about this sitesee Meranda's resumesee clips and work sampleskeep in touch

Archive for December, 2007

What were your top news stories?

Friday, December 21st, 2007

It’s that time of year when journalists reflect on the top stories of the year. Today, I saw Time’s edition on the newsstand blasting its top picks. And the J&C exec. editor’s Sunday column this week was about how the top story really differs from person to person.

The top picks we have were up for debate via a poll at the bottom of jconline. My vote — in agreement with more than 50 percent of the about people to vote by the time I did (I can’t find the polll or its results now to compare) — is the Wade Steffey story.

That story began just as I started here. He went missing the day I moved to this town. Though my part in the ongoing coverage wasn’t much, I do feel proud of all our efforts and the work we did on that story and my own work on it. I just think it touched so many people here in so many ways — from volunteers to friends to Purdue policies to just casual readers, students and strangers — and went on for so long, that of the list it probably left the biggest impact.

It’s not that I don’t think property tax is a big issue. It’s huge. Even though I don’t pay the taxes, the delays here are wreaking havoc on the schools I cover. Plus it’s just an ongoing mess. I just don’t think we’ve actually gotten to the crest of that story. There’s a lot more to come. I’d keep it on my list of stories to watch in ’08 — which is where I’ll throw Iraq — which would, for the record, be my No. 2 pick among the list. (I would place it No. 1, except that by this point many people have sadly become immune to the news.)

I also think a change in leadership at Purdue is a big deal for the school and I guess the community at large. But really, not as big a deal as we and many others made it out to be. And the ongoing financial troubles at area non-profits is sad, but isn’t financial trouble for non-profits practically the norm? Ditto on the health insurance debacle.

Local municipal elections, eh. Though there were some interesting results and some changes worth watching, it’s not such a big deal to me. Vote centers and a smoking ban, likewise, seemed much ado about nothing.

And the snowstorm in February that practically shut down everything in the county except the J&C was a huge inconvenience at the time, but it came and went. No lasting impact. As evidenced by this weekend’s wintry blast, no lessons learned either. It will go down as nothing more than a punchline to tales of “This is nothing compared to the blizzard of ’07” during future storms.

In considering the top stories the J&C covered and also thinking about what the heck I did this year worth even mentioning (it’s hard to remember all the stories I wrote even in the past week!) I’m going to list what I think are/were my 10 biggest stories (or more so issues since it’s hard for anything to be taken alone) I covered this year on the education beat:

  1. School funding issues: A new state formula meant some districts (big, growing ones — like TSC) benefited and saw more money, but left others (ones with stagnant, declining enrollment — almost everyone in this region except TSC) to adjust to less state money. Also, the property tax delays are going to cost tax payers hundreds of thousands of additional dollars.
  2. Changes in school leadership: West Lafayette has a new superintendent, who has come in and recently proposed some ideas that could be construed as radical. That will be fun to follow. The search for him was not so much fun on my end. Likewise, Benton’s superintendent has just a few weeks left before his replacement steps up to bat. And the county’s largest district is searching for the perfect new guy to fill the very big shoes of the current 18-year incumbant when he retires this summer.
  3. Consolidation talks: The three Tippecanoe County districts commissioned a study to look at whether it would be feasible, cost-effective or in their best interest to consolidate resources. Pretty much what came out of it is a collaboration committee to meet annually. This year they met, rehashed what they already work together on and discussed the possibility of a joint charter school. Schools in White County have commissioned a study to look at the same issues. And a recent state report is encouraging these discussions, even suggesting such consolidations (for districts smaller than 2,000 at least) ought to be required. Definitely a trend to follow in 2008.
  4. Full-day kindergarten: The legislature offered it to more students than ever this fall as the governor pushed it through. More implementation is on the way. This has caused a glut at some of our local space-starved schools. But generally has good support. Will be an ongoing issue.
  5. ISTEP/NCLB/PL221 fall-out: Seems every month or so someone was failing at something according to these numbers/results. I’m working on a few bigger stories that look at some of what the numbers mean — achievement gaps, how poverty/transiency/race affect them, etc. The implications of these numbers, what they say about the schools and the community and what they may mean for both’s future, is interesting and telling about how well students are being reached. Again, something to keep an eye on.
  6. Teacher contracts: Benton and WL both finally came to an agreements after a few years of ongoing disagreements as teacher’s finally backlashed. TSC had a relatively minor (compared to those) scuttle with its teachers, approving a contract they rejected, but it did take state intervention to settle 3/4 through the first semester.
  7. Graduation rates: Too low in this city, according to the state’s formula which was used for the first time in the rates released in 07 for 2006. Disparities not just between our city high school (which posted a 65 percent) but surprisingly also among two otherwise equal and pretty similar county high schools.
  8. School construction, renovation, reuse, demolition: To build or not to build. If not, to put portables outside growing schools or renovate and add another wing. To consolidate schools and close some or restructure/redistrict. To refinance old bonds or not to. What to do with buildings no longer of use/when to just tear them down. What old schools are being/can be used for. What to name new schools as they come on line. Etc. I wrote all those stories, mostly within this county but also in some outlying counties. I suppose this is an always ongoing issue. But taken all together, it is crazy to think how many different hands are being played all at once and how vast the differences between each player (i.e. district) is in their approach.
  9. Private/charter schools gaining traction: The one charter in this county is growing. So are all the private schools — especially one of the high schools which of late has become a major player. Another small private school is seeking a charter — from a school district that’s never done it before. Virtual schools were OK’d, then denied, then … well who knows where they’ll end up eventually.
  10. School safety: “Hit lists”, accidents and more sprinkled the year. Additional security cameras went up in several schools. Grants for more sidewalks and cross walks were won. Crossing guard times were reconsidered after a fatal accident on the way to school.

