Friday, November 13, 2009

REPORTER BLOG: An "Explosive" Day in the Life of a Reporter

By Pat Henderson

How it all began
The day started out just like any other. We had the morning news meeting, made some coffee and started reporting the news. I was assigned to cover a bomb threat that had been made to Baker University Center at Ohio University, and, as terrible as it sounds, I was really excited. It was something really timely and could potentially have a big impact on the community. I got my gear in order and headed out to dig up the facts.

Chasing down the story
I was having some difficulties from the very start. The news release about the situation and the email alerts student and faculty had been receiving were pretty vague. They stated that there was a potential threat to the student center for Tuesday the 10th but that operations of the building would not change.

My goal was to find out what kind of threat it was, how the threat was delivered, and what they were doing to keep students, faculty and staff safe. Unfortunately- finding out what was actually going on proved a lot harder than I thought.

Why won’t anyone talk to me?
The Chief of Police at the Ohio University Police Department, who was the media contact for the situation, was in meetings all morning and was not available for comment. This made getting to the root of the story a little more difficult- but I was determined to find out what was going on with this threat.

So I took my equipment and went to Baker Center to try and talk to administrators for the building or even university administration. I tried to talk to the director of Baker Center, the assistant director of Baker Center, and the Dean of Students for Ohio University … none of them would talk to me. They all told me I needed to talk to Ohio University Communications and Marketing.

And my expedition continued

Next I called communications and marketing. They told me that I would have to talk to the Chief of Police at OUPD. I was slightly aggravated that I was getting the run-around from everyone I was talking to, so I made it clear that the chief was not available and that no one would speak to me. Communications and marketing was my last resort. The woman on the phone was incredibly nice and told me she would try to find someone and call me back.

About 10 minutes passed and by this time I was starting to get a little worried because the newscast was coming closer and closer. So, I trekked to Scott Quad to talk to someone from OU Communications and Marketing. When I got there- they were very nice, but they told me that, unfortunately, they couldn’t help me. Awesome.

Crunch time
I was getting shut down at every turn, but I was determined to get SOMEONE to talk to me. It was 11:15 and I still had nothing – the show was going on air in 45 minutes and I had yet to get any new information or talk to anyone on camera. I was going to make this happen.

After begging about 15 students to talk to me on camera about what was going on and their reaction to the situation, a really nice girl talked to me and expressed her concern. It was great. Then, after I thanked her and she went on her way, I discovered that my video camera was not working properly. The audio didn’t record.

Now it’s really crunch time
I ran back to the station – literally ran – and got a new camera. I hustled down to the street, stopped another 10 students asking them to talk to me and, finally, got someone to talk. The interview was great! I was so happy to finally have something to work with. Although I didn’t have much new information, at least I had something.

I ran back up to the station, wrote my story, and started editing. It was 11:55 and one of the producers turns to me and says – what are you still doing here? I had assumed I was reporting live from the newsroom, but I was wrong. I was reporting from the studio, two floors up.

Show time
I ran as fast as I could up the stairs, got hooked up to the microphone and went on the air. The story was a success. I may not have reached all my goals from the beginning of the day, but when you’re working in the news business things almost never turn out how you expected. The threat ended up being a bomb threat and nothing ever came of it. The university took the proper precautions and is now investigating to find out who may have done it. Looking back on it - it’s just another day in the life of being a TV news reporter.


Kelly Brennan

As a reporter, you have to get your story. There are thirty minutes to fill for a newscast and you can’t show up empty handed. So when a story falls through and you’ve got nothing, that’s no excuse or reason to turn around and go home.

Katie Boyer (web reporter) and I set out to get a story for the Tuesday newscast. We had three ideas in mind that we made calls about and we were waiting for our calls to be returned in order to begin interviews. Well, five hours and many more phone calls later we thought we were going to be scrambling to find a last minute story.

At 3:00p.m. I got a phone call from a teacher in Athens I was trying to contact. He said we could meet him in fifteen minutes, so we hurried on our way. When we got there and started talking to him it appeared he completely misunderstood the reason for our interview, and he basically had no opinion or point of view on the story topic.

We were crashing and burning in every direction.

