Scripps National Spelling Bee co-winners, Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe, have been sharing the limelight since May. Monday, that included meeting President Barack Obama.
Scripps National Spelling Bee co-winners, Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe, have been sharing the limelight since May. Monday, that included meeting President Barack Obama.
At the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, everything is an experiment – even the parking lot.
Animal keeper Matt Neff called Alex like he would call a dog. “Hey, Alex, C’mere! Come on, bud!” Neff said.
 
 
 

Semester in Washington Intern Blog

Sep 16, 2014

 Click on photo to enlarge or download: President Barack Obama meets with Spelling Bee co-champions Monday in the Oval Office. Meeting the President are Ansun Sujoe, right, from Fort Worth, Texas, and Sriram Hathwar, center, from Painted Post, N.Y. Official White House Photo by Pete SouzaClick on photo to enlarge or download: President Barack Obama meets with Spelling Bee co-champions Monday in the Oval Office. Meeting the President are Ansun Sujoe, right, from Fort Worth, Texas, and Sriram Hathwar, center, from Painted Post, N.Y. Official White House Photo by Pete SouzaBy Kara Mason

It was relatively quiet on the White House grounds. Outside, tourists snapped photos, U.S. Secret Service dogs sniffed for any potential threats that would disrupt what seemed like solitude on the other side of the fence and protesters made their presence known.

But inside, where the real action happens, it felt calm.

After getting through the gates, my attention was focused solely on getting where I needed to go, and maybe that’s why it seems like the rest of the world went mute when I passed that security check.

I need to get my camera gear set up, I need to meet the press contact, I need to not accidently find myself somewhere I shouldn’t be. I need to focus.

There’s a certain intensity that comes with being on the inside of that fence. Not only am I reporting at the White House, I’m doing something I’ve never done before – video work.

With my tripod and camera in tow, I followed the press contact.

“We can set up here, and I’ll be back with the Spelling Bee champs,” she said.

I attempt to set up near where every major network sets up its gear, but my knowledge of my tripod and how it will affect my shot is not nearly what I need it to be. I’ve prepared for this moment, but doubt is kicking in.

Somehow, it was still quiet.

Luckily, the Scripps National Spelling Bee champs and E.W. Scripps Co. President Richard Boehne’s meeting with President Barack Obama was running longer than expected, because after realizing that I’m brand new to this rodeo, the CBS cameraman down the way jumped over to help me unfold and set up my gear.

Click on photo to enlarge or download: E.W. Scripps Co. President Rich Boehne took a selfie of the two of us after we left the White House where he met President Barack Obama in the Oval Office with the spelling bee champions and I interviewed them outside. Photo by Rich BoehneClick on photo to enlarge or download: E.W. Scripps Co. President Rich Boehne took a selfie of the two of us after we left the White House where he met President Barack Obama in the Oval Office with the spelling bee champions and I interviewed them outside. Photo by Rich BoehneOnce the spellers arrive, it’s somehow still surprisingly quiet. Winners Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe seem awestruck that they’ve just emerged from the Oval Office. I’m in awe that my video is actually recording and the sound is working.

We’ve all reached a major milestone.

As I finished the interview and the quiet continued, I took a deep breath, and Boehne and I returned our passes and wandered back into the crowd where the noise and the rather casual atmosphere, returned.

There’s no pressure, no prestige, no wonderfully helpful CBS cameramen. There’s a fence guarding the calmness.

I’m sure there’s a buzz that follows the president, but it’s impossible to think that it’s anything similar to the world outside the White House grounds. 

After all, the work and events happening inside that fence are important, even for interns shooting video for the first time, and important work requires a quiet, serious mood.

 

Aug 14, 2014

By Anna Giles

Through a cloud of suffocating dust I can see a herd of anxious cattle just ahead.

I give my horse two sharp kicks to the gut and lurch towards them. The sky is clear and there is nothing blocking my way except the blade-like leaves of a yucca plant.

