Wow.

It’s been almost a year since I last posted. Oh, how time has escaped me.

I’ll be updating this blog more often now. Could I make it up to you if I showed beautiful photos of Oahu and Kauai?

Well then… we’ve struck a deal.

Oahu tree

Perhaps the most intriguing and resplendent tree specimen in Oahu.

North shores of Oahu

A coastline cemented in my memory.

Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay, settling into the afternoon.

Mountains behind Hanalei Bay

A mountain/beach fusion.

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Waimea Canyon in Kauai, drenched in dryness and mist.

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The Na Pali coast.


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Innumerable shells, posing as sand.

Sealodge Beach

An onlooker’s attention — broken.

Photos copyright M. English/2012

Madison has some rather lovely trees.

After the move from Madison back to my home state (Georgia), I realized how much I already missed Wisconsin. Its trees, lakes, green space, prairies, wetlands and wildlife have left a permanent mark on me. It’s strange how a place can create such an appreciation of life.

While up there, I took quite a few photos, but here are some of my favorites.

A day of strawberry picking.

Devil’s Lake in its fall peacefulness.

Enjoying an evening on Lake Mendota.

Walking toward town near Lake Monona — it’s completely frozen and covered in snow on the right.

How could I forget Picnic Point?

Georgia’s outdoor space is also breathtaking, but I have to drive a bit farther to get to it. After the move, we took a trip to the north Georgia mountains for some downtime.

Anna Ruby Falls in a mild Georgia winter.

For 2012: Here’s to a continued appreciation of the world, even amid transitions.

Photos copyright M. English, 2011-2012


Photo by westpark/Flickr.com

Here’s the PSA I previously promised to link to: A video for the Madison Dental Initiative.

Although whooping cranes are still endangered, the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wis., has worked to help the species bounce back.

Below is a video I produced on the foundation. Enjoy!

Photo by [martin]/Flickr.com

Right now, I’m in the final stages of producing a public service announcement for a class at UW (disclosure: the project is unrelated to any topics I’ve written about locally in Madison).

I chose to shoot a video for the Madison Dental Initiative, a non-profit in town that provides dental services to Madison’s homeless population.

I’ll link to the video once it’s finished, but I thought I’d share what I learned so far. It took me a while to think in more “PSA-friendly” mindset. I’ve also had the entire fall to sit on the idea and carefully craft a message — a luxury I wish I had for other projects.

Here are some tips I’ve gathered over the past few months:

  • Know the psychographic details of your audience
  • Give people a problem to act on (increasing awareness isn’t useful unless you suggest a course of action)
  • Your message should be simple enough to summarize in a short sentence
  • Suggest a tag line (I helped MDI come up with “Give back, one smile at a time”)
  • Think about whether the PSA will be featured on TV, radio or online media (typically online can be longer — more than one minute or so).

UW’s Patty Loew, who leads the class, showed us a PSA I thought was very effective (and it generally follows the tips above).

Let’s face it: I’ve neglected to write for the ear.

Limiting myself to print and online writing mostly, I never realized how strange my work sounds when read aloud. Last week while producing a radio piece for WORT, a community-based radio station here in Madison, it became perfectly clear that I had to change my writing style to make things work.

The piece focused on Wisconsin’s Sporting Heritage Bill. Click here to listen (Move the cursor to 17 minutes in to listen to my segment).

If I can share one thing I’ve learned so far, it’s this: Economy of words is key.

News stories entirely suitable for print or online can sound like a jumbled mess on air. Take whatever you wrote and parse it in half; avoid strange alliterations; choose the most simple, short words. Pacing matters too, and it’s likely something I’ll have to get the hang of in future radio pieces.

I also didn’t realize the importance of speaking with confidence — I’ve grown comfortble hiding behind the printed word, not reading it to listeners with style.

But there’s certainly hope for this reporter, including online resources and helpful colleagues. I found Michael Meckler’s website on radio reporting useful. Also, having a really patient, experienced person to work with (WORT’s Molly Stentz) helps as well.

Happy listening!

Photo by Ross Murray/Flickr.com

Being relatively new to Wisconsin means I can still act like a tourist when I visit places for the first time. Case in point: The Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds, Wis.

Of course, I decided to take my handy camera. I initially thought shooting with little light would be difficult, but the cave had lighting that seemed to facilitate photo opportunities (for tourism purposes, I’m sure). Most of these shots were taken without flash. Some did turn out blurry, though, which serves as a reminder that I need to take more next time.

