ARTPRIZE–Nobel or Not?

September 28th, 2010 at 9:17 pm by under Entertainment, Inside WOOD TV8, News

ArtPrize….can it be the Nobel of the cultural and scientific? the Pulitzer and the Peabody of journalism? the Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy of entertainment?

Ran Ortner's "Open Water No. 24"

I asked that question of the first grand winner of ArtPrtize, Ran Ortner, a New York artist.  I talked to him by phone the first day ArtPrize 2010 began last week and again tonight.  He said, “Time”  and subsequent winning art pieces will determine the “value and importance” of the prize.  Ortner’s “Open Water No. 24″ won the world’s largest art prize last year.  He told me, “Artprize will be judged over time. Is it sustainable? Does it make wise and significant decisions?” Ortner went on to predict, “ArtPrize will touch upon really great art. It has the potential to be astonishingly successful.  It doesn’t have to knock it out of the park every year to be successful.  Look at the Yankees.”

I asked Ortner, if ArtPrize doesn’t choose well in the future will that hurt him personally and professionally?  He responded, “My work will stand squarely on it own merits.”

ArtPrize, since its inception in Grand Rapids a year ago, has been criticized, scrutinized, debated as to whether it really knows and can judge good art.  The art world elite have little confidence in the vote of a public that is deemed unsophisticated and uneducated in the study of art. But Ran Ortner who has spent thirty years as a struggling artist says, “ArtPrize was never intended or framed to be other than a vote of the people.”  He says, “The fear of the artworld elite is that an ArtPrize populist vote can be likened to a culinary contest where children pick ice cream and cake.” He added, “Children aren’t voting. I essentially do not agree with that fear. I do agree it’s the fear of many in the art world.”

The inaugural ArtPrize winner then made a bold statement about public opinion:  “I actually have a tremendous amount of faith in group think. Our government is founded on it, our ideal of who we are and our capacity to be, is all based on collective wisdom. It doesn’t mean collectivity is always right. But who of us would think the voice of the people would not be insightful, impactful, and decisive? We’ve based our most dear values as a collective.  It’s called democracy.”

Ortner contends there are no guarantees granted by any judge.  “People can vote by knee jerk reaction, pandering,” he claims.  “But elitist can have a bias based on their education, their agenda, their perspective that can also be a knee jerk reaction.”

So what does an artist want from ArtPrize besides the exposure and the thousands of dollars in the winning purse? Ran Ortner describes it like this: “We’re hoping people vote beyond their eyes, with their heart–to see with the fullness of who they are.  Every voter has a responsibility to be true to self, not cavalier. Slow down, consider, think deeply, be open to register the art within your internal wisdom. ”

“Great art, ” Ortner feels, “lives in our memory. Memory is the test of great art. When you step away from a work, if it’s not remembered, it if doesn’t register, if it doesn’t live in you and continue to inform you, it’s not great art.”

ArtPrize 2009 winner Ran Ortner

So what did ArtPrize do for Ran Ortner? “It changed my life dramatically. It offered an unconventional means for me to find traction.  Winning the top prize through a vote of the people was a touching and humbling experience. It’s been like night and day, it’s like stepping through a door. I was reaching for recognition and acceptance of the artworld elite. I moved to New York to be where the elite critics and scholars and galleries are and I still aspire to attain the highest level of honors and awards from them like an Olympic athlete.  ArtPrize freed me up to put more energy into my work instead of spending time cobbling my finances together.  I’ve gone from barely making it to having an abundance, a generous flow of revenue. I’m invited to exhibit in shows, commissioned to create art…I’m selling my art at three times what I charged before ArtPrize.

Would he enter ArtPrize again? “I don’t forsee a circumstance where it makes sense. The dream has happened. The highest ideal of what ArtPrize can do is provide an amazing opportunity.  It launched me. And I love the notion that it can do that for other artists. Perhaps, in ten years, for an anniversary show, ArtPrize will invite winners back to exhibit a collection of new work.”

