Whenever there is a big event happening and you work for a media company, you want to be the first one to have the story. So, when the Soroptimist International of Scotts Bluff County host their “Dancing with the Stars” event, you know ahead of time it’s going to be a long night.
I arrived at the Gering Civic Center just before the event began and took some crowd shots. Most of them turned out to be garbage. I got an interview from Betsy Vidlak, who helped organize the event, and wrote up my story quickly before emailing it back to our Lead Copy Editor Candice Pederson. Candice needed to have an idea of how long the story would be so she could place it on the page as she was building the paper. I didn’t proofread it. In this case, it’s okay. Candice has my back.
I left a spot for quotes from dancers. I promised Candice I would keep it to 100 words. We all know this is a difficult task for me, but I did it. I also wrote the end with the winners, with “XXX” holding the place for their names. Both tasks would be accomplished after all the dancers had performed.
Candice texted me a few minutes later.
“Aren’t there supposed to be 10 dancers?”
“One of the couples is sick and dropped out.”
“And does Van Newkirck have that extra c in his last name?”
“No c. I’m dumb.”
“Oh ok. Just checking.”
I’m still not sure if she was checking to see if I was dumb or not. Again, Candice had my back.
I texted her a few more times over the next two hours to ask if I had put this or that into the story. She’s good at dealing with my panicking. Everything I asked was already there.
I readily admit that taking photographs at the Gering Civic Center is a pain in the ass. The lighting always throws me off and when there are people dancing in a dimly lit room during a contest, you don’t have time to ask them to do it again. You’ve got to get it right the first time.
My editor, Brad Staman, was one of several Star-Herald employees who planned to attend the event. He offered to take his camera and grab a few shots just in case mine didn’t turn out. In the end, we had more than 1,500 photographs to sort through. Once I figured out the lighting, I settled in, moving around the room to get the best angle and the best photo. Sometimes, the lighting messed with a good shot and sometimes it enhanced it.
Brad and I looked for each other after one couple competed. We didn’t get what we thought would be the great shot and worried that no pictures of that couple were good. Fortunately, we had a few that worked.
Once the dancers, including two who came for entertainment only, had performed, I sat down on the floor of the Civic Center and quickly typed up my notes. I emailed them to Candice. The winners still hadn’t been announced. I needed to get back to the Star-Herald and start sorting my and Brad’s photographs. But I needed to know who won. And there would be time for dancing and pictures of the community who came out to support the event. But I needed to get back to the paper.
I ripped out a sheet of paper from my reporter’s notebook and grabbed a pen. I put both in front of Brad and asked, kind of ordered, him to get the information for me. He said he would and he’d text me when he knew.
I grabbed my coat and my gear and headed out the door.
At the paper, I got to work on sorting the photographs. Candice told me the shape and size of photos she was looking for to fit into the paper.
Publisher Greg Awtry laughed when I told him that I took 1,407 photos and didn’t know how many Brad took because I hadn’t looked at them yet. He watched me sorting for a while before leaving me alone once he noticed I get freaked out when people watch me over my shoulder.
Brad texted me the information and I gave Candice my cell phone to type it into the story. I got back to work, whittling down the photos to just the best ones. I was nearly finished with the photos when Brad got back to the office.
While I had methodically gone through my photographs, I quickly jumped to the winners on Brad’s compact flash card so we could pull out his best photos and compare them to mine. Candice and Brad stood behind me as we looked at the choices.
There was room in the paper for three photographs. Brad and Candice quickly picked a photo of Julianne and Sam Bradley that I had taken. I didn’t think it was the best one I took of the couple, but whatever. I’m outvoted 2-1 and I was too tired to argue.
Then came the hard part. Mike and Julie Schaff won the Judge’s Choice and Betsy Vidlak and Marv Richard won the People’s Choice. I had a great photo of Mike and Julie, but there wasn’t enough of Julie’s face showing. That photo is in the Star-Herald’s photo gallery and below. Brad got the better photo of the couple. He had two that were good, but there were flaws all three of us saw in the photos.
We discussed back and forth which one we should use. After everyone sighed enough, I switched over to the photos of Betsy and Marv. We had three choices. One of Brad’s photos was quickly discarded. He really didn’t like it. We had one taken by me and one taken by Brad left. We flipped back and forth, then back and forth between the two, picking out flaws, how to crop the photo, sighing that we should have gotten something better.
Brad hesitated a bit on Mike and Julie’s photo. I was being honest that he got the better shot of the couple. He didn’t want to overshadow all the other great photos I took. He wasn’t. Sometimes, it’s a crap shoot. There are nine couples competing. Brad will have great photos of some. I will have great photos of some. He just happened to get the best photos of the two winners.
Ten minutes later, Candice, Brad and I had the three photos for the paper picked. I wrote the file numbers down and a yellow post-it and ran back to the “morgue” to crop them, put our bylines in and write cutlines. Candice was only a few minutes away from her deadline. We ended up being late, but it was worth it.
As I finished up the photographs, I looked at the text Brad had sent me. Something was wrong between it and what Candice wrote. I quickly ran over to her desk.
“Did you write that Betsy and Marv raised $5,888 or that the entire evening was that much?” I asked.
“Uhm, let me look,” Candice replied as she opened the file. Yep, it was wrong, but now the computer program wasn’t letting her edit the file. We both cursed at the “fucking stupid machine.” It finally worked and was corrected.
I went back to my desk and attached the photos to the story file so Candice could lay them out on the page. Then, I quickly finished adding Brad’s photos to the folder for the photo gallery. There were 90 photos.
I heard Candice yell at me across the room, “You cropped this one in too much.” I gave her the post-it note with the original file numbers so she could grab the originals and crop them as she needed.
But I still wasn’t finished. Copy Editor Jeff Van Patten let me use his computer to sort, resize, and batch edit the gallery photos with Adobe Bridge. It’s not a hard task, but I’ve only done it twice and I had to keep asking him what to do next. The hardest part is that you usually only have to do one thing to have your name marked as the photographer on all the photos. This folder was mixed, so I carefully went through and highlighted all the ones Brad took and got his name on them. Then, I had to figure out where the setting was to invert the selection and put my name on the rest. Once that was finished, Jeff uploaded the gallery to the website.
It was well after 11 p.m. I worried about whether I got all the photos labeled right. I wanted to reread my story one more time because I was sure it was crap and I must have messed up something. Candice told me it was fine and not to worry about it. She also gave me that look that says, “Irene stop freaking out about your story.” So I let it go and headed back to my desk.
I opened the program we use to fill out our time cards and put my time in. I was about to finish an 11.5 hour day. The clock on the computer read 11:27 p.m. I saved my time. It’s the end of the two-week time period. I told Brad he could sign off on my time sheet.
Paul texted me asking if I wanted tea. It was waiting for me when I got home. Then, I realized I put my Saturday time in on Friday’s slot and forgot to fill in Friday’s time. I texted Brad. He was already on his way home. We’d sort it out on Monday.
And I don’t remember a thing I wrote for the “Dances with the Stars” story. And I’m not sure if it’s any good.
I finally got to bed 20 hours after I got up.