There are moments on any given day when I’m reminded and often overwhelmed by the impact of my work as a journalist and the civic duties bound to it. But it wasn’t until the arrival of Haroon Siraj, a Pakistani journalist visiting the Savannah Morning News under the U.S. Professional Journalism Exchange Program, that I realized how lucky I am to have a voice and the opportunity to use it in my community. These are small liberties that many journalists around the world are fighting for everyday. Haroon’s father, Siraj-ud-din, is one of those journalists who later made the ultimate sacrifice for refusing dictation from the Taliban.

Below is an interview that I filmed and co-edited with Haroon in which he shares his experiences as a journalist for Pakistan’s largest media publication, The Nation, what he hopes to take away from his time in Savannah and why it’s important for him to continue his father’s legacy.

Photography, Savannah, Writing

Savannah Spotted®: A pillar for cultural, community pride

I’d like to take a moment to gush about a program that I am lucky enough to manage every day.

As head coordinator for the Savannah Morning News multimedia program Savannah Spotted, I have the opportunity to share and promote a wealth of impressive work captured around my city every day – and in that process – I’m learning so much about what makes Savannah an increasingly national gem for culture, art, food, fashion and history.

That's me(!), your Spotted® coordinator, explaining the process for uploading to the new Spotted during a social we hosted earlier this year at the Savannah Morning News.

That’s me(!) explaining the process for uploading to the new Spotted during a social we hosted earlier this year at the Savannah Morning News.

Of course a lot of the credit for showcasing our city to an audience of thousands goes to my amazing team of Spotted photographers. Representing different walks of life, it’s no wonder Spotted is so successful: Our photographers are students, educators, paramedics, stay-at-home parents, business leaders, Savannah newcomers, police officers and so much more. Experience levels range from novice to professional and many have joined to network and gain exposure among other reasons. But most importantly, everyone shares a mutual love for Savannah and the abundance of creativity, community and culture found here.

The caliber of work published on Spotted® and savannahnow aims to reflect that appreciation for Savannah’s diverse scene. From festivals, galas, art shows, graduations, marathons, fashion shows, concerts, networking events, parades, ribbon cuttings and even bikini contests – Spotted® is always there.

This year, we’ve made significant strides in improving the experience for both visitors and contributors to Spotted®.

Most notable is the relaunch of spotted.savannahnow.com.

With bated breaths, we debuted our new site earlier in 2014 during the city’s biggest day of the year – St. Patrick’s Day – and the response has been great ever since. The redesign placed more emphasis on photo visibility, mobile compatibility, and sharing/searching tools – but we’re still constantly tweaking the site to improve the experience for all.

The process for uploading photos to Spotted® has also undergone a tremendous and much needed upgrade. The new bulk uploader interface and platform is clean, easy and agile. It works in various modern browsers and even has a mobile upload component, which allows photographers and reporters to share photos from breaking news incidents on a whim.

Heading into the final quarter of 2014, we’re exploring more interactive and creative ways to showcase the community and up the exposure of our Spotted® photographers and their work.

One project, in particular, is our return of high school football coverage. We’re currently developing a game plan to shoot photos and videos at a majority of the games this year. But with a roughly 12-week football season and up to 10 games happening each week, we’ll be looking to recruit a lot of volunteers to help in the coverage.

From the spectators, to the band, to the cheerleaders and athletes on the field, capturing all the excitement at football games generates a lot of acknowledgement of our young talent – as well as their schools, families and friends.

And it goes without saying that the coverage also exposes photographers to a whole new pool of clientele looking for someone to shoot senior portraits or demo/highlight reels for prospective schools.

Regardless of your event preference or commitment level, the perks that come with being a Spotted® photographer are plentiful. Aside from the fun of shooting Savannah’s social scene, team members enjoy a number of exclusive benefits, including:

  • Media access to festivals, parties, concerts and more.
  • Plenty of online exposure on savannahnowdosavannah and its social media platforms.
  • The opportunity to see Spotted work in our print publications Savannah Morning News and Do Savannah
  • Chances at monthly prizes, event tickets and gas card giveaways
  • A new profile series in the Savannah Morning News highlighting an individual photographer’s work, experience and creative process. (You can see the first two profiles we’ve done here and here.)