Ran Ortner confided, “I’m making my way. I’m growing. I’m seeking success. The artworld works slowly. One’s reputation is at stake. With ArtPrize, there is no waiting for someone to be deemed great. ArtPrize circumvents that. ArtPrize and I hang in the same balance.” They’re both continuing to be judged by the people and the art world.

The legacy of WOOD TV’s pioneer, then and now

February 24th, 2010 at 4:27 am by under Inside WOOD TV8, News
I spent hours going through the archives at WOOD-TV-8 following the death of a pioneer in television, a man who ran this station shortly after it signed on the air 60-years ago until he left in 1977. Willard Schroeder (pronounced shray-der) died Tuesday at his East Grand Rapids home. He was 96. His wife, Barbara, preceded him in death.  Schroeder’s four children were with him at his home.  His daughter Chris told me his last words to them were, “Wow, what a gang.”

Willard Schroeder created and developed live t.v. programming in West Michigan in the ’50, ’60s and ’70s, innovated local t.v. news and set the standard for it, and guided the station through decades of technological wonders. He shepherded local t.v.’s transition from black and white to color; from felt weather boards to radar; handwritten cue cards to teleprompter; film to videotape to microwave. He lived to see it go way beyond all of that to doppler radar and computers, satellite, digital, HDTV, and live streaming on the web. And he saw it go from one to three to hundreds of channels.

Of the early days, Schroeder said, “Nobody knew anything about television. You give it a shot and go with what you had.”  The hardest part, he said, was coming up with programming 18-hours a day, 7-days a week. “Early on, we decided to go live. We had some challenges as to what kind of programming. Anything goes,” he remembered. (more…)


February 19th, 2010 at 11:58 pm by under Inside WOOD TV8, News

     Have you ever felt you were placed somewhere in time for a specific purpose at a specific moment?    

     My husband Rick and I were on a late lunch winter walk today in the sunny 30+degree weather.  It was glorious.  We turned a corner and headed down a street and within moments of doing so, a young child was sledding down the hill on his front lawn and heading right for the road.  At the exact same time, a car was heading right toward him.  

    My husband screamed at the child to stop.  The little boy was still in motion.  Rick yelled again then again, “Stop, Stop” and the youngster finally rolled out of his sled and held onto it before it could hit the street.  At that very instant, the oncoming driver hit the brakes. 

     We were all stopped in time…my husband and me, the sledder and the driver…all frozen for a moment.

     I instructed the child to never again sled beyond the sidewalk. He was smiling, picked up his sled and headed back up the hill.  His mom appeared at the front door. “Thank you” she shouted out to us across the street.

     We looked at the driver of the vehicle.  She was starting to move again and I waved and nodded to her as she passed.  How relieved I was that she, too, had stopped when Rick yelled not knowing if she heard him with the windows up, the engine running, and the heater on.

     After we were all in motion again, going our separate ways, I started to shudder with a cold chill.  It wasn’t from the snow that surrounded me, it was from that moment in time when all of our lives converged in one spot and could have been changed forever.


February 10th, 2010 at 9:46 pm by under News

dome_1As you know by now, Congressman Vern Ehlers of Grand Rapids is not running for re-election.  He’s held one of the most respected seats in Congress… the one Ehlers told me is still referred to as “Jerry Ford’s seat.”  Since 1948, when Ford first won election to what was then the 5th Congressional District, that seat has remained in Republican hands, except for a short period of time.

When Ford relinquished his stronghold on the office to become Vice President of the United States, it was the bitter era of the Vietnam War and Watergate.  And it grew into an anti-Republican movement with President Richard Nixon the top target.  I was reporting here at the station when Richard VanderVeen shocked the community and seized the seat as it fell into democrat hands.  The shrewd democrat campaigned against Nixon rather than his opponent.  VanderVeen  pulled off an upset that echoed through the halls of Congress and around the nation.  If Jerry Ford’s old seat, a seat that was occupied by republicans since 1912, could fall, then what republican was safe?  Vander Veen, an attorney who had challenged Ford for the seat way back in 1958, was not destined to hold onto it for long.  Three years later, then Kent County Prosecutor Hal Sawyer, a lion of a lawyer,  wrested the office from the democrats and put it back in the republican aisle where it remains today.

