Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Remembering Katrina

It's been five years since Katrina hit New Orleans, but I can still smell the floodwaters. If you've ever passed a dead, bloated dog on the side of the highway on a very hot summer day, you know that sick, rancid smell. That's what that place smelled like.

I don't have any pictures of me covering what could be the biggest story of my career. I grabbed a sleeping bag, hiking boots, bottled water, and power bars on my way out of town... but not a camera. I have regretted that several times since. One of the few pictures I do have of me in New Orleans is this one, taken before the storm. It was fun then. The last time I saw the city it was swallowed in those rancid floodwaters.

I got to cover Katrina quite by accident. The storm came ashore with much fanfare. It rotated east so that the northern part of Louisiana where I called home didn't get so much as a drop of rain. It did, however, get hundreds of refugees that swelled the population and stretched city services and charities for days to come.

The morning after Katrina everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The levees worked. Things were okay. Our news director called back the crew who rode out the storm. After I anchored the morning show, I was sent to a blood bank to get a quick story on blood donations needed. By the time I returned, the levees had broken and of course, all hell had broken loose. I was there, in the newsroom, so someone pointed at me and told me to go home, get my clothes, and be ready to go south with a caravan of law enforcement from local parishes. And oh yeah, there's no place to stay when you get there and no satellite truck either. We'll figure it out as we go.

By the time we rolled into Gonzales, Louisiana, filed our story, and found a place to sleep, I had been up more than 24 hours. I stretched out my sleeping bag with 3 other men from my station on the floor of Jimmy Swaggart's church. We slept for less than 5 hours before getting up again and trying to get into the city. I was there for 5 days, and I got less than 5 hours of sleep each night. Ironically, this didn't seem to bother me. There were no restaurants open. No one had food. We ate what we carried on our backs. In the nights to follow, we slept and showered at a friend's apartment. There was one bed there and we took turns sleeping in it.

My first day out I learned a very important lesson as a journalist: never go to a story thinking you know what the story is. As we rode with volunteer and law enforcement crews in a long caravan of airboats and rescue boats in and around the city. No one could get permission to get in and actually rescue anyone. No one was in charge. We would have to turn around this long line of boats on streets blocked by trees and debris. It was chaos and everyone was frustrated. My photographer and I didn't get many pictures of this. Why? We were waiting to get the rescues--I thought that was the story. By the end of the day, when we understood what the story was, we scrambled to get our story of the confusion in.

Another day my photographer and I got through the barricades in the back of an ambulance with our local fire department. We were supposedly with the first crew to get into Chalmette area. We got our rescue footage all right, and it was a sad thing to see. People dirty and disheartened. A few spoke English with such a heavy cajun dialect that I could barely understand them. I've heard the arguments on if race was a factor in rescuing the people of New Orleans. These were poor, rural people who were rescued after the people in the Superdome and Convention Center. The delayed rescues might have had something to do with class, but more than anything I just think it was such a unforeseen event that no one knew what to do and no one would stand up and take charge.

I have several images in my head from Katrina that I will never forget. I remember writing my social security number on my arm before going "in" each day. I remember seeing a railroad yard with rail cars pushed every which way. I remember a large tanker boat pushed up on a levee. They looked like they were toys in a sandbox. I remember seeing one woman pushing a shopping cart full of Nike tennis shoes calmly by a row of squad cars. I remember seeing another woman driving a small car absolutely packed with groceries. She had Hungry Jack baking mix all across her dashboard. It reminded me of how I used to pack my car all the way to the top when coming home from college. It was that full of loot....and no one really cared.

I remember seeing groups of people begging for food, but in order to avoid a riot, the rescuers I was with only passed out food to people standing alone. I remember seeing a bloated body on the side of the road. I remember another rescue team bringing in a group of people to triage and then wheeling one woman in a wheelchair off to the side to die. When she did, they covered her up with a sheet. I remember one woman tell me how she cut her hair off with fingernail clippers, because they stayed in the attic so long and her hair was so dirty and that's all she had to do it with. A man told me how he would shoot area dogs because they went mad after drinking the water. I remember seeing the dead fish all over the road. And I remember the mountains of trash that were just everywhere.

