Monday, October 28, 2019

Update on Internship and Writing for Entertainment Journalism

We're halfway through the fall quarter and things are chugging along nicely, though I still haven't gotten those pictures of Spider-Man.

What I can say I've done, though, is slogged through a relatively unsatisfying internship to produce a fair bit of content.  Content production is always on my mind, and I like being challenged to write things I haven't written before.  I can honestly say that this internship has solidified my dislike for local, breaking news; I would never want to work for a newspaper.  But it's good practice for a type of reporting I haven't had much experience in, so I guess in that sense, it's valuable.

In the month of October I produced a whooping eight stories, only three of which ran.  They weren't ones I was especially proud of; they covered such topics as a local fundraiser, a pet Halloween contest, and a small fair in Marina del Rey.

By contrast, I wrote two stories I was actually pretty proud of, such as one detailing L.A. County's budget finalization.  But it was deemed not "breaking" enough, even though, in my opinion, it's somewhat more relevant and important to the citizens of Los Angeles than a pet costume contest.

 Actual photo of me on Day 2 of my internship, attempting to get pictures of Spider-Man.

Of my three classes, only one is truly enjoyable, and that's entertainment journalism.  Funnily I thought this would be my least enjoyable class, as I don't really give two shits about entertainment journalism unless it involves comic book news.  But the instructor is a delight and the writing is fairly interesting.  (Comparatively, my other two classes are nightmares; sociology is a nightmare class of intensive and extremely biased work, and media law is also a nightmare class of intensive work, although the instructor is at least not actively trying to convince us that technology is evil.)  (Irony of ironies, the sociology class, taught by a professor who might literally be Jerry Mander in drag, is an online class.)

Anywho, because of the staggering workload of the three classes, plus the internship,  I have had trouble keeping up with this blog, which is why this post sucks.  In lieu of a regular update, find below my (unpublished) article on L.A. county's 2020 budget plan, as well as my entertainment journalism midterm on a guest lecturer.

Los Angeles County Budget Process Concludes with Unanimous Adoption of $36.1 Billion Supplemental Budget

The Los Angeles County budget process concluded in September with County Supervisors unanimously adopting a $36.1 billion supplemental budget for the 2019/2020 fiscal year. The finalization of the supplemental budget is the last phase in Los Angeles County’s annual budget process. Major focuses of the budget fund services to improve child protection, and combat and prevent homelessness, including $72.8 million in Measure H funds to address the homelessness crisis.

The additional funding brings the total Measure H funding for 2019/2020 to $532.8 million. Of the new funding, $4 million is allotted to expand support services to transitional age youth, ages 18 - 24, $3 million is allotted for a Prevention Action Plan to keep people from falling into homelessness, and $2 million is allotted to implement an Eviction Defense and Prevention Program for residents at risk of losing their housing. Additionally, $756,000 is being allocated to deploy a team of nurses from the Department of Public Health, along with outreach workers, to homeless encampments. A safe storage program will be launched with funds of $810,000, providing temporary storage for homeless people’s belongings to allow them to attend medical appointments, including mental health and/or substance abuse treatment. Furthermore, the supplemental budget provides $12.9 million to expand temporary and transitional homeless shelter assistance for families. $5 million is assigned to develop affordable housing within the county, bringing the total annual allocation for affordable housing initiatives to $80 million. Another $1.5 million is being invested in the Backyard Homes Program, which pushes for approved “accessory dwelling units” in some L.A. county neighborhoods.

The Los Angeles Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative, a ten-year plan, was created in 2015 and approved by voters in March of 2017. The ¼ percent increase to the County’s sales tax provides an estimated $355 million per year.

Another focus of the supplemental budget was the enhancement of oversight and quality within the child protection service. Los Angeles county has the largest child protection service in the nation, serving 34,000 children, according to NPR. The budget issues $4.4 million for the expansion of quality improvement teams within the Department of Children and Family Services to conduct case reviews and provide performance oversight to case workers as well as creation of a new service bureau to strengthen the oversight of 19 regional offices. $10.6 million and 87 positions are expanding Department of Health Services Medical Hubs, and another $7.1 million is establishing 50 student well-being centers across the County, with an emphasis on substance abuse prevention services. $4.2 million is provided for the Emergency Childcare Bridge program, which provides emergency childcare services for children in foster care. $7.6 million is dedicated to provide transportation for foster children to their school of origin. $1.7 million is allotted to support services for children who are victims or at risk of becoming victims of sex trafficking.

Health and social services are the two largest portions of the county budget, with judicial services and facilities representing the third largest category of spending. Major budget investments for law and justice services includes $11.4 million for the phase-out pepper spray from juvenile institutions. The 2019/2020 budget also establishes an Office of Violence Prevention.

On the environmental front, the budget will reserve $285.3 million in Measure W revenues to fund projects and programs to increase stormwater capture and reduce runoff pollution.

