I’ve been contemplating this decision for a long time now, ever since my shoulder issues in January 2017 which put me off work for four months.
It’s part of why we’ve been living vagabond for the last year, not wanting to settle in case I made the jump. I tell ya… pulling the trigger has been the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. But I’m making it.
I’m moving on from my career as a photojournalist for NBC LA.
(2015 NBC’s Clear the Shelter Event)
I wrote this post in September just to see how I felt writing those words. They made me sad but also excited about the possibilities. There are several factors that led to this decision.
(2017 Shootout with Hetty Chang, using a smaller camera while my shoulder healed.)
Physical health is, of course, a consideration, especially after my shoulder issues. A retiring news photog with a bad back and knees and shoulders once said to me, “Don’t work so long you drive your body into the ground like I did.” Those words have remained in the back of mind.
(2017 Covering the Canyon 2 Fire with Vikki)
Carrying the amount of gear we do takes a toll on the body, and while I’ve strengthened my shoulder to the point it feels good as new, I don’t want to push it.
(2008 Republican National Convention)
But that’s not the primary reason I’m moving on.
(2018 Shooting a passion story with Harley-Davidson Intern, Emma}
I’m a happy, positive, optimistic person. I don’t want to be immersed in sadness every day. I don’t ever again want a cute little girl in pigtails to look up at me and say, “We hate you.” I don’t want to hear “Fake News” shouted at me anymore. Or to be flipped off while driving my news van. Or worse yet, to have the passenger in the vehicle pacing me hang their naked butt out the window and defecate. Yes. That happened.
When I see my job impacting who I am, it disturbs me. I hate when cynicism and grouchiness creep in and I find I go there far more than I’d like in response to my day.
(2016 The day I got soaked and then tear-gassed at a barricaded suspect with Lolita Lopez.)
Don’t get me wrong. There have also been a million positive things over the years, which is why I’ve stayed for so long. I have truly loved my career. It’s taken me around the world and introduced me to extraordinary people.
(2000 Sydney Olympics with swimmers Kaitlin Sandeno and Aaron Peirsol)
Like covering the Olympics in Sydney, Greece, Salt Lake, and the preview for Torino.
(2006 Torino Italy for Olympic Preview)
And being in St. Peter’s Square for the Papal Conclave in 2005. I still get goosebumps when I remember the roar that went up when the puff of smoke appeared.
(2005 In Rome for the Papal Conclave)
In Rome another time, Conan and I made the front cover of newspapers around the world while covering the Cardinal’s meeting regarding the sex abuse scandal.
I’ve been strapped and hung out the back of a Chinook helicopter for a story on the National Guard, and sat one-on-one with a First Lady about education issues.
(2011 In NYC for Education event with First Lady Laura Bush)
(2014 Climbing hills with the goats in Anaheim)
I love the process of what I do: Shooting, editing, doing live shots, being in a different place every day, seeing and doing things I never would have been exposed to, telling stories that make the heart soar.
(Covering a plastic surgeon who donated time to make breast cancer patients feel whole.)
And I love finding creative ways to shoot a story, like this Halloween standup.
But lately, the negatives outweigh the positives.
Sometimes the universe kicks you in the pants. As I said, I wrote this post in September. I’d been talking to my boss about my transition for a while, and he very kindly counseled me through (and tried talking me out of it). We tentatively settled on my leaving in January or maybe on my NBC anniversary in February.
But then a week later, I had three incidents that pushed my decision.
While waiting to go live, a woman attacked my reporter and me. We weren’t hurt but the woman kicked over equipment and threatened to kill me with her weapon. When Vikki got on the phone with Santa Ana PD, the woman then turned on her and got aggressive, screaming expletives and pushing her with her back.
We got in the news van and the woman clung to the passenger door, spitting and pounding on the window. Finally, she let go and stepped into the street to stop traffic so we could go.
This kind of thing isn’t an anomaly, although most times we can de-escalate the situation. This one, we couldn’t.
Two days later, a man in a Mercedes paced my news van for several miles flipping me off and blocking me from exiting the freeway. I missed my exit by three.
Finally, I arrived at our location. We were covering reaction to the Kavanaugh hearing and Vikki found a man listening on a radio in his small store and asked me to join her. When I walked in with the camera gear and NBC mic flag, his tone changed. He said we were all liars, he didn’t trust us, and told us to leave.
That was my final straw.
I’m not a political person. I don’t have a side, but when the President declares the press the “Enemy of the People,” attitudes shift, and the field crews get the brunt of the public abuse–and it’s not just from one side. We get it all the way around, pretty much on a daily basis.
Those of us who drive a marked news van get the worst of it. People take out their frustration and anger because we are the visible targets. And I’ve got to say… the field crews are some of the kindest most caring people you could ever meet.
(2008 Republican National Convention)
We do this job because we have a passion for telling people’s stories, not to make some political statement or to cover crime for the sake of crime.
Okay, okay. I’ll get off my soapbox now and lighten the tone.
(2012 Shooting on the Disneyland Tea Cups)
So What’s Next
This isn’t a retirement. I’m not old enough for that yet, but that’s the point. I don’t want to wait until I’m 65 to explore some of the other things I want to do.
And what are those things?
There are many, but here are a few:
- Finish the preservation on our two historic buildings in Winslow Arizona, something that’s challenged us considering we’re 500 miles away.
- Continue working on my novels. I have a fantastic agent. One who believes in me. I’ve written seven novels to date, and even though I sometimes think I’m done with it, another idea takes spark and there I am, penning away again. It will never be a money maker, but it’s something I love.
- Write freelance articles.
- Heck, maybe even start a “feel good” news outlet in Winslow.
- Ride my motorcycle more.
- Spend quality time with my feller and my parents.
- Travel the country.
- Learn to sew for real.
- Freelance video work to experience shooting outside of news. As I said, I love the process and love telling stories, I simply want a happier topic. So hey my peers out there… if you know of freelance opportunities, let me know! We’ll still be vagabonding around, splitting time between SoCal, Yucca Valley, and Winslow, so I’m open to any location.
There are other things on the list, but I’ll not bore you.
(2015 On a Boat with Hetty Chang for a Whale Watching Story)
My fear of leaving has been—not only letting go of the security, benefits, and job satisfaction I’ve had for so long—but a fear of how I will mentally handle not being a photojournalist for NBC.
It’s so much a part of my identity.
(2012 With my news partner of nineteen years, Vikki Vargas. Cold in Newport Beach.)
But I’ll never know who else I am unless I let go.
So I’m doing it.
I’m taking that leap.
Thank you to all of my colleagues over the years, especially my bureau partners Vikki and Kevin.
(Playing Role Reversal)
(Yes, we play with Barbies.)
Thanks as well to all of the fascinating people I’ve met covering a vast array of stories, and to the locations around the world the job has taken me.
(Interviewing a surviving Rosie the Riveter about women in the military with reporter Angie Crouch)
I have no regrets about any of it. October 26th, 2018 will be my last day (although I’m off part of next week for Babes Ride Out click the link to watch the news story I did on the event!). Ten working days left. Maybe I’ll even chronicle my final days in the news biz here.
(Feb 2011 First time using a GoPro and trying to figure out how it worked with Mario Solis)
I’ve gone on entirely too long, so I’ll stop.
Please… if you see a news crew out there, be kind to them. They are truly some of the best humans around.