I reported for five days with little to eat, no where to sleep, and with little to no makeup. It was far from glamorous, but I loved being there covering the big story. I didn't want to come home because I knew I wouldn't be back--the bigger anchors would be sent instead. I was right, but that was okay. There was plenty to cover where we were-- FEMA trailers popping up, refugees spending ATM cards at the casinos, charities sorting out mounds of donations, refugees looking for loved ones, relocated nuns, rescheduled bat mitzvahs, increased school populations, refugees starting over. Hurricane Rita came through a month later, giving us minor flooding and bringing us more people without a home.

As I left the flooded area on my last day there, I saw an alligator swim through a flooded Winn Dixie parking lot. If I could have any picture from those days, I think that's the one I would keep. That alligator was so out of place, but somehow reassuring. He was alive and exploring a place he wouldn't be in a few short days. Things might be very, very wrong, but time would eventually make some of it right.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday nights with Jack.

One of the drawbacks of being a sportscaster's wife is that you are inevitably alone on Friday and Saturday nights. This generally isn't something that has concerned me in the past...ask Dave, he'll be the first to tell you I find something to do so that when he does have a random Friday or Saturday off...he's the one sitting at home alone because I already have plans.

Now, I have a Friday night date. For several Friday nights during the summer, Jack and I would walk downtown to listen to the live music in the town square. We've heard concert bands, orchestras, blues, jazz, something I would describe as folksy, and finally, New Orleans jazz. When Jack heard we were going to listen to a jazz band from the South Side of Minneapolis play jazz from New Orleans, this was the dubious stare I got. He was very skeptical, as was I.

Jack loves the music. Most of the time he listens intently and watches for a good 45 minutes. We spread a quilt, listen, play with a few toys, and enjoy the nice summer evenings that Minnesota is famous for.

The band wound up pleasantly surprising us both, and it was a good evening that tired us both out. Now, our Friday night fun in the square is over, so we'll have to be content with walks for ice cream downtown until it's too chilly for that too...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Jack's first day of real daycare

Jack had his first day of real daycare this week. A woman previously kept him with her 12 month old daughter in her home. We loved the arrangement because Jack got one-on-one care, plus it was budget-friendly.

How ironic that the same week a study comes out saying infant childcare has exceeded the cost of college tuition? And Minnesota is ranked #3 as the least-affordable childcare state? Great. The news is truly no surprise to us because daycare for a month costs nearly as much as our mortgage. We consider ourselves educated people who lead a very modest middle class lifestyle. How do other people with lesser means do this?!

We exhausted all our avenues to find local in-home daycare, and we felt better going with a childcare center for daycare anyway. There's extra security, lots of regulations, and lots of protocol. They do activities and lessons with him. Everyday I get a detailed sheet of what Jack did and when he did it. So, I guess even if it is more money, he might get more out of it... we shall see.

Of course, Jack seemed more than fine with the entire arrangement. He doesn't meet a stranger, but didn't seem upset by the transition to a new provider. Dave didn't do the drop-n-dash, but stayed with him for awhile at first... then checked back in with him before he left town for work. Jack kicked, squirmed, and squealed when I picked him up and that was a very nice thing for me to see.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ambassadors of Louisiana

Dave and I consider ourselves unofficial ambassadors of the South. Every once in awhile we have the opportunity to cook up Southern fare and take it to a friend's home or we entertain with Southern flair at our home. We aren't certain yet if we scare Minnesotans away with our spicy entrees or if they are intrigued. Of course, Minnesotans are too nice to let you know if they don't like something. You betcha, they are.

This summer, shrimp boils have been our pet project. We want to support Gulf seafood and the Gulf economy.

Not really. We just love shrimp and enjoy the roll your sleeves up and dig in mentality.

We hosted a shrimp boil for a few friends and it came out wonderfully. Jason and Lisa are avid gardeners, and they supplied fresh corn, potatoes, and green beans out of their garden. We tried crawfish, but it didn't turn out nearly as good as fresh crawfish from down South.

I made homemade cocktail sauce which was yummy. Once you have the homemade stuff, the bottled kind just isn't good enough.

I would like to someday try adding artichokes and blue crabs like Emeril does.

Of course to wash this down, we made a few hurricanes that fit in well with the food and the hot, humid day were were having. Lately, it's felt too much like the South up here. We'll take the food. You can keep the weather!

Jack on voting

Jack had his first voting experience this Tuesday, and he says it was pretty boring and predictable.

Voting was so slow at his location that he actually had to squeal to wake up the person who was supposed to record his civically minded mother to vote in the primary election. After all, it was a close election so a little squealing is certainly necessary.

Jack was discouraged over the candidates not sticking to the issues, but instead resorting to smear campaigns and negative ads. Even the baby knows smearing can be effective, but it sure is stinky.