The 2019-2020 recommended county budget detailed in an April suggested operating costs would total $32.5 billion. A motion by County Supervisors Hilda L. Solis and Sheila Kuehl to develop and implement a deficit mitigation plan was approved; the motion included a hiring freeze on non-critical civilian positions and placed $143.7 million of the Sheriff’s budget into a special provisional budget to be made available to the department as needed.

"But it's an important visual aid!" I protested. 
"No, Tony.  We're not running the meme," replied my editor, with an inexplicable weariness.

For L.A. Entertainment Reporter Amanda Salas, Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Amanda Salas’s beret is the same red as the carpets she’s been covering for 11 years, and it covers her head for only half of the lecture before she discards it.

“People won’t pity you if you have confidence,” she says shortly after dropping it onto a table. Salas had her last round of chemotherapy 10 days ago. Despite this, she is vivacious and energetic as she speaks about her journey. Upon entering the class, she discovers that one of the students is Italian and launches into a volley of what sounds like, to my untrained ear, fluent dialect. This sets the stage for the rest of her presentation; Salas is full of surprises, quips, puns, and warm-hearted anecdotes.

“What does an entertainment reporter do when she gets cancer? ...she entertains,” she says light-heartedly. An entertainment reporter Good Day L.A., Salas is currently on hiatus as she fights non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a lymphatic cancer that targets white blood cells. She shared her story over the course of an hour, never sitting and usually smiling.

Salas always knew she wanted to go into entertainment. At a Las Vegas high school, she focused her studies on theater and journalism, moving to Los Angeles at the age of 18 to attend Cal State Long Beach. As a senior, she attended an audition for the host of “The Juice,” an Orange County Register WebTV series. She attributes her callback and subsequent job offer to the pun she came up with on the spot to headline a story about Christina Aguilera’s recent birth: “Looks like this genie in a bottle is a genie with a bottle.”

Salas’s love of puns earned her the title of female championship of Brooklyn’s “Punderdome,” where she competed under the stage name “Puns of Steel.” Self-described as a “punsultant,” Salas has the energy and tenacity of a terrier, strutting around the room in black, thigh-high boots as she fondly recalls “11 years of pure Hollywood hustle.” Periodically, she breaks into song; her confidence and effervescence are palpable as she speaks of a decade of fast-paced, intrepid entertainment journalism.

“I went to London, I went to Toronto... and then I went to the doctor’s,” she says. Her tone veers suddenly, becoming softer and more serious, catching the attention of her audience.

One Monday, at the age of 34, Salas went to the doctor with a lump on her chest. She had a biopsy on Tuesday and, by Friday, was on her first round of chemotherapy to battle non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Her hair began falling out the following week. Salas’s life had just taken an abrupt detour; she was forced to leave work for four months as she battled cancer.

But just because she had to take time off professionally didn’t mean she had any intention of becoming sedentary. “I’m the story; I become the story now,” she recalls. After over a decade of reporting, Salas was not content to remain at home without producing something valuable.

“I tied my two passions together - entertainment and puns,” she says. “I use my platform… to help other people. I made a promise when I was in the hospital. I said, ‘God, if you get me through this, I promise that I will help somebody else.’”

Armed with a fierce sense of humor and buoyant personality, Salas used her connections to Fox television stations to shoot a story showing the “real” side of cancer, putting her own outgoing spin on it. The coverage of her “buzz party” (a party to shave away her hair, complete with tequila shots) garnered over 5 million views on Facebook, and gained her over 21,000 followers on Instagram. “Nothing makes you feel prouder than people following you for you,” says Salas. In a moment of uncharacteristic seriousness, her voice breaks a little when she described the 70 - 80 messages she receives a day from people thanking her or asking for advice with regards to their own battles with cancer. On Twitter and Facebook, Salas’s boundless energy pokes gentle fun at her experiences with song parodies and wordplay while working to undermine the stigma of battling cancer.

Having completed her sixth and final round of chemotherapy, Salas plans to return to work in 2020 “so much more enlightened.” She says that her diagnosis and subsequent battle have given her a newfound appreciation for life, and that she has worked to “turn my mess into a message.” Below her ever-present vigor are small signs of the way cancer has altered and pervaded her life. A lime-green lymphoma awareness bracelet on her left wrist clashes terribly with her black ensemble and rose-colored eyeshadow.

In response to a question about whether her relationships have changed, Salas gave an unequivocal “yes.” Getting a cancer diagnosis led her to discover who her real friends were, and “tightened” her circle of friends and her network of emotional support. But Salas sees this as a good thing. She says fighting cancer has forced her to take stock of her life, to slow down and learn to appreciate it more. She describes the support she’s received in the form of flowers, cards, and even a photo shoot. Although the cancer itself is “ugly,” she never lingers on the negative for long.

“It’s not what happens to you,” said Salas, “but how you handle it.”

 "Soon it'll all okay," indeed.

Note: you can follow Amanda's story here.  She is a truly remarkable person.

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