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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2011-10-14

INTERN DIARIES: The Moline Dispatch & Rock Island Argus
Life and near death experiences

By Brooks Canaday, Boston College

Photo by Brooks Canaday

Photo by Brooks Canaday

Ariana Webb, 6, of Moline, IL is cornered by goats in the petting zoo at the Rock Island County Fair in East Moline, IL on Saturday, July 23. Webb was unharmed by the goats.
Just over a week after I graduated from Boston University I found myself kneeling in a children’s pool with an irate, finger paint-covered kitten being artistically placed on a piece of canvas by a shelter worker. “Kitty Pawprint Painting” to raise money for shelter animals was my first assignment at the Moline Dispatch & Rock Island Argus and it marked one extreme of the emotional spectrum of the hundreds of assignments I would cover in my three months in the Quad Cities. From the lighthearted to the tragic, the historical to the pedestrian, I was privy to situations I never could have imagined at past internships and in class. It was the craziest summer of my life.

I have always been a New Englander and was pleasantly surprised that I could navigate the new world of the Midwest. I quickly found that it was not all cornfields and tractors, though they do play a integral role in the region. On days off I explored cragged state forests, made friends with local college students and drove for hours on long, straight roads flanked by hundred-car freight trains laden with corn syrup.

The Quad Cities encompass two cities each in Iowa and Illinois and its border location allowed for some bi-state adventures that would be impossible elsewhere. The Quad Cities are small enough that I got very familiar in my brief stay.

The Dispatch or Argus as it is known depending on which city you’re from (they used to be separate papers but merged less than five years ago) is a 50,000circulation paper with a full-time photo staff of six journalists, some of whom have worked there for decades.

From my first day, I was treated as though I'd been there for years. I could always get a second opinion on an edit or an informed take on an upcoming assignment and I felt that my younger, less experienced opinions were valued. My editor, Todd Mizener, was exactly the kind of stalwart representative a young photojournalist hopes for. No matter the issue or the time of day, Todd would have an answer, and as I worked the late shift, I frequently called at strange hours with strange issues. If I had a strong feature with no place on the page, he'd make sure it fit. I could always get a second opinion on an edit or an informed take on an upcoming assignment and I felt that my younger, less experienced opinions were valued. My editor, Todd Mizener, was exactly the kind of stalwart representative a young photojournalist hopes for. No matter the issue or the time of day, Todd would have an answer, and as I worked the late shift, I frequently called at strange hours with strange issues. If I had a strong feature with no place on the page, he'd make sure it fit.

Throughout the newsroom I sensed a respect for visual journalism that imbued my work with an added sense of pride and purpose. The Quad Cities are blessed with two newspapers with overlapping coverage and I was proud that wherever I went subjects told me, “That's my paper!” or “I read the Dispatch every day, thank you!” This direct feedback and audience was refreshing after semesters of telling subjects “this is for my website” or “this is for my photojournalism class” and that in all likelihood, the audience was my parents and photojournalism friends. I was working for something greater than my own advancement and I felt strongly that I was making, not just “taking,” images.

Among the most powerful lessons I took away from my internship is “know your assignment.” While part of the fun of being a daily news photographer is the excitement of the unknown, it is irritating to show up for a vague assignment with no clue whether it's an event or a lit portrait. Over time, I got better at seeking out the assigning writer and learning as much as I could before I figured the story out on the fly. Other Dispatch photographers proved a vital resource, as they had often covered my assigned stories multiple times. By knowing what to expect, I could find my “safe” shots and move on to make more creative, personalized images that often ended up running.

Being informed before an assignment also opened doors that I would not have even been aware of had I gone in with just the story name and the stark words “need pictures for package” on an assignment sheet. I covered a horse-pulling competition and because of what I had learned from showing up early and talking with participants, I was able to get permission to mount a remote camera on the weight sled during competition and make a picture I would not have without learning about the sport.

Photo by Todd Mizener/The Moline Dispatch

Photo by Todd Mizener/The Moline Dispatch

Brooks Canaday hugs girlfriend Laura DeBenedetto as she arrives on the scene after Mr. Canaday was involved in a serious accident on Interstate 74 just north of Kimberly Road in Davenport Friday, July 1, 2011.
My most meaningful picture from my internship, and life thus far, is one in which I was the subject. My girlfriend, recently arrived from the airport, was asleep on my newly constructed Walmart futon as I drove north for a simple golf assignment before spending the rest of the long weekend with her.

