Thursday, March 18, 2010

"The ninth floor" one floor from hell


In a world of live TV and round the clock coverage, Media Storm turns out some powerful pieces using only pictures, interviews and music.

The piece "The ninth floor" disturbed me on many levels.
"In 2004, anywhere from 20 to 30 young addicts lived on the ninth floor of an elegant narrow building overlooking Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The squatters had turned the sprawling apartment into a dark, desperate and chaotic place.

People hustled, scored, shot and smoked wherever they could. Friends conned each other for their next hit. They slept on piles of clothes on the floor. The power was shut off; the bathroom unusable; the kitchen filled with garbage. Anything of value was sold off.

For nearly three years, Jessica Dimmock followed this crew documenting what happened to them after eviction, how they fought to get clean, sank deeper into addiction, went to jail, started families and struggled to survive."
Joe Smith first owned the apartment and sub-let one room to one person. This number just keeps on growing.
We are first introduced to Jessie. An addict.

"Sometimes it scary like i think I OD'd," she says. "There's many times that I've done … Ive shot and like 'this might be it.'"

There are then images of what seems to be drug-induced sex and the sun sliding down the horizon as the needle slides into her arm.

Jessie goes to prison, comes out, tries to get clean and is hospitalized. While in the hospital, she shoots up. These are disturbing images but I think they need to be shown to get the full feel of desperation addicts go through.
  • Dionn & Rachel
We next meet Dionn and Rachel. Two addicts in manic-depressive relationship based on sex and drugs.

"All I was thinking about was that 'i wanna get high, i wanna get high' you know I wanna get high," Dionn said. "I guess the junkie life was what I wanted. I had really no other aspirations."

The two of them are eventually evicted from the apartment and go into rehab.

What I found interesting was a sequence of pictures cut in time with the music where you c
ould almost hear the expletives flowing from her mouth.

The slideshow had some disturbing images but I think its needed for us to see the grittiness and desperation that the drugs force on users.

And it gives context to some of the later images of redemption.

" I don't think anyone owes me anything," Dionn said after the birth of his daughter and weaning off of the drugs. "I know that everything I did I made my own choice about it. And thats what sucks real bad."

This piece taught me many things about journalism and shooting. The powerful images in the piece pull you into the slideshow. The composition was great as well and could easily translate into video.

So, if you get a chance and have the stomach, check out the slideshow because it really does seem set just one floor from hell.






ALL PHOTOS (c) Jessica Dimmock
All photos link to Media Storm's slideshow

Unintended consequences

Stories and story ideas can come from the strangest places.

The past few weeks I have been looking--read desperately searching--for what Bahamians would call a BUBBLA. A bubbla is a car that's only purpose is to get you from point A to point B and that it got it's name from the fact that it's mechanical workings are so spotty that when it stops it would be bubbling steam, oil or both.

I didn't have this problem in Dallas a few years ago. Granted Dallas is a bigger city and more drivers but I wouldn't think it would take THIS LONG.

While talking to a used car salesman, I stumbled across the reason. The CARS (Car Allowance Rebate System) or Cash for Clunkers program was designed to get older cars off the road and replaced with newer environmentally friendly cars.

The unintended consequence of this positive move took cheaper second hand cars off the street. The dealer told me there are fewer cheaper cars at auction and more people simply turned in their cars instead of selling them.

He pushed me to Craigslist to look at the cars and people desperately looking for a car just like me. I emailed one of the people's ad that read: "Need a cheap car and need it now. I hv (sic) 1200 dollars in hand. needing (sic) to go to work and tke (sic) kids to bbysitter (sic)." She told me she's been looking for two months and has not been able to work. Her phone is off and expects her internet to turn off soon. She's faced with using the money she has saved to either pay for her phone or wait for a car to become available.

Now both of us may just be part of a minority. But it just shows that going green can save the trees and hurt those sitting in the shade.


CARS website


Bahamas Tourism

Friday, March 5, 2010

Rape: New weapon in African wars

Waiting for a recent class, I happened to pick up the current issue of Global Journalist. And it was a win FAUL for me.

I opened it to an article on rape in Africa. This was not the most striking part of the article. It was the writer--former AP Bureau Chief for the Caribbean Michelle Faul.

Michelle is my first international editor. She writes with passion and passed that on to many of the writers under her care in the Caribbean.

This passion came through in her writing about soldiers in Africa using sex as a weapon.

The piece first examined the logic of identifying victims of rape in some African nations. Michelle talked about how she had defended a decision 30 years ago to withhold the name of a rape victim in Rhodesia which is now called Zimbabwe. However she is now pushing to have rape victims names in print. She was interviewing a woman who had been raped recently in eastern Congo. After making sure the woman knew her story would be told around the world and in the Congo, Michelle asked if the woman was certain she wanted her name printed. What came next surprised me: "Three times she insisted that she wanted to be identified because, she declared 'I have done nothing to be ashamed of.'"

That opened my eyes to the struggles that these women are going through in that part of the world. Here was this woman willing to endure the shame of rape to get the story out. She stood strong in the face of something so profoundly difficult.

This infused me with a want to tell the story of those who can't get their story out.

Her writing was vivid as well. "A surgeon I spoke to who sewed together raped babies refused to allow me to interview his nurses, saying they had to have concealing for trauma and that it would be too painful for them to recall what they had witnessed," she wrote in Global Journalist.

Michelle wrote that she had to fight with editors to get some of these details into her stories. "Ultimately, the decision was that we are witnesses and cannot sanitize facts so that readers can sleep better at night," she wrote. "If people are disturbed, well, the subject is more than disturbing."

This inspires me to get out in the world and tell these disturbing stories so that we all know the world is not paradise and passion.

Thank you Michelle. Thank you for showing us a mirror of the world that most people would like to leave shattered.


Michelle Faul has covered Africa for The Associated Press since 1982 from bases in her native Zimbabwe to Ivory Coast in West Africa, Kenya in East Africa and, most recently from Johannesburg, South Africa. In between, she worked in the Caribbean for 10 years until 2005.





Two bucks pulls MU campus together

Who thought something that costs 2 bucks could pull so many people together?

Last week, cotton was sprawled over the lawn of the Black Cuture Center on the campus of The University of Missouri by people who could only be described as idiots.

The entire community pulled together. Black. Whites. Internationals. Asians. Tigers. Columbians. Everyone. They pulled together at a town hall meeting organized by the Legion of Black Collegians on the campus of The University of Missouri.

To put what is being called only as "The Incident" into perspective, you have to go back decades. Before the 13th Ammendment of the U.S. Constiition was passed, Black slaves picked cotton--one of many crops they cultivated. The cotton in front of the BCC reminded everyone of those times.

I wasn't able to report during the initial reaction but felt that the meeting would be the best place to see how the entire community would react to such a racial charged event.

As I arrived, organizers had set up a special area for the media, but this time I figured I would take a spot away from the pack. The designated media area was on the side of the room with access to the audio board. I went to the back of the room where there was no one. I was glad I did.

Colan Holmes had gotten to the BCC late and really wanted to get a seat or at the very least hear what was going on. He said he thought it was important to attend because race was a very important issue to him. He didn't want to speak, he just wanted to support. But here, he stood out as a minority. For you see, Colan is white.

I got a chance to speak to him about why he came to the meeting and his thoughts on race and color-blindness. He was soft spoken but still had a lot to say.

If I had decided to follow the pack, I wouldn't have gotten his story. That was one of the big things I learned this week on the grind in B-2.

I also learned that 2 bucks to insult a race and cause a schism on the campus of Missouri isn't enough. In fact with the support at the BCC I learned that two dollars could pull an entire community together.