As the gubernatorial campaign field is narrowed to three, Jack hopes for more thought-provoking debates. How can we balance the penny jar? Why can't people clean up their messes faster? What must we do to keep the sidewalks in good shape for walks? ...and just how can we make milk more affordable for everyone?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

July day by the lake

There's something quintessentially summer about relaxing by the water with friends. In moments, you can be transported to peace. Your body unwinds. Tension goes away. The sound of water and laughter are music that is sorely needed after a busy work week.

Dave, Jack, and I spent a day with friends on beautiful Lake Ida in July. We only had a day, but somehow the day seemed much longer than it was.

Most born and bred Minnesotans have access in some way to a Cabin. Mind you, the word cabin is deceiving because most often the cabin is just as equipped as any second home. But anyway. We have friends who have access to a cabin and we have been lucky to accompany them north a few times to enjoy the fun and tranquility of north country. This lake has beautiful clear waters with a sandy bottom that stretches out for several yards--perfect for kids! The day we went was a beautiful July with puffy white clouds and little wind. Some members of the group went skiing and others went riding on the jet skis.

Jack didn't really know what to think about the water. It was a bit chillier than his bathwater, so he was rather content to chill out from the shade.

It was rather a downer to come back into the cities after our one relaxing day, but we appreciated the breather.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Forge Article

A student with a writing assignment wrote a very flattering article about me in HSU's Forge magazine....it's pretty nice and has nice graphics and pictures of me in 4-H gear. You can read it here. It's on page 6.

Otherwise, here's the copy minus the pictures:

Take your future into your own hands
Henderson alum and adjunct professor
Shannon Slatton-Schwartz shares Emmy-winning advice with students

By Christine Herrell

Small town, southern success
The city limits sign welcoming travelers to Delight, Ark., boasts a population of 311. On average, 30 seniors from Delight High School receive diplomas each year. Out-of-towners associate their visit to this little town in southwest Arkansas with traveling back in time. But what this town lacks in size and modernity, it makes up for in character. It’s the hometown of country musician Glen Campbell, but its most recent claim to fame is former resident, Shannon Slatton-Schwartz, a Henderson alumna and adjunct faculty member. While living on a strip of land occupied by her family for at least 100 years, Slatton-Schwartz was the oldest of five children and 13 cousins. Because she was naturally shy, her family enrolled her in the local 4-H program just “to get [her] talking.” She climbed the ranks, quickly becoming a state officer and eventually blossoming into a real go-getter – always involved, always on the go.

And she always loved watching the news.

On any weekday at 4 p.m, anyone tuning to Channel 12 in and around Minneapolis, Minn., can expect to find Slatton-Schwartz reporting live on the day’s newsworthy events. Covering the stories most relevant to the northwest metro, an area comprised of nine cities, she and her colleagues modestly refer to their station as “ultra-local.” Though the term is accurate, her station recently garnered some positive attention from a broader audience when it was awarded the mid-west regional Emmy for an anniversary special entitled, “25 Years of TV.” The special, which aired in November 2008, chronicled the last 25 years of local programming at Northwest Community Television. Slatton-Schwartz’s contribution included a segment on NWCT’s longest running program, “Seniors on Screen.” The special is archived on the Channel 12 website and can be accessed at http://www.twelve.tv/channel12special.aspx.

Despite her natural talent, Slatton-Schwartz admits that she didn’t always aspire to become a broadcast journalist. After injuring both knees while playing basketball in Delight, she considered entering the field of sports medicine, and her first job during college was as a receptionist at Dr. Robert Dorman’s office in Arkadelphia. After a short time in this position, she decided that medicine was not the field for her. Luckily, an oral communications class shifted her attention to another area – communications. After prompting by her instructor, Rhea Ruggles, Slatton-Schwartz enrolled in a mass media class and soon became actively involved in numerous activities, including the Oracle staff and the debate team. Although she had always enjoyed watching the news, until college, she had “never seen [herself ] in it.” She credits Henderson and its smaller size with offering students the ability to explore many areas rather than being confined to any particular one. While Henderson provided her with a solid foundation on which to build her career, after graduating in 2001, she attended graduate school at the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University in New York where she was able to “fine tune” her skills as a broadcast journalist.
After graduate school, her first job was as a general assignment reporter and weekend anchor for KTAL Channel 6 in Shreveport, La. Eventually, she became a morning anchor and remained in that position for three years. During her total of five years at KTAL, she reported on stories of national importance including Hurricane Katrina and the Columbia shuttle recovery. While covering Hurricane Katrina, she focused specifically on the efforts of firefighters and law enforcement officials during the emergency. She recalls receiving notes from the service members’ wives stating that they had not heard from their husbands in some time but were relieved to see them during her segments.

