Monday, 13 April 2015

Closing the book on a decade-long journalism career

I have been a blessed man when it comes to my career choice thus far.

How else can I describe a journey that started in the Air Force and went to a TV station then two newspapers, eventually ascending to the senior reporter role at The Chronicle in Centralia, Washington with no college experience?

I described to a friend last week how my career in journalism began: I entered the Air Force fresh out of high school and made the choice to be an explosive ordnance disposal technician, then thought better of it and had a chance meeting with a master sergeant who offered me the chance to take a voice audition and try to see if I could become a newsreader for the American Forces Network.

I passed, and the rest is history, as they say, but there is a critical component of the four years I spent in the military that made me marketable to civilian employers despite the fact I had not set foot in a college classroom. The six months I spent deployed to Iraq as a journalist were the single most important in determining my career path.

The experience I gained as a one-man band proved invaluable. I had some great mentors in the Air Force who taught me how to shoot and edit video, write concisely, operate a radio board, speak effectively and make sure your words have the most impact.

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to do contract work for a TV station in Portland at age 23, then shoot video for a newspaper’s website in Springfield, Missouri, where they let me write a few articles and taught me AP style. After I returned to the Northwest, I took my first full-time reporting position at The Chronicle, in a community in which my family has some roots — shallow somewhat, but roots nonetheless.

Funny thing, I left The Chronicle in 2012 yet came right back here last year because I missed the job and the people here a lot. I’m now in my fourth year reporting at The Chronicle.

Some stories have tugged at my heartstrings. As a military veteran, one of the most difficult stories I had to write was penned earlier this year when a local soldier took his own life after coming back from war. I still pray for his family to this day.

Other stories have been fun. Several people got a good chuckle when I began the first five paragraphs in a story about a local high school play about the ’80s with “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

But amid the hundreds of stories I’ve covered, there has been one that served as a perspective shifter that rendered me more prayerful and thoughtful since.

It was a simple assignment to visit the Lewis County Gospel Mission and report on their fundraising drive to buy the building they are renting. For those who don’t know, the Gospel Mission holds a breakfast and lunch free of charge for the needy, a clothing bank and much more with a Christian ministry.

As I visited, shot photos and talked to people for my story, I interviewed one man who said he had been in a place of destitution but it was a ministry similar to the Gospel Mission that brought him out of it. That day, he brought forth the devotion and prayed for the meal served, then went to converse with everyone who visited.

The man proceeded to tell me that his volunteerism at the mission was his way of thanking the Lord for bringing him out of a dark place.

I don’t exactly know why, but that hit me pretty hard and I began to think on the impact that people willing to serve and invest in his life had. That gentleman was a success story: a believer in Christ who is now doing ministry of his own to people who would be an afterthought to most.

I have had a heart for the destitute, disadvantaged and depressed for some time, but that visit to the Gospel Mission that day set forth something in motion in my heart in which I wanted to seek a venue to help people in similar fashion whether through my church, civic collaborative efforts or the mission itself. As I have been blessed, so I should bless others.

It’s incredibly difficult to feel a love for a community you want to get involved in, yet be restrained from helping as effectively as you know you could because of the nature of one’s job in that journalists are supposed to report without bias or favor. I’ve understood that and adhered to it, but as a man whose heart is to want to step behind the scenes and be a part of an intensifying community-wide effort to minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ to whosoever will hear the message, I have realized that I can’t be fully effective in that effort while at the same time employed at a news agency.

As such, I began to seek a change in career after seeking wise counsel from people I consider to be mentors.

My search has paid off, and I find myself at the end of my journalism career come this Friday with a switch to a new career beginning next week.

The end of a career choice I partially stumbled onto by chance that was guided by the hand of the Lord Himself to where I am now has brought back a flood of memories since I announced to my colleagues two weeks ago that I would be leaving the newspaper, yet staying in the local area. I’ll miss the profession and its value to the community, and there’s a big part of me that will miss coming in to proofread the paper on deadline days, in essence reading it before the general public gets to. There’s also something really neat about digging up information and knowing it before anyone else, then becoming a subject matter expert on the material.