So as you can see, I would say I got a pretty amazing schooling on the education beat this year. (That pun was entirely intended, how could I resist?) I’m looking forward to following these and other stories this coming year with a little less “Wait, what does this mean? I’ve never covered this before can you start at zero?” and a bit more in-depth probing on my part.

In addition, I could write a novel of “firsts” I covered this year off my beat — from bank robberies to court sentencings to county commissioners and enterprise looks at some of those non-profits’ issues. I won’t, but the point is, I have grown a lot this year. In a good way.

Enough about me: What were your top stories or projects this year?

Letters to santa

Monday, December 17th, 2007

I just realized that though I claim to have no experience writing self-evaluations, I am mistaken.

My paper’s letters to Santa just reminded me of that. See, all these are is a quick-hit appraisal of your good deeds over the past year recounted in an attempt to convince the jolly old elf (though in my case, the editors are none of those things) that you are deserving of what you want.

Here’s a few of my favorite submissions, with the part that made me smile in bold. You can read more here and here (and throughout the week at jconline)

  • I hope you have a great Christmas. I want some highlighters. I want a CD of High School Musical 2, $50, three gift cards to Toys R Us and a Wal-Mart gift card. Santa my real birthday is Dec. 20 then five days after is Christmas. Christmas is my favorite month in the whole entire year. It is the bestest month because we get presents and oh yeah I also want some new clothes like sweatshirts and new pants and some new shirts too please. And I want to see you on Christmas Eve and I want a globe.

  • Will you make me soldiers and will you please bring me a dog? And may I have a football game on XBox Santa and one more thing, can I have a brother and a nice sister? Santa your reindeer are cool and P.S. can I have a Wii and a PlayStation? I love you.

  • How are your reindeer? I already know I am going to get coal. I wish I had been good last year and this year. How do you visit all of the houses in one night? I hope on Christmas Eve you won’t be pooped out. How is Mrs. Claus and your elves? How is Rudolph? Some people think you do not exist, but I do so so so much. I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

  • I think you should come to my house and bring me a Wii, a bike and a dirt bike 85 cc. I got good grades like A, B, C, D, because I worked hard and got good grades. I helped my grandpa build a doghouse and I was not expecting money. I hope you think I deserve the things I asked for. I hope I get my presents.
    Yours truly,

  • I think you should come to my house and bring me a Wii, a laptop, and a Spiderwick book. I haven’t bitten my sister. I worked really hard not to. I also did not hit her all year. I had some candy and gave it to my neighbor. I fed the fish at Indiana Beach. I did it so they would not die. I hope you think I deserve the things I asked for. Please come to my house.
    Your friend,

So this isn’t news. But come on, didn’t those make you smile?!

QOTD: When you discover your mission…

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

“When you discover your mission, you will feel its demand. It will fill you with enthusiasm and a burning desire to get to work on it.”
— W. Clement Stone

Another thought on the evaluation

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

Now that I finally looked through this evaluation form I noticed something interesting. One of the about two dozen skills to be ranked on my upcoming evaluation is “Consistently breaks news online.”

I guess that makes it a priority (as if I didn’t know).

But it’s also funny because it’s in the section above deadlines for daily and enterprise stories. Isn’t the point the deadline is always now?

Wikipedia does not know all

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

When I come across something unfamiliar and want a quick synopsis of something, I generally begin by typing it into Google. Usually, one of the top five or so results is a Wikipedia entry.

So when my friend pointed out this doll for sale on eBay going for $1,200 I was floored. Why the heck would anyone pay that, I wondered. Apparently, whoever Sasha is is a big deal.