People often assume that Slatton-Schwartz, being in broadcast journalism, must want to change the world. That being true, she regrets not always seeing herself making that difference. However, “during the big events,” she says, “you really get to see it.”

Diamond in the rough
Although she enjoyed her work in Shreveport, when KTAL’s sportscaster and Slatton-
Schwartz’s husband, David Schwartz, was offered his dream job in Minnesota, she decided
to resign from her position at KTAL and accompany him. Her impact on the Shreveport community and surrounding areas certainly did not go unnoticed. On the Arkansas TV News blog, one anonymous blogger commented, “Losing Shannon Slatton would be a major blow for
KTAL. She is by far the best anchor they have.”

After a year of working “odd jobs” in Minneapolis, including house cleaning and freelancing, Slatton-Schwartz landed a job as a reporter at Channel 12 News, a station she amiably refers to as a “diamond in the rough,” where she enjoys working with her colleagues and having the opportunity to produce quality pieces. Although she reports on a range of topics, she maintains a weekly consumer segment called “Money Savers,” designed for helping people “get by in this
new economy.”

Her love of travel (her childhood nickname was “Shannon Go”) has certainly been beneficial in helping her become accustomed to her new city. Following the advice of veterans in her field, she likes to “drive around and get lost” just to learn about the area she’s covering and “see what the neighborhoods look like.” While she enjoys vacations to traditional tourist destinations, she prefers “day trips” to those “out of the way” places that don’t typically attract anyone aside from the locals. She’s traveled to Mitchell, S.D., where she visited the Corn Palace, a building whose exterior is adorned with elaborate murals made of corn kernels. Another such destination is Beaver, Ark., home of the Shoe Tree, whose branches are strung with discarded shoes. Soon, she and her husband plan to visit the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. Though not Spam enthusiasts, curiosity has gotten the better of them.

Working in one of the top fifteen markets before turning 30 was one of her earliest goals, and she accomplished it just two months shy of her 30th birthday. “[The Emmy] was not anything I ever expected to win,” she admits, “but it was kind of like the icing on the cake.” On her personal blog, in response to many curious friends and family members, she best describes her sentiments, “No, it’s not quite like Susan Lucci’s Emmy, and no, I won’t be sharing a table with Oprah at the awards ceremony, but yes, it’s still really, really cool.”

Many students may have met Slatton- Schwartz during her time teaching a broadcast journalism class at Henderson, which she continues to teach online. She’s always been interested in teaching (her step-mother is a teacher), and acknowledges that the extra paycheck is helpful, too. Students taking her class quickly learn not to let her friendly demeanor trick them into thinking it’s easy. As with any class offered online, students must be self-motivated. In addition, they are quizzed regularly on current events and asked to write about them.

One former student, Jim Miller, referred to her as a “ball breaker” in the Oracle, a comment that she took as a “veiled compliment” and displays proudly on her desk. Slatton-Schwartz hopes that her students, even those not planning to major in broadcast journalism, will “emerge as better writers” with more knowledge of “what’s going on in the world.”

“Take [your] future into [your] own hands.” This is her advice to students seeking similar success. Of course, one must “be willing to do [the work]” to achieve it. This includes aggressive researching and networking within their particular field. Despite her seemingly natural talent, even Slatton-Schwartz had to work to achieve her goals.

During college she displayed a work ethic inherited from “Aunt Peg,” Peggy Stone. “Hard work,” Stone told her, “builds strong character.” In addition to a full-time class schedule at Henderson and three part-time jobs, Slatton- Schwartz maintained a high GPA. But the challenges didn’t stop there. Like most southerners, Slatton-Schwartz spoke with a recognizable southern accent, one considered “too southern” in New York. In the world of broadcast journalism, non-regional diction is essential, so she took a voice diction class at Henderson, then voice lessons at Syracuse. She never hoped to lose her southern accent, but she “never wanted it to get in the way of getting a job.” Aunt Peg is proud to say that Slatton-Schwartz “never forgets where she came from,” and when visiting family and friends in the South, she can’t help but rediscover a little of her southern flair.