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Big Tiny World

61639440-17114339Personal blog of WGN-TV Reporter Nancy Loo. She’s short. She blogs. Many call her “Big Tiny”.

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01/31/14

Digital Detox: Could You? Would You?

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How I usually roll: two smartphones, iPad + Mifi (nicknamed Mofo).

Many of my coworkers and friends find it ironic and amusing that I am fronting this week’s WGN Cover Story series on “digital detoxing”. I am among the most technology-addicted people in the newsroom. The morning camera crews still joke about how I cried when I dropped my iPhone two years ago while rushing to get into O’Hare for a story. I was so upset about the cracked screen, the guys even wondered if I’d have to go home sick.

But more and more people feel the need to address what’s likely an addiction for many of us. Digital detoxification means taking a break from your smartphone, computer and all other gadgets so you can actually talk with people and soak in all of the things you usually miss while looking down to check your email and social media accounts. The Chicagoans featured in our special report actually went away to a camp just for tech addicts. I imagined it starting with an initial Alcoholics Anonymous-style gathering: “Hi, I’m Big Tiny and I’m a techaholic.” But it’s nothing like that. The camp’s motto of “Disconnect to Reconnect” is something many of us should ponder.

My husband LOL’d when I told him about digital detoxing. He said, “You’d be like an unrepentant alcoholic at an AA meeting!” He’s right. And during that meeting I’d likely suffer a high level of anxiety. Being disconnected from the internet makes me worry about all of the emails and notifications stacking up – ready to blast away at me like machine gun fire when I reconnect. And because I’m in the news business, I want to stay connected so I don’t miss out on any major breaking news. Journalists are a competitive bunch – we want to know about things first, get it on the web and on the air first and be on the scene first. I do cut back when I’m off or on vacation.

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Photojournalist Steve Scheuer shot and edited our “Digital Detox” series. Thanks, Steve!

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Producer Pam Grimes did all of the heavy lifting on the story. Web producer Elyse Russo will be helping me out with Monday’s Google+ Hangout. Thanks, ladies!

Super producer Pam Grimes and photojournalist Steve Scheuer did all of the heavy lifting on the digital detox Cover Story segments. I am always proud to be associated with their work. Technology addiction is a timely topic since it’s likely you’re reading this now on a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device after linking to it through social media.

To discuss digital detoxification further, I will be hosting a Google+ Hangout on Monday at 5pm CST. I hope you’ll join in and invite others via G+, Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever. Perhaps we can talk each other into taking part the annual National Day of Unplugging, starting at sundown on March 7th and ending at sundown March 8th.  I don’t know if I can or even want to. It could lead to Big Tiny Breakdown Day on March 9th.

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WGN’s Sean Maroney in action as we covered the $492M plan to renovate the CTA Blue Line

Working as a general assignment reporter usually means never knowing what you’ll be covering or where the news will take you. I’ve come to view the start my day as “News Roulette”. Will I cover a fire? A murder? Preview a big court case or a vote at City Hall? I can make suggestions when I call in to the WGN assignment desk overnight. But on the morning shift, the desk and producers usually have a good idea of what story they’d like me to cover live.

My imaginary spins at “News Roulette” lately have had me free of covering any murders. In fact, it’s been about three weeks since I’ve covered a murder. There have been murders, of course. It’s Chicago. But those assignments have gone to other reporters. News Roulette has had me reporting on things like transit issues, same sex marriage, tornado and typhoon fundraising and Black Friday violence.

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We often have to use a satellite truck for live shots out of Romeoville since it’s far outside the city

My favorite part of that last story, in which Romeoville police had to open fire on alleged shoplifters (no one died), was that the holiday shopping never stopped at that Kohl’s store. It was somewhat amusing to watch customers walking around the crime scene tape to get to the bargains. Though some customers stopped to get pictures of the news crews and crime scene before heading into the store.

Now it’s Friday and I’m in the newsroom writing this blog without an assignment for WGN Morning News. The shows are packed with local, national and international elements with the sad passing of Nelson Mandela. And extra time is being allotted for weather since a bitter cold front is moving into Chicago. At least two of my counterparts at other stations are covering cold weather.

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Mike Toomey newsroom photobomb! Okay, back to work…

Wait, it’s time to sign off here. I may have a story lined up for WGN Midday News. It’s not a murder.

