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I’m Not From Here. But I’m getting There.

Last night I went to a professional women’s networking  event sponsored by the Jewish Community Federation. Local TV reporter Rachel Barnhart was the guest speaker. A young journalist with great passion and conviction, she spoke of her struggles early in her career and how proud she is to be working and covering news in the town in which she was born and raised.

Here are some things I loved learning about this homegrown reporter:

  • She stands by her convictions. In high school, she was suspended because she refused to stop publishing her own underground newspaper.
  • After sending in her first demo tape to land a broadcasting job, a veteran in the broadcasting business “ripped her to shreds” in an interview. Instead of getting discouraged, she was thankful for the helpful criticsm, took all suggestions into consideration and moved on.
  • Later in her career, she fought a non-compete clause in her contract at Channel 8 and then landed a job at WHAM, where after a year working as a web producer, she paid her dues and was back on the air for the 6 pm newscast.
  • She was the first local reporter from upstate New York to scoop the story that then-Rochester mayor would run as Lieutenant Governor with Andrew Cuomo. She picked herself and a camera crew and drove through the night to be at a press conference in the NY Metro area to be the first in the Rochester area to get the story – all on a hunch.
  • Even though there are bigger media markets out there, Rachel is proud to be covering her hometown because she passionately believes in its revitalization, thank you very much!
  •  It is with this faith in Rochester that Rachel has built quite a local following. A journalist of the digital generation, she has harnessed the power of social networking and has 7,000 Twitter followers and counting. Including yours truly.

As a transplant, one thing Ms. Bernhart said ratttled me. On bringing  in talent from those who are not from the area,  she said that it makes sense for the Rochester media market to hire native Rochesterians. Who better knows the area, its people than those who grew up here? Out of town editors and writers just “don’t get” Rochester.

Perhaps this is true. Rochester is a very tightly-knit town. If you have no relations here that can be traced back one or two generations, you are pretty much an outsider.  I’m not the only transplant to Rochester who has felt that it is hard to break into social and professional circles that were forged in grammar school. This is a big contrast from big cities where new people come and go and work their way in all the time. Like they do in my hometown of New York City.

Is it not my fault that I needed to go with my husband to Rochester when he landed a job here? Did we need to go where he could make a living? Where we could have money for food and clothing and to send our kids to a nice summer sleep-away-camp?

True, the initial connection my family has in Rochester is this is the place where my husband found a great job. But, this connection is often not enough for us trailing spouses.

Here is how, after 12 years of living in a town other than my hometown, I know I am almost “home” both geographically and professionally:

  • I don’t get lost anymore and know the difference between 390, 590 and 490.
  • I’m comfortable telling people I’m “from” Rochester when away on vacation. And when I start to say, “but I’m originally from…” I stop and let it go.
  • I have grown to marvel at the clean lines of the Rochester City skyline. Sure, it’s not the New York City skyline, but it has a really cool bridge. And I personally know the civil engineer who designed it.
  • My husband is home by six nearly every night. He has a 20 minute, traffic-free commute. In how many cities can you say that?
  • When our friends “back home” tell us of their struggles to get their kids into the best private schools, we proudly boast about the great public schools in Rochester’s suburbs.
  • I have yet to land a full-time job, but for the last two years, I have been bestowed the opportunity to meet all sorts of great interesting people through my column in the Democrat & Chronicle.

When I accepted writing this column, my editor at the time gave me some great advice: this is the chicken and waffle dinner column. It’s all about community.

This column will never win me the Pulitzer. It in no way matches the ambitions of my 22-year-old self fresh out of college.  In fact, most of my journalism professors would raise their eyebrows at the stuff I write about.  It’s not hard-hitting journalism.  In fact, you can call it fluff, and I’d be cool with that.

However,  my writing makes a difference.  Greyhounds have been adopted. People have found support as they battle illnesses like cancer, Parkinson’s and Crohn’s disease because of events I’ve plugged in my column. Bikes have been donated and refurbished for the poor by local Rotary clubs and donations of food have been dropped off at area food pantries. It’s the good news column in an industry that is mostly filled with bad news.

It doesn’t really pay much monetarily. I get the payback when little old ladies stop me in synagogue or at Starbucks or in the supermarket to say how much they enjoy reading my column.

For me, that’s the time I get the feeling that I am finally home.  For me, for now, that’s enough.

So What Exactly am I doing in this Photograph Anyway?

Sandblasting glass is a BLAST!

So, over the February break, I got myself an overdue haircut. And over break, my husband of almost 18 years snapped a photo of me, and this does not happen often, because I’m usually the one behind the lens. And so what if I am wearing safety glasses, I finally got in a photo!

