Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Production Notes: Live-Chat, Hangout, El Latino TV en Vivo!

TRENTON -- There was a winter night years ago in one of the happiest places on Earth, the Upper Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire, when I covered 6 games. Technically, one of the games wasn't a game. It was a ski jump, which didn't take place. But I did hoof it up that snow-covered mountain, so the effort to cover the meet counts. While there, I had an echoing conversation with the Dodds dad who was the ski-jumping coach, although I never did see him so I might have been talking with Zeus or one of the other Gods.

I didn't cover all 6 games start to finish. No, I hustled to Hanover, Lebanon and Hartford, zigging and zagging those swervy-curvy Upper Valley roads, to take photos and catch a little flavor at each venue. The plan was to stitch everything into a journey of words and pictures -- and the result was pretty damn good. Pretty damn long, too. The final game in this adventure was girls hoops between U-32 and Hartford -- and I caught the final 10 minutes, including the thrilling finish. On the way out of the gym, in the foyer, I ate 6 hot dogs in about 34 seconds. The snack bar had closed and put free dogs on the counter for anyone to take. I was hungry. I took. Anyway, three hockey games, two basketball games and a hill for ski birds accounted for the six venues.

It was a wonderful night to be alive as the sports editor of a one-man sports department.

March 8, 2012, was kind of like that. I'm a news-side guy now, though, and today's action took place in one of the saddest places on Earth: Trenton, New Jersey. Now for those who love Trenton, don't get all mad at me. I don't hate Trenton. But come on, City Hall is squabbling over how to pay for toilet paper. If that doesn't take the whole enchilada for a city in shambles, nothing ever will. And to think that for two weeks a long time ago, Trenton was the nation's capital. The only state capital ever to hold that distinction. Now Trenton doesn't even have enough money to wipe its ass.

But I'm digressing, and I shouldn't be. I should be asleep by now, 11:01 in the p.m., 15 hours after starting the day in The Trentonian newsroom. But it's futile to go to sleep without ending the day with some kind of Digital First rundown of all the Digital First stuff in this entry. Talk about buying the ticket and taking the ride, boy. I'm not seeing those bats yet, but they could start swooping down any second. It was a bad-ass day in the best way. I got to the office at 7:30 and noticed reporter Joan Galler standing in a sea of emptiness. I know what that means. Bless her for the dedication. Anyway, I started with an 8 a.m. DocTalk live-chat, the first Cover-It-Live event I've moderated. Dr. Ben Wedro joined our Trentonian Blog Center two weeks ago, and we thought it would be cool to have a live-chat every week to discuss a theme with anyone who wanted to join in the conversation. The theme for the inaugural chat was "Should I Take My Kid to the ER?" You never know how these things are going to pan out, but I'd say it was a success. A dozen people joined the chat, and Dr. Wedro offered terrific information.

The live-chat ended at 9, and I spent the next 45 minutes taking care of business, driving to the bank then the post office then back to the office. It was a gorgeous-sexy day in Trenton. The temperature on this still-winter day continued to crawl toward 70. Sunny as hell. Big, blue sky. Window down, but no volume to pump up because someone stole my antenna a few weeks ago. Welcome to Trenton. But, I did have the camera ready. There's a boarded-up brick dwelling on Perry Street across from the Fire Headquarters. Click. Hey, there's the Ernie Kovacs Place street sign. Click. On the way back from the post office, at the corner of Perry and a street I don't know the name of, in an abandoned lot where a gas station once operated, a man was sitting reading a book. It was his home. Snap. I made a U-turn to take the photo. Then made another U-turn to take the photo from another angle. Took a third photo just because. The mission is across the street, but somehow I don't think this fella is allowed there anymore. Or maybe he is and he just shopping-carts his home to and fro on sunny days. I would've stopped to talk to him, but I had to get back to work to set up for another Digital First event: the debut of Trentonian TV's "Weekend Dish with Hilary and Kirsten".

Hilary is a PR person who thought of a great idea to digitize a "best of" column with her buddy. They'd scour The Trentonian's community calendar, and Danny Coleman's live music listings, and come up with a list of places to go and restaurants to eat at. Great idea, Hilary. We just had to figure out how to roll it out. Google+ Hangout? Trentonian TV? Both? Yes! Both. So it began as a Hangout that we also broadcast live on Trentonian TV. It worked, and it looked and sounded great, and Hilary and Kirsten kicked ass for their first time out.

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"Weekend Dish" ran from 10:15'ish to about 10:45'ish. There was a minor technical issue at the start of the recorded version, so I spent the next hour or so making sure not to eff it up in the Livestream studio. I was pretty happy with myself for not deleting it. Yeah, after Wednesday's post-production fiasco with "Live with L.A.", I'll never take anything for granted. Anyway, I fixed the booboo and inserted the recording into the replay loop. I told Hilary and Kirsten I'd shoot them some critiques. So here it is, Hilary and Kirsten: Look at each other a little more and play off each other a little stronger. You both know what you're talking about, so that's a great start. The final 6-7 minutes were strong -- both of you began to feel comfortable. Maybe have an outline, too, and write more things down so you don't forget them. Take it from someone who always has a ton of things to say but doesn't write them down and forgets. Looking forward to many more Google+ Hangout "Weekend Dish" sessions on Trentonian TV.