Additionally, we host Spotted® parties a few times throughout the year to reward and thank our contributors, while knowing the work they do for our community is invaluable and can never be fully expressed.

If you’d like to join Spotted and contribute to its ever-emerging vision, please fill out our entry form here. You can also email me directly at janay.kingsberry@savannahnow.com with any questions, concerns, ideas.

 

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Writing

Summer Reads: A Visit from the Goon Squad

I wish I had a well-reasoned explanation behind my decision to purchase “A Visit from the Goon Squad” about a month ago. Admittedly, I was unfamiliar with the work (or existence, for that matter) of Jennifer Egan, who is clearly a pretty big deal just based alone on the coveted Pulitizer Prize winner seal on later editions of her “goon squad” novel. It’s ultimately the reason behind my purchase – plus the hasty minutes I spent in the store skimming the first chapter when we’re introduced to Sasha.

Sasha is a feisty, attractive young woman with a troubling addiction to stealing – mostly minute things like screwdrivers, bath beads and little children’s’ scarves. In the first chapter, Sasha is in the girl’s bathroom during a dull dinner date when, with rushing euphoria, she decides to swipe a naive woman’s wallet. The rest of the awkward night unfurls horrifically as Sasha and her date are somehow looped into helping the victim recover her stolen wallet.

From there, things get crazier and a lot more cringe-worthy as we’re introduced to the second central character, Sasha’s former boss, Bennie Salazar, in chapter 2. Bennie is a record label executive and recovering bad boy who still entertains a few naughty thoughts, but in his aging form, is unable to maintain that lifestyle.

Throughout the book, Sasha and Bennie have plenty more demons revealed through the narratives of lovers, friends and associates during the span of several decades. Each chapter reads as its own short story with its own voice… and the more you read, the more you form the connections between the characters from past and present. Here’s one of the better ones: During a family vacation, Bennie’s mentor Lou meets an African safari tour guide whose son will later go on to marry Lulu, the daughter of a PR executive who once employed Bennie’s ex-wife. Now Lulu works for Bennie.

This is a book that demands and rewards dedication.

The more you have, the more you’ll enjoy this. But the chapters are long. And my faith in Egan’s ability to make sense of the character weaving began to waver. Yet she usually delivered in a timely, effortless way, instantly making me regret my page scrambling to recall past characters. Still… a chart somewhere in the front/back of the book wouldv’e been helpful. just sayin.

Now, just hours afters after having finished ‘Goon Squad’, the characters and their stories are still swimming in my head. Many fates were left unknown, many characters had unhappy endings, but all of them moved forward seemingly changed in one way or another.

There’s a lot of emphasis on music. and I mean very specific music.. classic rock. heavy metal. a lot of other rock music i’m not aware of. The music is practically on every page – expelling a veneration of old school and new school (though mostly old school), the swift changes in music’s accessibility and consumption, and the temptations/dark forces at play for anyone even remotely involved in the music industry.

But mostly, I find that this book uses music and the volatile lives of people caught in the middle of it to observe change, connection and the continuity of life. Artist, Kevin Thomas sums it up best in a comic strip published in HORN! THE COLLECTED REVIEWS.

“How do we get from A to B? How do networks form then dissolve? How do we lose our values? The short answer is we grow up. The long answer is as fleeting and irretrievable as a pause in a great rock song”.

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Music, Photography

My view on nightlife photography: don’t be afraid of the noise

Very often, I try to practice photography outside of my comfort zone.

I can shoot portraits and landscapes all day. But shooting at night is a beast all its own and many a camera have failed to conquer it.

Somehow my trusty 3-year-old Canon Rebel still manages to get the job done.

Recently, we journeyed out for a few late night shows in the Savannah Stopover Music Festival. The 3-day music extravaganza features up-and-coming bands from across the nation that are either currently touring or stopping through on their way down to SXSW.

In Stopover’s 3rd year, more than 100 performances were held in 10 various venues over the course of one rainy weekend. So undoubtedly, shows were packed with a variety of music lovers, partygoers and some of the best arts photographers you can find in Savannah. Yet even for these pros, the challenges of shooting were mutual across the board.

