Well I made it, I’m in New Mexico, day one of tomorrow and the next six months.

Albuquerque reminds me a lot of a Reno and San Jose hybrid.

It’s kind of in a valley like San Jose, well not really, it just looks like that at night when you’re seeing lights for the first time as you come off the hills into town. But it’s like Reno because it’s dry, hot, a desert, has a layout similar to Reno in sprawl and highways… and a casino is not too far from town.

About a week ago I said hello in person to the Albuquerque Journal.

Walking in the first day, the building was like a huge complex that reminds me more of the Intel, eBay and Google campuses than a newspaper.

It’s big.

There are tons of security checks, a cafeteria (I know, but they made a big deal out of it), large elaborate forms to sign off on, many many departments with many sub-departments, a gas station, car garage, massage chairs in the lobby (seriously), a private jet (the Journal was the only paper in the air after Sept. 11 and one of the first in New Orleans after Katrina), an elaborate newspapers in education program, an auditorium with guest speakers, seminars and yoga classes and a library with the newest issues of National Geographic, The Columbia Journalism Review, Mother Jones and papers from all over the country that put other publications like People, Us, Maxim and those top sellers to shame.

The library also houses the archives and that’s where I met my biggest disappointment of the day.

Natchwey, no way… One of the things I was looking forward to doing when I got here was scouring the archives for James Natchwey gold. Slice that dream up and call it spaghetti (yeah, I said that), it’s nigh impossible to find anything before 1995 in the archive and the only option is to research what he shot and look it up by subject, or just run across it by a happy accident.

Still I thought I’d give it a shot, but as the guardians of the library informed me, many have tried, all have failed and there’s nothing special to be found.

“He was just a daily shooter.”

Maybe they aren’t that good, or just the normal stuff, but still, who wouldn’t want to look at the origins of their heroes? I don’t care if all you have is a crayon drawing he made in kindergarten, I’m not going to pass up the chance to see it.

So it’s hard, but still, maybe I’ll give it another shot. Of course I wasn’t the first to try, why’d I think I was?

The paper publishes four editions each day, with a fifth edition on Thursdays, and if you stay late enough you can even get a hot-off-the-presses copy of the state edition. There’s also special sections each week and regional community papers as well.

With a circulation of 115 thousand daily and 160 thousand on Sundays, it’s the biggest paper in New Mexico and the largest paper I’ve ever been involved with at this level.

As for stories, we cover everything. It’s practically the state paper, so when news breaks they move on it. The governor, Bill Richardson is running for president so of course we’ll be covering that (hopefully while I’m still here), there’s a military base not to far, sports are always a big deal, immigration I’m sure will come up as we border Mexico, and then pretty much anything you can think of they touch on it.

Trips to foreign countries are not unheard of, they have a Washington D.C. bureau to cover national issues and all in all I think I’m in a good place to learn some new things and improve on some old things.

It’s also the home of John Trever, the political cartoonist, I’ve been meaning to drop in on him and say hi.

The paper is still family owned and operates under a Joint Operating Agreement with the Albuquerque Tribune, a Scripps Howard paper. They’ve been this way since 1933, yup, they were the first ones ever to do this. It’s even referred to as the “Albuquerque model” sometimes.

The way it works, both sides very strictly keep their editorial sides separate. Real strict, the photo archives for each paper sit in a locked cage.

But this JOA cuts costs by sharing sales, advertising, printing and all that other business stuff that saves both papers money… at least that’s how it used to work, as of Tuesday morning the Tribune is up for sale. We’ll see what happens.

On a side note, if newspapers are dying, what happens to the guys who make those huge 2000lb. rolls of paper?

In the photo department they’ve got a lot of experience. Photo editor Jaime Dispenza actually interned at the paper before coming back years later for his current role.

Jaelyn deMaria moved over from production to shooter a few years ago and seems to be right on the money with bringing multimedia to the Journal. Her recent piece is a bit long, but it’s just as good as anything I’ve seen coming from the Times, Washington Post or Mercury News.

Roberto E. Rosales
has a very good eye, just the other day I grabbed one of his shots from President Bush’s visit to ABQ out of a trash can because it was so visually striking.

Marla Brose has the enthusiasm and drive that you seldom see in the professional world, I can tell she’s going to be an inspiration on those slow days.

One guy in particular that I really want to talk to is Richard Pipes, this guy was in the president’s motorcade during the Kennedy Assassination, has been embedded in Iraq (the sequel), and can cure cancer with a steely gaze. Ok, I made that last one up, but think about it, these are just the things I know, who knows what other gems of a story he has to tell. (I smell a podcast.)

Finally (I can’t name everyone, there’s 13 shooters, not including the editors and awesome lab techs), fellow intern Morgan Petroski is pretty good at this thing to (almost to good… makes me wonder how I got so lucky to be brought here.) Check out her stuff, she has a good eye for variety, I particularly like this one myself.

(If any of you happen to read this, I’m very sorry if I didn’t mention you, there’s just too many of you that are way to good at this.)

I think I’m going to like it here.

ABQ is a unique place. To the east are the mountains (yay! It’s not all flat!). To the west are some ancient volcanoes (yes, volcanoes). To the south is Kirtland Air Force Base (and now I’m on a Homeland Security list for linking to them, way to go). And to the north are Indian reservations that keep the borders of El Burque in check. So the way it works out is there’s a lot of people in a smaller space (about 800,000), which makes it feel more like a city.

By that same token, crime rates are very high here, and according to Lonely Planet at 20% of the state’s population below the poverty line, it’s the poorest state in the nation (that may have changed however).

It’s a place with many stories to tell, hopefully we speak the same language.