But when I look at the big picture, I realize that the pull on my heartstrings as a result of the story I covered at the Gospel Mission was a call to listen to the Lord and where He would guide me next. At this time next week I will have started a new job, but what I think is more important is what I’m now freed up to do.

I look forward to further serving in Life Center, my church home here in Centralia. I also look forward to further helping out in ministries that until now, I could only pray for or be minimally involved in.

I look back with a major appreciation for the people who took chances on me, trained me and helped me become a better journalist. I’m going to name some names here, so here goes: Jennifer Wessner, who was my radio supervisor at Lajes Field in 2003 and taught me to have fun while effectively doing my job; Lee Lieburn, who taught me a lot of the video editing skills I know today and sang “Pigs on the Wing” duets with me a few times; the good people at Fox 12 Oregon who gave me a chance to edit and shoot video straight out of the military; Dean Curtis and Jerome Nakagawa, who were two of the better photographers I knew who taught me a lot about a subject I was interested in but didn’t know a lot of technical details of; Brian Mittge and Michael Wagar, then-editors of The Chronicle who took a flier on me in 2010 as an unproven journalist; and finally, Eric Schwartz, who hired me over the phone when I expressed a desire to come back.

There are many more people I’ve worked with over the years and have bonded with. You all are too many to name individually, but you know who you are and you played a big role in making my career something I will look back on with fondness.

I also can’t forget the people who have been gracious in letting me into their lives and tell their stories. After all, a journalism career doesn’t happen without stories to tell, and many people have given me some awesome stories.

Life as a reporter has been great, it truly has. But as a man of faith, I’ve been given a chance to switch careers and take advantage of the opportunities for ministry — and that’s a new era in life I’ll walk into wide-eyed.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Eric Champion’s “Vertical Reality” Still Sounds Like the Future, 21 Years Later

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more musically diverse album than one I first heard when I was only 10 years old.

I was so glad to find my CD copy, scratched nearly to heck and gone but still playable, of Eric Champion’s 1994 release “Vertical Reality” buried under a pile of paperwork, seemingly neglected. So glad, in fact, that I popped it into my car’s CD player and listened to it the entire way to the coast Saturday.

To listen to the album is to take a musical journey that crosses several genres and sometimes blends several of them together in one song (electronica/trip hop; pop and alternative, etc.) in multiple instances. The journey is all woven together as a concept album by the underlying story of a person trying to find God in a society that has literally programmed him out of its recognition.

When I was 10, I remember visiting a friend whose parents had a copy of the CD, and I thought the cover art was somewhat intriguing. We popped the CD in their 24-disc changer and blared it through their living room sound system…and lo and behold, “N2 The Next Dimension” was my first exposure to electronica and was a direct influence on me later taking a like to bands such as Orbital, 808 State and others with similar sounds.

“Verticality,” as shown at the top of this post, is my favorite cut on the album, and in my view brings a heavy Prince alt-pop sound to the album and sets the tone for the rest of the CD. It mellows out for a few tracks from there, but it gets kicking once again with “Dancing in the Fire” and kind of roller-coasters into a more mellow sound and back into electronic beats, back and forth until the album ends.

Looking back, it’s quite possible that “N2 The Next Dimension,” “Dancing in the Fire” and “Believe It to See It” in all their electronic glory were probably too much to be marketed on Christian radio. I distinctly remember only hearing two songs that seemed tailor-made for adult contemporary, “Touch” and “Endless,” on the Longview and Seattle Christian radio stations at the time of their release.

It struck me upon listening to the album Saturday that it sounds just as much like the future as it did 21 years ago when it was released. That’s a difficult feat for any artist, especially one marketed as contemporary Christian. Eric Champion and Tommy Sims’ production was absolutely on point, with Sims even contributing vocals and playing bass on several songs; as a result, the collaboration gave the album a much more distinct feel than any of the other Christian music that came out at that time (and 1994 was a pretty good year for CCM, with Newsboys releasing “Going Public,” for example).

“Vertical Reality” never received much marketing, and I only remember seeing cassette copies of it at our local Christian bookstore, The Treasure House in Longview. Its greatest strength in that it was something that completely defied what Christian music was supposed to sound like was probably its greatest hindrance in gaining a foothold in the market, and that was unfortunate.