I liked this shot so much it’s my new Facebook profile picture. Which raised several questions from my funny Facebook friends. Actually, they were my friends long LONG before Facebook ever existed. I’m talking about my college newspaper friends, the original social networkers. We IM’ed one another on our ancient Video Display Terminals across the newspaper office long before the kids today were texting. Long before they were even born!

And, over the years we have reconnected over Facebook, they have historically left the most hysterical, laugh out loud (oh, I mean LOL) comments and status updates.

One asked: Is that a glove box?

Another: Ummm, Stace – are you getting a mammogram here?

No. Nope. Both wrong. Look at me in that photo. I’m smiling. Happy. Usually, when we women get our mammograms, it is something we don’t want to photograph. Because we are not smiling. We are usually grimacing in anticipation of the squish. And, I would be wearing a hospital gown and not a nice red sweater.

So, really, what am I doing?

Give up?

I am taking a sandblasting workshop at the Corning Museum of Glass.

Corning, NY is located just 90 minutes from Rochester. Not only is it a great visual museum that showcases the art and science of glass,  the museum also offers great hands-on workshops in glass flower making, glass bead jewelry making, and sand blasting.

Sandblasting, according to the workshop listing, is the process of removing glass or imparting a matte finish by bombardment with fine grains of sand that are propelled by compressed air.

It sounds very violent, but it’s not and is actually lots of fun.

First, we covered our glass with either stickers or masking tape to create a design.

My daughter was making some asymetrical design with her tape, I just couldn’t figure it out:

We then brought them over to a sandblasting machine, where the glass object is inserted, and then with a foot pedal and a hose, we blast our piece with a strong plume of sand:

And now, we have the following creations to keep forever, or at least, until they drop on my tiled kitchen floor:

The Hunt for my next Human – Interest Story, that is….

This summer and hopefully for many months to follow, my editors have given me a new challenge – find interesting people to profile in the ROC East Towns of Pittsford, Victor, and Webster.  Find people with a unique way of making a living or those who possess a hobby, craft, talent, or story in their past that sets them apart. And make the idea photogenic, and coordinate your source’s schedule with a staff photographer; because photographers have to make a living too.

Come on people, I know you’re out there.

How do I know this? Because within one walking block of my house, I have found interesting people that would make incredible subjects for profile stories. Artists. Gardeners. Mysterious Xylophone players. People who used to live in Nepal.  But I only know these facts about my fabulous neighbors is because they are my  neighbors.

And if all these people inhabit just one small block of Rochester’s eastern towns, then just imagine who else could be out there – other fabulous people with hobbies, businesses, causes, or talents that really make them stand out.

So, if you know of any such people and they are your Pittsford, Victor or Webster neighbors, won’t you please ask them if they might like to be possibly featured in the Our Towns section of the Democrat & Chronicle? If they are a budding entrepreneur, artist, musician, this could only be a win-win situation.

If not, I just might show up in a suburban development near you, walking the sidewalkless streets wearing a placard that says “Got Story?”

I’ve been a newsaper columnist for over a year. Can you please spring for some business cards?

Some exciting news in my tiny little newspaper career. I have new towns to cover! One of them is Webster, NY. Their town motto: “Webster, where life is worth living.” Webster is 20 minutes from my house. And in the Rochester area, that may as well be another planet. So off I went last night to explore my new town, which rests on the shores of Lake Ontario.

 I was invited to a mixer held by the Webster Chamber of Commerce. It was held at the town’s local branch of HSBC Bank It was hopping! Only 20 people registered in advance, but the headcount was over 60, according to the event organizer.

So many great people in one room to meet, introduce myself to and dig up new story ideas.

Until one embarrassing question came up. And it came up time and time again each time I circulated the room.

“Can I have your business card?”

“Errr, well, to tell you the truth, I don’t have a business card, but the paper is working on it!”

So, instead I came home with a stack of business cards which I will now send out my contact information, with a link to my column.

Yes, it was embarrassing, and perhaps a bit penny wise and pound foolish of the newspaper for not providing me with a business card after doing this column for over a year now. When I meet new people, unless I carry around a copy of my latest column with my mugshot on it, where is the proof that I really am who I say I am?

My editors should know how I delight in writing each column, and they know I do it for a paltry sum of money. They should know how my spine tingled just walking into a real, live newsroom when I met with my editors this week. They should know that someone from the Webster chamber said to me “heck, send me your information and I’ll cough up the $20 to make you a set of business cards.”

Even in this age of Blackberries and social networking, there is still a viable reason for carrying a business card when one is doing real networking.

So, kind businesspeople of Webster, thank you for trusting me when I said who I said I was. And I will be getting my box of those old-school business cards any day. I promise.

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