Talk radio

July 27, 2008

This was a really exciting week at the Zoo – I got to record a radio interview with an animal keeper in Beaver Valley!

The reporter for Metro Talk on 3WT comes out once a month to do a short piece on a new animal or happening at the Zoo. When he came out last month, I accompanied him and FONZ’s media relations manager to the Reptile Discovery Center to record an interview about green tree pythons. Through the course of the afternoon he offered me the opportunity to conduct his next interview.

Sloth bear – Hana

Not only was I allowed to conduct the interview, but I was even asked to pick the animal or topic to be featured. After looking through the archives of the past interviews and thinking about any up-coming events or happenings that the Zoo might want to promote I decided on the gray seals. There hadn’t been an interview about them (or any animal in Beaver Valley) for quite awhile and they could provide good background sounds between vocalizations and splashing. Plus, they have an interesting story coming from the U.S. Navy marine mammal program and they are really very cool animals.

Once the topic was decided, I needed to contact the keepers in Beaver Valley, where the gray seals live, and see if any of them would be willing to talk with me on the radio. Once that was decided there were timing logistics to work out and talking points/questions to be written. I compiled some facts about gray seals in general, the Zoo’s two gray seals, Gunnar and Selkie, and ocean conservation and sent them to the animal keepers to look over both for their own preparation and to ensure that all of my facts were correct.

On Wednesday, the day the interview was to take place I wasn’t nervous until we actually arrived at Beaver Valley and were introduced to Gunnar and Selkie. But, the interview went well – the animal keeper, Tina Scott, did a great job and made it really easy for me to talk to her and the seals cooperated by making the appropriate splashes and vocalizations in the background.

You can hear the interview on 107.7 FM, 3WT’s Metro Talk, on Sunday morning at 11.

Besides the radio interview I spent a lot of time writing this week. I continued to work on the calendar captions and the short animal pieces for the upcoming issue of ZooGoer . I also spent some time working on the calendar – making more photo selections, photo editing/cropping, triple-checking the dates of Zoo events and holidays, and selecting from several design options.

Asian small-clawed otters – Min and Asha

For my animal visits this week, I spent some time on Asia Trail. I was able to see a sloth bear feeding demonstration which was pretty cool, especially considering the bears are generally pretty secretive and either not in their yard or hiding from me every time I stop by to say hello.

I also had the opportunity to view the Asian small-clawed otters up close. For the first time in all my visits, the otters were actually staying still as they lounged on the rocks. Normally, I can just catch a glimpse as they scamper back-and-forth across their exhibit yard. This time, though, the two female otters, Min and Asha, were being extremely cooperative and photogenic for me.

Lastly, I stopped by the red panda yard to see Wicket and Shama, the brother and sister who have recently joined the Zoo community. I think the red pandas are so cool-looking with their super fluffy fur that is split in half – red on top and black on the bottom. They have these big bushy tails and the most endearing faces, but they are like the sloth bears and they run away if they catch me watching them, especially if I have my camera out.


Happy go lucky

July 18, 2008

This week at FONZ was full of assignments, but since none of them had particularly pressing deadlines, it felt like a nice, laid-back schedule.

Photo by JESSIE COHEN/National Zoo Photographer
Eyelash palm pitviper

I finished up my animal profiles for the Reptile Discovery Center section of the Web site. As I mentioned before, snakes and lizards are not exactly my favorite animals (that title belongs to the giant pandas, and the tigers, and the giant anteaters, and the meerkats….), but I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about them through this writing assignment. Did you know that king cobras have enough neurotoxin in one bite to kill 20 people? Or that male Grand Cayman iguanas turn electric blue during mating season? Or that the emperor newt’s orange bumps contain a poison to deter predators? Or that there is a snake that looks like it has eyelashes because of special scales on its face? I could go on and on…

I’ve sent all of my profiles to a keeper at the Reptile Discovery Center to look at and make sure all of the information is correct. Mostly I need her to make sure I didn’t write that a snake was “born” where it should say “hatched” and things of that nature. Maybe I’ll get to go down and meet my subjects in person – yikes!

I’m glad that this opportunity presented itself because if I was given the chance to pick animals to write about, I certainly wouldn’t have picked reptiles and I never would have come to appreciate our scaly friends or learn all these interesting facts.

This week my supervisor and I had another opportunity to visit the photography department. We had been going back and forth through email with the photographers about which pictures to use for the upcoming calendar and we decided it would be easier to talk to them in person. We wanted to make sure that our choices meshed with their picture preferences and that we were accurately representing the Zoo. Once we had narrowed down our selection, I began gathering information on each of the species for the photo captions in the calendar.

We also got to meet with the exhibits department to talk to them about the different projects going on at the Zoo this year and coming up in the near future. We hope to be able to coordinate particular articles with the happenings at the Zoo and this meeting helped bring us up to speed on what we could expect in the next few years.

Nile hippopotamus, Happy

My animal visit this week was the Nile hippopotamus, Happy. Happy generally spends his time submerged in his pool where it is impossible to see and fully appreciate his size. He can hold his breath for about six minutes and even when he comes up for air, he only sticks his eyes and nostrils above the water line.

Nile hippopotamus, Happy

But, I was lucky enough to stop by when his pool was being cleaned, forcing Happy into his inside enclosure. He is absolutely huge! His mouth and snout alone are particularly impressive in size and his teeth are immense. They look like logs in his mouth, especially since they aren’t sharp or tooth-like. Instead, they are spherical and flat on top, which suits his diet of vegetation just fine. I also learned that he weighs almost 7,000 pounds! Despite his size, Happy is still really cute – even if he barely bothers to acknowledge his adoring public. Sadly, Happy is going to be leaving the Zoo soon. Because of the construction for Elephant Trails, the Zoo is looking for a new home for him.

