A Life-Saving Decision

There is no time like right now to make a great decision. One that will improve your life, lift your spirits, and put you on a pathway to success.

I’ve done that by resigning my job as a morning news producer in the 22nd largest market in the U.S.

For just about anybody else, this would have been a dream job. Great station, great support, lots of fancy tech tools, great team of anchors, reporters, editors, video journalists.

Problem was, it was not for me.

I Was A TV News Producer
When I arrived at the station in June, I had not produced a TV news program for nearly 30 years. To say the industry has changed in the past three decades is like saying civility is dead in D.C. Pretty obvious.

Many layers of jobs have been eliminated in the newsroom. Fewer eyeballs are on the television these days as more are staring into their iPhones and iPads for personalized news and amusing animal videos.

In the old days, a producer would “stack” a show, i.e., identify stories, place them in sequential order, assign times for each. There would be a team of people to help get the show on the air. Someone would create chyrons, or fonts (video identifiers) for stories. Maybe there would be a writer or two to help prepare the program. There would a director, an audio guy and others in the control room to broadcast the news

Today, it’s all on the multi-tasking producer: format the show, assign the live news crews, write the fonts, make video editing instructions, write the stores, teases, all while implementing popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s the new reality. Like having only a director in the control room these days, who’s responsible for switching the show, with audio, graphics and fonts coded into the electronic rundown.

In one of the top, competitive markets in the country, you can expect to have talented, qualified journalists gathering, updating and reporting the information. Feeding the news beast never ends.

It takes experience and knowledge to coordinate so many sources, while keeping an eye on updates to breaking news stories like hurricanes, earthquakes and Donald Trump tweets. For someone living in the African bush and out of the business for as long as I have been, gaining command over all these elements would take many months. In retrospect, I should have gone to a smaller market to update and refresh my game. Walking into the big leagues was a big-time mistake.

Must Know What I Don’t Know
It was an uphill battle from the moment I sat down. So much to learn, including trying to know what all I didn’t know. I’ve learned things in the past 10 days that would have been helpful to me three months ago. At this level, one is expected to have been around the block a time or two with the technology and to feature social media. For me, in Africa, having electricity was a luxury most days.

TV news remains a dynamic, exciting, fast-paced job. I no longer live and breath it. I don’t need or even want constant updates. My focus is elsewhere.

I left the industry in the late 1980s after about a 10-year run, then moved into civil service work. That helped make for a work-family life balance. There were no demands to write 20 stories, three teases, and maybe 10 news summaries in two and a half hours.

After more than 22 years in a state-run cubicle farm, I set out to find my life’s work in the mission fields of Africa. Never have I felt more focused or secure in my calling. It revealed the authentic person I am, one without walls or defenses. I discovered my voice and my passion. When I returned to the US in April, I thought I might want to stay stateside for a time and make a living again.

I could not master producing programs of breaking and trivial news, to engage audiences at an early hour. What I love to do instead is build relationships with strangers, speak their language, listen to their stories, and enjoy fellowship over a meal. What I found out in the past three months is there’s no time for that in the newsroom.

My Life’s Work
I have much to share with the ambitious but desperately poor people in Uganda and East Africa. They have great dreams for careers in many professional fields, from accounting, to IT, to business administration. They have no family capital or resources to help pay for tuition or tools. I’ve done all I can through my charity, teaminfaith.org, to provide opportunities that impact the neediest of students.

As I walk out of the newsroom for the last time again, I will leave an operation that’s in very good hands. Energetic, driven, experienced men and women striving to be leaders in the community.

I’m no longer working to help a corporation’s bottom line. Like much of the audience, I’m distracted…but by real-life issues. My decision was made to focus on lifting lives and raising hopes of real, lovely, wonderful people. Where life is simple, but hard. It’s a great life. Time to get back to that.

My Personal Success

Beginning year six in East Africa. From an inauspicious start, I’ve managed to take root here, make friends, learn languages, find success.

What is success? Making a long putt for par? Closing a deal with a sought-after client? Raising upstanding children? Before we can answer the contemporary question of “what does success look like?” we must first define it.

Personal or professional

I’ve had a lifelong conflict trying to balance my personal life with my professional goals. My first career as a TV sportscaster-producer took me to more (TV) markets than Joe Carcione (The Green Grocer)! I was chasing the dream I had since pre-teens. The multiple daily deadlines, ever-changing challenges. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I moved a lot in nine years, bouncing from here and there to move up the ladder, in prestige and pay, until I ran out of gas.

After a transition period of about 18 months, I was selected for a state civil service job in San Francisco. I was plucked out of an overnight cable news shift in Los Angeles–300 miles from my home–and never looked back.

That first year I began to achieve a professional-personal balance in my life. I commuted to The City from my mother’s East Bay home. Took public transit every single day, without fail. Made friends, had fun, started my run as a public information officer. After a year I was back in the state capital, sleeping at home, commuting to work on Light Rail, and training for my first of four marathons.

Spiritual success

After my son was born it was time to get him baptized, as generations of forebears did with their young progeny. A Christian community was found with activities, suppers and prayers. I had grown up a generation earlier in the church rectory where we hosted such events. This was a back-to-the-future moment. It felt familiar. And friendly.

More state jobs meant more pay and responsibilities. Soon I was cycling 25 miles to work, achieving fitness while sharpening my sword. We found a new church which was about to undertake a profound step in faith to embrace debt and build a wonderful worship center for the community. I was all-in.

As my career and family grew, so did my spiritual gifts. I became a regular worship leader as a member of the choir, a performing sketch artist on designated Sundays and a participant and contributor in an ecumenical revival movement. I found time–no, made time–to enjoy God’s great outdoors with a cadre of friends on our cool road bikes.