I had little time to take a breath because there was a 1 o'clock training session for Disqus, the new moderating system that JRC/DFM is rolling out across every property. The training was more of an overview by conference call. That took about an hour, till 2 o'clock. I may have sucked down my second Red Bull in that hour. Fast-forward. I get a Facebook message from Terry Rogers, the mom of Jessica Rogers, telling me that "Jessica's Law" took another step toward reality. The Jersey Assembly Judiciary crew, which on this day included substitute Dan Benson of Hamilton, voted the bill through committee and onto the floor of the Assembly and Senate. A vote should take place next week, and it should pass then go to Gov. Christie. As the judiciary committee was voting the bill along, Jessica was in Philadelphia under the surgeon's knife to remove a pain- and spasm-easing pump implanted in her right hip. It was implanted there for 10 months but because of severe complications it needed to be removed ASAP. But doctors had to wait out an infection for several days.

This was Jessica's 26th surgery since March 23, 2005, the day she was in a car that crashed into a telephone pole. The driver, Daniel Robbins, flew into a rage after another car cut him off. Jessica was paralyzed from the neck down. The first 25 surgeries helped her regain some movement in her arms and hands. For sentencing purposes, "Jessica's Law" will define what road rage is in Jersey so guys like Daniel Robbins won't get out of jail after 180 days when something like this happens again.

There was no one else in the newsroom to write the Rogers update, so I called Benson and used the Facebook messages Jessica's mom sent me Wednesday night to write the story. I used photos Terry posted on Facebook of Jessica in the ICU. The turnaround -- from first contact by Terry to the first tweet and Facebook alert to the writing of the story and having Editor Mike Topel edit it so I could post it at -- was about an hour. That sparked a new round of tweeting and Facebooking. At 4:30 I met with Topel to discuss the nightly budget. At 6 o'clock, Jessica's sister, Kelly Ann Mahon, sent a Facebook message saying that nurses told the family surgery went much better than anticipated. It was a 3-hour surgery. Jessica should be home in a few days.

With that story done, I scoured AP Images wire to find a Page 6 girl. I was getting torqued up again for the El Latino TV en Vivo! talk show "En Contacto Con la Comunidad" at 7 o'clock. I always get excited when a new broadcast approaches because I gave birth to El Latino TV en Vivo! as well as Trentonian TV. They're my babies, and I have big plans for them. Anyway, for 2 hours I craved Chinese food but didn't give myself 5 minutes to call in an order. So at 6:30 I sucked down Planters peanuts and TGIF potato skins chips and washed 'em down with my third Red Bull of the day. Buy the ticket, take the ride, boy. I fired up the broadcast studio to test the camera and audio. By 6:45 I was nervous because neither guest had arrived. Plus, I didn't have much art to display in the screen-in-screen. So I went to the photo department and asked Jackie Schear the world-class photog to cue up a bunch of photos from the Good Friday "Via Crucia" -- when Benito Torres dresses as Jesus Christ and re-enacts the dragging of the cross through the streets of Trenton. I found a pretty good clip on YouTube of the Via Crucia in Trenton. Then Santos arrived. A few minutes later Trenton High Principal Marc Maurice arrived. We were good to go. Maurice was going to be the first non-Latino on "El Contacto Con la Comunidad," which I thought would be interesting unless he spoke Spanish. Turns out he does, kinda-sorts.

But I've skipped ahead a bit too much.

After Wednesday's failure on "Live with L.A." I was so eager to atone for my sins. I believe I did. I was on the ball with the screen-in-screen, making sure to hide Benito's name when activating the photos of him in action during Trenton's Via Crucia. The photos are so luscious, they looked great. All the while, Zarina Paz was translating for me and making sure I didn't misspell any Spanish words in the titles. Last week was the first collaboration for Zarina and me, and there were a few mistakes. This week both of us had better focus, though I may put her in standby-listening mode a few times. The best part of Carlos Avila's interview with Benito came when they were talking about Jesus and I found a photo for the screen-in-screen. You could hear Benito's voice soften as he looked on the screen and pointed to it. Zarina whispered in my ear that it's the photo of Jesus that many Latinos have in their home. It was a strong moment for everyone involved.

I'm tired. It's midnight. I don't have much juice left. The Maurice interview was really cool because Carlos interviewed him in English and Spanish, and the principal bridged many gaps in the wake of recent black-on-Latino violence at Trenton High. Maurice tried to clarify truth from fiction and said all is not as bad as has been reported. Watch the interview. It's a quality interview in two languages with a bit of French thrown in for good will -- Maurice was born in Haiti, moved with his family to Montreal then came to Jersey to get his degrees.

It's 12:05, and I'm fading. So basically, here's Episode 6 of "En Contacto Con la Comunidad."

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After some quick post-production work with "Contacto" I had to do some work for Friday's print edition, like find photos of Rosario DiGirolamo and Amy Giordano from that horrible case a few years ago and then upload them into the pagination system. Had to tweet and FB a few things -- like Ewing High's boys basketball team shocking Willingboro in the final minutes to win a state semifinal game to advance to the championship for the second year in a row. The update on Facebook got about 25 likes in 10 minutes.

Oh, and I had to build the front page.

I may have done 42 things in about 6 minutes while racing to get the front page done.

Well, we're going on 17 hours today. I never thought I'd have a 6-game day again, but this qualifies as one. And because this has become a blog entry full of Cover-It-Live coding and 2 Trentonian TV shows, why not add a Windows Movie Maker slideshow of the photos I took today, played to the music of Royskopp. The song is called "Happy Up Here."

It's 12:42 a.m. Friday, 17 hours after starting work Thursday. It's time to sleep.

Keep up the fight, Jessica Rogers. I dedicate this day to you.