A Review of My "Year of Application"

Sunday, January 18, 2015

In a practice that--thanks to our ever-increasing reliance on electronic devices--is becoming less frequent, humans switch out their calendars in the annual event of "ringing out the old and ringing in the new" around this time of year. It serves as an opportunity of reflection, introspection and resolve to guide us along our paths in the new year. While I have no wall hanging to change out, I do have this blog to browse through for that same purpose. According to my first post for the year that just ended, 2014 was supposed to be my "year of application" and to spread my journalistic "wings" and, except for the tailing off near the end, I think I can claim success.

In that submission, I talked optimistically about using the skills I acquired through my then-recent completion of my Certificate of Journalism from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in the lead-up to being laid off from a job that I held for a little over five years (that was alluded to as a "year of transition").  I initially established a schedule that I would follow for my posting of new content onto this site that was slowly cast aside based upon wavering levels of interest as well as opportunities taken (and ignored) throughout that 12-month period.

Here's a breakdown of my 52 posts last year:

- "Soap Box" (opinion pieces): a total of nine (with the last one being submitted in August). This was supposed to be the main focus for my efforts and those results fell flat. Of that small number, the majority stayed in the political arena but several had the media in my sights. While most of these were written with an analytical eye (and one that still bristles at trying to squeeze into the industry's column/word limit restrictions), one stood out due to its extreme length and the passion it stirred in me when I wrote it in just a few hours' time one August afternoon.

Democratic Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald awaits a television interview at a scheduled tour stop in Springfield, Ohio in late September 2014. His campaign imploded one month earlier and I decided to share my disappointment in a 2,100-word letter I shared via this website.

In the wake of two embarrassing announcements concerning past questionable events in Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald's personal life, I drafted and posted an open letter to him addressing my incredulity and disappointment over his (and the state's Democratic party's) decision to go forward with that candidacy. The letter portion alone had 2,156 of the post's 2,244 total words but I was extremely upset by the numerous missteps taken in last year's elections and Mr. FitzGerald's responsibilities as being at the top of the state-wide ticket. The words just seemed to flow from my fingertips onto my laptop's keyboard and I hoped that he (or someone in his campaign) took the time to read it and take my advice to heart.

- photojournalism: if my dearth of opinion was a disappointment, then the reporting opportunities I exercised with my camera and audio recorder greatly helped pick up the overall slack. I set a goal of one such event per month for 2015 and I'm proud to say that it was exceeded by 50 percent (18 "A/V" items over the 12 months). Taking advantage of my growing confidence to visit places and document events, I had a wide-ranging year revolving around politics, media, entertainment and history.

Two views of the pet area at the Beavercreek, Ohio Walmart Superstore. John Crawford III (pictured in surveillance video on the left) was shot and killed in August 2014 at the end of the end of that same aisle I photographed the following month.

Two of those reporting events surrounded the homicide of 22-year old John Crawford III on August 5th while shopping inside a Walmart Superstore in neighboring Beavercreek, Ohio. While I did not adopt a "breaking news" stance and run over to that store as word of the incident was first announced that evening, I did attend two separate gatherings in the wake of official information releases surrounding that tragic event. Both were held in the outer parking lot of the store but that was the only commonality they had with each other (I wrote a "behind the scenes" piece to describe my observations in September). I went into the store in late September after the special prosecutor announced that no criminal charges would be filed against the responding officers. I walked over to the pet area where the shooting took place and took the photo displayed above on the right. Seeing it in color and not through the grainy and optically distorted video of the store's surveillance cameras (provided on left for comparison) confirmed my initial suspicions that this was a case of police overreach but one that will never be proven in the courts because of the various "loopholes" written into our existing laws by state legislators. The pro-Crawford event I covered was a moving and emotional experience and it may have gotten more attention if it weren't for a similar racially tinged firearm tragedy that happened in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson just four days later.

Those two targeted categories occupied over half of the year's submissions but I'd like to bring up some of the others I shared during 2014:

President Barack Obama walks away from Air Force One shortly after landing at the Dayton International Airport in October 2012.

- BTS ("behind the scenes"): in addition to the one I already mentioned above, I did a final recap of my political coverage from the 2012 presidential election (to include covering the arrival of Air Force One at the Dayton International Airport in October 2012).

My "Journo-less" Summer...So Far observations merited an 8-part series of posts from July to September.

- serialized story: in previous postings over the life of this blog, I've tried to put as much into a single submission to keep the reader informed and to answer all of the questions. Last year, I deciced to try a multi-part series (My "Journo-less" Summer...So Far) that I extended into eight separate items uploaded over a nearly two-month span (ending the day before summer officially ended). In a way, I felt that I cheated by breaking that post up into the multiple items but that method has worked in all sorts of media and entertainment venues so why not try it here? I was going to do an "epilogue" for a few items that I wasn't able to squeeze in before the seasons changed but that submission got put on the back burner and wasn't finished before the end of the year.