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Q and BT on assignment at 26th and Cal

Veteran Chicago cameraman Chuck Quinzio is among those who only refer to me as Big Tiny. Actually, he just calls me Tiny and many Chicago journalists know him as Q. We worked together for nearly a decade at my former station. I still get to see him from time to time nowadays when we’re on the same assignments. And whenever I run into him, I’ll hear his usual greeting of, “Tiny! How the f*@# are you?”

Chuck has few conversations without F-bombs. Many of our colleagues are now dropping them because Q is about to become a published author. When Q sent me an advanced copy of “Life Behind The Camera” (available now for pre-order), I feared I wouldn’t have the time to read or write about it before publication. Well f*@# if I didn’t finish it in one sitting while on a flight from San Francisco to Chicago earlier this month! The writing is crisp and I enjoyed every chapter, many of them quite funny.

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Q’s book will be out on Nov. 4th

“Life Behind The Camera” is a compelling book which chronicles Chuck’s path from Catholic altar boy to f-bomb spewing hotshot cameraman in one of the nation’s biggest TV markets. Although names are changed, I was able to figure out a couple of the people mentioned. (Big Tiny is not in the book, thank goodness!) This book is entertaining whether or not you’re familiar with the Chicago news scene.

Anyone with an interest in TV news can practically picture the pompous reporters and managers Q mentions in his book. There are similar types in every newsroom I’ve worked in. Q’s descriptions of crime scenes and newsroom situations are spot on. I especially enjoyed his adventure with Harry Caray during a Cubs playoff run in the 80′s. Yes, it involves Budweiser.

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According to Q, he hit his academic peak in kindergarten

Talking about Q’s book while out on location these days always stirs up war stories among the media veterans. At Cook County Court recently, a still photographer shared a story about seeing a shotgun victim who’d been shot in the head. We heard a vivid description about how the victim was missing half of his head! His final words to the photographer and an officer were, “Man, my head hurts.”

Those of us in front of and behind the camera obviously have a lot of stories to share. I blogged recently about the emotional toll of seeing so much death and destruction and concern when venturing into dangerous situations. Truth is, many journalists could write a book about all that we’ve seen and heard all around the world. But it is one thing to talk about it and quite another to actually write a compelling book and have it published. Congratulations to Q on this incredible accomplishment. F*@# yeah, I am proud to have had Q behind the camera while I’ve been in front of it.

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Cary Grove HS seniors in Session 1

Whenever I’m booked to speak to students, no matter the grade or school, colleagues will always joke about telling young people to stay away from the news business. I never do it. Heck, I wouldn’t be a journalist had I listened to some people. Like most other industries, the news business has changed. It isn’t glamorous and can be quite discouraging. But I have never regretted my career choice and still have a passion for journalism.

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Yo, Session 2!

Passion was the common message among the Career Day speakers this week at Cary Grove High School. I enjoyed talking about reporting for WGN News and getting to know some truly fabulous people in a wonderful community. And the kids asked some good questions about journalism. Most were undecided about future professions. Maybe some will become journalists.

Since I’m a reporter, I couldn’t help posing some questions to professionals in other career fields.

Bill Heche, Palatine Police Department, Crime Scene Technician

Why do you take part in Career Day?

One of the worst things when you get involved in police work is cynicism because you deal with negativity all the time. It’s one of the reasons I like doing stuff like this. You get to deal with kids in a positive perspective. It refreshes your energy and your batteries.

What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?

It’s fundamental. Getting the bad guys is what we all do this job for. I’m not sitting behind a desk 24/7. I get to interact with people. I’m in patrol but I also deal with forensics. I deal with the aftermath. I have to be that person’s advocate. I have to detach myself emotionally from what I’m doing. If I can’t detach myself, I can’t do my job. I flip an emotional switch.

That’s similar to what many journalists have to do.

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Bill Heche of the Palatine Police Department and Sal Napoli of Crystal Lake Chrysler Jeep Dodge

Sal Napoli, Service and Parts Director at Crystal Lake Chrysler Jeep Dodge

What message do you most want kids to hear today?

Whatever you want to do, do it.  Whether it’s being a mechanic or customer service, keep trying to have a drive for it. Don’t do something just because someone else is. Be successful in what you have a drive for.

