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The Power of Words

As a writer I’m impressed by how powerful words can be.  As a producer I’m awed by the power of images to tell stories.  This little video about how words evoke compassion left me speechless and a bit teary eyed too.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.



Prostitution in Perspective

When I was a senior at St. Andrew’s Priory in Honolulu I was selected by my high school government class to spend a week at the Hawaii state capitol observing the legislature. My assignment was to select one bill under consideration, research it and follow it through the session. I chose the effort to legalize prostitution. At the time, Hawaii had a very active sex industry. My school was close to Hotel Street where the ladies of the night did business.  The bill eventually died (I don’t recall whether it was in committee or if it actually got to the floor) and prostitution continues to be illegal in the 50th state, as it is in all states except Nevada.

Prostitution, Mustang Ranch, Nevada, Reno

Prostitute at the Mustang Ranch outside Reno, Nevada

Recently I revisited the subject of prostitution for a story I’m working on for HDNet World Report.  What got the report off the ground was Senator Harry Reid’s speech before Nevada’s legislature on February 22 in which he called for “an adult conversation” about ending legalized prostitution throughout the state.  Prostitution is already against the law in counties with more than 400,000 people, which includes Clark County (home of Las Vegas) and Washoe County (home of Reno.)  Senator Reid said that Nevada would be more business friendly if the state finally eliminated legalized brothel prostitution from the rural counties as well.  “Nevada needs to be known for innovation and investment,” Senator Reid said, “not as the last place where protitution is still legal.”  As you can imagine, his comments have stirred up quite a pot.

The point of this blog is not to rehash the morality of the world’s oldest profession, nor is it to discuss the economic impact of brothels in the rural areas of the state, or make the case that legalized prostitution seems safer and smarter than its illegal cousin.  The point of this blog is that this journey opened my eyes to the humanity of women who do this kind of work.  Before I criss crossed Nevada visiting brothels I had a predictable response to prostitutes.  They were messed up and misguided.  Who could possibly do this kind of work?  Why would anyone sell their body to a stranger unless they needed the money to finance a drug addiction?  They must have a crushing amount of baggage that would lead them to this lifestyle.  And, of course, many do.  But the ladies we met in the rural and suburban brothels that dot the landscape were attractive, smart, friendly, savvy, confident and defied stereotypes.  Most were not fallen women without other options.  Many were educated and had goals in mind.  They were wives and mothers.  This was a means to a different end.  And at least in the brothels, pursuing their careers as independent contractors, they were confident and satisfied.   Now I’m certain the lives of women who do this illegally, on the streets, is much more dangerous and seedy. But in the safety of the legal brothels we found women who do this with class and dignity.

Asya, Donna's Ranch, Wells, Nevada, Paul Beban, HDNet World Report

Asya with HDNet World Report Correspondent Paul Beban at Donna's Ranch in Wells, Nevada

We met Asya at a small rural brothel called Donna’s Ranch in Wells, Nevada.  She had been working illegally on the street for years with a pimp who eventually dumped her.  Asya cried when she told us how painful that experience was.  But she chose to better herself.  She was sweet and chatty and enjoyed flirting with the truckers over the CB radio.  She smiled and batted her enormous false eyelashes and said she loved her life.  Asya was going to do this for two more years then wanted to start her own jazz bistro in her hometown of Houston.  She said it would be “groovy.”  Her friend, Simone, was a pretty blonde who had finally escaped the streets.  She said she had so many arrests that she would be in prison if she was busted once more.  She was happy here with a big huge laugh and strong opinions.  She loved to help in the kitchen and fancied herself a good cook.  She was saving to buy a house and was proud to be paying her taxes and contributing to social security.  “I do my part,” she said.

Demi, Emily, Mustang Ranch, Nevada, Reno

Demi and Emily at the Mustang Ranch outside Reno, Nevada

At the Mustang Ranch outside of Reno we met Demi.  “This is not my first passion, believe it or not,” she told us.  Demi became a prostitute to get through college and now owns a fashion boutique with her mother in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Her goal is to open one in Los Angeles.  “This is a means to an end for me to create my own life.”  Emily, stood out in a crowd.  She had cascades of platinum blonde hair and a girly dress and once made $84,000 in a month.  She was living with her grandmother and son in a car before she came here.  “I have options.  I just choose to do this as my option.”  She loves her job and her enthusiasm was palpable.  Both wanted me to know how empowered they felt and how proud they were to be Mustang girls.

