Long, but rewarding, day

I had the privilege today of working with a great crew of journalists for the Naval Academy graduation.

This was my fourth or fifth graduation. It’s always a long and hot and brutal day — and most years are just like the others — but it’s a fun challenge to tell a good story and to do it quickly. We have to report and shoot and write on the fly, pushing all the way until our deadline to get the most we can in the same day’s paper.

First, I’ll share some links to our same-day coverage of the event. (We’ll have a follow-up story tomorrow.)

Photographers Joshua McKerrow and Paul W. Gillespie at Naval Academy commissioning, photo by multimedia journalist and environment reporter Pamela Wood.
Half of "Team Capital" for the 2011 Navy graduation: photographers Joshua McKerrow, left, and Paul W. Gillespie.

Story by me and Naval Academy beat writer Earl Kelly.

Photo slideshow by photographer Joshua McKerrow.

Video by photographer Paul W. Gillespie.

Here’s a little bit about how the day works.

At 6:45 a.m., (OK … it was more like 6:48 a.m.) I met up with Josh at The Capital newsroom, so we could head over to the stadium by 7 a.m.

As he went to check in, I traipsed around the parking lot, interviewing families hosting tailgate parties before graduation. Yes, Navy people tailgate at graduation. I was offered a mimosa, but of course, I politely declined.

At 7:30, I headed to the stadium to check in. There was some brief trouble with some contraband items I had — water bottles and granola bars — that I had to leave behind. Luckily, Paul pulled up right then, so I stashed my snacks in his car.

Once I got inside, I pulled out my iPhone and bluetooth keyboard and typed up my quotes and stories from the family members. I e-mailed them to Earl shortly after 8 a.m.

Meanwhile, Earl had been interviewing the soon-to-graduate midshipmen.

At 8:20, we had a mandatory briefing with the Naval Academy public affairs staff, who shared all the dos and don’ts of graduation.

From 8:30 until about 9:30, Earl and I patched together our story on a laptop and sent it off to the editors in time for the 9:45 a.m. drop-dead deadline.

That’s right — we filed a story about graduation before graduation even began.

Naval Academy graduation starts at 10 on the dot, with the keynote speech at about 10:20 a.m. The keynote speaker is always a bigwig, such as the president, vice president, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or, as we had this year, the secretary of defense.

In the good ol’ days, when our newspaper still ran its own presses, we’d rush-rush-rush to get highlights of the speech into our story.

One year, that meant Earl and I took turns listening to the speech, then calling back quotes to the newsroom. Some poor soul in the newsroom had to make sense of it all and plug it into the story in a coherent way. (This was before we had laptops with reliable internet connections … and before I had a smart phone.)

Same-day coverage of Navy graduation on the front page of the newspaper.

Nowadays, we have an earlier deadline and less flexibility for changing press schedules because our paper is printed by another company. So that means a speech-less story.

So, back to the graduation.

We listened intently to the speech, both taking notes. Once it was done, I started typing up information from the lesser speakers and Earl worked on the speech from SECDEF (as they call him). I also typed up key quotes from the secretary and emailed them over.

It takes something like an hour to go through the group swearing-in and the naming of all graduates. That gave us time to regroup and work on our notes and bake in the sun.

The internet connection got a little squirrely, so we didn’t get our second story on the speech done on site. But before we knew it, graduation was wrapping up, running ahead of schedule this year.

After the big “hip-hip-hooray” and hat toss, the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium erupted into chaos.

Small children scrambled to get ahold of hats, which often have money tucked in them for good luck. Relatives swarmed the field to meet up with their graduates and pin their new officer’s shoulder boards (epaulets?) on them. Everyone wanted to take everyone else’s picture.

Earl met up with a local graduate to witness his ceremonial pinning, while I interviewed people about the speeches.

Then, I fought through the crowds and met up with the crew back at the car. We headed back to the newsroom, where Earl and I wrote and edited our second story, Josh edited his photos, Paul edited his videos.

And — as always, it seems — a little bit of news broke in the afternoon as we got all this done. The commanding officer of the Blue Angels asked to be reassigned after a big mishap during a show last weekend. (The mishap led to the cancellation of the Blue Angels’ annual Annapolis show and flyover of graduation — so this was a big deal.)

So there I was, churning out a quick breaking news story while wrapping up all the graduation coverage.

To be sure, that is a long day. And I got sunburned, despite repeated applications of sunscreen.

But it’s all worth it. This is a story that matters. More than 1,000 midshipmen graduated today and in short order, many of them will be serving overseas in places like Afghanistan.

Sure, it’s a graduation celebration, but it’s also a reminder that real men and women are going into harm’s way for our country. Whether you like our country’s military decisions or not, that’s an important thing to remember.

Going into Memorial Day weekend, I’d much rather write about our new Navy and Marine Corps officers than Bay Bridge traffic or gas prices or crab prices. And I’m glad I get to do it with a great team. Hip-hip-hooray!

Hat toss at Naval Academy commissioning, photo by multimedia journalist and environment reporter Pamela Wood.
Hip-hip-hooray! The hat toss marks the end of the Naval Academy graduation and commissioning ceremony

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