A Day of Firsts
May 11, 2014, marks many first for me in my near 30-year life. It may come as a surprise but this is my very first ever blog post. A surprise to most as I’ve spent the last 9 years either going to school for journalism and/or working as a freelance photographer and writer. I do not count Twitter as a blogging site even though it is considered micro-blogging. There I have more posts than any one person should have written since joining the site in February of 2009.
Today also marks my first time crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Thats a big deal. A big first in my life and one that I’ve dreamed of ever since I was just a child. I never cared where I would end up crossing that big ocean, just anywhere to experience a different culture. Of course I have a few top destinations in mind but those were never priority if I ever had the chance to explore the world. Thanks to a very special program at Point Park University where I worked hard the past two years earning my Masters degree in Journalism and Mass Communications, I got that chance. Point Park University and a scholarship fund, The Fallon Travel Fund gives students the chance to earn credits while learning another cultures’ media in that culture.
Pretty darn cool in my books that we are visiting the very first place on my dream European destinations list, London, England. This also marks my first time out of North America. I’ve been to both Mexico and Canada on numerous occasions but living on the same continent doesn’t make either seem like a different country to me.
Firsts are an occasion everyone should look forward to and keep an eye out when they happen unexpectedly. It makes life a grand place and gives the world a reason to smile. It doesn’t have to be something as grand as traveling across an ocean to see new things. It could be just going to a new location in your hometown or writing your first blog post to share on the web.
The other firsts that I experienced today are flying in an airplane over five hours, the first time I’ve traveled with such a large group outside of a high school band trip to Disney World in Florida, the first time I’ve ridden in a vehicle on the “wrong” side of the road and the first time standing inside a building built in the 12th Century (The White Tower inside the walls of the Tower Of London).
I’m looking forward to many more firsts not only on this trip throughout London, Paris and Northern France but also the many that will occur the rest of my life.
Now I’m going to promise not to be this “cheesy” in the rest of my posts as we’re on a mission here to learn and share what we learn on our trip but this day and this moment is an occasion to mark and this was the best way I knew how. I am “cheesy” by nature sometimes and I can’t fully guarantee that it will be completely gone from future posts but I plan to turn it down just a bit. **insert grinning smiley emoticon here**. Today was a personal lesson to share and the rest will be a bit more educational in purpose with a bit of tourism thrown in.
All the Small Amusing Things
I promised in my last blog not to be as cheesy but I don’t think that will be the case with this blog post. I’m going with how our second day in London occurred and well, it spoke to me in tiny little amusing things. Sometimes my recollections of small amusing things can be cheesy but I do learn from these moments when they happen. We started our day out venturing to the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace. Its a changing of shifts between the guards that work the palace. Its a BIG affair. There are minor ceremonies all throughout the area surrounding the palace. There are parades of a a marching bands, parades of horses and parades of other guards. Hundreds to thousands of people arrive daily for the 11 a.m. ceremony.
I bet you’re asking yourself, “Holly, where are these small amusing things in this big moment?” Well, those moments that made the biggest impact for me were the marching band of highly regarded royal palace guards playing songs from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar to Michael Jackson songs. At first I was appalled. I was expecting royal music, something with importance to the ceremony but then, I started thinking of why they were playing these songs. I have no clue if my ideas are correct but what I’d like to think is they play these songs for their own entertainment. The Changing of the Guards is an hour long ceremony of a shift change in work. Thats ONE hour of knowing you are almost done with work. You know what that’s like working your normal every day job. Watching the minutes tick down becomes a sport. I’d like to think the choice in music is a way to get the gentlemen done with their shifts that last bit of motivation in that last hour and maybe to also get the gentlemen taking over a positive feeling in the start of his shift.
The other moment that was special and stuck out in my mind was meeting an older English Gentleman named Peter while we were waiting for the ceremony to begin. I started chatting with him almost by accident. He was standing there alone but seemed to appear as he knew what was about to happen so I approached him and asked him which way the festivities were to take place. He answered right away and thus began a conversation between not only myself and Peter but the few other Point Park International Media Students who were there as well. We learned that he was in the guard when he was younger and told us that he was one of the guards to line the street when the last king passed away. He took us under his wing and told us exactly where the best places were to stand and at what times. He knew all the best spots as he comes to see the ceremony weekly to pay his respects. You never know who you may run into and where. I’m not saying to talk to every stranger you see on the streets but sometimes its amazing when you do. We never would have gotten to see what we did without his help and it was great to meet a person who had his past. It reminded me a bit of talking to a WWII veteran at home in the United States. I never turn down the chance to talk to someone from that generation.
Moving on from the Changing of the Guard, we went to our first media visit at The Hangout. There we met James Probert, a producer and researcher at BBC Sports. He hit the nail on the head of my “small things” filled day. He said its the small things, the extra work, the asking if anyone needs help, the learning of new work, etc. that will get you further in your career rather than waiting for something to happen. I fully believe in this method and practice it where and when I can. I too think it something everyone should follow.