What is most fulfilling in your job?

I work in service. The most important thing is taking care of people. It can be a thankless job once in awhile because people come in complaining about something. Things are wrong and they’re giving you the negative stuff so we work to turn it around and make it positive.

Did you set out to do what you do?

To take care of customers? Yes. I wanted to help in some way, shape or form. Growing up, my parents said I was always helping somebody else out. I wouldn’t do things around the house but I would go to someone else’s house to help out. It’s what I’ve always done.

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Brian Bedo of WGN Radio graduated from CGHS in ’03

Brian Bedo, Play-by-play Announcer and WGN Radio Sports Producer

What message do you want kids to take away from your session at Career Day?

I want them to get a realistic view on what it’s like to be a communications major and to join our field.  Also, they’re all young and all have dreams and passions and aspirations, and I really wanted them to follow those through college.  Too many times, young adults give up on those dreams too early but hopefully they learned a few things from what we had to say on how to see those dreams through if that’s what they really want to do with our lives.
What’s the best part about your job and would you choose the same career path again?
Best part of my job is getting to know the people around my job.  The relationships I’ve developed working in sports between the players and coaches I’ve covered and the colleagues I have has made the ride worth it.  I just love being in the middle of the action and getting to know new people everyday.  I have not once regretted joining the field I’m in and I can’t wait to see where it takes me in the future.

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Thanks for having me for Career Day, CGHS. Go Trojans!

It was an Instagram hashtag that led me to do a WGN Cover Story about urban exploring in Chicago back in July. And the only reason I ran across that hashtag was research for my story about the old Cook County Hospital, Brach’s Candy Factory and Old Chicago Post Office, three of Chicago’s most iconic abandoned buildings. To protect sources, I am not mentioning the hashtag because it led to a joint WGN-TV/Chicago Tribune investigation. My latest Cover Story is set to air this Wednesday, September 18th on WGN News at Nine.

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Never before have I worked on a single story for over five months. But the tip I got from an urban explorer required a lot of digging and cross-referencing. It’s why I haven’t had much time to blog in this space. I am grateful my bosses allowed me time off my morning news shift to work on this project and to join forces with the Chicago Tribune.  Business reporter Ameet Sachdev and I have worked together as Chicago chapter officers in the Asian American Journalists Association.  His insights on this story have been invaluable.

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Instagram has sparked more interest in urban exploring

 

In short, the story involves an extraordinary situation here in Chicago and thousands of abandoned medical files. The mess might make you wonder about the security of your own medical records.  Perhaps one of the abandoned files we learned about — showing Social Security numbers and financial information — belongs to you or someone you know. I hope you’ll tune in Wednesday night.

It is one thing to see dead bodies and gory images on TV and in the movies. It is quite another to see them in real life. Despite yellow tape and police lines, reporters often see more at crime scenes that can ever be shown on the air. I’ve lost count of how many bodies I’ve seen over my decades of reporting in major cities. It never gets less haunting.

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WGN photographer Adam DeBacker zooms in on an image that won’t make air.

I saw the body of a 38-year-old murder victim last week and the image is seared into my brain along with many other victims. The man and his brother had been shot and killed in a gang-infested neighborhood on Chicago’s Far South Side. Police had surrounded the bodies with their squad cars. But we found an angle where we could clearly see one of the victims. The man had been shot in the chin and he fell sideways onto the street. I may not remember his name, Leandre Cooper, but I will never forget his face. His eyes were closed and his head was resting on the street curb as if it were a pillow.

Just a few weeks ago, I saw the body of a 23-year-old newspaper vendor who’d been shot and killed right near a ramp for the Dan Ryan Expressway. From beyond the crime tape I could see his legs and shoes. The newspapers and fruit he’d been selling were right next to him. An especially gory image in my mind is from 2001 after I first started working in Chicago. Hit and run on the West Side. I can’t remember which street but I’ll never forget the scene. Woman in her 50′s. Dress. Walking shoes. Face down. Brain matter on roadway.

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A lot of blood evidence beyond the yellow tape.

