Sunday, June 28, 2009

My First Assignment

When I visited Waterman on Friday, Turchetta suggested I spend the weekend driving around our viewing area and meeting members of our community. He said to ask them as a new reporter, what I should know about the area and what they believe are the biggest issues plaguing  their community. 

Overall, I learned quite a bit from yesterday's assignment. On Friday night, I ate at a restaurant in Fort Myers Beach. My server was from Cape Coral. She told me all about the foreclosure rates in her community and one mortgage company in particular that's known for taking advantage of Floridians (I won't mention the company's name, but I plan to pitch the idea in a story meeting on Monday). Next, I drove to Naples, a luxurious community with many wealthy individuals. Again, I heard complaints about foreclosure rates and how so many people there can no longer afford their expensive second homes. I spoke to one couple who said they purchased a home for $300,000, which one year ago would have been on the market for over a million.  

On Saturday, I didn't speak to quite as many people. After finishing a handful of errands, I headed out to Coconut Point in Estero. Coconut Point is one of many new retail developments in Southwest Florida. It is a 90,000 square foot shopping mall, with  restaurants, retail, office space, a theatre and even condominiums. I figured it would be a good spot to meet individuals from all over the area. 

Upon arrival, I spotted a woman sitting alone outside of The Grape Bistro. I started a conversation with her and found out she was a middle school teacher in Collier County. She told me as a reporter on the education beat I would spend many days in Collier County. She said many teachers are upset about the takeover of Superintendent Dennis Thompson. She commented that teachers would not be receiving their steps this year, and that teachers and school board members are unsure how to evaluate Thompson and how to proceed with educational goals in Collier County. Then this lady's friend, a teacher at Pinewoods Elementary in Estero, joined us. They invited me to share an appetizer and drink with them. The Pinewoods teacher discussed Lee County education budget cuts. She told me many of the teachers were laid off last year, and about half are currently being offered their positions back for the next school year. She said many have already found new jobs, and it has created "quite an emotional mess". She also said she hasn't received her steps in two years, even though she has been an educator in Florida for 28 years. The ladies were so friendly and interesting that I ended up spending a few hours at The Grillroom restaurant with them. Of course, most of our chat was centered on fun topics such as great places to visit/hang out in Southwest Florida, but our conversation was very interesting and it was delightful to meet them. So far, everyone I've met here has been really great. People are more than willing to chat, and everyone has a great story to tell. I look forward to those I will soon meet. My adventure continues today.

Meeting the team

I met the Waterman team on Friday (June 26). It was really nice to meet everyone before my first day at the station. I loved the atmosphere- a big, open newsroom with reporters/anchors/producers/assignment desk workers all intermixed. Quite a few employees were communicating, swapping ideas, and asking one another for assistance before their evening deadline. The station has a very learning-friendly environment. I also officially met Turchetta. It was great to finally meet him in person, after researching every aspect of his life. I know by meeting everyone and seeing how the news room operates, that this will be a place I can grow in. This will be a place that allows me to use my skills as a multimedia journalist (digging, using the Interwebs, communicating) and work my butt off (which I prefer). This will be a place where I can learn from the best, with mentors that really know what they're doing. This will be the place where I can practice real journalism (not cheap news or shock news). 

"A Change Would Do You Good"

You know, I always say I'm going to make writing in my blog a more regular activity, but it just hasn't happened for me yet. I hope to seriously change that with my move and new career. I'm a Missourian no longer, as I officially switched my driver's license and address to Fort Myers, FL. Let me tell you, the last two weeks have brought a whirlwind of change. I couldn't be more excited to have landed a job where I did. I'll be working at Waterman Broadcasting (NBC-2, ABC-7), a company that still values investigative reporting during a time when that type of reporting has been slashed. A company with management that cares and a team-oriented focus.

 I'll be working as a video journalist, but the position didn't exactly fall into my lap. Let me start from the beginning. I was applying and applying and applying for broadcast positions. It seemed as if I was getting nowhere, so I launched a new game plan. I went through my list of places I had applied and started e-mailing news directors, assistant news directors, reporters, photographers…basically anyone who I could find an e-mail address for. One person got back to me. That man was the assistant news director at WBBH. He gave me an assignment: “My name is Greg Turchetta. You have 48 hours to find out as much as you can about me. Go!” I spent the next two days calling Turchetta’s wife, his wife's friends, his high school friends, ex coworkers, family members etc. Then I used the databases/search engines I learned in investigative reporting courses in college to find his driver’s license number, voter registration info and marriage/divorce licenses. I could have stopped there, but I was on a mission. I called as many state departments as I could to request open records for information on Turchetta. In the end, I compiled a 7-page report about Turchetta and e-mailed it to him. He called me within 10 minutes of receiving it….shocked by how much information I had found. Then, he gave me another mission: “You look a little uncomfortable in your live shots. Send me another DVD with your best live shot material.” I knew I had already given Turchetta my best material on my resume tape, so I called KOMU-8's managing editor, Randy Reeves, and scheduled to do a live shot at 5/6 the next day. Things went well, thanks to my wonderful producers (Akiko Oda, Kacey Breda, Mallory Perryman and Andrew Mckibbin) and my great live truck operator (J.P. Regan) I sent in the live shot DVD and didn’t hear back from Turchetta for a week. Then he e-mailed with bad news: the VJ position was frozen. He asked if I was interested in a producer/photographer position in the meantime until a VJ position became available. I said yes. He got back to me a short time later with more bad news: all positions were frozen. He said he was sorry and that he would keep me on his list. I was bummed, but then around 7pm I received a call from Turchetta saying they had a budget meeting and found the funds to hire me and one other VJ . He asked if I could get there before the end of June. So…here I am. I moved into my condo on Wednesday (June 24, 2009) and I start at Waterman on Monday (June 29). In the past few days, I have changed my car (my run down Mitsubishi could have never made the trip down), changed my address, changed my auto insurance, changed my driver's license, changed my hair (it's now more brown than blonde) and changed my community. I'm excited to be joining the people of Southwest Florida, and I look forward to delivering news they can count on. I'm honored to join the Waterman team. I'll keep all you readers posted on my adventures in the Sunshine state.