The history of Parisian Newspapers and where it stands today
This blog is going to be a tad bit different than the first two. I have loved every media visit we went on through our travels throughout London and Paris. I learned something new at each one and met some amazing people as well. It was neat to learn at each what each person does in their field/company, how they ended up where they are and what their future may hold. A true inspiration each and every single one of them. I want to take this moment to thank each and every one of them for taking their time out of their day to speak with us, show us around and answer all of our questions. The media systems are vast in each country and both differ a bit from each other as well as both differing from what we are used to and taught in the United States.
My background and schooling is in newspapers. I have worked freelance the past four years in newspapers as a photographer and have loved every minute of each adventure I am sent on to photograph. I am also hugely interested in not only the history of newspapers and the newspaper business but also interested in its future. Its not only interesting to see where the future is leading but its pertinent to have a strong idea of where it may go as I plan on continuing work in the newspaper field.
In Paris, we had two media visits that struck me, as a newspaper gal, big time. I got not only a taste of the history of French news but also a look at the future of wire services, the agencies that provide a good bit of news content for newspapers.
Our first visit was to the Sorbonne Graduate School of Journalism where we met with Ph.D student Juliette Charbonneaux. Her Ph.D research is focused on the representation of the French and German relationship in the media from WWII until today. I loved hearing the history of French media from Juliet. Newspapers in France, like American newspapers, are struggling a bit with the many changes from print to digital and the loss of revenue they are creating. Juliet informed us though that while hurting, newspapers in France are still read heavily by the population. I believe this because everywhere we went in Paris, newsstands were everywhere. Not the little boxes we see outside storefronts but stands, run by people selling vast amounts of newspapers and magazines.
Hitting hard on the newspaper topic was a visit to one of the top news distributers in the world Agence France-Presse (AFP). We met with Angus and Thomas. The AFP is similar to America’s Associated Press. They distribute news stories and photographs to news outlets all around the county. They too have been hit hard with the move of the news to the web. They rely on subscriptions from media outlets to make revenue. If those papers are hurting, so is AFP. AFP according to Angus and Thomas is moving into the forefront of the digital age by putting news headline links onto social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. They do not link to their own website but to the websites of companies that subscribe to their news. Hits to those sites draw revenue for AFP. I found it fascinating that both men questioned us students how we accessed the news, not out of pure interest, but I think as a way to help them grow in this ever changing world of media.
I loved seeing both the history and the future of news in France. I think the country is in a solid state when it comes to the media and its publications.
Long Life in a Small World
In two days in Paris, we learned, or at least I noticed, two theories to not only life but the life of media. First we learned at France 24, that “Life is not short, its long.” I don’t quite remember the topic that lead to that phrase but that phrase sure stuck out to me there. France 24 is only a seven year old 24-hour news station. That I bet, has a lot to do with that philosophy. The company has grown leaps and bounds in that short seven-year history. Going from just one online stream to three major channels in three different languages. This philosophy also fits in well with their news-style. They aren’t the first ones on the front lines of breaking news stories. They sit back and wait for the events to unfold a bit, get the real information out there instead of speculations.
In a world where it seems every news outlet is trying to beat everyone else trying to get the news out there this seems like a refreshing change. I wish I had France 24 on my television for that notion alone. I can always watch online thankfully and hopefully will remember to tune into them the next time there is a worldwide breaking news situation occurring. Reading 140 character posts on Twitter is fine if I want to read speculations on what is occurring. Its the never knowing what is right and what is the right channel to watch that drives me crazy anymore about this fight to be the first to break the news, to share the photo, whatever. Of course I was never one for competition either so that could also be the case but I feel that I’m not alone in being frustrated when the news we are told is wrong. My first real experience with that was the Sago Mine Disaster that occurred in West Virginia in 2006. I stayed awake for hours watching the news, hoping those miners would be pulled out of that mine alive. I finally went to bed after the news reported that all of the miners were found alive. Waking up to hear that reports were wrong and that there was only one survivor devastated me.
In those instances, life is a very small world. So many are focused in on that one situation. It brought so many together even though it was a disaster and the same goes for so many situations in life like that and in the world of news. Now I didn’t title this blog post to end in a negative way. The Small World notion came to me from Disney of course. That’s the happiest place on earth so I’m going to move on with my notion of “small world” a bit but it continues on the fact that the world of news is indeed a “small world.”
Its small I noticed in the fact that at many of the locations we visited while touring media outlets in London and Paris that there were connections in the smallest of places. The trip almost became the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. There was always some sort of connection between someone in our group and someone that worked for the company we visited. That was cool for me to see because I see it around here when I work all the time. I think it is the nature of the business. You may change where you work but those connections are always there and everything is usually generally positive. You’re all out there to spread the news, whether it be newspaper, broadcasting, PR or advertising and you are no doubt going to run into many of the same people. So while that small world competition is there, its the long life that keeps everyone working together sometimes to get the bigger picture.
It wouldn’t be a first trip to Europe blog if there wasn’t talk of all the magical places we visited. I’m a history lover. The fact that we visited places so much older that what we are used to in the United States played a huge part in places being “magical” to me.