 A collage of subjects of my media observations during 2014.

- media observations: although some of my op/eds involved the news media, I posted 10 different items with my take on how several elements within that "complex" performed well, performed poorly or simply attracted my attention. Over the 12 months, I completed an earlier series on network morning news shows, highlighted the multitude of outlets carrying the president's State of the Union address, submitted the second of three stops during a 2012 media-related vacation, uploaded an appreciation item for a retiring radio talk show host, shared the still-current "high water mark" of my Twitter presence, described a frustrating attempt at covering a Hillary Clinton book-signing event, analyzed how the Dayton Daiy News' op/ed pages are supposedly "equally" divided, commented on that same daily's call for community opinion contributors, linked to an informative MSNBC discussion on the finer points of op/ed writing, and provided my first impression of NBC News' Meet the Press reboot with their new moderator Chuck Todd.

Issues attracting my commentaries included a gay commander, the return of a superstar, contemplating a dystopian world and addressing personal procrastination.

- commentary: while not technically "op/ed", I took four stabs at providing my take on events or issues from my own life that had relevance to current events or to my pursuit of a journalism position. These varied from the first openly gay commander at a local US Air Force intelligence unit, the return of Le Bron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers, my scary thoughts during a short power outage, and an explanation for not posting any items for an entire month.

A mannequin displays the uniform worn by former Air Force One crew chief David Scheff at the Champaign Aviation Museum at Urbana, Ohio's Grimes Airport.

Not included in these categories above is the most personally impacting story I wrote in 2014 (and perhaps in my entire journalistic career). Back in April of 2012, I met a fellow Air Force retiree when I covered a military related event in Urbana, Ohio. I took a few photos and recorded a 7-8 minute clip of our conversation that I was going to draft into an article someday but, unfortunately for him, he never did see that day come about. When reading my local newspaper in early May, I saw a familiar face among the obituaries and immediately knew whose it was and where I had previously seen it. Embarrassed by my lack of follow-through, I immediately sat down and wrote a post to document our meeting two years earlier as well as others that I met during that wet and rainy April day. I felt absolved for my severe procrastination and was happy with the "Missed Opportunity" piece I drafted but it wasn't until about a week later that things elevated to a substantial level. Through a family friend who found the link to the story I provided on the funeral home's remembrance page, the retiree's widow contacted me to personally thank me for what I wrote about her late husband. Over the months, we continued an email correspondence and it was in October that I had the chance to meet her in person and look through the mementos and personal effects of that former Air Force One crew chief. She continues to struggle through the pain of his loss but she felt comfort in what I wrote and that is probably one of the best feelings a journalist--or a human being for that matter--can have.

The 2016 race for the White House is in its very early stages but will feature Ohio in at least one primary debate and a national convention (and could host the other party's gathering and a potential candidate as well).

Thankfully, I am starting a new job  this coming week but it is in a different line of work that I'm accustomed to and my immediate focus will be to get up to speed as quickly as I can in support of that customer. After last year's statewide political races, my interest is still elevated for keeping a lookout on potential 2016 presidential campaign events in the local area. The Republican field is slowly coming to the starting line and the RNC recently announced a schedule of only nine primary debates with three others pending (down from the 20 that were held for the 2012 race). The first one is tentatively scheduled for August at a yet-to-be-determined Ohio location. Will current (and term-limited) Ohio governor John Kasich decide to run for the White House again? He just won reelection by a nearly two-to-one margin and the Republican National Convention will be held just a few hours up the road in Cleveland a year from this coming July. A decision for the setting for the 2016 Democratic National Convention should be announced in the near future and Columbus is one of the three announced finalists (along with Brooklyn and Philadelphia). I'll have my fingers crossed for the "Buckeye State"!

In closing, I will tell you that I applied for eight reporter positions at small newspapers in Ohio, Indiana, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania during my prolonged unemployment stretch and it was this humbling string of rejections that has me thinking that I could not survive in my present economic realities as a journalist. The author friend I referenced in my January 2014 post has already completed seven novels and seems to be well-established within her particular genre of fiction. Based on those tangible results, she has demonstrated the motivation, the energy and the vision to fuel her pursuits that I can't seem to harness here. I did have a few spurts of focus and determination but the demands of seeking full-time work outweighed my ability to elevate my dedication level to anything above "hobbyist".

Despite this disappointment, I think I can live with that status for the foreseeable future. While posts here might drop off, I will still utilize Twitter and stay connected with my professional acquaintances through the SPJ and mingling with other reporters and photographers covering newsworthy events. Back in August of 2011, I started out here with the ambitious motto of "Journalism or Bust!" to document my journey of transforming myself into something I've always aspired to be. After three years of trying and achieving only minor successes, I must regrettably report that it isn't an all-or-nothing proposition anymore.

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