. Today I had them and got everything done on time. The game ended with Methacton winning 1-0.
      The following day wasn't going to be any easier and I again had the early deadline. This always adds another level of pressure. Girls softball normally moves quickly as pitchers typically dominate in these late season playoffs. The final between Methacton and Owen J. Roberts was running long. Lots of hitting and a number of runs.
     Methacton's pitcher Megan Stauffer was in control of the game and the team was leading in the top of the seventh when OJR threatened to even it up with runners on second and third and two outs. Stauffer got the last batter out and she jumped into the arms her catcher Emily Harris in victory. That photo was my favorite of the week with the battery mates expressions showing total elation.
     Saturday was another busy day ending a work week with several community events. One was the traditional placing of the flags on veterans graves for the coming Memorial Day holiday. I saw three
young scouts stood looking down at a grave. The boys were discussing something and even though they had all the room in this open cemetery the three were shoulder to shoulder. I wondered what they may have been thinking about. So young and possibly unfamiliar with death and the real meaning of the duty they performed that day. But they worked hard and moved quickly from one grave to the next.
     Across in another section were three veterans old enough to be the boys grandfathers. Old enough to have experienced war and loss. They worked together slowly and deliberately. Talking and walking, I couldn't help but notice the contrast between the generations. These photos told the story on this day.
      Then off to Tunes, Taps & Trucks food and beverage event held for the first time at Sly Fox Brewery. The place was packed with hungry patrons looking for unique food and a tasty beverage. Reporter Caroline Sweeney and I sampled several different snacks including a first time treat of fried cheese curds which were quite good. Everyone looked to be having a great time and musicians filled the air with good sounds. Hopefully I can get to this one when I'm off so I can taste several of their beers and spend more time at the venue.

     My last assignment had me climbing the roof at Pottstown High School to shoot the schools 175th anniversary 'We Are Pottstown' group photo. I graduated from PHS with the class of '74 so it was nice to be able to participate. I saw a few friends and my brother Gary attended but its hard for me to stop and chat for long because of the need to snap pictures of what's going on around me. It was still nice see some old grads.
     It was a good way to end the week on my 40th anniversary and to move forward to new things starting again this week as I keep shooting photos for the paper.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Update: Fly Fishing Adventures One Year Later

     When it comes to fly fishing it's all about the cast. If you can't get a fly to land in the water where you want, you might as well pack up and go home. It's that simple. And I've learned the hard way snapping off many two buck flies and nymphs in over hanging trees and brush.
     The creeks have been running fast this spring with high water from winter snow melt and heavy rain. And one of the storms had to come a day after the restocking of the Manatawny Creek near my home. I fish mostly wet flies and nymphs using hare's ears, pheasant tails, green weenies and wolly buggers. If the water calms down I may float some dry flies.
First trout caught fly fishing.
      Last year was the first time fly fishing and I began late in the spring after the creeks warmed up and trout fishing was winding down. But it was a productive season and I was amazed at the number of fish caught throughout the summer and into late fall. The summer season was filled catching many small mouth and rock bass along with blue gills and creek chub. Many of the fish were of good size. I could catch a couple one day and over twenty the next. I didn't keep a count but I'd say without telling fish stories that I caught several hundred fish.  By Thanksgiving the rod was stuck in the corner of the garage as a cold and snowy winter kept me away from the banks.
     But, I still hadn't caught a trout. I was out of town the first full week of the 2014 trout season. On my first day getting in the creek, I was in a big hurry to get out of the house and fishing. Just like the rod tip caught in the front door and snapped off. I need to slow down. Cutting the remainder of the tip down to the next eyelet, I headed for the creek.
     Th rod could still be used and I didn't care how it looked. My objective was to haul in some species of trout. There are a number of spots in the Manatawny Creek where I like to fish. And this day, the quiet section in Earlville was the choice. It was two and a half weeks since opening day and there wasn't another fisherman in sight.  Starting early I had the creek to myself and was able to walk this picturesque stretch.
     Within a handful of casts and slowly drifting a pheasant tail, a fish snatched the bait. I set the hook and started to strip in the line and the fish gave quite a battle. It was a sizable rainbow trout. It was time for a snapshot because nobody would believe me. So I grabbed my cell phone and took a couple quick pix and got the fish back into the water without any stress.
Biggest fresh water trout I probably have caught.
     Success! I've caught many trout over the years flipping lures, minnows and earthworms. But, there's something unique about catching fish on a fly rod. I was able to hook one more that day in the two hours I was fishing.
     Several days later, the rains came and didn't stop until six and a half inches had fallen. The creeks rose and flooded the low lying areas along the banks. I'd check the progress of the streams to see when they would return to a normal flow. It took almost ten days and once out fishing I needed two split shots on my line to sink it down to the fish.
     Out for the second time this year I hooked the biggest one in all my years fishing. He fought hard and I had to work the reel to get land it. The line was tight but the trout broke water flipping and splashing and thought for sure it would break the line. And this was on the new lighter weight rod that was purchased to replace the broken one. The rod was bend practically in half but the fish was netted.
     Again, it was snapshot time because I'm not telling stories. Setting the rod down next to it, gave perspective to see just how large the fish was. And back it went into the creek so that some other fisherman can catch it. The trout took off in a flash back into the deep pool where he was hooked. In the several times out fishing I've caught nine trout, rainbows, brook and brown. All nice size, nothing under ten inches. That may not sound like many but for me it is big progress.
     I got skunked on trout the last time out but I still caught fish. A half dozen creek chub and a nice sized small mouth bass. The Manatawny Creek is starting to warm up a bit and soon it will be bass fishing time.
Starting to be small mouth bass time.
     So recapping, it hasn't been all successful outings and it will take me a long time to get knowledgable about fly fishing. I still don't know what's hatching around me as I try to swat a flying insect into my hat to get a close-up  look to try and match it with a dry fly. But it's still a guess for me.
     And I'm still losing a number of flies on back casts into the trees. Line gets tangled at times. But I've remained patient not frustrated. I am catching fish and that is the object. And I don't care what I'm catching and continue to be amazed at the numbers and size of fish in areas where water is deeper than my waist in these little creeks.

     I've also found being outdoors by the creek is where I'm the most relaxed, until I've hooked one and then the heart's beating. The wildlife along the bank is also something I hadn't expected to see. This week a white tailed deer ran across the creek next to me. A blue heron near the West Pottsgrove Park is always squeaking at me to get out of her fishing area. Geese and babies are swimming around and the sounds of wood peckers can be heard in the trees. The most unusual animal I saw was a bald eagle flying overhead.
     That stopped me in my tracks and no I wasn't able to get a photo. It's no whopper, you'll have to take my word for it.