After Sawyer came Paul Henry, a Calvin College professor of political science, a former state rep and senator.  With redistricting required after the 1990 census, the 5th Congressional District became the 3rd, covering Kent, Barry, and Ionia Counties. In 1993, Henry died of a brain tumor while in office.  His Grand Rapids funeral was attended by a large contingent of lawmakers from Capitol Hill.

Following Congressman Henry’s death, a special election was called.  Vern Ehlers, himself a former Calvin College physics professor, Kent County Board Chair, state rep and senator, decided to throw his hat in the ring.  So did nine other republicans, many of them well known today: the first female Chair of the Board of the Kent County Commission, Marge Byington, a sharp businesswoman and community visionary; Glenn Steil and Ken Sikkema, both former state lawmakers, businessman and political consultant.

  I remember that hotly contested race 17-years ago, and I can tell you, we’re probably in for a similarly contentious battle this year…and it may not be reserved for just the republican primary.  The democrats are expected to do their fair share of sparring too. Just like 1993, 2010 is going to bring out the top guns.  Ambitious politicians wait a long time for an office like this one to open up.  And once they win the seat, they’re often wedded to it for a decade or two or three and even more.

There’s much speculation about who will run.  I just received a phone call at my home taking a poll of what party I support and which candidate I’m likely to back.  I hung up.  I always do.  I’m a reporter and I never share that information.  But I’ll be working and watching this race as stories of it will fill our newscasts and website, facebook and twitter.  And it’s only just begun.  Bring it on candidates.  Show us what you’ve got.

A Man For His Time

November 5th, 2009 at 1:02 am by under News
Former Grand Rapids Mayor Lyman Park dead at the age of 92.

Former Grand Rapids Mayor Lyman Parks dead at the age of 92.

I was a rookie reporter here at TV-8 when Lyman Parks was Mayor of Grand Rapids.  The fact that he was also a minister was not lost on me nor this community.  It’s interesting to note, nearly four decades later, we have another man of the cloth holding the same seat of power in Grand Rapids, George Heartwell.

I always thought Rev. Parks was a man for his time in this city.  Grand Rapids, like so many other urban areas in this nation, was emerging from the ravages of racism and riots.  Being black, but equally as important, being a holy man, Rev. Parks felt a calling to bridge the great divide that separated blacks from whites, the inner city from the suburbs, the have nots from the haves.

If you knew him, observed him from a distance, or watched him up close in action, you witnessed his dignity and pose.  Characteristic of a minister, there was a poeticism in the way he spoke and certainly a spirituality in his approach.

To me, he seemed like a man of conviction not confrontation… reconciliation not reparation.  He had a vision and a voice and he used them both to help begin the rebuilding of this city through brick and mortar as well as through human discourse and relationships.

The first black Mayor of Grand Rapids paid a visit to one of the wealthiest white men of Ada, Richard DeVos,  and that began a conversation and a relationship that led to a life-long renewal of a city. 

In the late 60′s and early 70′s, Rev. Lyman Parks shattered a myth, an erroneous perception of who a black man was and what he could accomplish.  In his high profile position as leader of Michigan’s second largest city, Mayor Parks could go where other blacks had no access and he could chisel cracks in the great divide.

May his memory be eternal.

The Switch Goes Off Without A Hitch

June 12th, 2009 at 11:24 am by under Inside WOOD TV8, News

digital-switchWe just witnessed broadcast television history.  Our station, the first to go on the air in West Michigan, just marked another milestone.  In 1949, when we started broadcasting, it was with the analog signal.  Today, we just shut off that signal and from now on, we will broadcast in digital only.  From our end, at our transmitters, the switch went off without a hitch. 

In the photo to the left, I’m interviewing our Chief Engineer, Mike Laemers moments after the switch. See the screen by me…it’s snowy.  That’s what tv sets look like if owners did not take the steps to go digital.  The screen by Mike shows the digital signal.