It’s just me, the desert and the sound of hooves beating the hot, dry earth. I round up the cattle and push them towards a man-made watering hole – the only liquid for miles upon miles upon miles.

I am not describing a Wild West scene in a movie.

This is my home and my life of 20 years – the expansive desert of Las Cruces, N.M. – just miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.

Throughout the summer, I have been reporting from Washington on the crisis taking place along the border – specifically in south Texas. Thousands of unaccompanied children have been arriving there –some fleeing violence in their home countries and others who received false information about lax U.S. immigration policies.

It has led me to involuntarily reflect on my life at the border. As members of Congress, administration officials and nonprofit organizations argue over the best way to solve the crisis and share frightening stories of violence or deprivation in the border region, in my head I page through memories of my childhood.

I see New Mexico ranch culture – with cattle round ups every of couple months. I see Chile roasters on the side of the road that somehow produce more heat that what is already beating down from the sun. I see border patrol search stations that I pass through every week where my car is X-rayed and I answer questions about my legal status.

The border region can be hostile place. The heat is unbearable, the desert never ending and no water until you make it to a nearby town.

But it’s not as empty as it sounds.

U.S. border patrol agents sweep the area in patrol cars often. The border with Mexico is usually marked by a 5 foot iron fence – just a few inches shorter than me. Many times, immigrants looking to cross the border will hide out in this remote area, looking for a safe way in.

Many times they will make a dangerous journey through the mountains just outside of Las Cruces in a place called the Corralitos Ranch.

When I go there during the day to help a friend herd cattle, I sometimes find the old clothing and food they leave behind.

About a year ago, I was exploring an abandoned shed at a wind mill located in the depths of the desert. I found empty tuna cans and cotton dangling out of a ripped teddy bear.

Because the environment is so hostile many immigrants die making the journey. Some are dehydrated and some are killed by wild animals.

The terrain is just as perilous for border patrol troops. They use technology like drones and X-ray machines to help them apprehend immigrants trying to cross or find drugs stashed in vehicles.

Sometimes they have to do things the old fashioned way - on foot.

On a blistering hot afternoon about a year ago, I found myself in the passenger seat of a truck driving along a dust-laden road between El Paso, Texas, and Columbus, N.M. – two places that have ports of entry.

My friend and I stopped the car to check out the border fence just off the side of the road. The maroon-colored iron fence goes on for miles. On the U.S. side, there are concrete pads lining the fence – some of which have sensors.

We walked around, took some pictures and left.

Within five minutes of driving on the main road again a man in a border patrol vehicle pulled us over. We weren’t speeding – he had simply detected us walking around near the fence and came to check out who we were.

The border area near New Mexico is not as active as other areas near major points of entry like El Paso. The U.S border with Mexico spans almost 2,000 miles, and the lifestyle in each border region is dramatically different. Some areas, like El Paso or Nogales, Ariz. are commerce hubs and see lots of activity.

The border fences there are 14 feet tall with barbed wire at the top.

Things in New Mexico are a bit more laid back. There is a clearly a reliance on the treacherous terrain to serve as a deterrent to hopeful crossers.

But that’s what I like most about it. When you breathe the air, it’s fresh – like it’s never been used. Life is calm and relaxed. But you wouldn’t think so in light of the recent crisis.

People call the border region no country for old men. So good thing I’m a young woman.

Reach reporter Anna Giles at anna.giles@scripps.com or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.

Aug 14, 2014

Click on photo to enlarge or download: Crystal Saunders helps tourists as part of her job as a Safety/Hospitality worker for the Downtown D.C. Business improvement District. SHFWire photo by Kate WinkleClick on photo to enlarge or download: Crystal Saunders helps tourists as part of her job as a Safety/Hospitality worker for the Downtown D.C. Business improvement District. SHFWire photo by Kate WinkleBy Kate Winkle

During this internship, I had freedom to develop skills and pursue my own projects. After getting used to covering Washington, I decided I wanted to develop a big project. I started at the beginning of July, and the four-part series landed on the website Wednesday.