Finally, at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Dayton, Nevada near Carson City, we met Paige and Brooke.  Paige is a 19 year old, new to the business.  She is studying nursing but hopes to become a physicians assistant instead.  She had the body of an athlete and said she participated in all sports in school.  She spent her free time trying to perfect pole dancing in the parlor and was very good at it and completely comfortable with the television camera.  And then there was Brooke.  She is a household name for her role in HBO’s series “Cathouse” and was featured in Hustler.  She was beautiful, smart and articulate.  We figured she has a career as a politician or lobbyist should she ever change course.  She came here of her own accord.  Wasn’t cutting it financially in Illinois working with adults with developmental disabilities and figured she would try something new.  “I’m using my best asset that I have been given which is myself,” she proclaimed.  Was this her long term career? “No.  I think I’m more of a free spirit than that.  When this is not enjoyable, when it’s not fulfilling, when the wind changes I’ll change with it.  Right now this works for me.  I’m having a good time, I’m making a good living, setting up a good future for myself, able to have the choice to do whatever I want.  And how lucky am I turning 30 to be able to say that.  Really.”

Paige, Brooke, Moonlite Bunny Ranch, Dayton, Nevada

Paige (L) and Brooke (R) at Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Dayton, Nevada

This was one of the most interesting immersions of my career and I came away from it with the realization that many of these women, at least in the legal brothels, are comfortable in their skin and see this as a career like any other.  They are not ashamed and seem to have a good time and they are able to look at the men who come through their doors with compassion.  Many prostitutes, believe it or not, go on to become nurses.  It was an eye opening week for me.  Each of these women made it clear to me they were doing this of their own volition.  They were in charge of their lives.  They were calling their own shots.  You can meet these young women on HDNet World Report on April 12.  See if they don’t make a big impression on you too.

For more on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

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Points from Poynter

As a young television producer working at KRON TV in San Francisco I had the opportunity to attend a weeklong seminar at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida.  It was one of the first times I was able to explore my craft with other like minded professionals and learn from some of the best in the business.  Among them was Rod Prince, one of the brilliant producers of NBC Network News who I eventually had the privilege to work with.  That week fired me up like no other and the skills I developed remain with me to this day.  The Poynter Institute is an amazing place to grow.  With the economy in a meltdown it is getting more difficult for aspiring journalists to get a first break.  A mom on the lacrosse field told me her soon to be college graduate was very discouraged by the prospects and another would be broadcaster decided to abandon television news altogether for a career in public relations.  Here is an article by the Poynter Institute’s Jill Geisler on why people should still hire journalists.  It speaks to the virtues and the myriad of abilities of those who report the news.

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New Face of Homelessness aka Economy Sucks Journal #2 2.7.09

Darlene and Jacob.  Teddy.  Craig and Margie.  All are the new faces of poverty.  Six months ago each had jobs, homes and middle class incomes to support themselves and their families.  Now two families are homeless and the other teeters on the brink.  Their falls have been fast and hard.  Darlene has a college degree and worked in the mortgage industry until October.  Her husband Jacob was a tree trimmer.  They made over $65,000 a year and at one time lived in a five bedroom home.  Now they bounce from shelter to shelter with three children.  They have each other and hope.  That’s about it.

Teddy lost his job as a machine operator before Thanksgiving.  This single dad is living in his father’s house now and was unable to afford his medical expenses when he recently broke two ribs.  All he wants is work.  Craig used to look at homeless people and say “get a job.”  Then he lost his supervisor position at a shopping mall before Christmas.  He had just returned from a training course in California.  He got stiffed by his employer for the expense money.  Now he sleeps under the railroad tracks and his fiancee, Margie, is in a shelter.  They sell the Homeless Voice newspaper on the 16th Street Mall to survive.  People walk by them as though they are invisible.  Craig’s feet are covered with blisters from walking everywhere.  Margie worries about Craig’s safety everytime she says goodnight to him.  Now when he sees worse off homeless people he sometimes takes them leftover food or a smoke.  He doesn’t view them the same way.

They say many of us are one paycheck or one crisis away from homelessness.  As more and more people lose their jobs, their insurance and their homes, the face of homelessness is changing.  The folks at Colorado Coalition for the Homeless ( say its a state of emergency.  The safety net is full of holes.  For Darlene, Jacob, Teddy, Craig and Margie it just sucks.

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Economy Sucks Journal #1 12.17.08

I’m so glad we decided not to take that cruise over the holidays.  I came back from Beijing feeling a bit flush after 90 straight days of producing at the Olympics.  A Caribbean vacation sounded like a great way to spend winter break but my teenage son didn’t want to do anything that didn’t include his friends so we decided to celebrate at home.  As I look at the direction the economy is going I am grateful for his surly teenage attitude.  At the moment the money seems better in the bank.