Ten years ago, we became the first television station in the market to start broadcasting in High Definition.  We’ve been putting out a digital signal for a decade.  Now that is the only signal high-powered television stations in this country can broadcast in, so mandated by federal law.  The old analog channels don’t die.  They’re going to be auctioned off and will wind up being used by emergency personnel and phone/cell/internet coompanies.  The feds will glean a good deal of money from the sale, money obviously this nation can use.

I just ran up to the engineering office at WOOD-TV-8.  The phones are ringing off the wall.  As soon as staff answers questions about why viewers aren’t seeing a picture on their screen, the next call comes in.

We have a toll-free number (1-877-FYI ASK8) and viewers are leaving  messages with questions.  We have engineers retrieving those messages and calling back to problem-solve.

I overheard our Chief Engineer, Mike Laemers, talk a viewer through the transition from analog to digital.  When the viewer pulled in our signal and saw something on the screen, Laemers commented, “Isn’t that great?  Isn’t it wonderful, digital?”  The viewer responded that the channel was going to stay right on WOOD-TV- 8 through the Red Wings Game tonight and wouldn’t let anybody change it.  That game begins at 8pm, by the way.  We’ll all be watching too, and we’ll undoubtedly have a late 11pm newscast.

For the Red Wings game, our crews will be Live on the ice recording all the action.  My co-anchor Brian Sterling will be there as well as one of our sports anchors, Larry Figurski.  That will be great to see… tune in for 24-Hour News 8 at 5 and 6 and 10 and then stay with the game through the end.  At 11ish, 11:30ish, we’ll have great highlights, interviews, hoopla, reaction.  Here’s to a RED WINGS WIN.  STANLEY CUP, HERE THEY COME.  And now, everyone will be able to watch it in DIGITAL T.V.  ENJOY!

The hardest part of broadcasting, webcasting news

June 10th, 2009 at 12:54 am by under News

It’s not anchoring.  It’s not tracking down the story and convincing someone to talk to us. It’s not even the deadlines we face all day and all night to get it first, get it right, and get it on the air and the web.

The hardest part of broadcasting and webcasting news is not giving our opinion; not revealing our take on things; not showing our bias; not advocating.

There are only a couple instances  in our newscasts and webcasts when it’s okay, it’s safe to let you know where we stand, how we feel, what we’re thinking. .. the only acceptable time to show our hand.

Have you guessed yet which times that would be when we would be beyond reproach?  When we ourselves, or you our viewers and readers, would give us a pass to let our guard down?

Yeah, you’re right.  When we’re rooting for the hometown team.  Like the Red Wings in their quest for the Stanley Cup. Now that’s a safe bet.  And another safe bet, of course, when we push hard and pull together to help people in need in this community.  Like we all did for Christmas in May when we collected tons and tons of items to give away to families who don’t have the money to buy them.

Those are the rare instances when we can show on air and on the web a side of ourselves that otherwise we would keep under wraps.  And that’s as it should be.

Red Wings going home

June 9th, 2009 at 10:55 pm by under Sports


It’s always so exciting being in the newsroom when news is breaking, elections are ending, storms are brewing, or big games are being played.  Tonight, is one of those nights with the Red Wings trying to cinch the Stanley Cup Finals.

I of course want my hometown team to win.  And it would have been nice to see that happen this evening,  BUT…

If the truth be known, I love the suspense of taking it to the very end.  It’s no small matter that the game is playing out on our channel, WOOD-TV-8/NBC.  That certainly helps deliver a great audience to our newscast, thank you very much.  And now the Wings are taking it to game 7 and home to Detroit… we get another good night of television entertainment, another good night of ratings as viewers tune in to watch, and another suspenseful nail-biter.

It’s fun.  And I’ll be watching again Friday night while helping to write and edit the news, anchoring and getting the score fed through my earpiece while I’m on the air.

Go Wings… see you Friday night at 8pm doing what you do best…WINNING!


January 6th, 2009 at 2:38 am by under Inside WOOD TV8, News

2009…the New Year.  Why does this one feel so different?

