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

Archive for the 'News' Category

A perfect example why superintendent searches should be open

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

As a reporter, it’s my nature to want to know more, faster. I do not like to wait for returned calls or e-mails, snail-mail packages or processes to happen.

That last part, that’s probably the most frustrating part of my job especially as it relates to board decisions. Especially when they are major decisions that I feel the public should be able to weigh in on at every step of the process.

Since starting my position as the education reporter in Lafayette, three of my four main public school districts have named new superintendents. All of them used a closed search process that drove me crazy. (The Catholic school system also named a new president, but I’ll give them a closed search since they’re a private entity.)

There was a post recently on Wired Journalists on tips to cover a superintendent search. I posted my advice, which if you care, you can hop over there to read.

What is absolutely most frustrating about these stories was waiting on people to give or leak or otherwise offer information. I had to practically coerce information just to update patrons on the fact that they had received X applications, that they were now to the interviews/finalists phase, that they would be naming someone and when. In one situation, I swear to God, I STILL don’t know how they kept it a secret. Because when I walked into that board room — after finally getting the board to release the name to me about two hours before the late night meeting so I could get it posted and start tracking down background — even the school principals in the back of the room did not yet know who their next leader was going to be. (I’d called many of them to see what if anything they could offer, and ones I know would have told me couldn’t offer any guidance.) I had by process of elimination come to a completely unscientific (but ultimately correct) decision on who it would be.

This invites speculation. In order to arrive at my “unscientific” determination above, I called a lot of wrong numbers. That is, I probably angered a few other superintendents when I called them or their board members to ask about it. Many denied even submitting an application. I’m fine with that. The way I arrived at my correct conclusion, incidentally, was settling on the one person who neither he nor his board members returned my calls.

That brings me to the point I make today. The reason every single board gave for a closed search was to protect the applicants from alienating themselves in their current community. You know what, fine. If you want to casually submit a “what if” application, fine I get that. But personally, I think anyone who agrees to come for an interview — especially if you’re footing the bill for that interview (often over a meal) with tax payer dollars — should be willing to acknowledge at that point they are under serious consideration. Don’t release the whole list. But there is absolutely no reason not to release your finalists.

Do you want to know why you should release your finalists? Here is a picture perfect example from the Indianapolis Star of why an open process serves the community:

Hamilton Southeastern Schools superintendent candidate Donn Kaupke withdrew his candidacy today about an hour before the district was going to publicly announce his candidacy on its Web site.

Kaupke, 71, told the district he didn’t want to be considered after a records search by The Indianapolis Star revealed reports that he had tried to seal public records — a violation of public access laws — and faced a sexual harassment suit during his stint as superintendent at a Florida district.

The district failed to uncover information the newspaper did. The newspaper saved the community the potential problems should this behavior be repeated and even if it weren’t, the embarrassment of this coming to light later.

When you are barely able to get a name hours before a meeting, you can’t do proper searches for those things. And when you do find something in those searches, by the time the question is flagged it’s nearly too late to turn back and save face. Obviously, as that story points out, you should have as many people checking these things as possible:

School Board President Jeff Sturgis said that both the district and the University Team, a group of education experts from the state’s four universities that helped the district find superintendent candidates, conducted a search on Kaupke but never found articles detailing the issues.

“We’re disappointed and surprised by the information that came to us late in the process,” Sturgis said. “We are glad that it did come to our attention before we took action on his contract.”

Finally, aside from the legal issues that might arise, the school board charged with choosing its next leader isn’t just picking the guy who will walk them through the agendas at meetings. They are choosing the visionary who will lead and guide the district and make the difficult decisions that, if not directly then indirectly, impact every child in the community. I understand school board are elected to serve the public will, but I also think this is such an important decision, every parent, tax payer and community member should be able to grill or at least meet the candidates long before someone is signing a contract on the dotted line.

Perhaps I am editorializing about something I shouldn’t. But I had this conversation with every board member during those searches, so my view is hardly a secret. Obviously, it fell on mostly deaf ears. But as this case brings to light, it’s still worth pressing for those names.

J&C speller, FTW!

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Spelling bees were not a big thing where I came from. I suppose they’re probably like that in most places. The closest I ever came to caring was when my older sister won our elementary school spelling bee, but she never made it past the local competition.

When I came to Lafayette, however, I began to care about the spelling bee. First, the Journal & Courier sponsors the local bee. Also, I cover education, so it’s a big story for my schools. But the real reason is our spellers usually do well beyond the local competitions. But never before this well:

spelling bee winner leads Indy Star

That’s a screen grab from the front of today’s Indy Star, where Sameer was the lead story. — I’d have grabbed the J&C’s front where he dominated, but someone forgot to post it last night so I can’t. It’s probably cooler he got such prominent play in the state’s largest paper anyway.