Never Give Up, Never Surrender
“We can’t give up. This is news we’re covering! News is everywhere!” I kept repeating this to myself as Katie and I drove around listening to Michael Jackson, hoping the King of Pop would keep our spirits up. We were ready to blow up with frustration.

I finally had my first logical thought in hours (insert lightbulb above head): What’s a news team without the newsroom? I figured we should call into the newsroom and ask if anyone heard of breaking news in the area.

Twitter updates informed one of our reporters that the Columbus Bomb Squad was on scene in Dover Township. Now if only Katie and I knew where to go then we could cover this story!

Finding Our Way
We drove through the Plains and into Chauncey on a whim just hoping we would see a bomb squad truck to point us in the right direction. I stopped at the first gas station to ask around, and I ended up being in the right place at the right time. A woman was in line purchasing cigarettes when I overheard her explain to the cashier that she couldn’t pick her dog up from her mother’s house because the road was blocked off for three miles.

I asked her if I could follow her to the street and she gladly agreed. She wanted to try one more time to convince the fire department to let her through the road so she could get the dog.

Follow the Dirt Road
When we arrived at the bottom of the hill, we parked next to a swamp on a dirt road and tried to get access closer the scene. There was no hope for anyone getting down the road though. It turned out that about 2,000 sticks of dynamite were found in an abandoned building in Dover Twp. At the time though no one knew how serious the situation was. It turned out that the dynamite wasn’t active because it had been there for so long.

Ironically, the case of dynamite in the abandoned building described how we felt that day. Katie and I felt like we were standing on a case of dynamite ourselves, ready to burst any second if we didn't find a story to cover.

Lessons learned: Don’t give up, talk to community members for information, trust your news team and follow breaking news! And oh yeah, if you find a case of dynamite, make sure you run...just in case.

Athens MidDay reports on the dynamite found in Dover Twp.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

REPORTER BLOG: There Is No News!

Katie Boyer

Sometimes, even when covering the news is one’s job, finding a story is not always easy. This week, I ran into my first situation of not being able to track down a story. My day started off much like any other. I grabbed my camera, notepad and cell phone and I was off to work. I had story ideas filtering through my head; Christmas programs for the less fortunate, bus safety precautions with daylight savings time, and even how the university is distributing money for student health care. The ideas were not the problem, it was finding a way to put them to work.

The Runaround
So here I am, sitting in the newsroom, making phone call after phone call.

“Can I call you back?”
“Today really isn’t good for me.”
“Let me see if I can get you to someone who may be able to help.”

The responses were all sounding the same, and the callbacks were not happening. I was beginning to think that my reporting was going nowhere, but then, the silver lining. Finally, I had heard back, and a story was in progress. The school bus safety story seemed to have taken off, so my partner and I headed to a local elementary school to get some parent reaction to the idea of their children commuting during evening hours.

Another Roadblock
However, the road blocks were not yet finished. We got to the school, met with one of the teachers, and when everything seemed to be going so well, it happened. Our story was going to focus on the concerns these parents have with their children having to walk to and from the bus stop in the dark. The teacher told us that school policy only permitted a driver to drop off a student if the parent was there waiting for them. So, our story that we thought was going to have promise, fizzled out right in front of us. How could we write a story about parental reaction when there is none? Once again, another dead end.

Now We Panic?
So here we are, stuck in the middle of The Plains, with no story. So what does a good journalist do? Panic? Of course not! We stopped at a local gas station to regroup. First things first, we called back to the newsroom, surely something had to be happening somewhere in the Athens area. That’s when it happened, and the wonderful world of news fell into place.

The "Real" Silver Lining
It turned out, a breaking story about explosive equipment was happening less than ten minutes from our location. We were finding out the known details while we were on our way, and within minutes, we were at a road block where several volunteer firefighters had traffic at a standstill. Gathering information was not easy, especially with so little available, but having the story from a firsthand perspective was such an incredible advantage.

The Columbus Bomb Squad and the Chauncey Fire Department were called to Dover Township to handle about 2,000 sticks of dynamite. The old dynamite was found in an abandoned concrete building off Carr Bailey Road just outside of Chauncey. The local volunteer firefighters blocked off the road at approximately 2:00 in the afternoon, around the same time we were out hunting for our story.