While low and sporadic lighting, tight spaces and drunken crooners falling into you are pretty much the reoccurring villains of nightlife photography, Stopover takes the cake in all of my limited experiences of shooting at late shows. Perhaps this is mostly due to how poorly equipped I am. But I found ways to make up for my and my camera’s shortcomings.

And the great thing about nightlife photography is that none would be the wiser.  There’s definitely more room for style and creativity when it comes to this type of shooting. With a little editing, you can convince viewers that all that grain in your photo is actually supposed to be there! wink, wink!

And somehow that actually makes sense. All the movement and excitement involved in nightlife should come across in your photos. Unlike the soft and clean results you’d produce for portraits, nightlife photography calls for a little more risk-taking, promiscuity, coloring outside of the lines and all that jazz.

In my photos taken during Stopover, I recognized flaws and either tried to disguise them or enhance them – all depending on the quality of the image itself. Check em out and feel free to tell me what you love and what you loathe.

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Interactives, Writing

How a little code knowledge can go a long way.

Considering my previous blog focused on creating visually rich timelines using a simple Google spreadsheet, you might say this post on web page development is a pretty big jump.

it is and it isn’t.

I’ve been at this coding thing for about a year now and while I can’t build web pages from scratch, I know enough about the language to understand how to customize and add on to existing themes and frameworks.

It’s my “fake it til you make it” method of producing impressive web projects – a secret that tons of others before me  have learned with the help of some basic (and I really do mean basic) html knowledge.

Below is a look at the responsive web page I developed as a component to special coverage of a significant anniversary in Savannah:

Keep reading for more information on the development of this project

Keep reading for more information on the development of this project

One thing that’s important to remember in manipulating a web page is that HTML is simply the skeleton of a website.  But it’s the CSS that provides the skin. And you’ll need to have an understanding of both in order to create or recreate the sort of visually rich sites in high demand.

I think my former online editor Carl Lewis probably explains it best with an endearing geeky quip he often tells me.

“You’re the CSS to my HTML”

Meaning that while HTML provides structure, it’s the CSS that actually gives a website its pizzazz. (Thanks, Carl! )

To understand this relationship a little better, I recommend taking advantage of the free online courses provided by codeacadamy.com. It won’t teach you to how to create stunning websites but it’ll get you familiar with the language and functionalities of HTML and CSS, which will go a long way when you’re trying to find the elements you need and replace them with what you want.. Upon completion, codeacademy will also help you search for advanced classes in your area if you’ve developed a case of the code virus (see what i did there?).

For me, I learn best when I’m thrown into projects. I prefer the whole learn-as-you-go process by browsing sites offering free and customizable html frameworks. A lot of them are basic templates with a featured image component,  a contact box, share buttons and other common web elements.

But you can also find a few sites that specialize in responsive design with stunning intros, interactive features and beautiful typography – and still FREE, by the way.

A favorite of mine is html5up. They’ve only got a handful of themes at the moment. But I promise you’ll be impressed nonetheless.

I recently used their Helios theme as the framework for a special Savannah Morning News web presentation on the 20th anniversary of John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil – the book that propelled Savannah as a major tourist destination.

If you toggle between the original design and mine, you’ll notice some of the changes I made.

I started by removing the ‘Helios’ title from the homepage display. All I had to do was locate the head tags and remove the text.  I opted to keep this area clear of any additional text because I wanted the focus to be on the beautiful full-screen image of Bonaventure Cemetery. This also meant removing the navigation menu above. I didn’t really care for it anyway.

The start button, however, was a personal selling point for me because I liked how it launches the viewer to the second phase of the interactive. And without the navigation menu, it leaves you with only one available route, which promotes the lovely storybook feel I was going for.

Screen shot 2014-02-10 at 7.43.15 PM

Most of the follow-up design I kept the same. But I obviously added my own images and replaced the placeholder text.

I also removed a few excess promos from the carousel by deleting the code starting with the open/close tags that they’re identified as: <article> and </article>. see below.

Screen shot 2014-02-10 at 6.21.12 PM

Further down, I pasted the iframe from a TimlineJS created by my web colleague, Kendall Jackson and then proceeded with a preview of our big Midnight story by Kim Wade on the impact of the book in Savannah.

