By Katie Schoolov
NORMAN, OK (March 21, 2015) – Six years ago, I walked into my first real job, and I sat down at my first real desk (my very own desk!), and I shook hands with my very first desk-mate. His name was Evelio Contreras – one of those cool, uber-talented thinker types I one day wanted to be just like. So I asked him: How!?
Had I heard of the National Press Photographers Association? I should join. Enter some of my videos in the monthly clip contest, get some honest critiques from our local Vegas NPPA chapter. Oh, and there’s this thing called the NPPA News Video Workshop at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. I should go. No: I need to go. It will CHANGE. MY. LIFE.
I was the typical obedient, eager, fresh-out-of-college, stars-in-my-eyes new journalist. So of course I did. Well, the first part. And even that made me a better journalist: at local NPPA meetings I met the “competition” whose work I admired, and learned to emulate it. I had the legal advocacy team of NPPA behind me, which gave me more confidence while shooting in the field. And now, I’m on NPPA’s national board of directors.
I tried for that other part of Evelio’s advice, too. That news video workshop thing. No, it’s not cheap. But as an NPPA member, I’d save $110 on my registration – that would pay for my membership right there. It’s a week. It’s an investment in myself. But too often I don’t take the time out from life to take care of me. So for the last six years, I’ve been trying, and not quite succeeding, to make it to Norman. I’ve been begging my various employers to send me. After all, it’s going to improve the quality of the visuals that air on their station. It’ll make the station better – not just me. After a few years of asking, I guess they figured I wasn’t going to give up. So this year, I hit the jackpot.
As I write this, I’m sitting on the plane flying home from NPPA’s 55th News Video Workshop. Oh, and 11-time Emmy Award winning reporter Mike Schuh is snoozing in the seat to my right. He just offered to help me get a legend to come with me on my story next weekend. I don’t want to jinx myself by telling you who – but maybe he’ll be flying his drone above me on Saturday in the middle of the desert. Earlier this week, Schuh helped me craft a brilliant opener for the finale of a story I’ve been following for three years. And earlier today – yes just one day of the week-long workshop – here’s what I did:
I heard amazing speakers in the morning; I exchanged numbers with many new friends I’ve bonded deeply with (or geeked out with) all week, some all the way from Denmark; I was nervous as hell as I waited for an intense critique of our final shooting assignment of the week; I listened to grown men and women cry for one member of their photojournalism family; I won best video of the week and got a two-sizes-too-big NPPA vest that I wore the rest of the day anyway because I’m that excited; I haven’t talked to my managers back home in a week, but I shot b-roll of the shuttered SAE frat at OU to bring back for them (and then maybe they’ll be happy to send me again next year!); and I swung by the Oklahoma City bombing memorial on my way to the airport, where I overheard a 7-year-old boy with rainbow-dyed hair who was so overwhelmed with sadness that he had to leave the museum.
So what did I do, fresh off this week? I got my gear out, and I shot his story – which will tell the story of the victims on the 20th anniversary of the bombing next month. At least if my editors like my pitch. Even though they were expecting me to come back empty handed Monday. Yea…maybe my station will want to send other videographers to this weird Norman thing.
Can you tell my creative spark has been re-ignited?
There’s no way to put into words what you experience in Norman. I don’t like romantic movies, I hate clichés, and I don’t cry at weddings. So I don’t say this lightly: this week changed my life, like Evelio promised. Yup. I really did meet friends that feel like family now. I really did learn the secrets behind the best in our business. I really did do little dances of joy and sobbed out of pure emotion, alone in my hotel room when some days were done. I’m going to steal some words from Schuh now - but that’s okay because I plan on stealing all the inspirational ideas I heard this week and using them for the rest of my career.
This week was like sitting around a campfire, and discovering you’re with your people. Yesterday, Evelio was giving the main-stage presentation. Seven years after he first attended the workshop, he’s on the faculty here, and I’m wondering who I can inspire when I get home. That’s the kind of power this workshop has. It keeps the cycle of good photojournalism alive. It turns photographers into storytellers. Storytellers who want to tell the workshop’s story and ignite that spark in all who practice our craft.
After this week, there’s no longer a green curtain between a legend like Bob Dotson and me. My friend Evelio stood on the same stage as Dotson, wore the same microphone, and presented for the same amount of time. I feel empowered, like I’ve been handed the master key to that secret club. I can be Evelio, Bob Dotson, Les Rose, Lisa Burgland, John Larson, Michelle Michael, John Sharify – if I can use all the tools they gave me this week. Now it’s just up to me. Oh and my NPPA family, who has promised to keep helping me get there every step of the way, from now on. For the first time, ever, I found my tribe. As Schuh just said groggily after waking up during our descent (some of the first words out of his mouth. You can’t make this stuff up.): “It all just makes sense. It’s truth. It’s beauty.”
I know you’re nodding your head if you’ve been to NPPA’s News Video workshop any of the last 55 years. And I probably sound crazy to those of you who haven’t been to Norman. Join NPPA. Come next year. You’ll see.
Katie Schoolov is a video journalist for KPBS-TV in San Diego, CA