Finding the News
We found out that a student at Athens High School told his principal that he found the dynamite inside the building while walking through the woods. The principal immediately contacted the Athens County Sheriff’s Office. After seeing the sticks of dynamite coming out of old, worn boxes, police called for backup to secure the scene and asked that the Columbus Bomb Squad come down to assist them.

Nineteen boxes of explosives were found in the building, each containing around 100 sticks of dynamite. The building off Carr Bailey Road is said to be an old mining area. The writing on the boxes contained the same information as the dynamite approved by U.S.Bureau of Mines. Information was released Tuesday that the building was designed to house explosives, and that over time, it was never fully cleared out.

Moral of the Story
So, a day that I thought was going to be news-less, ended up giving me a strong story with a tremendous amount of importance to locals. I guess the moral of the story is that news is somewhat like New York City, even when the days seem to be uneventful, something is always going on and the news never sleeps.

REPORTER BLOG: Flying LIVE by the Seat of My Pants

Brian Boesch

“Live at Baker Center, I’m Brian Boesch.”

Then, it was over. A morning of hard work and stress ended with a successful live report from Baker Center about the building’s bomb scare. The first 'live from the field' report in years for Athens MidDay.

I have been involved with Athens MidDay for a few months now, but it was my first live report from outside the building. Going into the assignment, I didn’t expect it to be any different. In reality, I entered a new world of broadcast journalism.

Take a look at the finished product below. Fortunately, I think we hid the stress fairly well during the one-minute report. However, the final hour leading up to the newscast was a roller coaster ride.

Athens MidDay's Brian Boesch reports live from Baker Center on Tuesday's edition.

Finishing the Story
At 11 in the morning, exactly one hour before Athens MidDay’s opening music hits, I was interviewing Ohio University Police Chief Andrew Powers. He had most of the information I needed, so I had to write most of the story after speaking with him.

By 11:10, I was making my way across campus, heading back to the station. At this point, I was still not sure if we would be able to go live from Baker. Once I returned, I heard mixed answers.

I had my story written by 11:30, and Mary Rogus, the executive producer, decided to take a chance and have me go to Baker. There was no guarantee that the set-up would work, but the technical crew was confident. So, we decided to give it a shot.

Heading to Baker
I began editing my video for the story, but Mary said to head to Baker and get ready. Once I arrived, I helped the crew with the assembly of the camera. There were so many cords and monitors and knobs. I give all the technical crew members a great deal of credit. To get that whole set-up functioning in such a short time (about 15 minutes in the field, but a couple of hours back at the station!) was amazing.

But it wasn’t a smooth assembly. My audio levels were not registering back at the station until about five minutes before the newscast. Until that audio meter jumped around 11:55, I was very nervous. Fortunately it did, and we were about to take the air.

The five minutes leading up to my live shot were filled with re-reading my story and shooing away a few friends who saw me in front of a camera and, as a result, wanted to ask me about it.

It seemed like those five minutes only took about 20 seconds. Then, Dan Lannon, one of the members of the tech crew, said, “We’re on.”

That meant was that I was on the air live—-in one minute.

The Finished Product
I am normally pretty calm when on air, but this was different. As I’ve explained before, reporting is tough, but I am normally comfortable with the on-air work. This time, though, the conditions were much different. I could not hear what they were saying back at the studio. There were people walking all around me. I was out of my comfort level.

The next two minutes were a blur. I got through the story well, and I was happy with the performance right when I finished. However, I didn’t get a real chance to critique my work until watching the cast when I returned. Other than a bit of a long pause before my story started, it was a success in my opinion.

Mary and the rest of the Athens MidDay staff were happy, too, and the meeting after the newscast was a happy one.

The story was a great souvenir to take from this day in its own right. But I also learned the amount of work and stress that comes with every live shot in the journalistic world. Next time you watch a newscast and you see a reporter live in the field, you will understand the process. It may not seem to be stressful, but it is. It is also the most rewarding thing I have done for Athens MidDay.

Veterans Day History and Support

By Craig Reck

Day of Remembrance
Across the country, November 11 is the day for citizens to honor those veterans who have fought for the United States. This somber occasion is meant for reflection and appreciation, but veterans did not always have their own holiday.

The First Veterans Day
One year after the end of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson inaugurated the first Veterans Day. Then known as Armistice Day, the observance was meant to honor all veterans who served their country in "The Great War."

