Thursday, November 4, 2010

It's a bird, it's a plane....

Jackie Cooper's voice echoed in my head this morning.

Many may remember Cooper's role as The Daily Planet Editor Perry White in the Superman movies with Christove Reeve.

Following the dramatic opening and credits to Superman III, we cut to The Daily Planet newsroom.
Perry White: I don't understand you Olsen. A boring banquet and you bring me three thousand boring pictures. Yet Superman saves a man from drowning on 3rd Avenue this morning while you stand there watching the whole thing and you don't even bring me one picture.
Jimmy Olsen: Chief, I didn't have my camera with me.
Perry White: A photographer eats with his camera. A photographer sleeps with his camera.
Lois Lane: I'm glad I'm a writer.

In small town community journalism, there is no luxury of being just a writer.

I've blogged about the need for a journalist to carry a camera at all times, this is one of those blogs. It's also about the advantage of being the "little guy."

On my way to work this morning I saw a metro area TV news station's van. Naturally, I followed, dreading what story they would blow out of proportion leaving me to play clean up with a story in next week's paper.

As we headed north of town, I was becoming even more curious about what story they were chasing. Then I saw the helicopter hovering near the neighboring town that is in our school district. This couldn't be an average accident. It wasn't. There was a school bus in the ditch. The accident happened about an hour earlier.

While everyone else shot video, I whipped out my 5-megapixel cell phone camera. The distance from the accident and the sun rising in the background left me with nothing but sun bursts and hazy images.

This is the best one I took.

My digital SLR was in the office on my desk. Had I known I was going to a school bus accident, I would have stopped at the office (on the way) to grab the camera. By the time I got to the accident and figured out what was going on, called in to get a web update and evaluated the situation, they were towing the bus out of the ditch. I didn't have time to go to the office and get back with a camera before the bus was gone.

But being this was my backyard, so to speak, I still had some advantages. The police officer director traffic said he didn't know anything to tell the TV news reporter. They were just working traffic, the state highway patrol was in charge of the scene. She walked away discouraged.

Then I approached.

"How are you liking your new digs, Tom?" I asked, knowing the police just moved into a new building.

We chatted about them still getting settled in, yadda, yadda.

"So what time did you get called to this?" I asked.

"I got on at 7 and was immediately sent here, it had just happened," he replied.

We still had no idea about injuries and I knew he wouldn't know.

"How many ambulances were there when you got here?" I asked.

He talked about ambulances from at least three different areas, so I was able to surmise there were enough injuries to warrant at least half a dozen ambulances.

That's all I could get out of him, but it's more than the TV reporter got. I think I had the advantage in knowing the officer by name and being able to come up with chit-chat to lead into some questions that gave me more background on the incident.

Next, a man, looking very casual, in a jacket and ball cap comes walking from the accident to get in a pickup truck. The TV reporter has no idea this is the assistant superintendent in charge of transportation. I however, again have the advantage.

"Morning, Randy, what happened?" I lead off with.

He clearly didn't want to talk to the media. But between her badgering questions he'd rather ignore, I was able to remove the sensationalism out of the impromptu press conference from his pickup truck cab as he is saying he doesn't have time to talk.

"What can we put on our website that parents need to know?"

He then proceeds to tell me that parents have been contacted and what they were told.

The assistant superintendent drove off, but now we've got a handle on injury types (non serious), how many students, what grade level, etc.

The TV reporter at this point is confused about which schools the students may have been going to and the assistant superintendent has left. I, however, have no need to look up this information.

So I don't have any good photos. I was probably the third news organization to report via the web the fact there was a school bus accident. But in the end, I was able to gather enough information in a short amount of time to get something more substantial online before having to wait for the highway patrol to call me back.

So score one for the small town local guys.

Take that back. I just completed this blog and went to grab my cell-phone photo out of my e-mail to put in the blog when I saw an e-mail from the city manager to many people in the community alerting them of the accident. In that e-mail, he posted a link to a TV news station's website.

So much for hometown.