We would play the cassette in our Ford Aerostar van on the way from our house in Rainier to church in Vancouver on occasion; it definitely made the hum-drum down Interstate 5 much more tolerable. I distinctly remember asking my brother to stay silent during the trip as the first side of the cassette would play, then I’d ask my parents to fast-forward “Endless.”

As I became older and went on my own musical journeys to discover the world outside Christian music, it became apparent just how much of my musical tasted were shaped by “Vertical Reality.” I honestly think I might have found Daft Punk’s “Discovery” a bit jarring at first had it not been for “Vertical Reality.”

Here’s a little-known trivial tidbit: The 2:43 mark of “Believe It to See It” contains a sample of the intro to “Pass the Dutchie” by Musical Youth.

For me, “Vertical Reality” is the most influential album I’ve ever listened to. It’s mostly because of the music itself, but also largely because Eric Champion himself changed his musical style so much in the late 1990s to an alternative sound, and as such the aesthetic of “Vertical Reality” was never to come back.

Wherever you are Mr. Champion, I raise a mug of coffee to you tonight and drink in your honor (and Tommy Sims as well) for the outstanding work on the VR album. Truly groundbreaking stuff that still sounds like the future at this moment.

You can’t find it on iTunes or Spotify, but click here to listen to the album on Grooveshark!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Without warning, a horrific nightmare from the Middle East

It happened sneakily, suddenly and strikingly.

Upon drifting off to sleep last night, I found myself in the Middle East, close but not exactly where I had been 10 years ago when I deployed to Iraq. This time, I wasn’t wearing military gear and had no weapons or body armor; rather, I was a civilian, visiting a casino for some reason.

I drifted among the card tables, poker room, restaurants and more, taking in the sights of unfettered opulence. No expense was spared upon this establishment; in fact, judging by the money people were spending, the hefty investment in the building looked like it would begin to turn a profit before long.

Participating in anything the casino offered did not interest me, so I walked back outside after admiring the architecture. As I began to walk further from the building, the angle opened up and it looked like a massive index finger scratching the surface of the sky.

Then it happened.

A noise so deafening that I had to plug my ears and crouch downward blasted through the air. A blinding flash and the sound of shattering glass in the distance became the telltale sign that a terrible fate had just befallen the casino from which I just ran.

I ran back toward the building along with many others who converged from every direction. Upon arrival, I could see a hole blasted in the side of the building, with shell-shocked and bloodied people exiting.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: most of the casino intact, with the noises of the slot machines and the bright flashing of the lights still dominating the environment well in the distance, while in front of me (and this is where it gets graphic)…

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Sunday, 15 March 2015

Signs of spring around my hometown abound above ground

I took a trip down to Longview and Rainier today, and it seemed the Lake Sacajawea area was somewhat insulated from the heavy rains and high winds that went wild for a bit in other parts of the region.

The flora around the region is starting to awaken and show signs that spring is definitely either right around the corner or basically here already. We’ve had a very mild winter, and it seems the plant life around here can’t wait to start showing its colors again.

Here are some shots from around Lake Sacajawea and Vandercook Park that I took in the span of about an hour.

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Tuesday, 3 March 2015

February 2015, in photos

I am blessed to live in the most beautiful corner of the planet. Here is a new monthly chronicle of the evidence of such.

Dale Perozzo hikes along the Goat Creek Trail about a mile west of Cathedral Falls.
Dale Perozzo hikes along the Goat Creek Trail about a mile west of Cathedral Falls.
Sea lions bark, bask in the sun and generally laze around in droves at the Port of Astoria Mooring Basin on Presidents' Day.
Sea lions bark, bask in the sun and generally laze around in droves at the Port of Astoria Mooring Basin on Presidents’ Day.
A wave receding into the Pacific Ocean near Gearhart, Oregon reveals a non-uniform yet somehow scintillating pattern.
A wave receding into the Pacific Ocean near Gearhart, Oregon reveals a non-uniform yet somehow scintillating pattern.
Cathedral Falls is seen on a gray Saturday in mid-February. The falls is probably one of Lewis County's best hidden gems.
Cathedral Falls is seen on a gray Saturday in mid-February. The falls is probably one of Lewis County’s best hidden gems.
The sun creates a lens flare effect as Trestle #5 is shown along the Willapa Hills Trail near Adna, Washington. Work crews recently beat back brush that had overgrown the wooden portion of the trestle.
The sun creates a lens flare effect as Trestle #5 is shown along the Willapa Hills Trail near Adna, Washington. Work crews recently beat back brush that had overgrown the wooden portion of the trestle.
The sun sets near Vader, Washington on Presidents' Day.
The sun sets near Vader, Washington on Presidents’ Day.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Farewell to RadioShack, a last link to a golden age of electronics