From where I sit now those were the greatest of days. My son completed university and was focused on his next steps. I was climbing some of the great hills and mountains from the coastal range to the Sierra Nevada.

Yet that still, small voice inside me said it was time for more.

Across the pond

From my days in the rectory and hours in the pews, I always had this sense of a higher calling. Summoning me from child’s play, from the cubicle farm, the rat race. An opportunity was born in the fall of 2011, just weeks after I retired from my state career. I could visit a secondary school in South Sudan with my video cameras. That meant making critical connections, getting a passport, and crossing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. I didn’t have far to go. The school was founded by retired educators and friends at my church in Cameron Park. A new door was opened, a new life beckoned.

This journey has not been difficult. Traveling 10,000 miles to Africa has unfolded naturally, easily. Almost as if it was preordained. I first arrived on this continent without knowing a single person. In Christian communities where I landed in South Sudan, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was welcomed by brothers and sisters who knew the Lord as I did. They grew up in strong communities where hospitality is a cultural norm.

I have stepped toward them, learning their languages, sharing my faith and humor and wealth. I have been rewarded with their friendships, smiles and love.

Answer the question!

So what is success? I’ve missed more par putts than I’ve made, but I’ve cycled and traveled a road few peers have followed. While I worked. While I worshipped. While I helped raise an outstanding young man.

Success is a balanced life: Love and laughter, pain and forgiveness, selfishness and selflessness. It is making money and making amends. Structure and spontaneity. Climbing the challenging peaks and coasting home. Remembering friends and loved ones, and making new ones on the other side of the world.

The Anti-Social Media

Many years ago a great mentor of mine, now deceased, told me why he never owned a television.

He said “why would I invite unsavory characters into my home?” The motion picture industry, maybe in cahoots with NRA, has fed us never ending spectacle of sex and violence…for decades and decades. Is it any wonder why our culture is so violent!

Today’s popular social media platform Facebook, to me, is becoming a day-care center for ignorant and uneducated voices to shout any unsubstantiated fact as fact. Trump is a genius. He’s figured this out, while other respectable men and women can only watch. He’s a media creation, now with a legion of anti-social followers.

So I think back to what my old headmaster, the Rev Peter Farmer, told me in Gualala some years back. The chatter on Facebook disturbs me. Do I want to continue to be a member of this community? I choose to be discreet or silent in my political rants on FB while others fuel the flames of hyper-partisanship. I don’t want to tarnish my Team in Faith brand or alienate any viewers or potential donors who may or may not share my views.

Like with the TV, maybe I turn off the computer and quiet the vacuous voices and violent images and focus on relationships that edify me and which I treasure. I’ve posted my share of lunch item shots and silly cats playing.

It’s been child’s play. Now is the time for me to leave the kids table and join the adults.

Top 5 Things Not to Pack for Africa

After my fourth trip to Africa, I’ve learned things the hard way. To wit….

5. Clothes. Once you pack your suitcase, go through it again and take half of clothes out. Avoid excess baggage fees

4. Cash. It’s a global economy, stupid, and the dollar is strong. Your debit card can get local currency at ATMs, sparing you trips to FOREX.

3. Electronic gadgets. Do you really think you will find reliable wifi here? Buy an inexpensive basic phone for local, regional calls. Your locked iPhone won’t make calls.

2. Candy bars and other treats. Really? For your snack fix, you can do better with local samosas, mandazi and my favorite, ground nuts.

1. Plans. You may have a task list in mind. Toss it. Spontaneity works best here.

I Am Patrick’s iPhone

I am Patrick’s iPhone, though I must admit I am not much of a phone these days.

Patrick packed me off to a place called Bwindi in southwestern Uganda in the middle of Africa. So while I’m not being used as the phone I claim to be, I have been plenty busy.

It’s not my fault Patrick and others in North America pay onerous contract fees to use my phone features. I understand there are added costs when you use me outside the USA. In Africa and elsewhere it’s a pay-as-you-go scheme which doesn’t seem as expensive.

Me and Patrick, in Munich, during our six-week international trip in 2012...

Me and Patrick, in Munich, during our six-week international trip in 2012…

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Nevertheless, Patrick is getting a bang for all my smart-phone features available on wifi. The first is the HD camera. In nearly three months on the road, he’s take more than 750 photos on just me alone. I heard him say he had seven other HD cameras at his disposal for this project. None are as versatile as I am. For instance, can a Canon G12 or GoPro camera instantly upload images to share with a waiting world? What’s the point of storing GBs of photos if no one can see them? That’s what social media helps us to do.

I do video pretty well, too. My HD resolution can stand the test and works well in his Final Cut Pro productions. Even I enjoy his YouTube uploads of his video shorts.

My creators helped build a whole new industry when my older cousins were manufactured. Applications, or Apps, redirected users from visiting websites. Now there are millions of apps…though only 100 under my watch. Among Patrick’s favorites are the social media kings Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

He also uses banking apps–even from this jungle setting–to pay his bills electronically, transfer funds, make stock trades. I don’t ask any questions about those transactions. Pat’s always on the go and needs to fund these activities. It’s all well and good. He keeps my battery charged.

We’ve encountered some difficulty with the wifi network at Bwindi Community Hospital. Understandably, managers here want to limit access to the Internet during business hours. But my guy is a communications fiend and needs unfettered access to help sing praises of the good work being done here. He and I think the communications group should get an exemption from the restrictions.

At the nearby Batwa Development Program there is also a wifi network which is not so closely regulated. So from there we can upload videos to YouTube and catch up with with outstanding Words With Friends games to, hopefully he says, deliver “punishing setbacks” to his opponents. Whatever…

Well, even though I haven’t made one call on this trip I’m happy to be contributing in a big way. And I know this: He likes me! He really likes me!

I am Patrick’s iPhone…and I approved this message!