Still with me? I hope so.

If you refer to the original Helios theme, you’ll find there are sub pages provided in the top navigation menu on the homepage. The titles of each menu item explain what sort of layout they contain. ie.. right sidebar, left sidebar and no sidebar.

While I liked all of the layouts, I knew I didn’t have the time to work with any of the more enhanced pages. So considering my deadline, I made several duplicates of the no sidebar html file, customized them and linked them to their appropriate promos featured in the homepage carousel.

Screen shot 2014-02-10 at 8.19.37 PM

Perhaps, one day I’ll go back and replace those basic pages with Helios’ more visual options. But working under a tight deadline forced me to take a quicker route.

You’ll notice I also greatly simplified the footer on each of the pages. Once again, it was for the sake of meeting my deadline.

Code input, while it can be pretty easy and formulaic, takes a whole lotta time! And any small mistake, any forgotten bracket or colon can throw off your entire design.

So I kept the footers simple and consistent with one another and I was done with the entire presentation in less than a week.

Screen shot 2014-02-10 at 8.22.45 PM

Out of all of it, the hardest part was adding the savannahnow logo and the share buttons. That feature, alone, took me two hours to properly align – even after referring to dozens of online resources. Eventually, I just decided to keep tweaking until something worked. Based on all the chatter and techiniques I came across, I concluded this must be difficult for a lot of coders – though it seems it should be easy.  And while I’m sure I may not have used the technically correct method, its end result has been pretty consistent on all devices and whaddayaknow – we’re up to 851 Facebook likes in just the 2 weeks since the project’s launch!

**Okay, quick disclaimer: I’ll admit I probably screwed up the twitter button somewhere in the code. The tweet count remains at a lonely ‘1’, but if you hit that number, it pulls up a twitter feed featuring dozens of other accounts that have shared the link. But other times in only pulls up one result. bah. oh well. **

Anywho, despite the little kinks and the hasty finishing touches, the site still wowed a lot of folks in the community. And, admittedly, not just because of the design but mostly due to the amazing stories and archived content dug up, scanned, researched and developed by a small but dedicated team in the newsroom.

The site itself, is just a pretty frame to present a compelling story.

Lastly, in the midst of all that coding, I had an opportunity to film a highly respected and long-standing journalist in the community: Mr. Jan Skutch, senior reporter at the Savannah Morning News. He was kind enough to sit down with me to share his experiences covering the Jim Williams trials – a 10 year saga that he was reluctant to revisit. But we’re thankful that he did.

 

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I spend a lot of time thinking about how much I want to produce work that actually makes a difference in the community.

In December, I found an opportunity to do just that when I was introduced to Ms. Bynikini Frazier, a twenty-something animated 1st grade teacher at Hodge Elementary who was applying for a state grant for her school for the third consecutive year.

I spent a day filming her class and the rest of the month editing the video. But in the end, I didn’t feel satisfied with the final project. The audio had flaws. Some shots were shaky. And it was hard to feature all the key highlights and ambient settings in the required 2 minute video length.  

I started questioning whether it was good enough for her to win and if I was ever cut out for this task in the first place.  

But then Ms. Frazier emailed me with her thoughts on the video. And her words were so sincere and so encouraging, that I immediately understood why all of her precious 1st graders loved her. Why the entire staff at Hodge appreciated her. And why she was being honored by the Savannah-Chatham School Board as a nominee for Teacher of the Year.

Ms. Frazier said she didn’t care what the judges thought, she loved the video and how well it captured the spirit of her classroom. Her words snapped me out of my 7-year-old meltdown and I re-approached the final edits of the video knowing that the technical stuff didn’t matter so much because the story was there.

A month goes by without any word on the results and I begin to accept the realization that we lost the competition. But I still felt a sense of pride when I saw today’s morning paper and its centerpiece on the newly elected Teacher of the Year: Ms. Bynikini Frazier!

I remember thinking… I don’t just know this woman. I know how much she rightfully deserves this honor! 

I sent her a brief congratulatory email and she responded shortly after with some follow-up news. She just found out that she’s a winner in The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement’s Innovation in Teaching competition.

yep. that’s the one I helped her with.