Every New Year means hope and plans for a brighter future.  But not this one.  This one is evoking fear:  fear for your job; fear your life savings will be worthless;  fear things will get worse before they get better.

That is not the way to usher in the New Year.  And there is no way anyone of us should live with fear…DEFINITELY NOT 365 DAYS OF IT.

Fear is paralyzing.  Anyone (including yourself) who puts fear in you is trying to freeze you on the spot, cripple you into inaction or wrong action. 

I’ve watched the newsreels from March 1933, when President Franklin Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address, admonished this nation, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  The United States was deep into the Depression then, much like many people fear we are now.

What we can’t do is go into a mental or emotional depression.  We need our wits about us.  We need to imagine how things can be and then we need to do what it takes to get us there.  If it means change, so be it.  If it means reinventing ourselves, let’s do it.  Who ever likes stagnation?  You know what happens to water when it stagnates.  Neither you nor I would want to wade in it.  We want to be a part of moving waters, of new trends and ideas, new pools of thought and innovation.  That’s what makes things new again.  That’s the promise of the New Year.

My husband was just talking to me about the lyrics and meaning of Auld Lang Syne.  In 1788, The Scottish poet, Robert Burns, penned what has become the anthem of the New Year:  ”Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?  Should old acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne?”  It’s a question, not a statement.  Of course we shouldn’t forget old friends and old times but we can’t lose ourselves in the long long ago. 

One of my younger WOOD-TV-8 colleagues asked me, “Suzi, how did you do your job before computers?”  I told him we did it, we got the stories and all the information, but just not as fast as we can today.  As I write this, the newsroom around me is in flux.  Everything and everyone is being reshuffled, refitted to meet the new demands of a New Year of change and challenge.  The interesting thing about it is we’re being retrained to do each other’s jobs as well as our own.  Guess what.  In auld lang syne, in the long long ago, in the early days of my broadcasting career, that’s exactly what we did, several jobs.  It’s back to the future for me, a place of old acquaintance.

Happy New Year!!!


November 27th, 2008 at 1:42 am by under Uncategorized


My youngest child, a sophomore in college now, has always said Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday.  I couldn’t understand that before, because as a kid, I couldn’t wait for the next Christmas, counting the days from December 26th on.  But as an empty nester,  I now see what my son sees. 

I see all four of my children coming home, coming together for the first time since summer vacation, their first break from the routine that began when school started up in August.  My kids are in colleges and law school and working fulltime.  They have always been close siblings and they look forward to seeing each other as much as Mom and Dad look forward to seeing them.

And that’s it.  That’s the holiday.  Getting together.  Joining with family and friends, like the first Thanksgiving, sharing what you bring to the table and giving thanks for whatever it is you have. 

Over the years, I’ve usually worked Thanksgiving night.  Up until this year, the holiday fell during television ratings and the audience was usually captive (or comatose) on the couch after a day of eating and football and did I say eating?  After a wonderful celebration with family and friends, I would come into work with trepidation, anticipating awful news.  It seems like some of the worst news I’ve ever reported broke on Thanksgiving night.  One story in particular still haunts me:  After Thanksgiving dinner, a father in West Michigan drove his two young children to his place of work, a factory foundry, opened the door of one of the furnances, threw them in and then left.  Unimaginable.  Absolutely unimaginable.

I’ve told my dear friend, with whom we celebrate Thanksgiving, that the holiday brings me peace and solemnity on what is often a bleak and austere day in November.   Even surrounded by loved ones, amidst the hustle and bustle of getting the food on the table and coaxing the Lions to a win (not), I find calm in the day. 

Most experts will tell you,  calm is not what is always summoned on a holiday like Thanksgiving.  The pressure of families coming together in close quarters, strained relationships, stressful finances, and abundant imbibing often give way to explosive gatherings which too often lead to breaking news.

I’m taking Thanksgiving night off this year.  I’m savoring the calm I look forward to on the fourth Thursday of November.  And as I sit and watch 24-Hour News 8 from home, I’ll be thankful if there’s no awful breaking news to haunt me again.