The project I affectionately termed the “D.C. Jobs” series was my first solo, long-form, multimedia endeavor. To say I learned a lot would be an understatement, so these are a few tips I picked up about the process.

1. Develop an idea

I knew almost as soon as I arrived in Washington that I wanted to work on a summer project. One of my biggest struggles was figuring out what it should be, because it had to meet a few criteria: it must be reportable, it must be feasible, it must be interesting. The last point is the most important: selecting a topic of interest to an audience and to the reporter, who often must work months or years before a project is complete.

I discussed ideas with friends, family, my editor and co-workers to visualize my end goal and choose an idea: a series about jobs in Washington, complete with an article, photos and video.

2. Articulate the project

I needed to be able to explain my project in one or two sentences. Not only did this keep me on track, but it also allowed me to explain my goals to media representatives and sources. At first it was difficult to cold-call people at the places I wanted to include, and I may have rambled about my project a bit too much. With practice, though, I developed a succinct explanation that later served as the project’s online introduction: This story is part of a four-part series about unique jobs in Washington. Some jobs are necessary for the city to functionor require a special set of skills, but all are cogs in the wheel that makes Washington tick.

3. Create a timeline

I had about a month and a half to pull this project together, and adding multimedia elements would increase the time I’d need to work, so I decided to focus on three or four jobs. I set generous deadlines for scheduling interviews, gathering the raw materials and writing and editing the final piece. My last deadline, however, couldn’t move. I had to finish the project before the internship ended Aug. 15.

4. Have a Plan B

Ideally, I would have set up job shadowing and interviews by the second week in July. What I didn’t account for was the busyness that comes with the weekend of the Fourth of July in D.C. Media representatives were busy planning other things; my project, in their eyes, could wait. Other people were on vacation or out of the office, which led one media representative to politely decline to participate.

Click on photo to enlarge or download: Park Ranger Ted White gives tours of the Lincoln Memorial and other monuments on the National Mall. SHFWire photo by Kate WinkleClick on photo to enlarge or download: Park Ranger Ted White gives tours of the Lincoln Memorial and other monuments on the National Mall. SHFWire photo by Kate WinkleI felt defeated for a while, working on daily stories and checking in with media relations people on the side. I reached out to other jobs I could profile, feeling the pressure of my timeline.

Finally, responses trickled in as the frenzy of summer events slowed. I found six people representing four different jobs to shadow, video and photograph. I created a system of producing the product: half a day of gathering information, interviews, video and photo; a day and a half of writing; a day for editing video; half a day for creating a slideshow. It came together just as the last week of the internship was upon me.

5. Share the project

I can’t accurately describe the relief and elation of uploading everything to the website. I grinned while walking back to my office after a final proofread with my editor.

But, my work was not done. I tweeted stories out on the @SHFWireInterns Twitter account and my personal one, tagging the organizations with whom I’d worked in the tweets. I shared a barrage of links to Facebook. I texted friends and family. I also emailed links to and thanked all my sources and media representatives who helped me.

With my project finally finished, I took a deep breath, relaxed a bit and admired the product.

 

Aug 14, 2014

 Click on photo to enlarge or downloadClick on photo to enlarge or downloadBy Kate Winkle

I’m convinced that Hollywood thinks journalists are cool. Hollywood, and the makers of superhero comics. And, when the two get together, you get Amy Adams’ Lois Lane stomping around the world in high heels and Tobey Maguire’s Spider Man taking selfies while zipping through the air. Both, I have to admit, are pretty cool images.

Journalists in actuality are a lot less glamorous, and not every story is a world-traveling adventure or the uncovering of a scandal. Sometimes, journalists have to sit by a phone and wait for a source to call back. They have to be patient. But they need to get information in a timely manner, so they also have to be persistent.