This federal holiday is very time specific. Initial observance begins at the eleventh hour of the eleventh month of the year. This time, according to Congress, "marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals."

A veteran himself, President Dwight D. Eisenhower later changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day. The belief was that "Armistice" was too specific to WWI and "Veteran" would include those recently returned soldiers from World War II like President Eisenhower.

Support for Veterans in 2009
This year's Veteran's Day seemed a little more somber after the recent tragedy at Fort Hood. As Nelsonville VFW Post Commander Mike Jonas said, "it strikes a different tone, there's a lot of sorrow...that was a real shock to all of us."

Like his predecessors, President Obama walked among the graves at Arlington Cemetery on November 11. More importantly, the president signed an executive order urging the employment of veterans by federal offices days before.

The President is not alone in his support of veterans. His Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Eric Shineski, has rallied for veterans' benefits since his appointment nine months ago. A veteran himself, Shineski has expanded coverage for veterans disabled from Agent Orange. He's now pushing for an increased budget for his department and a solution to the more than 130,000 homeless veterans.

Community Involvement
Shineski expects it will take five years to accomplish his goals. In that time, communities can assist their local veterans. There are some national volunteer organizations, but those looking for a more personal effort can simply contact their local VFW or American Legion Post. There are six VFWand two American Legion Posts within 20 miles of the city of Athens.

For volunteer ideas, check out the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Explosives Found in Dover Township

Katie Boyer

The Columbus Bomb Squad and the Chauncey Fire Department were called to Dover Township on Monday afternoon to handle about 2,000 sticks of dynamite. The old dynamite was found in an abandoned concrete building off Carr Bailey Road just outside of Chauncey.

Blocked Off
Local volunteer firefighters blocked off the road at the intersection of Carr Bailey and Big Bailey Roads at approximately 2:00 in the afternoon. The roads were closed on both ends of Carr Bailey, and that they were only allowing locals to enter the area.

A student at Athens High School informed Principal Mike Meek that he found the dynamite inside the building while walking through the woods. Meek immediately contacted Detective Jack Taylor of the Athens County Sheriff’s Office. Taylor brought the student along to point out exactly where the building was and where the explosives were found.

After seeing the sticks of dynamite coming out of old, worn boxes, he called for backup to secure the scene and asked that the Columbus Bomb Squad come down to assist them.

Lots of Dynamite
Nineteen boxes of explosives were found in the building, each containing around 100 sticks of dynamite. The building off Carr Bailey Road is said to be an old mining area. The writing on the boxes contained the same information as the dynamite approved by U.S.Bureau of Mines. Information was released Tuesday that the building was designed to house explosives, and that over time, it was never fully cleared out.

Local Reaction
While waiting for the fire chief department, a local resident stopped to speak with the firefighters, and he told us that the owner of the building knew the dynamite was there. He said the owner purchased the land about five years ago, but that the dynamite had been there for around 50 years.

Another passerby was on her way to pick up her children from her mother’s house, but the firefighters would not let her pass through. She was concerned for the safety of her children, and was unsure of why the roads were blockaded at all. We explained to her what little information we knew, and she told us that there are several old concrete buildings on Carr Bailey, but that she had no idea any of them contained explosive materials.

After talking to several locals who were trying to travel on Carr Bailey, few seemed concerned about the explosives. Many seemed to know that the dynamite had been there for years and were not concerned that any type of explosion would result because of the age of the dynamite.

Not Dangerous
When the bomb squad arrived, they determined that the explosives were not active, but they did proceed to burn all the dynamite within the building to secure the area. The explosives appeared to have originated from Pennsylvania, but their exact age is not known. Detective Taylor did say though that the sticks appeared to be very old.

About three hours after the road was blocked off, Chief Dan Brown said the building was cleared out. "At this time they're currently burning, they put diesel on the dynamite found in the building. They're currently burning it off so once it gets burned off and everythings secure it'll be cleaned up and we'll be done."

Chief Dan Brown updates information on the explosives.

There is no official word on who the property owner is, and what he knew about the dynamite.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Struggling Food Pantries Need More Donations During Holidays

By Jessica Neidhard

The holiday season is a time for giving, but for the organizations that provide food to southeastern Ohio's neediest, the season of giving is even more crucial.