Most stations refrain from showing graphic images. We are instructed not to include shots of bodies, body bags or anything too bloody. I saw a trail of blood on Thursday in the West Pullman neighborhood where a homeowner had stabbed and killed a burglar. Blood on a knife. Blood on the house where the offender obviously tried to right himself. Blood on the fence. Blood on the front gate. A clear trail of blood stretching over a block to a getaway car. The guy died at the hospital.

Another image I can’t shake is from a New York City murder scene back in the 90′s. A disgruntled former employee opened fire at a Chinese restaurant in Queens, killing two people. Because I was able to speak with others in the neighborhood in Chinese, I learned that the restaurant owner was unaccounted for. We went to his home and found the door ajar. The killer had obviously stopped there before the restaurant and we had arrived ahead of police. We knew not to touch anything and stayed back. But I will never forget the image of a lifeless Chinese man, on his knees and collapsed forward as if he was kowtowing. Had he begged for his life?

While working with photographer Kevin Cassidy this week, he reminded me of another South Side scene from 2011. An armed man had tried to steal the copper wiring from an air-conditioning unit. He was shot and killed by the off-duty police officer who lived there. Police blocked off the street. But a neighbor allowed us into his home where we saw the suspect’s body in a backyard. It’s another face I won’t forget. African-American man in his 20′s, khaki shorts, no shirt, muscular physique, semi-fetal position.

Being around so much death and heartbreak can be emotionally draining. A few reporter friends agree that we have to compartmentalize in order to move on. While chatting about this with Kevin on our way to a story he concluded, “I don’t consciously push it away. But I do as a survival mechanism.”

On Friday, I was at a DuPage County Court bond hearing for a 23-year-old man who allegedly tried to hire a hitman to kill his relatives. The suspect appeared via video link and kept his head down for most of the proceeding. A tip led police to set up an undercover sting to foil the plot. I won’t forget how that guy looked as he heard the charges against him. Or the conversation I had with one of the targeted victims. But there were no murders or a crime scene to report from. Thank goodness.

07/29/13

Lessons From BlogHer ’13

IMG_8985There is no way to soak in everything when attending a conference. I always leave them wishing I had picked different sessions or met more people. Last week’s BlogHer ’13 conference in Chicago was no exception. Though it made me realize that even among 5,000 bloggers, I already know a lot of people since Chicago is such a blogging and social media hub.

The conference also reminded me that some superstar bloggers can seem to have bigger egos than the most well-known people in television. Yuck.

But I love that BlogHer can be so empowering. This year’s inspiration and words of wisdom were relayed from the likes of Guy Kawasaki, Queen Latifah, Sheryl Sandberg and Randi Zuckerberg. They are all working hard at whatever they’re working on. Take away lesson: keep working hard. Because of Guy, I will try harder, again, to be more active on Google+.

IMG_8975Though I picked up some tips and tricks at the sessions on vlogging and video editing on mobile devices, it was away from the conference that I learned about some cool photo editing apps from Chicago’s very own, “Nap Warden”. My friend Cynthia is a mom blogger who also designs blogs. If you enjoy Instagram and photography, here are three fun apps to download and use (if you don’t have them already):

Snapseed (Think it’s usually $4.99 but it was FREE when I downloaded on Friday) Many great tools within Snapseed to tweak, enhance and transform photos. I have yet to really play with this app but I hope to soon. There’s also a desktop version.

MoreMono (FREE) This is how you can do those cool monotone shots with pops of color. Works best with red.

moreBeaute2 (FREE) Air brushing. Hey, I work in TV. This app tends to over soften images. But there’s an adjustment bar.

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A test pic with the MoreMono app.

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With Guy Kawasaki and bloggers Lori Moreno and Barb Rozgonyi. Thanks to Guy for being nice and approachable. And for including us in a post on Google+!

I got to learn first-hand, actually first-elbow, during BlogHer how amazing Andrea Metcalf  truly is. Many Chicagoans are familiar with Andrea from her fitness segments on TV. When I told Andrea about my “iPad elbow”, she immediately started massaging it and doing stretches and exercises with my entire arm. She went on and on about particular muscles and then she taught me some exercises to alleviate the pain. My elbow is feeling much better this week. Thanks, Andrea!

While at an after-party on Saturday, guests were asked to sign a banner with words to live by.  I wrote something like, “Keep learning. Never consider yourself an expert at anything.” Much of what I learned in journalism school is now useless due to technological changes. I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out this blogging thing. And I don’t know what conference I’ll be attending next. But I look forward to learning more.