The past few weeks have been a lesson in the virtues of patience and persistence. I worked on a longer-term project that required me to call media relations representatives and coordinate interviews. In fact, my project absolutely required that I rely on them for help, which can be very good or very difficult.

The good part is that media relations representatives can provide access. Through coordination with a Smithsonian National Zoo representative, I took video inside an enclosure of giant tortoises. By talking with a Library of Congress representative, I photographed the library’s extensive flute collection. The media relations people also introduced me to individuals willing to let me follow them around and do an interview. Those are some very rewarding benefits.

On the other hand, as a journalist I depend on these people. If they don’t call back or won’t work with me, sometimes there can’t be a story. If they don’t call back quickly, my project timeline gets shifted a smidge.

There’s a kind of frantic worry that develops when waiting for someone to call back. If it’s for a daily or breaking story, I’ve sometimes called every half hour until I’ve gotten a response. But working on a longer project requires more tact, there’s a delicate balance between being an annoyance and being at the forefront of that person’s mind. I wanted to develop a relationship so I could work with them and continue to work with them.

I wanted so badly for this project to work, and the worst part was that there was really nothing I could do about the holdup, except call back every day and politely request to be called back. And also tell them to “have a nice day,” for good measure.

Finally getting that call and talking schedules was a welcome relief. Even more of a relief was  going out and meeting my sources, starting productive work on the project.

The next relief was, of course, finishing and publishing the project.

 

Aug 1, 2014

Click on photo to enlarge or download: Warning: Sometimes you’ll end up on a senator’s web page if you sit in the front row of a press conference. That’s me, center, in the light suit taking notes. Photo from Sen. Claire McCaskill’s websiteClick on photo to enlarge or download: Warning: Sometimes you’ll end up on a senator’s web page if you sit in the front row of a press conference. That’s me, center, in the light suit taking notes. Photo from Sen. Claire McCaskill’s websiteBy Daniel Wheaton

There’s some sick enjoyment in the power a congressional press pass gives you.

And no, not in the Frank Underwood-ey “proximity to power” way, but being able to walk around the Capitol like you own the place, which, technically, we all do.

I got the chance to experience what our lawmakers did before they went on their summer vacations.

Some had hopes for grand legislation, and others lost political battles.

The House and Senate passed their short-term fix to the Highway Trust Fund, which ends my continuous string of what I’ve been internally calling “HTF” stories.

Sitting up in the press galleries taking notes of congressional debate is an experience I’m glad to have had, but I understand why people who do this as their career sometimes just sit back and listen to C-SPAN.

There’s only so much floor action you can listen to.

It’s a bit easier to understand why things take so long in Congress when you’re physically there.

Parliamentary procedure eats up minutes, and 15-minute voting periods are really more like 25.

When it comes down to it, you realize that they’re just people.

Just like you and I would probably (Read: definitely) do, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., checked email on her iPad when Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was giving a speech on the floor.

Who can blame her?

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is kind of a touchy-feely kinda guy; he often places a hand on the shoulder of someone he’s talking to.

That and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., looks extra sullen when you’re looking down at him from the House Press Gallery

At times Congress feels like a zoo, and reporters get the chance to toss a few bites over the wall.

I’m glad for that.

 

Jul 24, 2014

 Click on photo to enlarge or download: Matt Waite, University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor of practice, flies a small drone during a talk at the National Press Club on Wednesday. His drone is typical of those used to gather photos and videos for news stories. SHFWire photo by Daniel WheatonClick on photo to enlarge or download: Matt Waite, University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor of practice, flies a small drone during a talk at the National Press Club on Wednesday. His drone is typical of those used to gather photos and videos for news stories. SHFWire photo by Daniel WheatonBy Daniel Wheaton

I never planned to get in trouble with a federal agency.

About this time last year, my organization – the College of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln – was asked to stop flying drones by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Matt Waite, the lab’s founder, sent me a text briefly explaining the situation and how we’d go forward.