"It's a crisis we're in," said Marilyn Sloan, manager of the Southeast Ohio Regional Food Center.

That crisis has gotten even worse as the downturn in the economy forced more and more people to ask for food just to get through the week.

The weak economy's affect on the food center is two-fold. Not only are more families asking for food, but even people who would normally donate can't afford to anymore.

The food center is then met with an increased demand and a dwindling supply.

Southeast Ohio Regional Food Center Manager Marilyn Sloan discusses the increased demand for food in Athens County.

That food center, part of the Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action, provides boxes of pancake mix, fresh fruit, peanut butter and meat to more than 28,000 people in Athens County alone. The center also serves food to another nine Appalachian counties.

The People Who Suffer

Since the downturn of the economy Sloan said in addition to more people needing assistance, the types of people have changed.

"We've gotten people who need help but say they've never needed food stamps or any assistance before, and they're embarrassed that they can't provide for their families," she said.

Marilyn Sloan explains how people wait to ask for food assistance.

Sloan said that some days her job is heartbreaking, especially when she meets with clients at their home.

"I had one family that literally had scraps of food in their home," she said. "I opened the refrigerator and it had some milk and eggs and the pantry only had three cans of pork and beans, and this is a family that has three children."

Even worse, she added is that the people who haven't lost their jobs don't understand the problems happening to their own neighbors.

"If you haven't lost your job, if you can provide for your family, you have no idea how real this problem is around here," she said.

Messages of Hope

Despite the overwhelming number of families needing help, Sloan said she tries to remain hopeful by sending emails to one person she knows she can make a difference.

"Every morning before I come in to work I send an email to President Obama asking him, challenging him to come to Southeast Ohio, see how people are suffering," she said.

Sloan admitted that although she hasn't heard a response yet, she believes someday he will answer her pleas.

In the meantime Sloan is working with Katie Couric and the CBS evening news producers to interview struggling families in the area for a winter show. She said she hopes the show will help people understand the problems in Southeast Ohio and encourage them to donate food and money.

As of now, Sloan said the segment about Southeast Ohio is scheduled to air December or January.

Marilyn Sloan talks about challenging local officials to volunteer in food pantries.

Friday, November 6, 2009

REPORTER BLOG: The Halloween Assignment

Max Resnik

Excitement, anxiety, wonder and enthusiasm could all qualify as feelings when I woke Saturday morning. It was October 31, the day of Halloween. It is safe to say that I was not the only student at Ohio University who felt all of these emotions that morning.

It is the ultimate block party—a time when students come together and put studies on the backburner to have a truly memorable time. I knew that I would not be participating in the Halloween celebrations in the capacity that I have in the past. I would not be dressing up in my typical Halloween garb. (By typical I mean that I choose to dress as a famous female character each year. i.e. Dorothy from Wizard of Oz)

Costumed Students, Guests from out of town, and Locals line Court Street

The Beginning
Craig Reck, my fellow reporter in arms, met me at the Court Street BP at 5:30 in the evening. Donned in a suit to cover the serious, police and arrest side of the story, I saw Bert from Sesame Street—camera case draped over the left shoulder and a tripod under his right arm—approaching me with a big smile. I could tell Craig was excited. In his finest portrayal of Bert, Craig could not wait to get started on the feature story angle. Neither could I.

Court Street was just beginning to see some costumed students, out of town guests, and locals. The stages were filled with band equipment and rock n’ rollers ready to create the intensely fun atmosphere Athens, Ohio provides for Halloween each year.

One of the first bands takes stage

Opportunities for B-Roll
For television viewers who do not know what B-Roll is, broadcast journalists use this term to describe the elements of video a viewer watches while a voice tells the story of what is going on. B-Roll is used throughout newscasts to allow the viewer (you) to see exactly what we are describing.

Needless to say, the opportunities for B-Roll during Halloween are amazing. What qualifies as B-Roll though? Can you be more specific? Journalists like Craig and I need to look for the best video and sounds to present the viewer with. It is our hope that our writing and videotaping of a story can allow for the viewer to think he or she was there and part of the story.

In order to do so, we must begin our stories with the best video and best sound that we can offer. In the case of reporting on Halloween, people in costume, police presence including those on horseback, on foot and on bicycles, and quite frankly, drunken behavior all qualify as B-Roll.

