Thursday, May 26, 2005

Spoletoblog on the eve of the festival...

The 2005 Spoleto festival starts at noon, but as far as I'm concerned it began tonight with a preview performance of Mabou Mines DollHouse (one of the things I'd actually like to see this year, having interviewed director Lee Breuer and found him utterly fascinating). Since we're actually going to start promoting the blog tomorrow, I figured it would be cool to go out and catch just a bit of the scene before all hell broke loose tomorrow...

So I drove downtown, ran inside the ritzy Charleston Place hotel to check on "The New Mexico Amigos," a business group that an editor thought might be here for the festival. I don't think so, but whatever. I snapped digital photos of them and an industry group posing on the grand stairs, collected a few other images, then parked illegally and took some quickies of folks going into the Dock Street Theatre (one of the great things about Charleston: The Dock Street Theatre isn't on Dock Street).

Got home, downloaded my memory card and uploaded five photos into a new "Spoleto Scene" photo album. The editor called to ask about the amigos, but I told her to wait just a bit and she'd have the actual post. I got the whole thing up before 9, including a little bit of atmospheric prose arranged around two of my own photos, both of them less than 45 minutes old by the time I hit the "save" button.

That immediacy is a natural high for a journalist. But the depth of connection to the material is special, too. The control...

A lot of people don't know this about me, but long before I was a writer, I was a visual artist. My first newspaper job was cartoonist (at age 14; $10 a cartoon for the small paper in Madison-Mayodan, N.C.). I was a commercial artist in Charlotte in 1983 (designed the packaging for an ill-fated food brand called "El Mexican Fiesta"). In 1990, while working as a pasteup clerk at The Chapel Hill Newspaper, I complained so much about a crappy illustration by the staff artist that the city editor said "draw something better!" I jammed out a reply with a Sharpie on a piece of scrap paper in about a minute. He took one look, said "That is better," and ran it on the front page. In 1994, I took second place in an NC Press Association illustration contest at The ShelbyStar... where I was the city editor.

At The Mountaineer in Waynesville, I used to carry a complete photo kit and shoot assignments for other reporters' stories (we had exactly one full-time photographer). I shot high school footbal rivalry games, troops leaving for the first Gulf War, troops coming home. In fact, when we did a year-in-photos section, I got to lord it over the regular photographer that I'd gotten as many shots in it as he did (I still kid him about that... all these years later, we're still in the same fantasy football league).

I'd design pages (back in the days when you did this on paper), and, since I'd been a pasteup artist in college, I'd put them together, too. I was good with an Exacto, and my headlines always lined up plumb, straight and true.

For my 1991 package on trout fishing in the Smoky Mountains, I wrote the stories and the headlines, drew the lead illustration, shot the photos, designed the layout and pasted up the page. And if you've got the skills, that kind of control can be heaven.

Blogging feels a lot like that to me. It's like traveling back in time to a moment in my life when journalism -- that wonderful act of telling other people what's going on -- was actually fun.

Look, it's not that writing and reporting are a chore. I like it. it's a big part of who I am. But for some warped reason, I'm more proud of those cartoons, illustrations and photos than I am of my big pooh-bah news stories. I enjoy expressing myself in different ways. I like the sense of cohesion that you get when the writer is the photographer is the designer is the headline writer.

Community journalism isn't easy, and it isn't always fun. But it can be emotionally satisfying. Blogging is like that. It's hands-on and much more raw and real than the processed-cheese-food stuff that tends to come out of metro newsrooms.

Anyway, check out Spoletoblog, and point it out to your artistic friends...