I turned to Google to find out about these dolls. A bunch of collectors came up and a few eBay auctions, and this quick-hit synopsis of the craze on About.com was very helpful.

But where was Wikipedia in all this?

We often joke in the newsroom that Wikipedia is omniscient (hey I can’t use big words in the paper, so when I can sneak them in conversation, I do). That is to say, Wikipedia is all knowing.

My prior usage of Wikipedia as a quick-hit summary for things when I don’t particularly care about the authority of the information, when I’m just generally curious about something random, like say why an ugly doll would net $1,000+, has always netted decent results.

But I learned that apparently all the entries on Wikipedia haven’t been created yet, as I kind of assumed they had. Sasha Serie is not in their index. I was able to, after trying to think of several combinations including the creator’s name, find out that there is a listing for “Sasha dolls” that deals with this. But it still did not come up in my Google searches, and that entry could use some sprucing up.

Being that it is Wikipedia, I could try and fix it up (maybe add a photo or some annotations — where’s this information from?!). But I won’t because I don’t know much about it and would have to rely on Google to tell me, thus I’d find myself in that perpetual cycle. My favorite part of that entry is this: Those who Google ‘sasha dolls’ or ‘Sasha Morgenthaler’ will find themselves offered a wealth of Sasha-related sites – some historically-oriented, some devoted to their owners’ Sasha collections, some selling dolls or dolls’ clothing. LOL. No links. Just tell them to Google it. Which is kind of ironic for my purposes, being I was trying to Google to find the Wikipedia entry, and now the entry is telling me to Google the topic. Here we go in that cycle again.

In the end it’s irrelevant anyway: I’m not interested in any doll that costs nearly as much as my computer. No thanks. But seriously. $1,200 for a doll?

QOTD: Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself

Friday, December 14th, 2007

“Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself.”
— Doris Lessing

Evaulation time already?

Friday, December 14th, 2007


That was the first thought I had when my boss handed me a form this morning and said, “Self-evaluation. It’s due Dec. 27. Just attach any narrative at the end.”

Um. OK. I can do that. Even though I’ve never done it before. Ever.


How do I do that? Narrative of what? What am I supposed to do with these pages? What do these questions mean? Where does this form go? Who sees it? What do my answers matter? What if I’d rather explain than rank? What if I really fall between two rankings? What if I don’t want to play along? What if I just fill in all 1s and set my expectations low? What if I overshoot, and he really thinks I’m terrible and will wonder WTH was going through my mind? What if I undershoot and he realizes I think I suck? What if I do suck? What if he regrets hiring me? What if he lets me go? What if… I’m blowing this all out of proportion? I know.


I knew this day was coming. A year ago this weekend, I graduated. A year ago next week, I was interviewing for this position. A year ago next month, I established residency in the Hoosier state.

  • What have I learned over the past year? (Too much to put into words, and yet, never enough.)
  • What have I accomplished with my rookie year? (A lot, but not as much as I hoped.)
  • What have I to show for the first 52 weeks of my professional life? (More bylines than I thought possible — lessons attached to most. Connections I couldn’t have fathomed. Golden opportunities I lucked into. But too many questions unanswered, lessons unlearned, personal goals not met.)

But what’s more, or at least, all I can think of at this point:

  • What haven’t I learned that I should have? (A lot, I’m sure.)
  • What haven’t I accomplished with my rookie year? (Too much.)
  • What haven’t I got to show for my first 52 weeks of my professional life? (More than I’d like to admit.)

I don’t like this feeling of uncertainty. It’s unbecoming. I am more a “pull off the band aid quickly” type of person. When I sit around and actually dwell on this, I grow less confident instead of more. I don’t like that.

Am I proud of what I have done here? Hell yes. I should be! I’m working way too hard not to be.

I stumbled my way through many difficult tasks/stories this year with gusto. I do feel like I am doing well overall, though certainly I have room to improve. (Hello, if I didn’t realize that I’d be delusional.) But just today, four different people on my beat commented to me — one through e-mail, one passing in the hall, one in an office as I was signing into a school and one in a phone conversation — on what a “great job” I have been doing on this beat. Three of the four have been part of less than positive coverage within the past month — so it’s not even me doing a great job making them look good! I don’t look to external validation, but I do feel like to the readers and to the members of the community I cover, I have proven myself and made a positive impact.

But that’s not the point of the self-evaluation. Is it? The real challenge is have I proven myself to my toughest critic: me.

And after the self-eval, have I proven myself to the powers that be?

And beyond that, to the entire point of an annual review: What can I take from all I have learned and how can I apply it to making me better?

I wish I could pull that band aid off right now. But ah las, maybe it’s best to leave it on a little while longer and let things fall as they may. Good, bad, indifferent.