Lent as a journey…

The last few weeks have gone a bit like this: “hello this is Lauren.” “Hey, it’s me” “Sure pink sounds good.” “Yea, what time can you do the interview” “okay, that’s ordered and checked off the list” “yes, I’ll be live from the scene”

If you haven’t figured it out, it’s the balance between working a new and demanding job and planning our wedding. I am not sure what I’d do without the help of Scott. He replies to e-mails, manages things and even had an opinion on what we should be doing. It’s a great relief. But it’s also stressful. I feel like I’m always playing catch-up. The list keeps growing and so do the demands of working.


What can I say, I’ve known about Lent for the entire year. It’s been in the back of my mind for the entire month. But for some odd reason, it snuck up on me. Today marks the start of Lent. It also marks 59 days until we get married.

In a way, having this church season fall in the middle of wedding prep and planning is fitting with the entire process. Lent is a special time of prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation of the celebration of Easter. It is a lot like marriage prep. The parallels are there. Lent is the desire to renew and recall our baptism and penance. These two things are given greater emphasis in the masses and our reflections. As a church we are preparing for the celebration of Easter. We are taking a look at our relationship with God and how we can becoming closer to him.

It’s an amazing opportunity for us to truly prepare for something greater than ourselves. Last year, Scott proposed to me on Holy Saturday. We celebrated our engagement the same weekend as we celebrated Easter. It was a very meaningful time. So much so, that we decided to get married during the Easter season.

These next 40 days is a chance to take a look at our relationship with God and our relationship as a couple. A chance to reflect on how we can grow as individuals and as a faith community. It’s a humbling and patient journey we are about to embark on. But the end result…it’s far greater than what we know today.

Since this year snuck up on me…and I wasn’t really prepared nor did I plan, I have decided I will be doing two things this Lent to prepare for Easter.

1) Each night Scott and I will pray for a couple that has played a role in our lives. We will take the time to thank God for their influence and example and we will pray for continued strength in them.

2) I have decided to join an online reading group. We are reading “Thrift Store Saints”, a book about modern-day experiences of poverty and helping the poor. There is nothing more humbling than realizing we aren’t doing enough to help the poor.

And with that I say: good luck to you this Lenten season. May we come out of this journey a more connected and holy community.

If I had a million dollars…or won Powerball

Tonight I did a story about the $250 million dollar Powerball Jackpot.  I was assigned the story pretty late in the day, after several other stories fell through.  And I’m not gonna lie, I was looking for a way to tell it creatively.  So we went down to the Old Market, I put a wireless microphone on and I walked around and asked people “What would you do with $250 million dollars.”  Surprisingly a lot of people hadn’t thought of it.  Or if they had, it was too hard to narrow down.  It was a mixed bag regarding whether to spend it on other people or on themselves.  Almost everyone immediately thought of one thing they could buy for themselves.

Which leads me to the purpose of this blog.  What would I do with $250 million dollars.  Well in short, I’d use it for myself and others.

First – I’d pay off my student loan debt from college.  I had an amazing experience at Loras College (including a study abroad for a semester in Ireland) but I didn’t really grasp how much money I had borrowed until I graduated and go the bill.  So I’d immediately pay it off.

Second – I put part of it in savings.  Now sure what format but I’m sure that Scott could help me figure out some good places to save and/or invest.

Third – Give some of it to my immediate family and Scott’s immediate family. Perhaps purchase a jet to fly to and from Memphis and other places so we could always be a few hours away from each other.  I hate being so far from my family.

Fourth – Travel to Haiti and donate some of the money to Louveture Cleary School in Port-au-Prince.  I had the opportunity to travel down there for a service trip in 2008 and it changed my life and world view forever.  When the earthquake hit, the school suffered a lot of damage.  Many of the children lost their homes and family members.  I’ve been trying to get back ever since.  I even held a fundraise these last two years that raised over $4000 for the school.

Fifth – I’d take Scott around the world  We’d visit all sorts of places and make sure to experience life and culture in each place.  I wouldn’t want to be a tourist.  Instead I’d want to be a storyteller.  I’d buy a professional camera and document it all.  We’d make a documentary about other cultures and what we can learn from them.

Sixth – I’d donate to breast cancer research.  I want nothing more than to find a cure for the disease that took my grandma’s life and has spread throughout my family.  My mom is an 8 year survivor and I know countless others who have been diagnosed with it and are still fighting.

Seventh – I’d give some money to a scholarship fund at Catholic Youth Camp to allow kids from around the area attend for FREE.  I believe in what they do at CYC and I’d love to be able to provide the opportunity for kids to experience God like they never have before.