As we walked through the White Tower at the Tower of London, I kept blurting out, “I can’t believe this place was built in the 12th Century.”. The place was amazingly beautiful, inside and out. In my life, I’ve never stepped foot in something that old. 17th Century at most maybe? I’m not sure. That was magical to me and a theme that lasted throughout the trip.
Paris too had their magical places and to me, those were the churches. Of COURSE Notre Dame was magical, the building itself is a wonder. The details in the designs that cover the facade took my breath away. We were lucky enough to attend Sunday church service there and it was everything you would think. I’m not what one would consider a religious person but I have a respect for many different beliefs and made the decision to attend. While I didn’t understand the language, the hymns were beautiful. My favorite church we visited was just up the hill from our hotel in Montmartre. The Sacre Coeur sits atop what seems like the highest point in Paris. The facade is pure white and rounded. When we stepped inside and all you heard was the sound of the congregation singing “Amazing Grace,” that was it for me. I was in love with the place. We made a visit again a few days later to just sit outside on the steps in front of it and take in the day.
The best places though for magic were our last two days on the trip. If I could have spent a week more in both places, I still don’t think that would be enough to take it all in. On our second to last day we visited the “famed” if you want to call them that, beaches of Normandy, France. Now Normandy is a region, not a town or a city and that is something I want to make sure is known. I don’t think it was something I knew before we visited. That is something I think that made the “epicness” of what occurred there 70 years ago all that more hard-hitting. Yes, those beaches of Normandy are where the battles of D-Day occurred on June 6, 1944. Magic in a sense to me, and I know that is a hard word to comprehend for most, because while most of it is now a tourist attraction to most to see where the battle occurred, there was still a sense of quite there. I didn’t hear anything but my thoughts there and I was surrounded by people. I couldn’t speak louder than a whisper. That same eerie, surreal quite feeling has only ever happened one other time to me and that was the site of the World Trade Center after 9/11 occurred. Tragedy instills a strange sense and calm over the places where it occurred I believe. Maybe a sense to bring back peace to land that seen major turmoil. I couldn’t believe my eyes either over all of it, the size, the scope, everything.
Our visit the next day led us to Mont. St. Michel, an abbey that sits on a rock off the coast a bit and into the English Channel. Now I mentioned before that I am not a religious person but I do believe in angels and saints. Archangel Michel is for whom the monastery is named and the story that is the start of the place sure sent chills. The pictures will just have to do this place justice because there are no words to describe it. I don’t even think I can recount its beginning correctly.
Our last visit on that same day and where we spent our night was a seaside walled city named St. Malo. Again, history reigned large in this place but it was magical in another sense. It was our last night on the trip and the one where I think we all let ourself go and enjoy those last moments as best as we could. Quite a few of us decided to head out to the beach and dip our toes into the English Channel. We ran, jumped, laughed and just became almost child-like again. That water was FREEZING and we all soon ran back and into the warm comforts of our hotel rooms to ready for our trip back home.
90 miles. Doesn’t seem like much when you think of a trip to Europe. A trip that encompassed London, Paris and several different stops to various places along the northern coast of France. Those miles are hard to calculate without catching the milage from the planes, trains and automobiles that took us to many of those stops.
90 miles is the rough total of miles that I walked over 12 days in Europe. Your having a “Mindsplosion” right now right? If you divide that, that breaks down to 7.5 miles walked a day. My longest walking day was our fourth day in London at 12.79 miles walked. If you haven’t guessed, I decided to take along my pedometer, not to have a reason to create a blog post but to log how much walking we did because I knew we were going to be doing quite a bit. I don’t know if we’d have done less with another tour guide but Vincent, our “Awesome Guide” (That’s his business name-check it out if you ever are looking for a personalized tour of France-Awesome doesn’t even begin to describe the tour we were given over 12 days) had us walking every possible chance to learn about places near our hotels and media locations as well as just normal getting around. We learned so much during those 90 miles of walking. They were an important 90 miles. We walked to Charles Dickens house, Van Gogh’s house and Picasso’s studio. We looked inside churches, walked battle fields and we all held conversations during those walks.
Conversations lead to learning and they lead to friendships. Another important number from the trip—30. We all made 30 new friends along those 90 miles walked. At the writing of this post it is already 12 days past our trip and I miss those walks and talks and the learning. I’m sure everyone on the trip feel the same.
3,464 is the number of photos I captured to remember each and every one of those moments along those 90 miles walking and photos of the fun times had with 30 friends. Those 90 miles and 3,464 photos contained 9 amazing media visits of various types.
This trip was invaluable in the learning that occurred, the friends made and the history we were able to encounter. Its difficult to summarize it all so perfectly in a series of blog posts. I hope between mine and my fellow classmates’ blogs you, the reader, are able to capture the spirit of this experiences we were all so lucky to partake. If you are a Point Park student looking into possibly taking the class next year, do it if you have the opportunity. Not only do you get to experience a new culture or two, or three but you gain valuable knowledge and new friends. Be open to every new experience that comes your way on the trip. You never know what can happen.
Thank you to all who took the time to read my posts. I hope you enjoyed them in part and if you haven’t, check out all the others. While we all were on the same trip, we all got something a little different out of the experience.