All suited up and ready to fly!

The BlogHer conference gets underway in Chicago this week. The event will bring in many of the world’s top bloggers, some of whom drive more web traffic than major media outlets. With the help of Chicago’s MJ Tam, an established mom blogger and founder of Chicagonista.com, I launched my own blog right before I attended BlogHer four years. So ahead of returning to the conference this year, here’s a repost of my very first blog (minus any references to my former TV station. It is also a sad reminder that federal sequestration cuts have grounded the U.S. Army Golden Knights):

(Orginally posted at NancyLoo.net on 8/9/09 before the Chicago Air & Water Show.)

When I was invited to skydive with the U.S. Army Golden Knight parachute team, I didn’t hesitate to say “Yes!”. Like so many people, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do so why not learn from the world’s best? My day began at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Ill. Team leader Mike Elliot showed us the equipment and told us what to expect up in the sky. He’ll be handling my tandem jump. What an honor – he also handled the skydive for former President George H.W. Bush.

After suiting up and strapping on all the tandem gear, the Golden Knights Fokker plane takes us to an altitude of 13,500 feet. Yikes, that’s about 2.5 miles! I think my heart actually skipped a beat when they rolled up the door and I could see directly down to the ground. Within seconds, Mike has me at the edge of the plane as I think to myself, “Holy #%*@, we’re about to fall out of an airplane!” But he is strapped to my backside and I know I am in perhaps THE most capable hands in the military.

Skydive2Other Golden Knights jump ahead of us to videotape and photograph. Mike pushes off soon after and the first few seconds literally take my breath away. It happens to a lot of people so Mike reminds me to breathe. Of course, he’s telling me as we’re falling through the sky at 120 miles per hour! The feeling is pure exhilaration and amazement. I can’t help looking down to take in the clouds and beautiful landscape but the guys keep telling me to look up so they can take a decent picture. Before I know it, we’re going THROUGH a cloud. Unlike going through it on an airplane, you can actually feel the moisture.

Mike pulls the chute and we go shooting back up as the wind catches it. I look waaaay up in order to see it unfurled. What a rush of patriotism to see the black and gold chute with the “ARMY” logo. I look over and see the other “ARMY” chutes around me. No kidding, these guys are like superheroes. I am so amazed by what they do for our country. Thank you to the U.S. Army Golden Knights!!!

Hanging with my Superheroes!

A friend inspired me to dedicate my skydive to www.remind.org. This is a charity founded by Lee and Bob Woodruff, the ABC News anchor who suffered a serious brain injury while working in Iraq. Remind.org helps soldiers with brain injuries. Please consider donating to this amazing organization.

As the Golden Knights would sign off… Blue Skies.

Assignment changes are common during a typical workday. Breaking news and better stories often trump whatever reporters are covering. Major breaking news can mean going days without sleep or breaks. But that usually involves one story. Covering six different stories in a single workday is a new record for me. And my fifth assignment on Friday was no picnic. I had to race to the Governor’s office to report on new developments in the Illinois pension reform predicament. It’s perhaps the biggest crisis this state has ever faced. Obviously, it’s a major story so I try my best to stay informed just in case I have to cover it.

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Governor Quinn talks about the pension crisis after his meeting with state leaders.

But as soon as I walked into Governor Quinn’s offices on the 16th floor of the State of Illinois building, I was greeted with looks of pity from reporters who cover politics full-time. ABC7′s Charles Thomas expressed how challenging it is for them to cover the pension crisis even though they’re familiar with the proposed bills and the major players involved. Here I was parachuting in with less than an hour to go before my live update on WGN Midday News. I got it done amid a lot of stress that likely showed on the air. But I’m not complaining. I think most journalists thrive on the intellectual challenges and high pressure situations that come with the news business.

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40-year-old man killed in a hit-and-run near South Side EL.

My day wasn’t over after Governor Quinn’s news conference. I had a scheduled shoot Friday afternoon for an upcoming WGN Cover Story (more on that soon – it’s a great topic). I was well into my 16th hour of work by the time that wrapped.

