Unless otherwise noted all pictures and text are by and copyright Mike Strong
Probably 1974 or 1975 - newspaper reporter with the Geneva Times.
The News Room
KTTT in Columbus, Nebraska
From the summer of 1968 to just before entering the Air Force November 8th, I worked at a small radio station in Columbus, Nebraska, doing news and some part DJ and console operations. The next station and news job was in 1973 in Auburn, New York, after leaving the Air Force.
WMBO / WRLX in Auburn, New York.
WMBO was AM and was the main station. WRLX was the "follow-along" FM station. In those days AM stations still ruled and FM stations were often just some sort of sideline doing a simulcast or getting someone inexpensively to spin a few records in another format (such as classical), often anonymously, just music and commercials, no personalities.
We lost a news director there, Bill Schnee, because of a story which affected a Ford dealer in town, one of the station's major advertisers. I think the story wasn't even about that dealership but was a national story and had something to do with Ford gas mileage (this was after the 1973 Arab oil freeze). Bill was fired but eventually went to a Syracuse station. (Auburn is about 25 miles from Syracuse). That and the next station told me a good deal about commercial broadcast stations versus freedom of speech. The newspaper experience which followed those two stations was totally different.
Geneva, New York - WGVA and The Geneva Times
I left Auburn for the news position at WGVA in Geneva, NY in late spring 1974. I left a few months later, and joined the newspaper. The shift gave me a night-and-day realization of the difference in morality between commercial broadcasting and print journalism. At the radio stations commercial interests ruled the news, even then. At the newspaper the newspaper was divided into three distinct areas, the newsroom, the advertising office and the printing plant. Walking over to the advertising section was slightly akin to heading over to the red-light district. Never mind that without them none of us in the news-ed section would have had a job.
I was totally protected from commercial or other pressures to shape or avoid news. But I did have to have my notes and research and I did have to bring them in to managing editor, Don Hadley. As long as I could show accuracy I was good. I never had to worry about high-level, high-pressure dealings. That was taken care of for me.
When I joined the Geneva Times (now the Fingerlakes Times) the only position was "area reporter." I really wanted the photo job but Art Foxall had been hired for that only a few months before. Had I but known at the time. I really learned about writing on the Times thanks to my editors. Before that all my writing was for radio, much shorter and in several versions.
An area reporter had to live in and report on a geographic coverage area for the Times. I was hired to cover the south end of Seneca County which is a long north-south county between Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake in the Fingerlakes.
Perceptions, Notes, Memory and Accurate Reporting
Let me say right off, even if someone says they have been correctly quoted, doubt it. A couple of months after joining The Geneva Times I was complemented on my accuracy. This meant a lot because this is a very small town area (think Mayberry) and I came in as an outsider. My first meeting I was asked to write nice public relations information (apparently they expected this of me) and I had a very awkward few minutes in which I had to tell that board meeting, in a very public board meeting, that I couldn't write their release as my report. Lead balloon time for me. So I was very, very careful to get things right.
Getting the compliment from a couple of locals was encouraging and I decided to do even better by using my tape recorder for back up at that evening's Romulus town board meeting. I hadn't used the recorder since the radio station. It was a nice Sony stereo cassette with a numeric tape footage readout. I expected it to give me an assist.
Instead, when I got home and started to write the story I realized that I had at least four stories, not one. 1) the meeting I had attended in person, 2) the meeting in my memory, 3) the meeting in my notes, 4) the meeting as it played on the recorder and 5) the story I was trying to write. None of them agreed. I spent the entire night getting them together.
Puzzled I finally decided that people who had been at the meeting were using my story as a set of what I termed "clues" to reshape their own memories as they read what I had written. I never forgot that. Later at times when I was interviewed or at times when I watched various reporters work on stories I knew about, I could see that the percentage of error was large.
This one is about the environment. The underground tanks at a filling station in Waterloo, NY had begun leaking into the ground and into a nearby stream.
When the source of the leak was found the entire set of tanks was dug up. They had to be replaced. Those things we put in the ground sooner or later deteriorate.
NY State Police had just brought these three into the Seneca County Sheriff's office. They had murdered a retired police officer and dumped his body into 700-foot deep Seneca Lake. Left to right: man 21, girl 16, boy 17. The boy was the killer. I remember the sense of his arrogance and defiance as he came past me.
He had cased homes in the area by selling bibles. One of our own reporters, Jean Jones, on seeing this picture, remembered turning him away at the door because of an odd feeling that something was off.
Under the fair-press free-trial guidelines our managing editor decided not to use this picture, citing the visible handcuffs on the boy. We used one of the photos from their entrance into the station.
Chris Meyer, owner, Orleans Dry Goods in Trumansburg, NY. "The Conversation" boys at a basketball game in 25 March 1974 between Waterloo and Midlakes in Waterloo, NY.
Roxanne "Kamayani" Poorman Gupta had gone to South India to study. There she took up Bharata Natyam, a South Indian Classical dance form.