She’ll receive a $2,000 stipend and Hodge will receive a $5,000 grant for implementation of Georgia’s instructional standards.

Peep the winning submission in the video above.

Interactives, Writing

Using TimelineJS for interactive storytelling

My first break into the ever-emerging world of interactive storytelling began in 2012 with an elegant and simple open-source tool TimelineJS.

At the time, my digital editor Carl V. Lewis had just started at Savannah Morning News and one of his big priorities was to create more visually interactive components for major stories and investigative pieces on savannahnow.com. Rochelle-Small Toney’s scandal-laden tenure as the former City Manager of Savannah served as an exemplary prototype.

Complete with various multimedia elements, the project was unlike anything we’d ever featured on our site and all of us looked to Carl in awe of his digital alchemy. Always passionate to teach, he encouraged me and my web team colleague Cate Mafera to practice the tool for ourselves. So first chance I got, I made an interactive timeline of the 2012 Savannah Film Festival. Creating such a stunning display was astonishingly easy and really the only key requirement is to start with Timeline’s basic Google spreadsheet template to input the appropriate data for your project. With one media field, you can add everything from photos, videos, embedded tweets, maps, audio files and much more.

I kept my first timeline (which has since been updated to reflect the 2013 film fest lineup) pretty standard, adding only descriptions and movie trailers. But now I’m a timeline titan, using the tool to roundup other popular stories and hot topics.

Most recently, and with the help of staff archivist Julia Muller, I created a timeline which highlighted Paula Deen & family’s early history of business ventures,  personal accomplishments and recent controversies. The project went on to be shared by We Support Paula Deen, a Facebook group with over half a million “likes”.

But perhaps the greatest thing Timeline has shown me is that enhancing and creating interactive digital content is not as intimidating as we make it out to be. There are tons of other cool tools available that will entice you to dip a toe in the massive pool of interactive content. And I guarantee that pretty soon you’ll be ready to dive right in for more challenging projects you never dared before.

Check out Carl’s video tutorial for more information on creating visually-rich timelines under deadline or explore the Film Fest timeline I created here.  Click on the image below to see the timeline embedded on a special film fest page I created for our arts & entertainment publication Do Savannah:

filmfest

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I had a lone dream of becoming a writer once. it wasn’t daring in the least –  Just a simple plan to see my name finely inked on newsprint paper someday.  Then 4 years ago, I started working at the Savannah Morning News. And just as I was settling into my office chair, an editor shoved a camera in my hands and instructed me to go out and shoot. I didn’t realize it in that moment, but my safe approach to journalism would soon be succeeded by a greater ambition to enhance and reinvent my method of storytelling. Stay tuned. Full bio coming soon.

Photography, Writing

my philosopher’s stone

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Photography, Writing

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beginning

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetChoosing a personal interpretation for The Daily Post’s current theme in their weekly photo challenge was easier than I thought. It took me just a few minutes to realize that my “beginning” is the reinvigoration of my dreams and passions in life.

No, it’s not much of an original thought.. But it’s an honest one, nonetheless.

Ironically, I was inspired by antiquity to portray this new beginning. Despite its inefficiencies to serve my digital needs, the typewriter in this photo is precious to me because

I love the idea of taking something old and making it new again.

Every now and then we could all use a similar jolt in our lives – to be reinvented. And that’s precisely the sort of change a New Year inspires..

When I woke up on January 1, I made one of my first purchases of 2014: a domain name for just $18/year.  It wasn’t anything too ground shifting but registering for my own dotcom immediately sprung me into action.

In the last 5 days, I’ve probably changed my blog theme 20 times and I suspect I’ll change it again before the month is over. I can’t decide on page names, logo designs or sidebar widgets. I don’t know which old blogs I want to consolidate with my new site. And I can’t figure out for the life of me why my YouTube playlist keeps displaying a “video not found” error when I try to embed it on a side panel! It’s minute proof that beginnings aren’t always easy. But they’re exciting and rewarding all the same.

Slightly unrelated, I want to part with a quote Robin Roberts shared on Facebook that elegantly reflects our different outlooks on life.

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”

Which do you choose?

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