FINALLY – I’d make sure to give back to the community.  Here in Omaha I’d give some money to the Open Door Mission.  I’d like it to allow kids there to experience some of the things I experienced when I was a kid.  Whether it’s summer camps or travel experiences.  Something that’s not just about education or survival but something about “being a kid”.

It’s hard to imagine what else I’d do with that kind of money.  I’d like to think it’d be a balance of giving and spending.  After all, there is a reason why people are blessed enough to win the lottery.  I supposed all we really can do is guess what we’d do.  I wonder if life would change much or if it would remain the same.  I wonder if people would treat me differently if they knew I won all that money.

All these questions come with the day-dream of what I’d do with the money.

Bottom line…I didn’t win and I won’t likely ever win.  But who said you can’t dream?

With that I ask you…what would you do with $250 million dollars?


PS – I’m sure I left something out…almost certain!

The challenge of telling compelling stories…everyday…

I’ve been working in this business for a short 8 years.  And over the last 8 years I’ve learned so many different techniques in telling a compelling story.  It’s changed over time too.  When I started as a production assistant, reporters at that station barely had cell phones, didn’t use Facebook and the station website was managed by one person.

Today we met with the station consultant about storytelling, compelling live shots and demonstrative stand-ups.  I always walk away from sessions like today, with a new inspiration on how to tell stories.  Though I don’t always agree with everything that’s suggested, I usually walk away with something that I can work on.  Today I was told to shoot more stand-ups in my stories.  He said viewers are home watching the story and they are waiting to see me.  For me, this is hard to do because sometimes I feel like I am taking away from the story by putting myself in it.  Take my soldier homecoming story for example:

This story captured so much of the moment. It took the viewer to the moment of a surprise homecoming. I felt like seeing me in that story would actually take away from the story. But I guess it depends how you look at it.

But this story definitely needed a stand-up in it. I needed to be in it to demonstrate something:

Bottom line, I walked away from today with a new focus on how to make my stories more compelling. I walked away with a reminder about engaging the audience in a conversation and telling a story that appeals to them.

I leave you with a quote I have on my desk:

“Great stories hang in the viewer’s ears and catch the viewer’s eye. Great stories aim for the viewer’s heart.” Al Tompkins

Covering Snow…

I can’t believe I’m saying this…but this is one for the first snow storms, in a long time, that I haven’t been out in the elements covering it for work.  Today I woke up to a blanket of snow outside and a fiance to take to the airport.  Scott flew out to Germany today (as I type this he is in the air).  I found myself secretly praying that his flight would be delayed or cancelled but it wasn’t.  So we got him all ready and took him to the airport.

I feel ridiculous saying this, but it’s hard to say goodbye to him for a week.  Mostly because he’ll be gone in another country, with a different time zone and unable to reach instantly like here.  Yes, we’ll Skype (at midnight here and 7:00 am there) but it’s still hard. I guess you could say I’m looking forward to next Friday, when he arrives back in US soil!

Anyway, so the snow continued and I decided that even though I wasn’t working, I’d venture out into my neighborhood and shoot some video.  If Scott had been here he would have totally agreed and we’d likely have a movie posted of us sledding, skating or some other adventure. haha.

But here is the video:

I had fun shooting it and it reminded me that even though I’m not working, I can’t seem to escape from my world of capturing video. Truth is I love it…on my own time.

But I also couldn’t help but think of all my fellow TV people who were out and about in the storm today. They woke up early, braved the conditions and brought all of us the latest and most up-to-date information. It’s something I sometimes forget when I’m out covering it myself. Usually I’m focused on how cold I am, how fast I’d like to finish my story and when I’ll be in a warm location.

You see, weather is one of those assignments we’ve all done hundreds of times. We become cynical to the topic. “Lauren, do a story about the weather”, “Lauren let’s preview tomorrow’s storm”, “Lauren do a story on snow prep.” Yes! I’ve heard them all before. And to be honest, I usually roll my eyes. But when I come to my senses I realize that it’s my job to do those stories. Because people are watching to find out what’s happening. Even if, in fact, nothing is really happening. Take last night for example. No snow by 5:00 and 6:00 pm. But my story was about snow prep. That’s how it happens sometime. But when I woke up to snow this morning, I knew it was worth doing the story.

And so I sit behind this computer after a day of not covering the storm, not doing a story and not going LIVE in the elements. But I sit here with a bit of gratitude for those who did. Because I was reminded how important the job we have; tell people what’s happening…even if it’s nothing.

On that note, since I’m not working…I’m off to have an “Oscar nominated movie marathon”.

And please pray for Scott and his travels to Germany and Spain this week. Safe travels, productive work and happy trip home. 🙂

What Is Sweeps? And What Does It Mean For Me?

Today, February 2nd, marks the first day of the first sweeps period of 2012. Sweeps is a time in TV when we are all being watched, closely.  It’s a time when you’ll see extensive investigations, promotions, giveaways and a constant push to get YOU to watch TV. Sounds crazy doesn’t it?  haha. 

