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By Lynn French
Photographer KPNX-TV Phoenix, AZ
December 2004

My News Year's Resolutions

I am not an ultimatum or resolution person. But I do try to take care of issues and there are a few that cropped up this last year that I want to solve by the end 2005. They are those little devil details that don't hurt anyone, they just nag at me like that cough that stays two weeks after you get over a cold. So here they are, if they are things you already do... I am very proud of you. If they are not, I understand... sometimes we don't know something is an issue until it bites us in the butt or dope slaps us in the head.

Lens cleaning once a week--- After 14 years, you would think I would have this habit by now, but I don't. You would think after working several years in the nuclear sunlight of Arizona, I would do this often, but I don't. You would think after a few years of rain and hurricanes in North Carolina...but no. Every Monday when I grab tapes and batteries to head out, I will clean my lens and viewfinder. I know... it literally takes 30 seconds and saves hours of heartache when you have the big smudge from a 3 year old down the middle of the murderer perp walk at high noon that gets used in every promo, cold open and lead through out the day. Or the rain spots that you did not notice while shooting the sun shot, or the dog snot left over from the shoot at the humane society that is now in the middle of the governor's forehead.

Keep in touch with interesting people for stories down the road--- Remember the girl who was the peace activist during the beginning of the Iraqi war who is studying intellectual property law at ASU, well she has the first Hybrid car sold in Arizona. Can we find her for our gas prices story? There are just some people I need to keep the phone numbers and addresses of because they can give depth to boring stories. You know the type, you start talking to them while you are setting up lights or waiting for an event to begin and find out some crazy fact about them or they have a talent that is going to come in handy in the future. The thing I like best about them, they aren't seeking fame or face time, they believe in what they are doing and they are the real people of our community--- not plastic politicians, desperate attention seekers or C string celebrities asking "Don't you know who I am?". These interesting people are sometimes the folks who have an ongoing story that gives you something to pitch in the morning meeting so you don't have to do a package on how nice/bad/boring/extreme/or average the weather is today.

Subscribe to a magazine that is not TV related--- I get the Columbia Journalism Review, NATAS quarterly, stuff from Poynter and of course News Photographer. But a few months ago I got a free magazine courtesy of my public radio membership. It is one of those glossy local upstart publications with lots of jewelry and furniture ads for the first 30 pages before you ever get to the table of contents. The first few editions have been smokin' to say the least--- an incredible in-depth interview with Senator John McCain, a feature on the resurgence of roller derby, Mo Roca on his new book, an investigative piece on the nation's largest mail order bride business based here in Phoenix (who knew?). These have been good food for my brain, so I am now on the hunt for another non-TV magazine to subscribe to. It is too easy to get immersed in our little news world and forget there is a lot more to life than who was number one in the key demos in early prime fringe during the November book . I would much rather work with reporters who read books, go to movies, play softball or just have a life instead of bouncing between self absorbed media functions and can only communicate in gossip form. Discussing the competition's anchors' marital indiscretions is fun for a few minutes, but not hours on end while driving to the state border.

Save my best and worst stories right when they air--- Because our station burns the airchecks to DVD, I am the worst about saving a story when it airs because it will always be there. When it comes time for critique sessions, Emmy entries or our Station of the Year entry, I am there into the wee hours of the morning scanning through DVDs looking for the package that aired back in May. It would take three minutes to grab the tape of the show that night when it aired and dub it off, but I just let it slip away and the air check gets recorded over. Saving the best stories is a pretty obvious task. There is a reason to save your worst stories, it keeps you humble and six months later when you watch it, it probably was not as bad as it felt at the time (and sometimes it is just hilarious).