My Angle
My angle for the Halloween story was to cover the police side of things. This side of the story entailed getting B-Roll of officers walking their beats and riding their beats whether on horseback or by bicycle.

My story for Athens MidDay

Pulling from a handful of county-wide and local agencies, police were, outnumbered by the thousands, and worked hard to create a safe and fun environment for all participants in the Halloween bash. Accompanying police, were dozens of paramedics loaded with first aid materials and emergency vehicles ready to help injured participants.

The police showed respect for the students’ fun and most students showed respect for police efforts. I found this to be very encouraging because of the shadow cast by Ohio University’s last huge block party—Spring’s annual Palmer Fest in which police, their horses and firefighters battled a two-story blaze and raucous, uncivilized students.

In the End
Upon finishing my assignment and gathering enough B-Roll and interviews about safety and Halloween crime, I had enough material to run an entire newscast on Halloween. Any time a journalist can say that, it is great. It means he or she has done everything in their power to give the viewer the best possible understanding of the story. It means that a journalist can at least hope that the viewer will feel as though he or she had been there and seen the action first hand.

Additionally, I realized that being a journalist means sacrificing for the public’s knowledge. I turned initial apprehension about my assignment into what I now view as my most successful story for Athens MidDay. I am proud of both my efforts and my ability to put the craziness of Halloween aside to report on a story that supplied its own unique fun.

External Link:
To see what Halloween was like for Craig. Check out his blog.

REPORTER BLOG: Happy Halloween!

By Craig Reck

Halloween in Athens
For those of you who don't know, Halloween in Athens is a major event. The Saturday night block party attracts costumed crazies from all around the country, and has done so for the past several decades. I've never been a big fan of the holiday, but my time in Athens has brought out the child in me.

Costume Creativity
If I'm going to dress up for Halloween, then I'm going to do it right. Years past, I have rocked the Napoleon Dynamite wig and glasses and the sorority girl bag and boots. This year, it was time to include the roommates. All seven of us made our own Sesame Street costumes, but the "Street Team" would have to wait because I had work to do.

Thursday Newsroom
The Thursday before Halloween I volunteered to cover the festivites and report a feature package. Nobody understood why I would give up a night of mischief to lug a camera and tripod around Court Street. Allow me to explain.

Reporting in Costume
I enjoy acting, but my reporting responsibilities limit my availability. Halloween is the one night when all closeted actors parade around town acting like someone else. If I'm able to look like Bert from Sesame Street while interviewing people for the news, I'm going to accept that offer.

The job did not even take that long. A few hours walking around Court Street provided ample audio and video to use in a story. As strange as it might sound, those hours reporting were the highlight of my Halloween. It was like being on a safari and trying to capture that one great photo of a lion and her cubs.

Even after my colleague Max Resnik and I stopped reporting for the night, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Everywhere I walked I saw wacky costumes begging to be on camera. As my roommates and I took our turn strutting up and down Court Street, I still thought about different angles and shooting locations.

Halloween Sights and Sounds

Holiday Calling
Engulfed in Athens' biggest celebration of the year, and all I could think about was reporting. That has to mean something. If I'm worried about audio levels and video framing on a holiday, then I must be passionate about journalism. Now if I could do this for a living, I would be happy, even if it means taking off the foam nose.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

REPORTER BLOG: "I got your back, literally."

Kelly Brennan

When you’re the only female on a staff, sometimes you feel like you have to “role with the big dogs” so to speak. Well, that is exactly what I tried to do. It’s difficult to keep up with the guys physically, especially when I’m a whopping 4-foot-11 inches!

I went with the sports crew (myself and 3 other guys) to Ironton High School to interview Bob Lutz. Lutz is the head football coach who just broke the record number of high school wins to become Ohio’s all-time winningest coach. It’s an incredible honor for a man to be a part of one school for 40 years and to have only one losing record.

Photo courtesy of Herald Dispatch.

One Painful Move
Before the interview began, we had to set up equipment for about 45 minutes. This is the time when the heavy lifting gets done by the guys. Our lighting and camera equipment is too difficult for me to carry, but I feel like I can’t stand there and watch them do all the work. So naturally I hopped on board and started lifting.

