Hurry Up and Wait

Jonathon Gruenke is currently a photographer at the Kalamazoo Gazette. After graduating Central Michigan University in 2006 with a major in journalism and Broadcasting and Cinematic Arts, Gruenke interned at the Saginaw Daily News and then the Kalamazoo Gazette. There was an opening at the end of his internship, so he applied and got a job as a photographer and has been working there ever since. The Kalamazoo Gazette is a daily newspaper that is printed out of Grand Rapids.

Jonathon Gruenke shoots airboats cleaning up oil in Morrow Lake in Kalamazoo Thursday afternoon.

I job shadowed Gruenke last Thursday. We covered two of his assignments. The first was a continuation of a project he has been working on for over a year. There was an oil spill in nearby Marshal. The oil spread down river to a recreational lake in Kalamazoo.  Recently, Gruenke went up in a helicopter to get aerial views of the clean up process. Thursday we went out trying to get the close-up ground views of the process. The problem: the company doesn’t like pictures being taken. Went around for two hours trying to find an area that had a good view of the work and that wasn’t been blocked off by the company. We finally found a place on the other side of the lake that was property owned by the city. We were shooting there for approximately 15 minutes before a boat came up and told us this was private property and that we had to leave at which point Gruenke and the man, who refused to give his name, argued.  Gruenke got the shot he needed so we left after they did.

An Airboat cleans cleans up oil in Morrow Lake in Kalamazoo a year after the initial spill.

An excavator digs into the ground to stir up oil that has settled into the dirt beneath the lake and an airboat moves around to catch up the oil.

The second assignment I went to with Gruenke was the Kalamazoo Central High School football game against Loy Norrix.

I learned a lot from Gruenke. Not so much the technical aspects like editing photos but more of what I guess you would call real world application. I learned that you can’t just expect things to work out or not work out. He had been told multiple times that he shouldn’t be shooting the area where the oil spill occurred but he was persistent and got the job done. I also learned that this profession isn’t always glamorous (which I knew but had never really experienced before). Waiting two hours in a buggy area on hot, humid day just to get a shot of an excavator is not exactly a highlight of the photojournalism career field. We also got yelled at. It may have been my first time but I know it won’t be my last.  It was a good experience to see how to handle the situation.

The best part for me was actually in the news room.  Gruenke and his photo editor met with the editor and the page designer to decide which photos would be best for the story. The idea to do a follow up story a year later on the effects and continuing clean up of the oil spill was Gruenke’s idea. He took the initiative to go up in the helicopter, presented the idea to his editor, and made something out of it. The end result was a photo package in the Sunday paper and an online photo gallery.  I loved being able to see the process a photographer has to go through to get his own ideas shown. It was also nice to see that it’s not just getting handed out assignments but also generating your own.

Persistence is mostly what I’m taking away from this. You can’t just give up on something because it’s too difficult or someone tells you no. There is always a way to work it out but it’s going to take work and you can’t give up on it. Beside that Gruenke other words of advice was to shoot. Shoot everything and anything. The more you shoot the better you get. So go out and shoot!

The one thing that stood out to me that can’t be covered in a classroom is how the news industry has dropped. Yes every professor will tell you that it’s a dying industry and that jobs are few and far between but until I saw it for myself I didn’t really comprehend it. The Kalamazoo Gazette has a beautiful office with a fully functioning printing press that is no longer in use. The printing machine is to be broken down and sold for parts and the office building is to be sold because it is just too big of a building for the few people that work there. At the same time, it showed the industry is not dead. If I work hard to become the best then there will still be jobs out there I’m just going to have to work hard for them.


4 thoughts on “Hurry Up and Wait

  1. Kaitlin,

    I’m bummed you got the boot from your first assignment covering the oil spill. Those things happen! Would have been cool to see what you could have captured if given access to the site 🙂 Does Jonathon shoot Nikon? Would have been sweet to borrow his zoom to snag some variety. I have to agree with you that the best part of the job shadow would have to be the newsroom. Getting to meet the editors, top guns and not to mention the other photographers who you can talk to and collaborate with. So awesome. Also, it seems like a lot of people got to cover football this weekend, I guess it tis the season! Your eye is in the right place when it comes to shooting sports from what I can see but the technical aspect still needs some work. Both shots seemed to be back focused but fear not because there is a solution! When I first started shooting football I had the same problem with my focusing habits until the fabulous Sean Proctor gave me the tip to shoot on ‘continuous mode’ at fast times like these. I look forward to seeing what you produce this semester and i hope we get to shoot a game together this semester too.

  2. Kaitlin, i think it is really interesting that you were able to be there when he meet with the photo editor and page designer. This is an interesting relationship that can also not be taught in a class room. I love that he took the time and effort to even go up into a helicopter for the coverage. Does the Sunday paper often run a photo page or was this a special occasion because of Gruenke’s work? I think it was also neat that you ran into private/public land law issues. Did you find out whether it was actually private land? Waited 2 hours wow that is a lot of patience.

  3. Katie,

    You know as horrible as this is to say I’m glad you got the experience of being yelled at. It’s a good lesson for future. You now have an idea of how to handle yourself as a professional in that type of situation. For waiting two hours in a bug infested spot for a machine to go by I give you props, you got the shot, and your patience paid off. I’m proud of you 422 buddy! You had quite the experience, and you rocked it!

  4. This is a pretty cool opportunity. Not many kids get to go shoot off-limit things. I love the lesson of persistence, it really is true. That’s a lesson people don’t really seem to tell you, you just kind of have to figure out that this is the way the world works.
    The bit about the printing machine makes me a little sad, but it is inspirational. I think it’s great that instead of being discouraged, you seem to show your will to become great.

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