Cool side note, he also got a photo mention on the front of the Washington Post! He garnered quite a few other front page photo mentions; in a quick birds-eye scan of Today’s Front Pages:

(Note: After today, those pages will be different.)

Now, I’ve written before about good news stories, and the public’s hunger for them. This is one of those stories.

I did a Q&A earlier this week with Sameer Mishra, the four-time winner of the J&C sponsored spelling bee whose older sister had won it in the years preceding him. This was his fourth and final time heading to the national bee, and he said he just wanted to beat his personal best — 14th place two years ago.

He’s obviously very smart, but beyond that, he’s hard-working. He spent 4-5 hours a night studying words to prepare. Not that other kids didn’t spend as much time, but you have to be dedicated to do that. The world could use more dedicated people.

Everyone was rooting for him around here. Each time he went up to spell, our newsroom gathered around the local desk TV to watch and cross our fingers. It wasn’t that we were the sponsors, it was that this was a local kid on the national stage and he was totally kicking butt. It was exciting. How can you not root for the local?

I monitored and wrote quick updates throughout the day for our Web site, but we had a Gannett reporter in D.C. writing the story itself, so I was hands-off there. When I left last night, I went out to dinner and out to the movies, so I only got to track him through the 10th round. When I got a call while at dinner from the night editor telling me he had won and they needed me to give them his parents cell phone number so the reporter today can call for a follow, I was elated. I mean, I had a huge smile on my face for at least 10 minutes. I was just so happy for him that all his hard-work had paid off. I honestly am not sure I’ve ever been that genuinely and unselfishly happy for someone else before in my life. It felt good.

Sameer wasn’t just a local favorite, he had audiences everywhere cracking up. Earlier in the semifinals, he would crack jokes, like the fact that the word he received was a dessert that “sounds good now” or when he was told one of his words had five languages of origin and he quipped “That’s wonderful.” But the funniest moment was when he — and most people as you can tell by the audience’s laughter — misheard the announcer saying “numbnut” instead of “numnah.” For your belly-laughing pleasure, that moment’s preserved on YouTube:

Ohio papers to share stories

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Ohio is one of those states with lots of cities. I grew up in Akron, which is a respectable size city, but is just one of several in a state of many. There’s Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown. And those are only the largest. And they all have a major daily paper, many which aspire to be more than just the local paper of record.

So in a time where state capitol bureau’s are being cut, where getting someone to break the news half a state away isn’t always financially viable and where the locals can probably lend better context to that story anyway… Ohio’s newspapers are taking a step forward.

They’re sharing their stories. Yeah, there’s the AP. But if my reading of the PD’s editor column is right, this goes beyond that.

So the ultimate winner is you because, under this system, you will be able to see the best work written by the best reporters in Ohio’s largest cities in The Plain Dealer or on Cleveland.com. And you’ll be getting it at the same time as the folks in those cities do.

It took a bit of doing because the competitive instinct is in every good journalist’s DNA, and most of us would swallow our notebooks before we’d share what’s in them with another reporter. We’ve spent our professional lives trying to keep other newspapers from getting our good stories. Now, we’re giving them away.

Here’s why:

The way that news from The Plain Dealer and other big papers used to find its way around the state was this: We would report and write our stories, wait until late in the day, and then turn them over to the Associated Press. The AP would then either rewrite them into wire service story format for general consumption; report and write its own stories later; or decide that the news was not of statewide interest and do nothing. If we had a breaking-news story all to ourselves, we would try to keep it away from the wire until the following day. So did everyone else.

That’s not good enough anymore. In fact, I’m not sure it ever was. Competition is a wonderful thing. It keeps everyone sharp. But we don’t compete for readers with the newspapers in Cincinnati or Columbus, except in the most tangential way, and never did.

We almost always break our stories online now as soon as they happen, so they’re not exactly a secret from the other newspapers anyway. So why not give readers all over Ohio the benefit of the best work from each corner of the state?

In today’s world, breaking news is measured in minutes, not days. It’s important that we provide our readers with the best news report we can, as soon as we can, on our Web site and in the best and most current newspaper possible each day.

I’m all for spreading the content and breaking down barriers to good journalism. Kudos to the news orgs for recognizing and addressing that. This is good news for Ohioans.

18 online updates and one story for Tuesday’s deadwood edition

Monday, March 24th, 2008

If you know Indiana, you know we’re usually fly-over territory for presidential candidates.

That’s why, when we heard late Friday that not only was Hillary Clinton’s campaign coming to Indiana, but Lafayette was going to host her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, we became, to quote my editor describing me and another reporter, “Giddy.”