Now that I am about halfway through my internship (and since this week was less hectic than others have been) I thought I would talk a little more broadly about what this internship has taught me.

Photo by JESSIE COHEN/National Zoo Photographer
Discus fish

First, working for FONZ has reinforced my belief that I would be happier working in magazines than in newspapers. I like that there is lots of time to research the articles and go back and forth with editors to get the piece as close to perfect as possible. I also like the planning ahead nature of magazines. I like that we are having to decide what pieces to run in the November/December issue while simultaneously discussing the design of the July/August issue. There is just something in my personality (I am told it is the “Penichter gene” from my mom’s side of the family) that causes me to love being organized and making lists and planning things out ahead of time and therefore the magazine industry suits me quite well.

I have also discovered (or maybe I knew it all along, but now it has become blatantly obvious) that I have to be writing about topics that interest me. The Zoo is such an amazing place with more great story possibilities than can possibly ever  be covered. I definitely learn something new every day – in fact, I generally learn several somethings new. After even a short time here I know I would absolutely die of boredom at a publication that covered something of no interest to me – say car parts or banking.

One other thing that I’ve learned that is perhaps not so positive, but it’s good that I know now is that I write with a style that can only be described as “class paper.” I chose magazine journalism because of the availability of space and the opportunity to explore language and yet, when I start writing, I keep my creativity locked up and simply state the facts in a nice concise manner. I think that journalism students should be offered a course in creative writing as well as all of the classes that focus on spot news or even news features. Searching for the truth and informing the public of the happenings in the world doesn’t have to be done in an uninteresting way.

And now for something a little more fun: exploring new animal exhibits. This week I was able to visit Amazonia for the first time. Even in all of my Zoo visits prior to this internship I had always skipped Amazonia because it is sort of tucked away at the bottom of the hill and by the time I get to the bottom I am hot and sweaty and I want to see the sea lions and the spectacled bear, but I can pass on the fish and frogs. So, until this week I had absolutely no idea just how cool Amazonia is – it definitely should  not be skipped on Zoo visits!

Photo by JESSIE COHEN/National Zoo Photographer
Arapaima fish

Amazonia is home to some really cool creatures including all kinds of small, pretty fish and the biggest fish I have ever seen – arapaimas. I have heard people at the Zoo talk about the arapaimas and how they are super interesting, but I had no idea they were that large. They are at least five feet long and they have these amazing designs in the scales on the top of their head. It almost looks like knots in wood or maybe even Hieroglyphics. They are also sort of bent in the middle. That is, their bodies do not go straight back from their heads, but are crooked so that their tails are lower than their head. It gives them the appearance of having grown so long that they can’t support their tail weight anymore and it just sort of droops.

Another really cool thing about Amazonia is the rainforest. Visitors can stroll through an actual rainforest with animals such as monkeys and sloths. The plant life in the rainforest is just amazing too – there are hanging flowers and spiked trees just to name a few.

Calendar girl

July 3, 2008

Since it is officially July, you can now check out the newest issue of ZooGoer!

This was a short week at FONZ because of the July 4th holiday on Friday. It didn’t feel shorter though; we still had lots of work to get through.

On Monday, my supervisor and I focused our attention on the up-coming member calendar that we will send out in place of the September/October issue of ZooGoer. Members generally receive six issues of the magazine plus a calendar each year. This year, however, there was talk of eliminating the calendar for budget reasons. FONZ eventually decided that Zoo members would most likely miss the calendar more than they would miss one issue of the magazine and therefore we are directing our energy toward the calendar for the next month or so.   

We had already spoken to the Zoo photographers and asked them to pick out their best work and their favorite shots of the animals. Monday afternoon we met with them and poured over hundreds of pictures. It was really interesting to be able to talk with them about their experiences as Zoo photographers and the maneuvering that they have to do to get that perfect shot. It was also really cool to be able to look through their catalog and pick out the pictures that I liked.

I also had the opportunity to meet with the keepers at Beaver Valley which is home to the American beaver, gray seals, California sea lions, North American river otters, Mexican wolves, bald eagles, and brown pelicans. We were able to talk about the animals that the keepers care for-their behaviors and unique characteristics and we even had the opportunity to see a gray seal training/feeding session. The seals are much more beautiful up close than they appear from in the water.  

Photo by JESSIE COHEN/National Zoo Photographer
Gray seal

Thursday morning I was able to go to the Zoo early to see Fox 5 shoot a couple short news spots from the Zoo. I arrived at about 6:30 a.m. to see Holly Morris do two short live teasers and then a longer spot at Lion/Tiger Hill and then two short teasers plus a longer live shot at the Invertebrate exhibit. The live shots were focused on Snore and Roar, the Zoo sleep-overs available to members.

I enjoyed being a part of the process and seeing it unfold from both the Communications and Public Affairs side and the news channel side. I never realized the amount of work that goes into a 30 second news piece. The media relations manager for FONZ started planning weeks in advance for the live shots. He needed to coordinate with FONZ staff, animal keepers, and the news station to make sure the scheduling was all set, everyone knew exactly what would be discussed on the air, the news truck could get into the Zoo where they needed to be set up, etc.

All the hard work paid off and the shots turned out great. You can check them out on Fox’s website.

I’m enjoying getting to experience all the different aspects of communications and how they all work together and coordinate to create a unified message.  

So, this was a short week, but look how much stuff we crammed in there!