Roxanne Kamayani Gupta, Ph.D. is the author of "A Yoga of Indian Classical Dance" © 2000 - from Inner Traditions International, One Park Street, Rochester, Vermont 05767
Roxanne organized vegetarian meals for the world's hungry and later ran a vegetarian restaurant. She was always active in social causes.
A chance shot at a carnival in Ovid, NY. A good example of how a split second time slice can create an interesting abstraction without really saying much about the situation.
This was a shot with one of my Leica M2's and the 35mm Summicron. The sharpness of the lens is incredible. It was one of the first Leica lens made in Canada. Leitz no longer makes lens in Canada.
This is actually a car salesman in Geneva. It was one of a pair I shot on 4x5 for an ad.They used a more standard picture but this one is the one I really like.
1975 - These newly capped nursing students just completed their first year of nursing school at WIlllard State Psychiatric Hospital in Willard, NY. Capping day marks the end of that year and the start of their last two years before graduation as the class of 1977.
Above is the photo The Geneva Times published, the boy friend being lifted into the ambulance. The picture at right was deemed too graphic for the pages. I remember this as the first time I had a distinct, visceral sense that a person had "left." She had left behind her body but she was gone. Her boyfriend survived. She had been from Ithaca, a phys-ed instructor.
This pair, girlfriend and boyfriend had been two out of a formation of a dozen skydivers over northern Seneca county, NY with the Seneca Falls parachute club. When the formation broke up his chuted opened first, under her. She had plunged through his opened canopy, into him, at high speed, rendering both of them either unconcious or too dazed to function. She never managed to open her chute. Neither had altimeter releases to open their chutes in such a circumstance.
Both were highly experienced skydivers with at least a couple of thousand hours between them. I think he had something like 1,500 and she some 800, or maybe vice versa. He barely managed to get his open before hitting ground and was injured badly enough that he couldn't move from where he was by himself. I don't remember whether he was told of her death before transport. Seems to me he wasn't but it would have been hard not to have realized it although their landing areas were considerably separated on the field.
On the left in the right-hand picture, the funeral home people who came to gather her and take her to the hospital morgue. The guy in the middle is taking official pictures. He is an investigator from the New York State Bureau of Investigation. The cop is New York State Patrol. I think the county guys are off to the right.
I keep this photo for several reasons. Unlike most accident photos it is not simply gruesome. It shows a tableau of those persons who show up to take care of death. As I said above, there was a sense for me of her having "left" her body and not being there. It was a specific sense and I rememembered it because I had not felt that before.
The New York State B.I. guy remaked to me that he had never seen a pretty woman in life who was pretty in death, reflecting on the animation life gives to any face providing what we think of as a physically attractive face on someone when we are really seeing the animation. Much later an artist friend of mine remarked at how puzzled she was after drawing a picture of her very beautiful friend that her drawing did not show attractive an attractive person. She redrew the picture when she realized that her skill at drafting had accurately gotten the physical features but had bypassed the animation which made her friend so attractive.
I also remember the sense of total brokenness in her body from helping to pick her up to place on the gurney as if there were bits of bone grinding against each other in a soup. I also remember the long line of cars going by (road in the background) and realizing they were not merely looking out of ghoulish curiosity. They wanted to understand death, and life, and how all of us cross that line. I, too, was there for that except that I got to claim an official reason, as did all the other death workers on the scene. All of us thought about our mortality and our immortality.
North beach of Seneca Lake (4x5 Crown Graphic)
In 1976 I left the Times. I thought I would go back to college and get my four-year degree. I had plenty of credits from three places and an two-year degree. I figured the University of Kansas would be a good place. It was within reach of home in Nebraska and had a good reputation. I didn't realize that I would spend a year, drop out into other life and not finish a BS for another 15 years.
At the Journal-World I did some part-time photo work as I took classes at the University of Kansas. Some game photos and a number of feature-story photos. Something to keep my hand in.
In the meantime I also took bartending classes and tended bar in Lawrence and in Kansas City at the Royal's Baseball Stadium in the Stadium Club on game day. This led to the next jump in occupations. The school owners remembered me from training and offered me a job as a school administrator. Little did I realize what a people mill the place was. They kept losing employees. It should have clued me in.
A Few Old Clips
This was one of the early stories I wrote and photographed after I left WGVA and joined the Geneva Times. The story was about hunters shooting at the farmer's livestock. The farmer called me. The picture was taken in the farmer's butcher shop on his farm. What I didn't notice at the time was that my picture had a deer carcass in the background, along with the livestock. Butchering wild game alonfside domestic animals is a health violation. The local game warden had been after the farmer for some time for this but could never catch him. Then the game warden saw the picture. He and the farmer had been at each other since they were in school and now one of them had evidence on the other, right on the front page of the paper's second section. It was not until some months later when I learned what happened from an angry farmer. The health-code violation cost him $10,000.
21 year-old Daniel Ed Jones murdered his mother and his three young sisters. Three members of his family survived. They were not there. His father, Lane Jones, was in Ithaca at the time and returned before the bodies were taken away. A brother, Robert, lived in Ithaca. A sister, Kathleen, lived in Canada.