So many people I know are uncertain about 2009.  The angst seems to transcend the color of their collar.  My housekeeper brings her unemployed construction worker son-in-law to help her clean.  He moved from Minnesota to Denver because there was no work.  A newcomer to Denver who I have coffee with tells me her fiancee is one of the 35,000 laid of workers at Bank of America.  My colleagues in television are being downsized.  Every day I read of more on the beach.  Even my friends in real estate and business development are seeing their deals collapse because no one is lending.  On a brighter note my banker called and asked if we want to refinance.  Maybe now that the Fed has lowered interest rates to nothing there will be some relief. 

A year ago I produced a story for NBC about a family facing foreclosure at Christmas and how there was nothing under the tree for the children.  Viewers responded to them with so much kindness.  I thought it couldn’t get worse than it was a year ago but here we are 12 months later and everyone is being touched.  As I count my blessings I worry for those falling through the cracks and the charities who work to help them.  And experts say things will get worse before they get better.  Scary times!

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The New Face(book) of News

I first learned the layoffs had begun on Wednesday morning when I woke up.  A friend posted a desperate cry that she was trying to stay sane after half of NBC’s network bureau was let go  in Dallas.  It was deja vu for me.  I was downsized 10 years ago and I watched Facebook all day as people started changing their status and talking about getting their resumes together.  One colleague is dusting off his resume after two decades of work.  I commiserated with my friends (how else) through Facebook. 

Then yesterday a cryptic note by a newspaper acquaintance.  At half past noon she wrote that she was feeling as badly as the day the News/Post JOA was announced.  The staff of the Rocky Mountain News had been informed that Denver’s second daily was up for sale.  On TV that evening I learned more.  The Rocky Mountain News was looking for buyers and if it was not purchased in a ridiculously short period of time it could close its doors after almost 150 years. I heard it first on Facebook.

Perhaps I have too much time of my hands which explains why I check Facebook several times a day but more and more I am feeling the pulse of a wide range of friends, friends of friends and others.  When the attacks happened in Mumbai people expressed their outrage and angst on Facebook.  When Obama was elected people were jumping up and down on Facebook.  It is the purest form of news, these little vox pops or man on the street comments that connect us across continents.  It took the blogs 24 hours to catch up about the layoffs.  This week Facebook had the news before the news.

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Joe the Plumber

I watched the final Presidential debate last night and the discussion about Joe the Plumber.  Joe is a plumber from Toledo, Ohio who challenged Barack Obama because his taxes would go up if he bought his bosses business.  Since the business makes over $250,000 a year his taxes would rise from 36% to 39% under Obama’s plan.  On the surface it seems like a blow to small business but when “Joe the Plumber” visited me recently to replace a water heater the bill was $1300.  I was charged $185 an hour and when my heart stopped the technician told me other plumbers in Denver charged even more.  This is a huge cost for any family.  My hunch is when Joe acquires his bosses business he will be very successful and probably can afford to pay a bit more in taxes.  I respect how hard Joe works and believe he and his family should benefit financially from his effort but once he buys his bosses business he is the owner who sets the rates and as a consumer I felt like I was the one who was getting soaked.

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A Hunger to Help

These are uncertain times. The economy is a wreck. Need is escalating throughout the world as prices rise for food and oil. Natural disasters in China and Myanmar are overwhelming and tragic. Huge NGOs like Worldvision and Care are pleading for donations as they rush in to help. The work to do is so enormous. Can we possibly make a difference when the need is getting bigger all the time? Interestingly, there seems to be a hunger out there for people to meaningfully engage and contribute in this increasingly complex and global world. Ginny Jordan, an activist and philanthropist from Boulder, Colorado, who is also the co-founder of BeadforLife, is seeing a trend towards a new kind of philanthropy. It is no longer only the work of the wealthy. People of ordinary means are taking volunteer vacations, sponsoring children, microlending, throwing fundraising parties, even buying goats for those in developing countries who want to raise their families out of extreme poverty.

Acholi child with mother in Kampala, Uganda slum

Through word of mouth and grassroots outreach they are involving friends, families and neighbors who are aching to get outside of themselves. In a way, Ginny adds, this is a cultural experience and those who are taking the journey are writing a new story about philanthropy. They are joining a circle of people who are affirming the exchange in giving. You give, others benefit from hope and opportunities, they touch you with their gratitude and resiliency, you receive inspiration and the riches that come from the circle of connection. The circle of exchange grows larger. Even in tough economic times, the hunger to help seems insatiable.

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