As news comes forth of what appears to be RadioShack’s final days, I found myself today awash in a flood of memories from a time not many people know about: when I actually worked for the company.

I needed a job when I was 23 and new to the city of Springfield, Missouri. I signed on at the first place that would hire me, a RadioShack store on the southwest side of town.

I remember my time with the company quite well. It was short-lived, but it took place at a time of my life that I simply needed to find employment as I had just moved to Missouri to be closer to my family.

I don’t speak ill or well of my time there, but recognize it for what it was: a Bailey bridge across a chasm that separated two stints of employment in the journalism business.

The RadioShack I worked at was located in a bustling center of commercial activity on the south side of Springfield, Missouri, situated next door to the busiest Walmart in the city.

Generally, anyone visiting our RS location knew what they were looking for, wanted to buy it and get out. They didn’t want to be haggled with or bothered to buy a protection plan. They just wanted a set of resistors, a cordless phone, a pack of batteries — you name it, they got it and got out. While those interactions were the most pleasant, selling a $2.99 resistor didn’t really do much for a man trying to sell enough swag to reach a commission rate of $75 per hour for a bonus. More on that commission later.

A good number of the people who stopped in made you wonder if they got lost on their way to Walmart, which again was next door to us. Some of those people would just stop and talk to you about anything, with no regard for whether they knew you or not. I was fine with that, but some of my more introverted colleagues would have rather run in the back room and hidden.

Other customers would ask about items I didn’t know much about because most of our training was geared toward selling cell phones. Many times when I needed assistance from a co-worker, I was SOL because he or she was in the middle of a pitch to another customer who was on the fence about buying a cell phone or four.

If our store did not have much foot traffic and there were three of us behind the counter, we would routinely send a part-time employee home at about 7 p.m. That happened more times than I could count.

Any reason I can come up with for not liking to work there stemmed from a commission system that was very difficult to keep up with. I only remember making commission one month, and that was November. Most of the time, my sales pitches for cell phones or batteries turned into spending a good amount of time trying to simply help someone who needed it, knowing that trying to reach the sales goal was all but a lost cause.

I distinctly remember my manager, who I believe was a good person at the core, telling me that I needed to make my sales goal so he would get his Christmas bonus. At the time it seemed like a rotten thing for him to say, but when I look back at that moment I realize that he had a wife and baby, and he was just trying to exist. He was one of us.

I remember that we had several corporate-owned RadioShack stores in Springfield, and in several outlying communities the stores with RadioShack signage were franchised. There was a big difference there. Those franchise stores simply carried the RadioShack name, but seemed to cater more toward what I remember the stores being when I was a kid: a place for electronics geeks or those who needed spare parts for older equipment.

In southwest Missouri, farmers and weather spotters routinely visited those franchise stores for radio parts or resistors for electronics I didn’t know existed. Several who visited our corporate-owned store would leave, visibly and audibly frustrated that we no longer carried the part they needed.

As the company fades into what seem to be its final days, I’ll remember RadioShack not for the company I worked for, but what it was when I would visit the store at the Triangle Mall in Longview, Washington (the mall itself is long dead). To me, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was this cool store that had a bunch of electronic gadgets, whizbangs and scanners that would stimulate the mind of any young kid with an affinity for technology.

But when I worked for it at the age of 23, it didn’t resemble anything close to that. Maybe that’s the reason my tenure as an employee there was disappointing. For me, it was less about money than it was sentimental reasons.