I have picked three times this year to clean out my news unit and locker---Right now it looks like REI exploded in my news car. Snow boots, Firefighting boots, two heavy coats (because you know the reporter did not bring one), a full snow suit, gloves for shooting, gloves for pulling cable, gloves for when I can't find my shooting gloves, gloves for the reporter (because you know they did not bring any---these are the gloves of shame, they have been with me since the Albuquerque years and are neon turquoise... horribly obvious on the air, but when their fingers are frozen, a fashion faux pas is warmer than nothing). I also have eight pounds of Phoenix area phone books, maps of the city, the state, the forest and the adjoining states. There are MREs, extra water, rain gear, an overnight bag with two days stuff in it for both winter and summer... because it may be 72 in Phoenix today, but it is 27 in Flagstaff and I never know when the drive north is going to happen. And finally--- the big box of chemicals, a remnant of covering hurricanes (which we don't get a lot of in Arizona). It is a milk crate containing Fix-O-Flat, Rain-X, Fog-X, Windex, CLR (the hard water that comes out of our sprinklers etches car windows), paper towels, plastic sacks and duct tape. All of this, plus my regular TV gear in a two door Ford Explorer Sport. It turns into a mess fast. So using the Calendar Reminder option in Outlook (our e-mail system), I set up three appointments this next year to spend some time getting it in order for winter (January 2), de-winterizing it (May 1), and re-winterizing it (October 1). We will see how this one goes. If I had to predict one resolution to fall soon, this is it.

Just once this year, take up the offer for those free tickets to an event I would never otherwise attend (as long as it is within station policy)--- We all get offers all the time, shoot a VOB about the ballet production featuring children from the School for the Blind and they offer you free tickets to the weekend performance. You always kindly decline knowing you just got the fourth season of the Sopranos on DVD and the rain gutters need cleaning, not to mention it is just not your scene. But just once this year, I am going take up the offer for the Victorian garden show and go. I have to remind myself these events are very important to someone, they have invested a lot of time and energy in it and it gives a glimpse into a section of society we might not otherwise see. As storytellers, the more we experience other people's lives, the better we can bring them to our viewers. The best part is, most of the time you will learn something cool that you can use to relate to someone down the road. Last year my best friend and I were in the Bahamas when we saw a sign for a quilt show. We were headed to Senor Frogs for mojitos made with Cuban rum, but decided to take the detour to a church up the street (just for a while, mojitos were still in our future). We knew that our Moms, who are both avid quilters, would be proud of us for going. We headed into a neighborhood no tourist has ever set foot in and walked into the white washed building topped with a crude plywood steeple. The shock that froze the quilting guild could have stopped the ocean, but they were very gracious and handed us ballots to vote for our favorite quilt. It was a thirty minute diversion from our pilgrimage for embargoed liquor, but worth every minute (it is an odd feeling to cast a vote for an election in which you will never know the outcome). I do a lot of stories with senior citizens. It is amazing how quickly you can put an 83 year old grandma at ease discussing the differences between American style quilts and Bahamian patterns while setting up lights and clipping on a lavaliere mic on her cardigan. Just yesterday I turned down a pair of tickets to a Suns game, they were valued way over $25, the amount we are allowed for gifts. But also, I have been to NBA games, I know who goes to Suns games, and even though the Suns are actually good right now, I just got the second season of Mr. Show from Netflix. Now if it had been tickets to the Native American High School Basketball Western Regionals, I'm there.

At the end of everyday, find the victory--- Even though my commute home is less than four minutes, I am going to use that time to find the best thing that happened during the day. We cover lots of bad news and bad people and the emotional mud that comes with those often sticks with us long after we have clocked out. My last thought of the work day is going to be some little victory of the day... a good shot in a bad story, getting vacation requests caught up, a well lit live shot... just something that went right or made something better.

As I sit here with my left hip aching from the weather. I know the clock is ticking. This is a job we only get to do for a few years, I am very fortunate to have lasted 14 so far. My right shoulder does not recover from a hard day of hand held shooting the way it used to. My tolerance for green reporters who panic at 4:30 when we have not made the first edit on a package is growing thinner. But I still love telling people's stories and will do it as long as my back and nerves will let me. When I look back at 2004, it was such an outstanding year... our staff has become an amazing team of hardworking, professional, lovable storytelling artists. We got a new helicopter, went to the Olympics, my best friend and I finally live in the same time zone for the first time in over a decade. It was a very special year... or is it that as we get closer to the last year, each year seems so special. Here is to a great 2005 and all of the lessons and stories it may hold.

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