Field Report: New Orleans

July 11, 2015

From the levee in the Holy Cross neighborhood of New Orleans, you get a great view of downtown across the Mississippi River. With photographer Roger Herr.

This past week, I continued work on a series of pieces I’m doing in New Orleans for,  a news portal focused on education that will launch this Monday. (The 74 million refers to the number of children under the age of 18 in the USA.) Since so much of what I’ve been doing the past several years has been solo video journalism, it has been a while since I’ve had the luxury to work in the field with a correspondent, a photographer and a sound person.

Campbell Brown talks to Jamal Preston, a recent graduate of the Dr. King Charter School in New Orleans.

Campbell Brown talks to Jamal Preston, a recent graduate of the Dr. King Charter School in New Orleans.

I had the pleasure to work with former NBC and CNN reporter/anchor Campbell Brown, photographer Roger Herr, a former CNN colleague and Darryl Mitchell on sound. The last time Roger, Darryl and I worked together we got to stand on top of the head of George Washington on Mount Rushmore for a Discovery Channel show on Homeland Security.

I’ll tell you more about the New Orleans stories when they run in August.

Campbell Brown (third from left) with Jamar McKneely (far left), the CEO of InspireNOLA charter schools, and parents of children at the Andrew Wilson school in Broadmoor.

Campbell Brown (third from left) with Jamar McKneely (far left), the CEO of InspireNOLA charter schools, and parents of children at the Andrew Wilson school in Broadmoor.



Lessons from a lifetime of music collecting

May 17, 2015

Binder 1: From King Sunny Adé and the Afro Celts to Alejandro Escovedo and Cesária Évora


AFTER a few decades of music collecting, I have amassed about a thousand CDs (not including another stash of vinyl albums in boxes in the closet). At the height of my music buying, I would go to my favorite record store the Tuesday after payday (Tuesday is when new releases traditionally come out) and spend up to $100 on new music. That would be total some $200 a month. I don’t remember having that much disposable income, but that’s what I spent — buying six or seven compact discs at each visit, ranging from independent labels to perennial pop favorites, classical or jazz to hidden gems I had heard about from magazines (then list-serves, then websites), and word of mouth.

And that’s just what I spent on recorded music. I would also go out at least one night a week to a venue to hear a band.

When I worked at TIME and wrote a little (very little) about music and covered events like SXSW, I got on music publicists’ lists, and they’d send me new releases in advance. That made my collection balloon so much that I ran out of shelf space in both my office and Brooklyn apartment. They ended up in boxes. And, too lazy to sort through before I moved midwest, they were schlepped to my Chicago condo and have been sitting in closets.

All of that has tapered quite a bit these days. I don’t go hear live music as often as I used to (though I have lots of tickets for upcoming shows — including the Stones in Milwaukee in June — and I subscribe to the Chicago Symphony). And because I now have much of that collected music at my fingertips — either from the discs I’ve digitized in iTunes or via online music services — I don’t buy many CDs these days. That $200 I used to pay to support the music industry has dropped to my monthly Spotify $10.99 premium account payment.

I still buy the latest work of favorite artists at my local record store — to support both the artists and the shop (recent purchases include the latest releases from Lucinda Williams and My Brightest Diamond). And I make it a habit to buy the CD of any musician I hear at a live venue whose music I dig (recently, The Maytags from Iowa and Swedish Americana artist Sofia Talvik). It gives me a chance to chat with the musicians after, and to support them with a little gas money as they drive to their next gig. Read the rest of this entry »

Meet the Hardworking Veterans Offering a Safe Passage to Chicago Youth

March 18, 2015

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This past year, I had the pleasure to spend time with veterans involved in a program to help students get to school safely. Leave No Veteran Behind is a non-profit that hires recent and long-time US veterans in various programs.  I had arranged to spend time with Aleia and Cedrik, two supervisors with LNVB who led patrols for a program called Safe Passage, an initiative where adults command the sidewalks on the routes to and between neighborhoods and schools. But it seemed each time we arranged to shoot was a day when there were few to no students. The first day I arranged to spend with them turned out to be a big testing day and only a handful of Juniors were at the high schools. We tried again close to the end of the school year, but the principal let the students out early.

But I did manage to get enough footage so that we could cut together a story worthy of the group and what it does for veterans and the communities they serve. My thanks to Jacob Templin at NationSwell, editor Thomas Shomaker and editing assistant Martine Granby. Have a look:

Photographer, filmmaker, digital cinema innovator and Medill alum Vincent Laforet coming to CPC March 7th

February 28, 2015

LaForetPoster_webThe Chicago Photography Center is hosting the magnificent Vincent Laforet at the Center on March 7th. Mr. Laforet comes to CPC as a Canon Explorer of Light, and will give a keynote talk at 4pm.

Vincent, a three-time winner at the prestigious 2010 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, is a director and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who is known for his forward-thinking approach to image-making and storytelling. In addition to having been commissioned by just about every important international publication—including Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, and Life—Vincent is considered a pioneer both for his innovative tilt-shift and aerial photography and in the field of HD-capable DSLR cameras. In fact, his short film Reverie, Canon Explorer of Lightthe first 1080p video shot with a still camera, was seen by more than 2 million times on the first week of its release in 2009. 

He’s also an alumnus of the Medill School at Northwestern University.

The Chicago Photography Center is located on 621 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago, in the old Parish House of St. Peter’s Episcopal church.

More details on the CPC open house can be found on this flyer.


Chicago Election Night with the Medill News Service

February 25, 2015

Flooding the zone with reporters, cameras, tweets, vines, and everything that you might read, watch or hear, with the Medill News Service.

A Tale of Oil, Corruption and Death

December 29, 2014

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Please give your attention to an investigative piece New York Times reporter/video journalist Brent McDonald produced and reported (with Deborah Sontag). The 17(ish)-minute documentary piece accompanies an in-depth story, currently on the home page of The piece tells the story of the chairman of the tribes on Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, who has profited from the oil boom that has taken North Dakota by storm. But the chairman had some business dealings that led to charges of corruption, and the murder of two men.

Brent reported and shot the story over several months. With a deadline moved up, Brent had only a week or so to make a film from the many hours of footage he had gathered. To help him meet the deadline, I spent a few days with Brent to help move the editing process along. I’m pleased to see how the documentary came out. It’s solid reporting, told well.


Ricochet Part Six debuts on Not Standing for Silence

December 13, 2014

When Stephen Franklin and I were working on the series that came to be called Ricochet for MSNBC Originals, he would tell people we were interviewing that it was a six-part series. I told people it was a five-part series, because that was what it was meant to be originally. But part of one of the segments made more sense to be a separate piece, so we created it as a standalone story. Because I hate to admit I was wrong, here is part six of the five part series.


Artist Jeff Abbey Maldonado supervises teen artists as they complete work on a mural in the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago.

Kidding aside, this is released to coincide with the two-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders in Newtown, Connecticut, when the parents of 20 children — and six staffers — had their normal changed forever.

In reporting this series we met many families who are determined to turn their grief over a child lost to gun violence into a positive force. They are, as one parent said, part of an “unfortunate club.” In this story, we meet Jeff Maldonado, a father and artist who is using his creativity to build community in Pilsen in Chicago. And Rep. Robin Kelly meets with parents, and explains why she no longer stands when Congress holds moments of silence for the victims of mass shootings.Ricochet06_Still03


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