I was in college in Ohio during the last election. So I have seen several presidential hopefuls in person. But tonight was the first time I’ve been in the same room as anyone who ever commanded this country.

Let me say this, the experience was intense. But not because of what he said or the 3,000+ crowd in the gym, another gym and the school auditorium. It was intense because of my assignment.

The only story I wrote for tomorrow’s paper was a look at the preparations the high school underwent and the excitement from the students. That makes sense, since I’m the education reporter and all. I headed to the school at lunch and talked to the principal and some students. I came back and wrote an online version of the story to kind of give a feel during the day of the atmosphere. Then, before 3 p.m., I’d filed that story for print and moved on.

Today was also a big day on my beat, so I worked a little on another MAJOR story on my beat that will go online early tomorrow morning, followed with a more in-depth story for Wednesday print. The Adequate Yearly Progress results — basically, whether a school is failing or not under NCLB — were released with a 10 a.m. Tuesday embargo.

I was also, throughout the day, talking to the campaign, the schools, etc. checking on information we were hearing and answering questions our readers asked. Lining up logistics with my editor, other reporters and photographers.

And then, at 4 p.m., it was time to really tackle my assignment: Updates from the scene throughout the night. That was three hours before doors opened and four hours and 40 minutes before Clinton took the stage.

All told, I sent my editor 18 updates from my laptop at the scene. I know because I counted the number of e-mails when all was said and done, and I could finally breathe.

my updates e-mailed to my editor

I had started them with subjects, “Clinton update #1,” “Clinton update #2,” etc. By number 11, I’d lost track. That was also about the time he actually arrived. My subjects became: Clinton arrives, clinton iraq, clinton economy, clinton education, etc.

Some of the updates were detailed narratives, describing the crowd, the atmosphere and talking to people lined up. Some were just a short synopsis of where it stood: Police chief says Clinton left previous stop, expected by 8:30.

I adapted my method in the middle. I wasn’t looking at jconline throughout the event, so I didn’t really know how my editor was playing what I submitted. I was trying to get my next update reported and keep the information fresh. There were a few other reporters in the crowd as the event start approached, and they were also there helping catch some color from the lines and feeding it to me to send in with my updates. By about 7:30, I just started typing them with time stamps and then jumping in with what I was hearing and what was occurring. This, as it turns out, was a pretty efficient way of writing the event backwards, much like a twitter stream.

Actually, at the same time I was writing for and filing updates to jconline, I was also trying to post updates on Twitter. Though, obviously, my priority was on the J&C, which reaches far more people than my Twitter account. Though it was cool, and you kind of see it in my updates, I was even interacting with other people back at the J&C and also across the room from me.

Bill Clinton event live blogging on twitter

You can look at jconline and see, my updates were fairly regular. As Clinton began to speak — an hour and forty minutes after doors opened and the crowd started streaming in — I started to chunk the topics into five or six graph break downs. I tried to mirror that while the e-mails sent with my snappy posts on twitter. What Clinton said, a little context and any crowd reaction.

It was difficult, as you’ll see I noted in one of the twitter updates, to both be there and not be there. I was present, but I spent a lot of time basically taking diction and then trying to make it digestible, readable updates. While stream of consciousness might work for twitter, it wouldn’t cut it for the J&C. So I was using a skill I’m not sure I’ve ever had a chance to practice: I was both listening to what he was saying in the present and writing a story live about what he had just said while monitoring the discussion for what would come next.

I’m sure my writing wasn’t my best work — for one thing I used the word crowd entirely too often, and most of the speech updates start “Bill Clinton discussed.” But I wrote fast, and I wrote a lot. And give me some slack, I’ve never — in fact I don’t think my news organization has ever — done anything like this.

Twitter aside, my work for J&C was half live blogging and half writing for the newspaper audience online. All my work was funneled through my editor to be posted. So there was about a five-minute delay. But considering how furiously I was filing, I am glad he was there to read over my shoulder and relay any questions or fix obvious mistakes.

As you can see from my Gmail outbox above, a few of my updates, especially early on, included e-mail exchanges with my editor. I talked to him twice, after I sent the first update and once immediately after I sent the last one. None of those updates, by the way, will appear in tomorrow’s newspaper. Some of the reporting may in another reporter’s story, but my entire assignment/direction on this, as taken from the budget, was:

• After school lets out: Are people lining up. Meranda
• At 7: An updates as crowd assembles. Meranda
• Update from the scene as Clinton speaks. Meranda

So there was a lot of figuring it out on the fly. And you know what, like I said, it was intense. But it was awesome! It was even quite a bit of fun.

I don’t know if every event deserves such rapid-fire updates, but this was something that was changing by the minute early on, and which had a great deal of interest in our community. It’s not every day a president drops by small-town Indiana. I’m not sure how many page views we generated today or if that even matters. I’m not sure what part my updates played in any of that, but I hope our readers who were planning to attend, did attend or couldn’t attend benefited from the pretty comprehensive look at the day the former president visited our community.

