Lessons Learned from Tragedies

Working as a TV News producer, I talk to lots of people who have gone through horrible tragedies. These people graciously allow me and a photojournalist to come into their homes and talk about what usually is by far the worst day of their lives.  In the last few weeks, I have talked to family members who have lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, as well as survivors and first responders of the San Bruno explosion. When anniversaries come up, part of my job is to tell their stories so we not only honor the victims and survivors, but also learn from these truly awful tragedies.

Talking to these people, I learn from them more than they’ll ever know. They teach me about the power of inner strength, love, and kindness, which helped them heal at least a little bit. They are on my mind when I interview government leaders and regulators about the mistakes and missed opportunities that led to their lives being forever changed.

These people have important stories, stories I hope you’ll take the time to watch and learn from as well. Below are links to a couple of stories I produced on San Bruno.



As I’ve been working this week, the girls would hear me talk about San Bruno and 9/11, but for them, these two anniversaries meant Mom was working a lot more than she usually does. So when I came home from work last night, I had them watch a few of the San Bruno stories with me and Van. If they learned just a fraction of what I’ve learned from these amazing people, I’ve done my job as a parent and a journalist.

A Teenager’s Tale of Drug & Alcohol Addiction

Back in my high school days, I wasn’t a big drinker. I was pretty straight laced and rarely, if ever tossed back alcoholic beverages. The most rebelious I ever got was to steal a couple of Bartles and James wine coolers from my parent’s basement bar. (Yep, I’m coming up on a 20 year high school reunion.) Even then, I hid them for days in a shoe box in my closet before my best friend and I had the nerve to twist the caps and take a swig.

My high school experience couldn’t be more different from that of Luke Gsell. He’s an amazing high school junior I interviewed for a story I produced on binge drinking. Luke started drinking at 10 and was in rehab at 14.

His story will resonate with kids and adults and is a message worth watching. (I don’t mind a little shameless self promotion when it’s an important message)

After meeting Luke and talking to alcohol educators, I know I’ve got my work cut out for me in the next couple of years. I also know that I’ll remember Luke’s story, which will no doubt help me guide them in the right direction.

Who’s Osama Bin Laden?

It’s hard for me to remember a time before 9/11, but I do remember it. My kids however, will never experience a pre-9/11 world. That hit me tonight as we got the first reports that the U.S. conducted a top-secret operation and killed Osama Bin Laden. The older two girls knew something big had happened, but didn’t really understand it.

As we waited for President Obama to address the nation, I asked the girls if they knew who Osama Bin Laden was. They both shook their heads no. I then tried as best as I could to explain in terms appropriate for an 8-year-old and 5-year old who he was and why U.S. Special Forces killed him. They got the point of planes crashing into buildings and that a man named Osama Bin Laden was a bad person. As I continued on with my explanation, Olivia started to get a confused look on her face, and Erin turned her attention to a barbie on the floor. I asked them if what I was telling them made any sense, and Olivia said a little bit, but she thought her teacher Maestro Jose might do a better job. Good to know her teacher is getting through to her.

Since the President’s address was delayed, we tried to get the girls to go to bed, but Olivia said she wanted to hear what President Barack Obama was going to say. Van and I relented, and allowed them to stay up past their bedtime to watch the historic speech.

While Van and I were riveted to the speech, Olivia and Erin ignored it.  Even though they don’t understand it now, I know they will in the future. I think of them as I continue to watch the young crowds outside the White House, Ground Zero, and Times Square. Many of those people were the same age as Olivia is now during 9/11. The scenes are patriotic, and I can only pray they remain peaceful. The September 11th attacks brought Americans together, and a night like tonight shows people continue to come together and honor the 3,316 people killed on that awful and unforgettable day.

While Olivia and Erin didn’t know who Osama Bin Laden was until a few hours ago, they do now. It’s an important lesson, one to build on in the months and years to come.

A Risk I’m Not Willing to Take, but Glad Others Are

Back in Journalism School at the University of Missouri, I dreamed of covering  the biggest national and international stories. It may have been because the Gulf War happened as I was ready to embark on my senior year of high school. That war transformed the way journalists, broadcast journalists especially, cover war. It was something I wanted to be a part of, and one of the main reasons I went to journalism school.