The rocks that form the cavern of the cave date back to 400 million years ago. Scientists say the cave itself may have formed roughly 1 million years ago.

Good ole’ Ebenezer Brigham, Wisconsin’s first white settler, discovered the cave while removing limestone from the area in the late 1930s.

Did I mention that part of the cave trails beneath the local highway? What a strange feeling to imagine cars flying by overhead when you’re down there.

Rock structures called stalactites and stalagmites formed by dripping water that entered through a crack in the ceiling. Over time, the droplets deposit minerals where they drip from and where the droplets land, creating these rock structures.

Then I headed over to Mt. Horeb, Wis., to revisit some troll buddies I saw this summer with a friend. The town’s reputation as the troll capital of the world comes from settlers’ Scandinavian roots and one store’s tradition of placing trolls outside to attract visitors. Soon after, other businesses began putting trolls outside to draw attention to their places, especially after a competing highway threatened to remove steady traffic into the town.

There’s nothing like enjoying a sunset with a troll statue and fried cheese curds.

Photos copyright Marianne English, 2011.

Many topics seemed blog-worthy this week, so maybe it would be a better idea to highlight a few links I looked at.

  • Wisconsin’s gun deer hunt kicked off this weekend, a topic tied to a radio piece I plan to produce on the state’s Sporting Heritage Bill.
  • Health news guru Gary Schwitzer cautions against hype about a new stem cell treatment and cautions to never (yes, never) use the word “breakthrough.”
  • My colleague in the pro-track program, Emily Eggleston, wrote a great post about expectations of journalistic objectivity in today’s media climate. Check it out here.
  • Ouch. The AP scolds its reporters against disseminating information about their arrests while covering the Occupy movement. Apparently, the problem is the news getting out by individuals before the organization has time to put it on the wire.
  • Yes — there’s actually a press release titled, “Secrets to the best foie gras.” I’m a bit surprised there’s no mention of how controversial foie gras production is. Just an observation, though. Not sure if the push was for Turkey Day or not.
  • Discovery News‘ Jorge Ribas produced an interesting video about a museum that’s beefing up its interactivity (Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to the website).

Photo by rubybgold/Flickr.com

A break from writing, at last.

In late September, I joined a large group of Madisonians to learn about history on a rainy Sunday. We met while attending an archaeology tour of Madison’s Picnic Point, a historical peninsula that juts into Lake Mendota. I took loads of photos, audio and ambient sounds. The point was really beautiful that day, especially with droplets of rain clinging to the fall foliage. I enjoyed the tour, which was led by the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Amy Rosebrough. I also had a nice time getting to know people in the group.

Today, Madison.com published the project for a wider audience to see. Below are a few shots that didn’t make it into the show.

This lonesome feather was begging to be photographed.

This amphibian hopped across the path between bouts of intense sun and rain that day.

Plans are finally under way to create a more park-like area at the tip of the peninsula. Other plans to create an amphitheater-style atmosphere near Picnic Point’s first fire pit drew controversy early on. I’m not sure where that plan stands. I’m also uncertain how people feel about the new park area currently under construction.

People care about Picnic Point because of its deep history. Wisconsin’s native people groups stayed there and even used the land to create sacred burial mounds (some remain roped off today). Settlers in the 1860s used the space as a “modest recreation area,” where boaters and campers relished in good company. The peninsula served as a farmstead and private land as well, at least until the university purchased it in 1939.

Personally, I think Edward Young, a previous owner of the land, says it best: “God made the land there for people to enjoy.”

(Photos copyright Marianne English, 2011)

Video has consumed my life lately.

What works? How do you tug at the hearts of viewers without overwhelming them? What are good ways to engage an audience? How do you interview subjects about sensitive topics? What are the best ways to avoid clich├ęs?

I’m still improving my technical skills, but I’ve found it easier to envision the stories I want to tell and how I want to tell them. One video, “Penny’s Heart,” serves as an excellent example to draw from. I originally saw the video on NPR’s website last year and was deeply touched by it.

In a sense, the producers framed the story almost like a PSA. They drew attention to a serious issue, put a face to a statistic and led the viewer to action (organ donation).

Despite its literal call to action, there’s more to it.

Maybe it’s a call to live life more fully. Or a chance to view one person’s disaster as another’s miracle. Either way, it makes you think. It makes you feel.

Grab the tissues.

Penny’s Heart was produced by Lukas Korver.

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About Me

Marianne is a science communicator working in Madison, Wis.

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