After killing the four in the home Daniel Ed Jones set a fire in the house then walked to the neighbors announcing to them that he had just killed his mother and sisters and to call the fire department. Then he sat outside on a rock waiting for the sheriff. Much later, the deputies would express pity for him. Clearly not sane, Daniel was naked and coating himself with his own excrement, in the jail cell, they told me.
Gertrude Jones was 44, Mary was 17, Theresa was 8 and Sandra was 7. Daniel had been home on a weekend pass as a patient at Willard Psychiatric Center. He was on enough Thorazine to keep a horse calm, yet at some point his meds lost their hold. He grabbed a 22 cal. semi-automatic rifle and shot everyone in the house. There was never a "reason" other than his own disturbed condition.
Most of the firefighters were in the volunteer companies in the county. As much as I disdained police scanners, and still do I admit, I realized they were important to keep track of what these volunteers did. Coverage was not merely news, it was recognition of jobs well done on the part of firefighters, EMTs and police. So I bought and used a scanner, making my own antenna which gave me coverage across the county. I found that making sure I identified the firefighters was always appreciated the next day when they would see their picture and their names in the cutline.
I never used a flash on my cameras on a fire. The first time I tried that at a fire there was so much smoke I realized that all the flash did was to light the smoke and obsure the fire and any building. Besides, the "natural" light from the fires was usually more than enough.
I used my favorite cameras, my Leica M3 rangefinders and my Mamiya C33 twin lens reflex at long and medium-close distances but put them away for protection when I got closer. For that I used my Nikonos underwater camera. There was always a lot of water splash coming back from the fires along with charred material. The Nikonos proved just about perfect for medium to close usage. It was very simple, built like a truck and could be handled and set even with mittens.
I find myself frustrated that four decades after writing this story, and many more on the subject of flood-plain maps, there is still little knowledge of the program and the few stories I run into today treat flood-plain declarations as a new idea. From the start, the federal government sought to find a way to discourage the number of humans and materials building and occupying lands which stood a good chance of being flooded.
It didn't forbid building in flood-prone areas but made it costlier for those building in these areas in terms of higher insurance and just by letting new land purchasers know that there were risks for building in certain areas. It seemed reasonable. Even so, with such a large program, the new maps had their share of errors, such as this one in the village of Lodi, NY.
Just another derailment. They are not that common but they are common enough that the railroads have their methods for putting trains back on the track. Huge D-8 Caterpillar tractors with cranes on the side, called "sidewinders" are worked with a delicate touch you might reserve for a ballet dancer. Much later I would write internet code for American Crane which sold third-party Caterpillar parts across the world.
Purely by chance I had shot some scenes along Seneca Lake the week before a large storm rolled through Seneca county. In covering the aftermath of the storm I came back to this pier and realized I could make a direct comparison. The shot on the right shows what was left. It made a nice pair to run across the top of the page. Both of these shots were taken with my 6x6 cm Mamiya C33 twin lens reflex, one of my all-time favorite cameras. I still have it and occasionally use it, even though I am now digital.
This was one of the few times I ever found any use for my CB radio in the car. And it was used by the police (not me) who were able to contact George Oberle out in his boat and guide him back. I know some of you love CB, but I could never get into it. It always seemed kind of dumb although I remember the ads when CB first come on the scene. Usually with an artist's drawing showing an heroic rescue using a CB radio. Mostly people just said things like, "How yuh readin' me?" "Oh, uh-bowt five by five" and of course "10-4." Today you can laugh but cell phones were a couple of decades in the future.
I was the only reporter who both shot and developed his own film. I kept trying to get a job as photographer but usually those spots were filled and I wound up writing mostly and shooting a little. Still, there were a number of subject which I simply sent in as a photo and a cutline.
In the middle is a gasoline-tank replacement because the old tank leaked causing and environmental problem. That paired-worker image is shot with a Leica rangefinder with a 35mm F/2 Summicron. Not the widest lens in the world but one I went just about everywhere with. I really loved that combo. A small, dependable camera and a near perfect lens. Not showy at all and if you didn't know what I was shooting with you might think it was just a cheap camera. Some did and I never corrected them. About ten years later I got my first 20mm lens and was a committed wide-angle shooter ever after. Today I would have used my 11 mm on that shot.
Thom Lamond, at left in the left-hand picture was one of our reporters and also an Anglican priest in a parish on Seneca Lake. He was doing a series on jobs in this picture. Here he is shadowing a teacher in a local high school. I was shooting his day as a teacher. (Geneva Times)
In the upper right Alice De Pasquale is just hearing that her husband, Daniel, the democrat candidate, won election for Seneca County judge. It had been a very dirty campaign, so I thought then, and it was, for then. Today I'm sure it would be much worse. (Geneva Times)
And right below is a shot for an article in the Lawrence Journal World about a production of Rashomon. The stage was dark so I had a couple of people with hand-held small movie flood move around the stage as the actors moved through their routines.
When I left the Geneva Times to finish school (didn't finish then) I got part-time work with the Lawrence Journal world as a shooter. The body at right was a student in my dorm. I headed down to the floor and knocked on a door. The couple inside were in bed but let me shoot out their window.