The truth is, sometimes it is.  But it’s vital to the success of most local news stations.  Sweeps can be translated into ratings. Ratings translate into commercials and commercials make it possible for this business to continue to thrive. 

In this market (Omaha) we have a diary rating system.  It’s sometimes argued as being out of date.  But basically what it consists of is this: a handful of randomly selected viewers receive an actual diary.  They are instructed to write down what TV stations they watch and when.  Then send the information into Nielsen, who compiles it and sends out the results.  It affects the advertising, promotions and budgets all around.  It’s fair to say tension is high, pressure is on and you’re constantly looking to “win” a story.

What does “win” a story mean?  Well to be honest, I don’t even know. Sometimes it’s getting a special interview, being the first to release information or uncovering something that no one else has uncovered.

Now that I’ve told you, you’ll probably notice it.  But don’t think local news is unique.  Network TV does it too.  Think about your favorite TV shows.  When do they have season premieres and finales?  During ratings periods (February, May, July and November).  They’ll hold off on beginning or ending a show until a sweeps period.  It’s the cycle of TV.

So how doesn’t change what I do?  Well the truth is, it doesn’t.  Yes, I’m typically assigned a “sweeps piece” which is often more in-depth and investigative.  Yes, we do stories that you don’t see all the time.  But for me, sweeps is just the start of another month.  Everyday of sweep is the same as every day of my job.  I try to find and tell compelling stories and I try to be creative. When I’m out on assignment I’m always looking for a way to tell this story differently, uniquely and more understandable to someone who isn’t there.

At the end of the day, it’s about performing the your best each day, not just during sweeps. 

So…as my first news director told me “everyday is sweeps, strive for everyday excellence, always.”

Though I admit…that isn’t always possible…here’s to another month…sweeps and all.

Dancing For A Cause

It was back in October.  I was in Dubuque for some wedding planning when I got a call from my cousin Lyz.  She wanted to know if I’d be interested in participating in “Dancing With The Omaha Stars”.  I laughed at her and then asked for some details.  Well those details turned into me saying “Yes”.  I would be dancing with professional dancer Christopher Ouren.  Our first lesson he tried to teach me the basics of ballroom dancing.  He taught me how to follow (not lead) and basic steps for tango and rumba.  When we finished he asked which dance I’d like to do for the event.  Thinking this was a new challenge and something I’d never done before, I decided we should do the tango.

The tango is considered an exotic love dance, where the dancers appear to be fighting in a loving way.  Little did I know, that after learning the tango I would then learn a routine (that included tango and rumba like moves).  Christopher and I met several times a week for about 2 hours.  Since I work 2nd shift (1:30 to 10:30) we would meet Tuesday and Thursday mornings.  When I started lessons, I really had no idea how to dance and I had no idea how I’d ever be able to dance in front of 600 people.  But by the end I learned a whole lot more than I expected.

After just about 2 months, my dancing debut happened.  It was in a crowded room full of supporter (friends and family) of the cause.  The charity was Ronald McDonald House and Angels Among Us.

I can remember feeling so nervous.  I had practiced for months, knew every move and set better than anyone in the audience.  But I was still worried about falling or screwing up.  But somehow I finished it and felt great.  Just for the record, the judges (who had no dance experience prior) didn’t like my performance.  Even compared it to Betty White’s performance on “Dancing With The Stars”.  But I walked away from that dance floor with a sense of accomplishment like never before.

Not only did I go from no dance skills to dancing a routine in front of hundreds of people, but my sacrifice and time was all for a good cause.  It takes guts to get up there and do something you’ve never done before.  In the back of my mind, the whole time, I kept thinking about how it was all helping a good cause.

In the process I learned how to dance, gained some confidence in my ability to learn something if I just try and I walked away with some great friendships.  I give major props to Elizabeth Edwards at Omaha Ballroom.  She planned the entire event, managed all the dancers, hooked us up with awesome costumes and danced 10 routines that night.  She was flawless.

I also got to know former Husker, Aaron Graham and Mrs. Omaha, Darlene Kersey.  Two of the most genuine and down to earth people I’ve met.

I believe we’re all put on this earth for a reason and sometimes we have to do things that are outside of our comfort zone.  It’s our way of saying “thank you” and giving back.  For me, the entire even wasn’t about me (though I’ve told you all that I gained from it).  It was about raising money for charity and reminding us all that we aren’t in control of everything in life.  For me it was a very humbling experience.

And I can say that I am hooked on ballroom dancing.  Absolutely loved it and I want to learn more.  Scott and I are even going to get lessons for the wedding.

It’s just proof that sometimes saying “yes” to something can pay off in the end, for yourself and for others.