As I thought about the great days to come, I spotted something large and black coming at me across the Interstate 74 median. In a frozen moment, I had a surprisingly precise vision of the projectile: a set of double-wide tractor trailer tires had detached from the axle of a southbound semi-trailer at around 65 miles per hour and aligned with my rented Toyota Corolla. -trailer at around 65 miles per hour and aligned with my rented Toyota Corolla.

Without any time to check the right lane, I swerved, calmly thinking “maybe it won't hit me and I'll just keep on driving.” No such luck. The tires struck with ineffable violence and time slowed to a crawl. The airbags exploded as I spun fully around over two hundred feet of empty highway. An almost comical “this is too real to be happening right now” resounded in my head. I came to rest in the right lane and with an adrenaline-fueled reserve of logic, wiggled my fingers and toes, felt my now-deaf left ear for any blood, put on the safety blinkers and stepped out of the car, dazed and confused.

After being cleared by the EMTs I went to assess the damage. The impact ripped the rear axle off, imploded the trunk and ejected most of my equipment onto the road and into the grass beyond the shoulder. Even after destroying my car, the set of truck tires still had enough energy to fly a kilometer or so into the woods. For some reason I had put my most expensive gear next to me in the passenger's seat and it escaped damage. My car was in pieces and I walked away with a ringing ear and a scrape on my arm.

After a texted picture of the totaled car and a quick phone call to announce that I wouldn't be making my morning assignment, Todd Mizener arrived. Just then, my girlfriend, fresh from sleep in one of my shirts, arrived. I have never been happier to see someone in my life. I ran to her and we hugged for a long time. I was aware of Todd's camera but didn't care as he made a photograph that captures it all, from a semi passing in the background to the backed up traffic and the pile of my salvaged belongings. Most of all, he captured our relief and joy at being reunited after what could have been the end.

The next day, “Saved by a swerve: Driver survives attack by flying truck parts” was the second-most read article on the QCOnline website.

A few weeks later I ran into one of the two women who had been directly behind me and stopped after the accident. She told me that the other woman, who had said that she would have been hit if I hadn't, had been with her 2 year-old son driving back from a doctor's appointment where she found out she was 2 months pregnant. I was left with tinnitus, the nickname “Lucky” and the persistent “why am I still here?” curiosity that makes every day even better simply for being there to experience it. I was glad to have taken the hit.

Three days after the accident, I covered recovery efforts for an 11-year-old boy who had drowned in the Mississippi while swimming with friends on the 4th of July. With my own mortality so fresh, it was a staggeringly sad story to cover. was obviously affected by the situation and my empathy was visible.

Nobody told me I was a vulture for being there with a camera. I knew that had my accident ended differently, there would have been a photojournalist there to document the tragedy, and that's the way it has to be. Life comes and goes and it must be recorded. my accident ended differently, there would have been a photojournalist there to document the tragedy, and that's the way it has to be. Life comes and goes and it must be recorded.

I left the Quad Cities with more valuable experiences than I can quantify. I covered two presidential visits, sweated through five long days of PGA golf in 100° heat, had my job threatened by a police lieutenant upset that I had photographed a standoff from my own attic window, pet countless farm animals and was told on more than one occasion, “thank you for being here.”

Above all, I learned that I can rely on myself in difficult situations. On my last night in the Midwest I stood on a starlit porch savoring a final Midwest beer with my friend, neighbor and all-around great person Nelson. After a toast for my departure, he summed up my summer. “I've lived here for three years and you've done more than anyone I know. You've had a hell of a summer.”

My internship would not have been possible without the help of the Dispatch photo staff, including Paul Colletti, Todd Mizener, John Greenwood, Gary Krambeck and Steph Makoski. I can't forget the many long, strange conversation-filled country car rides with reporters Tony Watt, Bill Mayeroff and Lindsay Hocker.


Brooks Canaday is a graduate of Boston University . You can see samples of his work at his Sports Shooter member page: http://www.sportsshooter.com/members.html?id=7163 and at his personal website: http://canadayphoto.com/.

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