My dad always taught me to “lift with your legs and not your back.” I sure could’ve used that advice on Tuesday. After bending down to lift a c-stand (used for lighting), I didn’t quite make it back to a standing position. In one swift movement, I yanked the c-stand with my back and felt the painful “pop” in my lower back. As I fell backward, Matt (photographer) ran to my side and grabbed my back saying “I got your back,” pun fully intended!

Needless to say, I had tears rolling down my cheeks during the interviews that night. With spasms and knife-jabbing pain down my leg, the car ride home felt like eternity. It was another six days before I found out that I have a slipped disc in my lower back.

Daily Struggles
Daily tasks are not easy for me. I struggle to even put on my socks. So as I returned to work this week to report for news, I knew I was going to have to rely on others tremendously.

Working Through the Pain
Athens MidDay reporter Pat Henderson and I set off to work on a story about Halloween in Athens. Thank goodness for teamwork, because I could barely carry my purse. Pat sure “had my back” the entire day. We set off on foot to Court Street hoping to speak with business owners about precautions they took for Halloween and what problems they experienced during the block party.

We walked, and we walked, and we walked a little bit more. After talking with bar and shop owners in twelve separate businesses, we had no interviews on camera. Every employee we spoke with would not talk on camera either because they were uncomfortable or they didn’t think they had much to say.

The clock kept ticking and our frustration was growing, almost as quickly as the pain in my back. It was time for a break, and my couch at home was calling my name! One turn off Court Street and we were headed for food and rest. It was short lived, but much needed.

In thirty minutes we were back to work. Pat and I talked with residents living on Palmer Street who witnessed a couch fire during Halloween. When we talked to Dan Kollecker, a junior at Ohio University, he told us in a very animated way about one arrest he saw happen on Palmer.

Dan Kollecker witnessed someone resisting arrest.

Bonding with Porch Furniture
We talked with Dan for awhile on his front porch, and he entertained us with the “emotional bond” he has with his porch furniture. One of the porch couches is actually a bench taken from a minivan. It’s old and dirty, but Dan is adamant about protecting his beloved car seat.

The interview continued and my back pain started rapid firing throughout my entire lower back. I needed to get off my feet and rest again. I guess you could say that the dirty old car seat I first frowned at began to look quite appealing. Desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures, but I managed to get back home without relying on Dan's car seat for a rest!

I was really glad that I could rely on my Athens MidDay colleagues, though. They truly gave new meaning to the phrase, "I got your back".

Palmer Residents to put Porch Furniture Lockdown

Kelly Brennan

From Halloween to spring fests, Ohio University has had its fair share of off-campus visitors over the years. The events often referred to by locals as “block parties,” come with costs, and we’re not just talking costs for city clean up.

Residents on Palmer Street witnessed another couch fire on the sidewalk last weekend. Andrea Otto, Ohio University junior, says “it doesn’t make [me] feel unsafe, it’s just that people are stupid.”

Dan Kollecker also lives on Palmer and saw at least one arrest. He says someone jumped over a porch and was tackled by police officers, but this person did not start the fire.

Dan Kollecker witnessed one man get arrested on Palmer Street.

Speculations about the Cause
Police haven't arrested anyone for starting the fire, but Palmer residents like Andrea and Dan are not afraid to speculate.

Andrea Otto, OU junior, says the fire was probably started by an OU student.

While Andrea and her housemates believe an OU student started the fire simply because students have more access to porch furniture, Dan says it was probably a visitor to campus because they’re “just here for a good time and here to party.”

Palmer Street resident Dan Kollecker believes the couch fire was started by a visitor to Athens.

Helpful Residents
Although arrests were down only two from last year’s fifty-three, Mayor Paul Wiehl says Halloween was fairly calm. Students on Palmer Street cleaned up remains from the couch fire and Wiehl praises them for their actions, “Kudos to the anonymous students that cleaned up Palmer Street on Sunday. There were various city employees very impressed with the results.”

Mayor Paul Wiehl appreciates the efforts by OU students who cleaned up Palmer Street.

Precautions for Palmer Street

Spring quarter means more block parties for Athens, and students on Palmer Ave. are apprehensive about Palmerfest. Andrea knows her house will "be on lockdown" for the fest because she witnessed first hand how events can get out of control.