Not only has the Internet put a lot of brick-and-mortar stores in serious trouble, but the reduced quality of electronics overall has really changed the game. Nowadays people are more apt to chuck a piece of non-working equipment instead of taking the time and finding the knowledge and equipment to fix it themselves.

It’s with that in mind that I say farewell to a company that seems like the last great link to the 20th century, a connection to a past that was simply trying to feel out the future. The future is here and it’s much different than any of us could have ever imagined.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

To the kid that saved my Christmas, a sincere thank you

I have to admit that the amount of Christmas spirit I have this year has been slim to none.

There is no Christmas tree in my house, and Christmas music does not ring out from my sound system. I pass by my neighbors’ Christmas displays and feel nothing.

I am mentally exhausted. The patented headaches I suffer from have increased in frequency and intensity. I find myself wanting to withdraw from people more now than at any point in my life, and I can’t figure out why.

I am 30 years old and facing the prospect that I may very well not find my future wife in the area in which I currently live. I am bombarded on social media with posts and photos of friends and their significant others enjoying the holiday season. I try to be happy for them, but largely cannot.

Many other circumstances have led to this Christmas season becoming one I would rather pass by. It all culminated yesterday when I had to force myself to participate in our town’s Christmas parade.

It is easy to temporarily hide the exhaustion, put on a smile and go out in public. I did just that, knowing I would go back home right afterward and things would be the way they were before.

Our group in the parade passed hand warmers to people in the crowd. Several received them with enthusiasm, especially young kids who probably thought the bag contained a ridiculously large piece of candy.

I came across a boy who was shivering somewhat in the cool weather. I asked him if he wanted one, and he paused for a second before replying, “That’s okay. Give one to someone who needs it more than I do.”

As the parade went on, my mind kept going back to the boy and his words that shined more brightly than any lights on the parade entries. I returned to my car after the event ended and sat there for a couple minutes to reflect.

“…someone who needs it more than I do.”

Those words made me realize a central truth: even through my own struggles, there are people in this world struggling with entirely more stark situations. Some have lost loved ones, others are seeking employment, and still others are about to miss a rent payment because they had to choose between sustenance and shelter.

I looked back on my own problems and realized they seem pretty trivial after that. I began to pray that the Lord would bring his joy back to me and enable me to share it with others, and immediately after that prayer something stirred within me.

I don’t know who that kid was, and I don’t even much remember what he looked like. Maybe that is the way it should be, because after all, his words indicated that his gesture wasn’t about him in the first place.

That kid very well saved my Christmas and made me focus on what really matters. I am thankful to God for such a simple, perspective-changing encounter that served as a catalyst to truly enjoy this holiday season.

Merry Christmas to everyone out there, and today I can say that and truly mean it.

Monday, 24 November 2014

A letter to Oma, eleven years after an untimely day

Dear Oma,

It’s been eleven years, but it doesn’t seem that long.

I don’t know if you’ve been getting the yearly letters I write to you, but as always I wanted to fill you in on how things have been down here. I’d be remiss if I didn’t continue this tradition.

Thanksgiving nears once again, and it’s probably going to be my favorite holiday this year simply because the year has been so good.

I moved back to Centralia after two years in Missouri. I know, I know — it seems like I was waffling back and forth, but there really wasn’t much green grass in Springfield, and the opportunity arose for me to get my old job back. So here I am, back at the newspaper, at the church I used to attend and living life in Lewis County once again. I’d venture to say it’s even better this time around because I am closer to my old friends than I was before, and I’ve made some tremendous new friends.

I’m still unmarried. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news in that sense, but hey — it’s alright with me for now.

Just the other day, I thought of you as the anniversary of the day you left us approached. I vividly remember the times that you would sing hymns as you were performing some task such as bringing wood in to stoke the fire or checking the oven to see if your apple cake was done. In fact, I can remember the words you would sing as if I just heard them an hour ago: Rescue the perishing, care for the dying — and then you’d put your own spin on it — Jesus is powerful — and you’d pause for a second, as if to increase the impact…

Jesus will save.