Now that I’ve had more than sixteen hours to recover, I have to rewind and document here all the stories I covered on Friday:

1)  A police-involved shooting, Northwest Side

2)  Arraignments after arrests of 41 suspected gang members, Cook County Criminal Court

3)  Deadly hit-and-run, South Side Englewood

4)  News conference on “Safe Passage” ahead of historic school closings, North Lawndale

5)  Governor’s meeting on Illinois pension reform, Thompson Center

6)  WGN Cover Story, South Loop

That list just made me realize we covered a lot of territory along with a lot of stories. I’m signing off now to rest. You never know when an even busier and longer workday might happen.

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A glimpse from my Cover Story shoot.

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That’s Pat.

After a harrowing experience earlier this week while out covering the historic school closing decision in Chicago, WGN photojournalist Pat Parmenter now jokes about bringing extra underwear to work. He’s been telling people, “I nearly SH#@ myself!” Believe me, it takes a LOT to scare Pat. He’s an imposing guy. But unarmed, and teamed with Big Tiny and cameraman John Loboda, we three were no match against apparent gang members in Humboldt Park who were likely armed.

It was just before four o’clock in the morning when we arrived at Von Humboldt Elementary School on Thursday. We wanted to front our coverage from there because it was the only school on the closings list that the CPS board took a separate vote on. In the end, board members voted 4-2 to close Humboldt. Parents and students would surely have a lot to say about the closing. So ideally I would have done my reports for WGN Morning News and then be in place to get interviews before the start of school.

I was sitting in one of our vehicles, engrossed in preparing for my live reports, when Pat and John noticed an SUV approaching in the dark. Pat had already raised the mast on the live truck and the guys were busy getting the camera and other equipment set up when the driver of the SUV turned on the high beam headlights. I wasn’t especially concerned because we were in marked WGN News vehicles.

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John during coverage of the 2012 Ryder Cup. No safety issue there.

We were bathed in the interrogation lighting for about a minute and then Pat overheard someone in the SUV say, “Get ‘em!” Their vehicle angled in front of ours so we couldn’t drive off. But it allowed me to get a good look into the SUV. There were at least six guys who appeared to be in their late teens or 20s. They were all in white t-shirts and at least three were wearing caps. I know, I know… that description doesn’t mean these guys were gang bangers. But again, it was 4 a.m. and these guys weren’t acting like members of a dance crew.

I heard one of them demanding to know, “What are you doing here?” and “Why are you here?” – and not in a pleasant voice. Pat and John said they saw guys reaching for their waistbands. When I caught the attention of a guy in a rear passenger seat, I smiled and put my hands up to indicate we really weren’t there to do anything but work. I tried to get out of our vehicle to talk with them when the SUV backed up and drove off.

Pat and  John were concerned the SUV would circle back around for us. So they grabbed the camera (the most expensive piece of equipment that was out), threw it into our second vehicle and we left the area. Yes, we abandoned the live truck, tripod and other gear to escape to a well-lit area. Chicago Police were called and officers stood watch as we packed up the rest of our gear and left. Police told us it was a good idea not to be in that area at that hour.

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Typical set up when on location.

Due to our adventure with new “friends”, we missed two live shots. But it’s okay. Our bosses always stress that our safety comes first. That’s standard operating procedure at all stations. But there have been many close calls and veterans are often exchanging war stories. Colleagues have had guns held to their heads and knives pulled on them.

I actually met my husband back in the late ’80s while covering a coup attempt in the Philippines. I had no problem back then standing next to rebel soldiers with M16s and rounds of ammunition strapped around their bodies. At least you could see where their weapons were. My husband was a correspondent for CNN at the time and he still jokes about using the line, “What are you doing after the coup?”

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(PHOTO: Jose Osorio, Chicago Tribune)
Interview with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett

Later Thursday morning, the WGN assignment desk had arranged for me to do a sit-down interview with Mayor Emanuel and Chicago Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett. Since they were running late, it left me with just half an hour to screen footage and put together an edited story for our Midday News. I gave Pat (and editor Vicky Thomas back at the station) less than 20 minutes to edit and feed my story which included my voice tracks, four interviews, elements from closing schools, a graphic and some file footage. It got into our newsroom computer system with just seconds to go before my live report. It was a scary close landing right on deadline. Pat didn’t say, “I nearly SH*@ myself!” over that, though.

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