While Andrea takes precautions for her house, Dan is worried about his porch furniture. His housemates have an emotional bond with a bench from a minivan that serves as a couch on their front porch. "We might have to put that in the basement for Palmerfest," Dan says. "I'm not letting my carseat get burned up."

Palmer residents will take precautions for the next block party on their street.

Andrea and Dan both agree that the possible costs of broken furniture won't keep them from enjoying the block party, but they are worried about people coming onto their porches and stealing stuff. Still, Dan is philosophical about it, noting that if someone's going to set something on fire, he'd rather they steal the item off his porch first, "It would be a bigger problem if a fire or something happened directly in front of my house," says Dan. For now though, these students are hoping to enjoy fire-free block parties in the future.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

REPORTER BLOG: Abandoned Mine Safety Concerns in Athens County

Katie Boyer

I had the opportunity to attend an open forum at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to listen in on what is being done in Athens County to reclaim old coal mine land. With the Appalachian Regional Commission holding its new energy conference in town, I thought the discussion would be about how to clean up the mines to help the area go green. However, that was not case. This meeting was more than just closing a mine for the green initiative, it was about keeping the people in Athens County safe.

The first speaker showed the audience several videos and a map of Ohio, with the biggest portion of the southeastern area colored in pink and red. He told us that the colored area showed the counties in Ohio having problems with abandoned mine land. When I read over the meeting agenda, I assumed that abandoned mine land was referring to some of the mines in the area that have been closed for decades. Again, I discovered there was much more to the problem.

What is AML?
Abandoned mine land has been a longstanding problem in Ohio, especially in the 28-county Southeast Ohio region. Abandoned mine lands are those lands, waters, and surrounding watershed areas that have been contaminated or scarred by closed coal, ore and mineral mining operations.

After listening to the representatives from different areas in Appalachia, I realized that the safety of the people is the top priority of both the state and federal levels of the AML program. The program, at both levels, provides funding to help complete reclamation projects throughout the state.

At the meeting, most projects were near very high traffic areas or residential homes, especially those homes with children. It was obvious that safety concerns were at the top of the list, and a few of those concerns were addressed at the meeting. However, I wanted to get more information to make people aware of what safety issues are at stake, and what this program is trying to accomplish for Athens County.

Abandoned mine lands (AMLs) present serious threats to people's health and the environment. Addressing the problem of AML impacts is becoming more important because of the risks of accidents and injuries. There are as many as 500,000 abandoned mines in our nation.

AML story that aired on Athens MidDay Wednesday, October 28, 2009.

Health Concerns
There are many concerns related to health. Our nation has seen a growth in population which in turn, has created a higher demand for outdoor recreation on both public and private lands. Recreation areas, national by-ways, and campground facilities on public lands are often located in very near AML sites. The use of ATVs at AML sites brings risks of dangerous shafts and the chance of exposure to contaminants in the soil, water and air. Recreational fishing can also be a problem near AML sites. Polluted waters may contaminate already decreased fish populations.

Environmental Degradation
Typical environmental problems from AML sites include: contaminated/acidic surface and ground water and stockpiled waste rock. Surface runoff can move silt and debris down-stream, eventually leading to stream clogging. Sedimentation is caused by the blockage of the stream and can potentially cause flooding of roads and residences and pose a danger to the public.

Water Pollution
Highly acidic water that is rich in metals, known as AMD, is a very serious problem in many abandoned mines. Abandoned mines can produce AMD for more than 100 years which poses significant risks to surface water and ground water. AMD can lower the pH levels of surrounding surface water, making it corrosive and unable to support most forms of aquatic life and vegetation. People also could be affected by consuming water and fish with a high metal content.

What Is Being Done
Cleanup efforts are currently underway on the federal and state levels. Significant attention is being focused on potential future uses of the lands, as well as the economic, environmental, and social benefits that reuse can provide. The program has reclaimed almost 240,000 acres of land with hazardous coal-related problems. Safety and environmental hazards have been eliminated on almost 315,000 acres containing coal or non-coal problems. Almost 8,000 emergencies have also been addressed. The AML program is nowhere near completion, but plans to continue working hard to ensure that these areas are safe for both the people and for the environment. ODNR has also provided a Citizen's Guide with more information regarding AML in the state, and here in Athens.