How did I get here?


Disclaimer: if you are currently employed by the Los Angeles Daily News, LANG  or any other MNG newspaper property, the following content is not meant for you. I recommend you go directly here.

Wednesday, 11 a.m.

Will Flash save my life?

I’m sitting in my home office, in green, striped boxers and a v-neck t-shirt. My v-neck t-shirt is tired and a bit gamey and has seen better days.

The invincible morning sun is throwing back the drapes, forcing it’s way into the room and splashing across floor. The temperature is already 87 and heading for 105.

Outside I can hear the sounds of SUV’s racing past my house carrying soccer moms to Yoga sessions.

As I sit here, this is what I’m looking at: mydesktop

I have two hours before I have to get into the car, drive 32 miles through the Newhall Pass and then from north to south from one side of the San Fernando Valley to the other to get to my job at the Los Angeles Daily News.

Tonight I’m working a night shift repurposing copy, photos, video and graphics – all of which somebody else has created – to be posted on the Daily News’ website. I do this every Tuesday and Wednesday night now.

I’ll probably start tonight by locating the features cover story for Thursday’s paper and any associated sidebars, art, graphics and links and pummel it into submission by coding it up for the web.

Thursday’s feature section is always health-related, which means I’ll have a story about somebody who wrote a book about fitness or maybe some family dealing with the ‘disease of the week.’

This material will have been created by a freelancer who lives in Torrance or maybe a staff writer at the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Later, I’ll code up news stories written and photographed by staffers at the Daily News.

There will likely be something about LAUSD, some LA City Hall stuff, a couple of crime stories, a couple of stories about economic woes and I already know that tonight there will be a “comprehensive” piece about LAPD Chief Bill Bratton stepping down half-way through his second 5-year term.

I’ll open, crop, tone and otherwise enhance photographs of somebody holding up a widget while staring into the camera, kids running through sprinklers and generally, people dealing with hot weather, people eating corn dogs at opening day of the Ventura County Fair and likely, Bill Bratton and other politicians standing behind a podium.

These photographs will have been taken by staff photographers who have been employed by the Los Angeles Daily News for no less than 15 years.

At some point tonight, just as I did when I woke up this morning and as I do nearly every day I will ask myself, how did I get here?

I really have nothing to complain about and I rarely do. I should be happy and for the most part, I truly am.

Of 6 billion humans using up air on this planet, the one person that I was born to be with, that elusive, human relationship some people call ‘soul mate’ or life partner,’ is sitting right next to me even as I write this. The subtle sound of her typing on her thin, Mac keyboard somehow quieting my vital force.

If I get sick or injured, I’m told that somebody who calls himself Kaiser Permanente will take care of me and if I just turn counter-clockwise any number of handles located inside my house, I have access to all the potable water that I could possibly need.

Although I’ve heard stories that Mr. Permanente basically fucks people and watches them die on the sidewalk when they come to him for help, and Southern California is in the middle of a 100-year drought, I still have confidence that I could get admitted to the hospital if I needed to and that water will still flow from my spout, at least for the time being.

This is, and should be, more than most people could ask for.

So is it wrong or somehow selfish for me to ask ‘how did I get here?’

I used to spend all day, every day, photographing people holding up widgets (although I think I did that with some polish and sophistication), people running through sprinklers or otherwise dealing with hot weather (again with backlight or other visual flair), people eating corn dogs at the opening day of the Ventura County Fair (I did this 15 years straight so I got really good at it) and politicians standing at podiums – a necessary evil.

I think then I made the mistake of caring too much about what my images looked like on the printed page and how they played with the other elements on the page like headlines and sticks of copy and other images. I cared enough about that to get involved with finding ways to improve storytelling with words and images on news pages.

One thing led to another and before I knew what happened I was no longer spending all day every day out in the field collecting the best images I knew how, I was spending all day everyday up to my neck in QuarkXPress and typography and style sheets and master pages and color theory.

I had reinvented myself without even knowing it even though my wife strongly advised me against it.

Since then I’ve reinvented myself, this time purposely, two or three more times and instead of being a photographer or a designer I find myself a graphic artist and web producer.

Actually, as it turns out, these were good moves to make. I watched several staff photographers shown the door at my newspaper and all the designers and copy editors banished to a place that is surrounded by gravel pits. I think the company’s hope was that many of them would either accidentally or purposely drive over the edge of one of these quarries, never to be heard from again.

But I’ve found that the job of web producer is nothing if not artistically constipating and I’ve tried hard for the last year to find a creative laxative.

When I look at the work that’s being done by new, young people in the business like Raul Gallego AbellanZoriah and my old friend Richard Koci Hernandez I’m thrilled that they are able to do that work, but at the same time, a rage bubbles up in me and makes me want to come up from behind them and club them in the head with a Nikkor 300mm ƒ2.8.

Given the current state of the newspaper industry and the only path that seems to be able to allow it to survive I thought that my best option for remaining viable and creative at the same time was – FinalCut.

Video is taking over the web (if you don’t count Twitter) and it’s a visual, even photographic medium. I already know enough about light, contrast, color and dynamic visual techniques and I’ve watched enough Frontline to know what makes compelling pictures and audio. I could even get back into the field and shoot some of this content myself.


All I need to do is to get really good at the post production part. That would be easy. Software programs, especially those written by Adobe or Apple just come naturally to me.

It was just about then that management at my newspaper (and many others) put the kibosh on spending much in terms of resources on video production saying that there was no way to “monetize” it.

Video storytelling became a useless moneypit and a waste of time that readers weren’t interested in.

Which brings me to what is likely my last chance to bring any of the creativity that is buried in every cell of my body to what I do for a living before I get kicked to the curb and have to learn how to be a bus driver.


Although software programs come to me easily, programming languages such as ActionScript 3 do not.

But I’ll learn it, and I’ll be really good at it.

Because I love journalism and … I don’t want to drive a bus.

And even though Starbuck’s pays a certian Mr. Kaiser Permanente all the insurance premiums he asks for, for every Starbuck’s employee, I’m fairly certain that the first customer that told me I screwed up his drink would get clubbed in the back of the head with a Krups, stainless steel bean grinder.

4 thoughts on “How did I get here?

  1. I have always known about your “range” as it applies to your talent and creativity. I knew it from those early days at the Press Courier. And here you thought I just had a big crush (obsession?) on you.

  2. I heard a quote today. Funny how it fit like a puzzle piece with your post.

    “The years teach much which the days never know”

    It was written by Ralph Waldo Emerson and my Mom quoted it to me today – although her version was a little different and I only had a sliver of it available for Google – and damn what an amazing tool that is.

    Anyways, I looked it up and got the correct quote and also found this:

    “What you are comes to you”

    He wrote that as well. Emerson was fucking perceptive wasn’t he?

    My point is that like Alexis says. You got range man. Well, she said it better of course. But it’s true. And it’s not so much how you got there. It’s more that you were already there the whole time.

    Well I think so anyways. And just think. You are still on a journey. Who knows where the hell you will be the next time you wonder how you got there again.

  3. Tom,

    As always I find this post poignant and insightful. And I think you are very lucky for many reasons; but aside from the obvious, that one of your fatal flaws is to be so damn good at so many things—not the least of which being your ability to evolve.


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