To this day, the quiet faith in Christ I saw you live continues to inspire me. Even if you did watch TBN a bit much, you had a heart for the Lord and I appreciated that. I still do.

I also continue to appreciate the legacy you left my family. Mom told me the story again a few months ago of how you would ride your bike to work at Tollycraft in Kelso so you could support four kids. Shortly after she told me that, I rode the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic — 204 miles in two days — and each time I found the going to be difficult or felt my energy falter, I remembered that story and it provided me a psychological boost.

For that, I dedicated my entire STP tour to you. I figured it would be the best way I knew how to honor the sacrifice you made for the family in keeping them together.

When I’m reminded of the time and effort you spent trying to create a better life for Mom and the others, I’m incredibly grateful because I know that resourceful mindset was passed on to her, and she did a tremendous job passing it on to Jason and I.

Speaking of Jason, he is in seminary now. He’s back in Missouri and loves it there. You would be proud of him.

Remember those old apartments in Longview you used to live in just northwest of the Civic Circle, by the college? The college built a new science center and needed a parking lot, so they decided to tear down Maple Terrace and put the lot there. Pity, because I really enjoyed watching LCC baseball games from your living room window when I was a kid.

Other than that, Longview hasn’t changed too terribly much. Lake Sacajawea is still as beautiful as ever, it’s still surreal to see that the Triangle Mall is no more, and the city in general feels smaller each time I visit.

The old church on Walnut Street in Kelso still stands, and you’d be pleased to know the cross on the front of the building still radiates that glorious symbol of hope to the neighborhood I derisively used to call Felony Flats. I haven’t attended a service there in years, but I pass by every now and then and take a look just to remind myself of my roots.

I have to say it again: I can’t believe it’s been eleven years. I turned 30 in July, and if you were able to see me again, you’d see a few flecks of gray in a beard that still can’t grow properly. I still have all my hair on top of my head though, and I haven’t started to lose it as you famously predicted I would.

Anyway, my time here draws short, but rest assured I’ll visit soon. Keep taking care of a few of my friends up there, and tell them I say hello as well.

Missing you as always. Ich liebe dich.

Chris

Thursday, 30 October 2014

I bought an iPhone 6 Plus, and here’s my review of it

Confession: I’ve been an Android guy through and through for about the past few years.

I tend to go through phones a lot, and with me having AT&T service without a contract, why not? I had gone through such phones as the HTC One M7 and even the OnePlus One, trying the latest in cutting-edge Android technology when it came out earlier this year.

As awesome and customizable as Android is, there is one thing I felt was lacking in all of the Android phones I owned: the ability for the phones to take truly awesome photos. None of them inspired me to set down my Canon Digital Rebel T2i for multiple hiking trips and opt for something more compact.

Apple announced the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in early September, and I watched as millions of people ordered the phones. Reviews praised the camera quality, especially that of the Plus, and when I spoke to two photographers I know who swore by the Plus and said they could ditch their point-and-shoot cameras, the idea of buying one began to turn a wheel in my head.

I knew I’d have to go back to contract service, but I took the plunge and bought the iPhone 6 Plus. Now after a week with it in my possession, I feel I am qualified to write a review of it.

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Monday, 27 October 2014

Caught in the middle of an intense cloudburst

It rained a bit yesterday and then IT RAINED, while I was on the road, no less.

I was driving down to Portland after church when I came upon an intense cloudburst that dumped mass amounts of water and hail upon Woodland, Washington at about 1:30 p.m. I don’t think I’ve seen a rainstorm that intense in the Northwest in years — I’ve seen many in the Midwest like this, and the storms were usually severe in nature, but we just don’t get this type of stuff often in the Northwest.

Conditions were awful for driving, so naturally, I took out my iPhone 6 Plus and shot video of the phenomenon.

It was LOUD in real life, especially when the hail began knocking all over the windshield. The hail wasn’t large, but the National Weather Service ended up receiving a storm report that showed .75″ of hail hitting Battle Ground, a town just to the south and east.

Note that the speed limit in the area is 70, and going 35 while this storm hit was the prudent and reasonable thing to do.

All told, I’m really glad no major traffic incidents came out of this, from what I heard.