With that said, it’s now approaching midnight. I worked from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. today coming off a 2 to 10 p.m. shift Sunday. I need to get in around 8 a.m. tomorrow to finish the AYP story for online.

In short, though I’m pumped with all that journalism-is-alive adrenaline from my day, I’m also exhausted. I think it’s time to put the computer away and wind down from probably the most exciting day of journalism career to date.

For happy journalists only

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

I wrote about angryjournalists.com a couple times.

Now, here’s something more up my alley: HappyJournalist.com.

I can dig that. (Actually, I even mentioned that someone should create a site to ask the question “Why are you happy today?” in my original Angry Journalists post. I’m just sayin’.) So thanks to Joe Murphy of the Denver Post for fulfilling my wish.

I just posted an item. Not much up yet, but there will be, surely. At least I hope. The more I read aj.com the more depressing I realized it was that so many people hated their jobs and this industry. I mean, we all need to vent, but surely if you hate it that much you should consider switching jobs.

Here’s one big difference between happy and angry journalists: Happy journalists leave names. Obviously, it’s not a forced id system, but so far I’m recognizing many of these people.

Here’s my post:

Meranda 4:58 pm on March 3, 2008 | #
I’m happy today because my package on A1 tomorrow is among my favorite I’ve written in the last year. It was fun to report, too, and an interesting topic. Plus, there’s a photo page and soundslides online. So it should be a fun story for the readers, too. Gotta love that.

The story, by the way, is about the Hoosier Youth ChalleNGe Academy. I spent last Thursday down there (it’s a National Guard run “quasi-military” school to help at-risk teens — basically those who’ve dropped out of school) with a photographer kind of shadowing some local kids being touched by it. Plus, I did a sidebar about a local cadet who graduated in the inaugural class. (The academies are in about half the U.S. states, but the one in Indiana just opened in summer 2007.)

I don’t know if it was being away from the office, being in a brand new very different setting or just that I know beyond a doubt we’ve never written this story before, but for whatever reason I really enjoyed it. It made me happy. And the story is something I’m actually proud of and will most definitely add to my clips.

(P.S. When the story is posted Tuesday, I’ll come back and update with a link.)

UPDATE: Here’s the link to the main story about the academy, the sider about the recent graduate returning, and the soundslides the photographer put together.

So, why are you happy today?

Fire news spreads faster than ever

Friday, January 25th, 2008

The Monte Carlo Casino on the Las Vegas strip is on fire. For that news, the Las Vegas Sun has got you covered.

las vegas sun monte carlo fire
and an update
las vegas sun 2

Here in Indiana, thousands of miles away, I might have caught this news blip on tonight’s news. (Except I only watch when I’m at work, and I’m off today.) If I was a 24-hour-TV-news junkie, which I used to be and am still recovering from, I may have caught it on CNN. (But my TV’s in my living room down the hall collecting dust. No, really, it’s been about a month since I turned it on.)

I learned, instead, via Twitter. It was also the way I heard about the recent market turmoil and the death of Heath Ledger.

I know I’ve been writing a lot about Twitter of late. But that’s because it’s become increasingly part of my daily routine. Where once Facebook was a dominant force for keeping in touch and updated, these days I find myself updating and reading Twitter instead. (To be fair, my Twitter status is fed to Facebook.) And I find it far more useful and helpful for me.

On a related side note, I love the Las Vegas Sun’s approach to the story. They’re updating the blog with new info. But I like the approach on the front of the site. It’s bullet by bullet what you want to know. No B.S. no he said, she said. Just what is going on, what has already happened, who is affected, and where to get more information. Nice and concise.

ABJ’s got your Ohio politics news covered

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

The Akron Beacon Journal has launched a new blog/politics site to cover the 2008 campaign in the swing state that decided the ’04 election. But it’s not just presidents, it’s local issues and candidates and more.

ABJ new ohio politics site
(The big white space is an ad that’s blocked on my computer, not a flaw in their design.)

From their announcement story:

Today, Ohio.com will launch politics.ohio.com, a new site dedicated to getting the scoop on the issues that affect the average voter. It will scour other newspapers’ Web sites and provide links to stories to help voters make informed decisions on topics and candidates.

But it won’t stop there. Political junkies also will find the details they crave such as links to Ohio government sites, including the governor’s office, the House and Senate and the Ohio Supreme Court. Voters will be able to find links to election sites at all of Ohio’s 88 counties, as well as the Ohio Secretary of State’s office and links to each presidential candidate’s official Web site.

Take a look: politics.ohio.com.