It’s bewildering getting a letter like that from a federal agency, but at the same time it was reassuring to know that the work that we were doing was cutting-edge enough to be, you know, possibly illegal.

Let me rewind.

In the fall of 2011, Waite was a guest lecturer in my journalism 101 class when he preached about investigative journalism and the intersection of technology and reporting.

As a still-impressionable freshman who was and is a bit of a technophile I thought: “I should get to know this guy.”

In November, Waite had officially created the lab, and I offered my help as a research assistant.

My role was to write for the lab’s blog and to study the ethics of using drones to report.

I flew some of our drones – the DJI phantom and our fixed-wing – but that wasn’t my focus.

Ben Kreimer, then a history and broadcasting student at UNL, was our engineer. He built several systems and worked out some of the kinks.

This side project put me in an interesting position as a reporter.

Let me be clear: I want journalists to be allowed to use drones. I think journalism needs to harness all kinds of communication technologies to tell stories.

I have biases, and I’m able to work around them.

At this point, I’m not sure how many stories I’ve written about drones.

In all of them, I still use the same reporting techniques as any other stories, and I still work to make sure my reporting is balanced.

In my latest drone story, I anecdotally refer to the common response: “I’ll shoot down your drone.”

It’s a common viewpoint – that’s why it’s in the story.

Beyond that, I avoid writing directly about UNL’s lab, or about Waite.

If you’re a student journalist, I encourage you to find topics that you care about and make that your beat. If you’re able to keep your own opinions out of the mix, having a personal connection might make you a better reporter.

Getting that letter from the FAA proved that the government and the public need good journalism to understand what’s going forward.

Policy, regulation and law is inherently complicated, so boiling that down into useful, coherent information is entirely what’s needed.

Find your passion and report it.

 

Jul 22, 2014

 Click on photo to enlarge or download: The National Park Service runs Cedar Hill, in Southeast Washington, that was once the home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. He bought the house and land in 1877. SHFWire photo by Megan CardClick on photo to enlarge or download: The National Park Service runs Cedar Hill, in Southeast Washington, that was once the home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. He bought the house and land in 1877. SHFWire photo by Megan CardBy Megan Card

It took a Sunday morning spent in the home of Frederick Douglass for me to realize my ninth-grade American history class failed me.

I’m ashamed to write this, but I didn’t know anything about the man other than he was a former slave turned abolitionist. Taking a tour of Cedar Hill, his house in Southeast Washington, seemed to be the logical first step to learn more about him.

An 1980s video at the visitor center included a lot of dramatic pause-for-effect moments and covered Douglass’ historical relevance from slave to emancipation orator.

But the most intimate facts about the abolitionist’s life came from the guided tour of his hilltop home, courtesy of the National Park Service. Here are a few tidbits.

1. Frederick Douglass changed his name, twice.

Douglass didn’t go as far as NBA player Metta World Peace, but he was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey as a slave in Talbot County, Md. When he escaped in 1838 and married Anna Murray, a free woman, they adopted the surname Johnson. He then decided to change his name, again. A friend chose the name Douglas, from Sir Walter Scott’s narrative poem “The Lady of the Lake,” and Douglass  added an “S.”

2. He didn’t shy away from the camera.

The former slave was the most photographed man of his time. Apparently, Douglass was not a fan of sitting still for portraits. He surpassed President Abraham Lincoln and Gen. George Armstrong Custer with 160 photographs taken of him during the 19th century.

3.  Frederick Douglass had a 19th century “man cave.”

This sounds strange, but it’s true – kind of. Behind the main house, Cedar Hill, there is a small rustic building called a growlery. Douglass would retreat to the space to read, think and write undisturbed when he didn’t want to use one of the multiple offices in his home.

Click on photo to enlarge or download: Books and objects owned by famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass are on display at his former home in southeast Washington. Daily tours are given by the National Park Service about the former slave in the house. SHFWire photo by Megan CardClick on photo to enlarge or download: Books and objects owned by famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass are on display at his former home in southeast Washington. Daily tours are given by the National Park Service about the former slave in the house. SHFWire photo by Megan Card4. He liked Caribbean-inspired wallpaper.

