Monday, March 30, 2009

Finally: Proof that I work.

I don't have too many photos of myself working. That's what happens when you're most often behind the camera. But this one, taken by Uncharted Photo Assistant John Milligan, is definitely my favorite.

Covering the Holi Festival of Color last weekend at the Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah, was one of the more unusual assignments I've photographed and written about. Over 15,000 people packed the hillside just below the temple waiting to throw bags of powdered dust into the air and all over each other.

Most of the battle for good photojournalism is simply placing yourself in the right place and waiting for the right moment. Whenever I cover a story, I'm always looking to position myself in such a way as to ensure that I'm ready when the climax of the event goes down.

I positioned myself at what seemed to be the focal point, a pile of dry wood with a plastic witch-like figurine sitting on the top, ready to be burned. As it turns out, the figurine was an effigy of the demoness Holika, for whom the Holi Festival of Color derives its name. I figured everyone's attention would be on the fire, at least for the first few seconds. After that, you just need to run with what happens.

So when the bonfire was lit and people began throwing colored flour all over the place, you could barely see a thing. The plastic bags covering my cameras started falling off and for moments, here and there, it was hard to breathe. The fire was so hot that it started to burn even though I was almost 15 feet away. Before I knew it, I was sandwiched in the middle of thousands of people with barely any room to move, wishing I had a wider angle lens.

But there was something exhilarating about being in the middle of it all, even covered head to toe in colored powder. At Uncharted ,we try to promote a philosophy of "Explore. Live. Feel." That means when we cover a story, we immerse ourselves in it. We want to show you what it was like to be there. I hope I achieved that with this story. In any case, events like these make me excited to get out there and do more stories and photos for Uncharted.

Alan Murray is executive director of Uncharted. He likes sea horses and snowshoes, and frequently has the urge to leave the country. To contact Alan, feel free to write to

Saturday, March 28, 2009

MacGyvering Uncharted

Sometimes I feel like MacGyver. In fact, working on Uncharted often reminds me of the 1980s television series featuring Richard Dean Anderson as Mac, the secret agent who uses commonplace items to maneuver through challenging situations - anything from disarming a missile with a paperclip, to using a coffin as a Jet Ski, to restraining one of the bad guys by stapling his coat to the ground.

Over the past few weeks I've been on the road frequently, giving presentations and recruiting for Uncharted's team. As we're an all-volunteer force with minimal resources, I often find myself telling potential candidates we put Uncharted together with a Swiss Army Knife, duct tape, and some kite string.

Case in point: we had a presentation at Brigham Young University-Idaho last month, our first of many, discussing geo-social media, a concept unique to Uncharted. As often happens, time was limited and we found ourselves piecing together the presentation at the last minute.

Consequently, I left for Idaho without presentation slides or even a rehearsal. I made it to campus about an hour before my appointment, found an internet signal, and downloaded the presentation sent by the team only a few moments earlier. I then spent the remaining time on the phone with our communications director, reviewing slides and memorizing.

Somehow, the presentation went well and I was able to meet with many qualified candidates. When you take into account that each member of our team has a full-time job and that Uncharted is all team-funded, it's quite incredible to see the high quality we manage to generate, and it's even more thrilling to see it grow. That's not to say we don't have shortcomings. The site is far from what we envision, but we do the very best, given the circumstances, to continue improving Uncharted, thereby giving our audience the best experience possible.

This is all doable because of an incredible group of individuals who make up our team. While they come from various backgrounds, including journalists and civil engineers, programmers and members of the armed services, as well as teachers and accountants, they all have a couple of things in common, certain qualities we search for as we interview potential candidates.

The first is ingenuity. Each member of our team possesses the unique ability to transform the group's collective time, expertise, and resources into low-cost, effective solutions. They do this with little funding and time.

The second is cross-training. Each member comes with a variety of skills or, at the very least, the desire to learn things not necessarily related to their main area of expertise. For instance, it's not uncommon for a member of our communications/marketing team to take on the task of writing a story or taking photos for our editorial department. And it's not out of the ordinary to see a staff writer shooting photos or a copy editor brainstorming public relations issues.

While meeting with candidates at BYU-Idaho, we were most impressed with how professors in the communications department both encourage and provide opportunities for their students to learn a variety of skills, anything from sales to video, to writing and photography, to marketing and more. That said, it probably won't surprise you we've already added some soon-to-be graduates from BYU-Idaho to our team. And even though our recruiting efforts span the globe, I'm sure they won't be the last.

As Uncharted continues to expand, we realize it is our team and our wonderful audience who deserve the real credit for its success. No doubt we'll continue keeping things together with duct tape and kite string for a bit longer, but when you look at the incredible people who contribute to Uncharted, there is little doubt it's course is firmly set towards success.

Alan Murray is executive director of Uncharted. He likes sea horses and snowshoes, and frequently has the urge to leave the country. To contact Alan, feel free to write to

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Uncharted is Trademarked!

Its official! We just received a certificate from the United States Patent Trade Office showing that our registration of the Uncharted trademark is authorized and complete! If you're familiar with the TM registration process, you know it can be a long and laborious process, but you also probably know how important it is to protect your brand identity. We certainly do. Over a year ago we noticed someone online that started copying our ideas, almost word for word. The night we made this alarming discovery, I went to work immediately on registering the Uncharted trademark and didn't stop until I was done applying. By 3 a.m. the same night I was finally finished, and Uncharted was on its way to getting government authorization for its trademark. Now, over a year later, we can look back on all the work it took to get our trademark out there in commerce and approved by the legal reviewers with great satisfaction in knowing we own the Uncharted name from here on out in our industry. Another step forward in the adventure. Uncharted is here to stay.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Uncharted Brings You the Bahamas

Uncharted just keeps plugging along, and that pleases us to no end. Today, we updated the site with our second Explorer story (which you can read here), featuring the Bahamas -- our first international destination. We've got a very long way to go to get Uncharted out of the Intermountain West, but with Explorers like Lisa Wheat, we'll get there, one story at a time.