I never ended up traveling the world following breaking news stories. Instead, I ended up in local news, usually staying close to home, trying to bring a local perspective to something that is often happening thousands of miles away.  This decision definitely made it easier on my family and personal life. This point was reinforced to me today as I listened to an NPR interview with New York Times photojournalist, Lynsey Addario.

Lynsey Addario of the New York Times

She’s one of four Times journalists who was taken captive for several days in Libya last month. It was a riveting interview, listening as she described her terrifying ordeal.  Addario was beaten, groped, and told on many occasions that she was going to die, once while a Libyan soldier was creepily stroking her cheek. That sounds about as bad as things can get, but Addario said the worst  part was the pain it caused her husband, parents, and sisters back in the States. While she was held in captivity, her family and husband had no idea if she was dead or alive. Now that she’s back home, Addario says one thing is certain. She will cover another war. She says, “It’s what I do.”

I give this woman a lot of credit, although it’s not something I could or would do, especially now that I have three young kids. Addario has risked her life for more than a decade to show the people and places directly impacted from war and other atrocities. However, since she’s been back, she’s been criticized for even stepping foot in a war zone because she’s a woman. Excuse me?!!! She has as much of a right as any male photojournalist to document a war. It’s not pretty. It’s dangerous, even deadly, but these stories need to be told, and she’s doing an amazing job. Everybody makes choices in life, and this is her choice, her passion, and I applaud her for taking on and succeeding at a job very few women even dream of attempting.

The release of Addario and her colleagues came about a week before their employer, The New York Times launched a controversial paywall. From now on, readers will be able to access 20 articles a month for free. After that, they’ll have to pay a subscription to access the newspaper’s website and smartphone and tablet apps. The Times’ publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.,  explained how and why the paper is making this move in a letter to readers. He wrote it’s a big step that, “we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform.” Not surprisingly, this decision has outraged many, many people. On one hand I can understand the anger. It’s a hard sell after getting something for free for so long.  However, after listening and reading more about the risks journalists like Addario take, I don’t think it’s unreasonable. I think it’s still a little pricey at $35 a month for unlimited access, but The Times needs to continue employing brave journalists who will cover the difficult stories. Since I’m not willing to go on the front lines, I’m appreciative that other people do it, and they need to be compensated for their sacrifices. This new paywall will help The Times continue to do just that.

Japan Quake & Tsunami

I’m not working today, but wish I was.  It is days like these when the news junkie in me thrives in covering a huge event like the Japan quake and tsunami. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, this story has a huge local impact, and I have been riveted watching the coverage on the TV station where I work, NBC Bay Area. I watched the tsunami capsized boats in Santa Cruz, and watched as people evacuated the coast.  As I write this, the two morning anchors, Brent Cannon and Laura Garcia-Cannon have been on the air for nearly six hours straight, mostly ad libbing as the news happens. It is a hard job, a very hard job, and they are doing an amazing job as they relay the information to the public.  This of course is nothing in comparison to what’s happening in Japan, but when it comes to local news, people need to know what’s happening in their area, and that’s what they’re doing. It’s not always perfect, but it’s live television, and by its nature, it will never be perfect.


I’ve been riveted to the images I’m seeing, and stories I’m hearing for the last 12+ hours. Like so many millions of other people, I first heard about the quake from Facebook. I then turned to CNN. The video didn’t look real. It was hard for my brain to compute that the huge rush of water crashing into entire towns was not something out of a movie. In one instance, I saw people in the second story of their home, waving white sheets out the window trying to get rescued.  I also know this is just the beginning. Right now, the number of known deaths is in the hundreds, but that is only going to multiply. It is simply heartbreaking.

The quake also puts in perspective that I too live in earthquake country. I know I need to be prepared, but I’m not. We should have a plan. We don’t. In the nearly ten years that we’ve lived here, I’ve felt my fair share of quakes, but nothing significant. I know it’s only a matter of time before I’m in a serious earthquake, and this weekend I will get an earthquake kit, and make an evacuation plan for me and my family.

In the meantime, my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the devastating quake and tsunami. They need help, so I’m going to give to the Red Cross.  I encourage you to do the same. You can text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation to Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami relief.