Douglass was a world traveler. He ventured to Europe and Africa, but it was his trips to Haiti that left a noticeable impression on his home. One of his parlors is decorated with palm tree wallpaper and other elements incorporate a Haitian theme. 

5.  Douglass preferred wheels on his chairs.

In the dining room of Cedar Hill, a chair at the end of the table has wheels attached to its legs. Douglass was known for large mannerisms when he spoke. He had the wheels put on his dining room chair so he wouldn’t tip over if he started to move around in his seat.

6. He fought for the vote with Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

The abolitionist is known for his work for equality and justice for African Americans, but he also was a vocal supporter for women’s rights. He and Stanton, a leading figure in the early women’s right movement, spoke at the famed Seneca Falls Convention and argued for a woman’s right to vote.

7. He married a white woman.

After the death of his first wife, Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white feminist from New York who was 20 years his junior. His four adult children and Pitts’ abolitionist parents were vocal critics of their nuptials. Even so, the two were married for 11 years until Douglass’ death on Feb. 20, 1895. He left Cedar Hill to Pitts in his will, but the will was invalid because he only had two, not three witness signatures. Pitts bought the house from his children and spent the rest of her life turning it into a museum to commemorate his life’s work. The National Park Service acquired the house in 1962.

 

Jul 11, 2014

 Click on photo to enlarge or download: SHFWire photo by Daniel WheatonClick on photo to enlarge or download: SHFWire photo by Daniel WheatonBy Daniel Wheaton

The specter of finding a “real person job” can be a frightening thought, especially if you’re going into a constantly evolving industry.

I’m a rising senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and before long I’ll have to turn those ideas into reality.

Aiming to improve my chances at getting a job, I’ve started learning some coding and data skills to supplement my reporting.

Having skills such as data visualization and coding is slowly becoming a necessity in newsrooms. Earlier this year, new organizations such as Vox, FiveThirtyEight and the TheUpshot emerged on the scene and are churning out new forms of journalism.

During my summer in Washington, I’ve been meeting with journalists to get their perspective on the industry, and how journalism students can better adapt themselves to the changing journalism environment.

Here are some of their tips:

Becky Bowers | PolitiFact digital operations manager

Becky Bowers operates the back end of the fact checking news source. Before PolitiFact grew to national prominence, it operated as a small part of the Tampa Bay Times. She said working on smaller projects within a larger organization gives creative people more freedom to experiment and try new things.

She encourages people to seek out communities of people who are willing to help you get over the learning curve. Working on GitHub or with the NICAR listserv are some places to get the coding basics down.

Jeremy Bowers | New York Times interactive news developer

Jeremy Bowers has been coding since he was in college. He found this passion out of a love of solving problems, and during the past several weeks he’s been developing the New York Times’ interactives for the World Cup.

Bowers said it is important to find opportunities in news organizations that allow you to be more than “a cog in the machine.”

It can start out as simply as using a Storify or adding graphs to a story, but adding more elements sets your stories apart from others. 

Derek Willis | New York Times The Upshot reporter

Willis covers campaign finance for The Upshot, as well as designing interactives for the Times. Like Bowers, he is a long-time coder.

Willis said journalism students should take classes that will supplement their reporting, such as economics and statistics. He also encourages students to seek out internships that allow for more freedom to experiment with data and other forms of storytelling.

 

Jun 27, 2014

 

Click on photo to enlarge or download: Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., questions witnesses during a hearing about the missing Lois Lerner IRS emails. What they call the well – the space between the dais and the witness table – was filled with professional photographers, so I had to squeeze by them to get my shot. SHFWire photo by Erin BellClick on photo to enlarge or download: Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., questions witnesses during a hearing about the missing Lois Lerner IRS emails. What they call the well – the space between the dais and the witness table – was filled with professional photographers, so I had to squeeze by them to get my shot. SHFWire photo by Erin BellBy Erin Bell

You have to do it all.

Write. Take photos. Shoot video. Tweet.

It might not seem like much in a list, but when I’m doing it – trust me – it’s harder than you think.

Journalism is changing, and it’s not as simple as being strictly print, radio or television any more. You need to be a well-rounded journalist if you want to have an edge. That’s part of the reason I applied for the Semester in Washington Program – I wanted the multimedia experience. I’ve done a little bit of everything during college, but covering an event in Washington by yourself when you have to do everything is a little different, to say the least.

It can be hard to multitask. You need to move around to get photos and video, but you don’t want to miss jotting down something important in your notes. It can also be awkward, especially in a congressional hearing, shifting from the press table to where the photographers and videographers are.

But after three weeks in the program, I’ve learned a few things about how to balance it all:

Get there early. It will let you scope out a good spot where you can easily move around so that you don’t disturb too many audience members. At every event I’ve gone to in the last few weeks, I’ve gotten there early. Mostly because I was afraid I’d get lost and wanted to give myself time to navigate, but it also allowed me to get a good seat on the end of an aisle where I could easily get up if I needed to.

Don’t worry too much. Even if you have to push through some people to get what you need, do it. You don’t need to be rude, but you’re there to do a job, and you can’t let the fear of being impolite hold you back. I attended two congressional hearings about the missing Lois Lerner IRS emails, one Monday and one Tuesday. There were a lot of journalists at both hearings, and most news organizations sent a photographer and a reporter. I was the only one moving back and forth trying to take notes and get photos. I felt slightly awkward about it, especially since the hearing room was nearly full. But I knew what I needed to get, so it didn’t matter if had to maneuver around people.

Click on photo to enlarge or download: The Consumer Product Safety Commission blows up a mannequin during its annual demonstration of fireworks safety. Just before this explosion, my battery died, so I had to quickly swap it out just in time to snap a few photos. SHFWire photo by Erin BellClick on photo to enlarge or download: The Consumer Product Safety Commission blows up a mannequin during its annual demonstration of fireworks safety. Just before this explosion, my battery died, so I had to quickly swap it out just in time to snap a few photos. SHFWire photo by Erin BellPlan. At first, I was fairly sporadic in switching between note taking and my other tasks. I’ve found that it’s better to give myself a chunk of time to focus on doing one thing. Spend an allotted amount of time taking photos, then transition back to taking notes.

Think quickly. Even if you have a plan, things aren’t always predictable. Sometimes, you only have a moment to capture something in a photo or to get that perfect quote. Think on your feet,  follow your gut and, hopefully, you won’t miss your opportunity. The Consumer Product Safety Commission hosted its annual demonstration about fireworks safety Thursday. Fireworks safety experts blow things up, so it was a great opportunity to get video. The only problem was that the demonstrations were yards apart, and they went quickly. I had to reposition my tripod and refocus the camera between each one. I only had seconds capture each explosion. So, planning was fairly hard, I just had to move as quickly as possible and trust that I could get what I needed.

A woman mentioned Thursday while I was covering that event that I looked like a one-man band. Being in that situation can be stressful at times, but it’s also rewarding. I walked away from that event with photos, video and enough information to write an article. It made me feel accomplished, and all I had to do was learn a few tricks, which will definitely come in handy in the future.

 

Jun 27, 2014

 

Click on photo to enlarge or download: New York Times reporter David Carr, left, listens as Beau Willimon talks about his show, “House of Cards.” He only hinted at some of the plot twists that may come up in season three, which is likely to be released on Netflix early next year. SHFWire photo by Kate WinkleClick on photo to enlarge or download: New York Times reporter David Carr, left, listens as Beau Willimon talks about his show, “House of Cards.” He only hinted at some of the plot twists that may come up in season three, which is likely to be released on Netflix early next year. SHFWire photo by Kate WinkleBy Kate Winkle

The creator, show runner and executive producer for “House of Cards,” Beau Willimon, conversed about the show June 19 with New York Times reporter and columnist David Carr. It was like a living room filled with 450 others at the Smithsonian Associates’ lecture: cozy and familiar.<--break->

Although Willimon refused to reveal details about the third season of the nine-time, Emmy-nominated Netflix show, he shared insights about the characters, set and plot thus far. (WARNING: Spoilers ahead)

1. “House of Cards” was never meant to be a typical TV show

Many people working on the show didn’t have television experience and didn’t mind breaking typical TV conventions.

“We often joke when we talk about it that it’s a 13-hour movie,” Willimon said. “And, oftentimes on sets we talk about it as a movie.”

The show has strict rules, including a muted color palette – viewers would never see the color red in the show. Actors were directed to make their characters reserved. Robin Wright, the actress who plays Claire Underwood, was told “you are a marble bust.”

2. The creators planned deaths from the beginning, but Frank Underwood didn’t

Underwood has always been opportunistic, and he took advantage of a situation with Rep. Peter Russo.

“It was really as simple as pushing a button in a kind of way,” Willimon said.

Pushing Barnes in front of an oncoming Metro train at the beginning of season two showed the lengths Underwood would go to reach his goals and allowed the show to explore ethical boundary changes.

“It’s important for us to see that Francis is capable in a minute to commit murder, knowing that’s what it was. There’s no way to rationalize it other than there is no mercy once it’s there,” Willimon said. “The first one was mercy, this is no mercy.”

3. Frank Underwood’s character is a “portrait of optimism

Willimon said people mistakenly put cynicism and idealism on the same spectrum, but cynicism is actually the opposite of optimism. Underwood’s endeavors aren’t always successful, but he moves on and tries something new instead of being bitter. He doesn’t follow strict ideological lines and uses whatever methods necessary to accomplish his goals, even if he must compromise.

“What does Francis say? He says, ‘Whatever is impossible, or near impossible, does not daunt me. I am willing to try,’” Wilimon said.

4. The Underwoods are supposed to live in Georgetown

Although the show is centered on Washington politics, only the opening montage and some exteriors are shot here. The rest is filmed in Baltimore where permits are easier to acquire. Still, the original script called for the Underwoods to live in Georgetown.

“We really loved the idea of a townhouse feel for them, something narrow and claustrophobic, like a bunker, as opposed to a house," Willimon said.

5. Frank Underwood’s sexuality is purposefully ambiguous

Underwood and his wife, Claire, had affairs throughout the show that didn’t disrupt their relationship because of their mutual understanding. The only thing that could break them apart would be actual affection for someone else. Barnes and photographer Adam Galloway didn’t pose that threat.

The show hints at – but doesn’t define – Underwood’s sexuality, especially when he reunites with old school friends.

“He’d have no patience for labels – gay, bisexual, pansexual, whatever you want,” Willimon said. “As he says himself, ‘When I want something, I take it.’ And, he has a very large appetite.”

6. Creators planned to end season two with President Frank Underwood

The creators knew from the first season that Underwood would become president – they just didn’t know how. They added storylines such as Russo’s run for governor and former prostitute Rachel Posner’s complicated relationship with Underwood’s Chief of Staff Doug Stamper.

“We kind of ignored the inevitable, which was, ‘Then what?’” Willimon said. “Because there’s a sort of completion and finality to becoming president, we thought ‘Well, maybe no one watches the show.’”

The challenge the creators and Underwood face is the same as many presidents after months of campaigning: leaving a legacy and finding meaning in a new role.

Claire Underwood could change in season three as well because she wrestles with being Frank Underwood’s equal and his support system.

“They have tension that’s already there, and I don’t think it’s rocket science to point a finger at it,” Willimon said. “That’s what we went into season three thinking about.”

 

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