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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.
    Cheers,
    Jasmine

  • 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.
    Cheers,
    Mikel

  • 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!
    Ariel

  • 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,
    Jacob

  • 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,
    Faith

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

A few entirely random thoughts that sum up today

Monday, October 15th, 2007

I don’t have anything profound to say today, but there are several random things floating around my head that I figured I may as well share. Feel free to add your own. This could be a fun game.

  • UPDATE, I forgot the most important lesson of today. What happens when you go to make cop calls and get a busy signal. You hang up and finish calling the rest and then head back to the busy number? What happens when that number still rings busy. And half an hour later? Still busy. So, then you call the city (housed in the same building), and guess what, it’s busy? Well, I decided something was up. But since I couldn’t just call down there to find out, I did what any enterprising, curious reporter would do. I walked there and found the IT director. Something was majorly up, apparently there was a huge statewide phone outage. Our police, city and the two city school districts both went without phone service until about 3 p.m. as did several other businesses in our community. Just goes to show, there really will never be a true replacement for face-to-face, shoe-leather reporting. There’s no way I could have worked that story through the phones.
  • Over the past few weeks I’ve done two different stories involving outages with two different phone companies. In light of this, I really think phone companies need to evaluate their media relations. Neither of the phone companies made it easy to a) locate a media representative, b) locate any live person, c) get a phone number that didn’t start with 1-800 and end with my hanging up after getting stuck in a loop of computer mis-guided menus. To sum up my editor’s response to the first of these stories, “The phone company doesn’t have a phone number on its site?!” And then a laugh and attempt to prove me wrong, as if I would seriously admit both my computer savvy and Google prowess had let me down without first ensuring it was worth throwing in the towel. I’m just saying. In both cases, I now have the phone number, name and e-mail of the person I need to talk to should anything else arise. But why make it so difficult?
  • I learned a new word today: akimbo. Apparently it means to put your hands on your hips and bend your elbows. (Think annoyed teenage girl yelling, “But mooooommmm!”) I’m only including this here because I told my editor I would blog about the new word I learned. lol. He used it to describe the “sassy” pose one of the girl’s auditioning for the Purdue Play Boy edition had in her photo.
  • This story, which I first saw on Romensko (and first commented on in my education tumblelog — which is off to a good start, thanks for asking) makes me nervous about ever writing about the ISTEP or other major tests. The reporter wrote a light feature about the testing and inadvertently included the essay topics that many students hadn’t yet written about! Now all the kids have to retake the test. Although, reading his explanation, I’d have to say I do understand he didn’t know he couldn’t include the topics — and really he shouldn’t have been let in the classroom and the teachers and administrators should have flagged it for him not to repeat test questions. Still, I’m not sure I like his defense. I think he’s trying to point fingers by his blog post, and really what it boils down to is, yeah, that’s hella embarrassing and really messes with a lot of kids, but take responsibility and go ahead and say, “I screwed up.” Not doing so is just as embarrassing.
  • I have decided that while I could work the 6 a.m. shift, as in I am capable of waking up, getting dressed and being at work to start posting and picking up cops stuff from overnight, I reaaallly don’t envy the guys who have that regular shift. Yes, it would be nice to have a set shift that didn’t fluctuate from 8 to 4 through 3 to 11 virtually every day depending on meetings and assignments, and getting off (theoretically) at 2 p.m. is so appealing. But if a wonky schedule and a few late nights a week is the price to pay for getting to work during daylight hours, it’s worth it for now. I am way too tired to actually do anything with the rest of today. And as I told the business reporter when he came in at 7:30 a.m., I’m too young to be up at 6 a.m.
  • That’s all I can think of for now.

Advice to college freshmen

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Haha, love this piece from the NYTimes: Welcome, Students. Now Watch It.

Instead of the traditional “make sure you make a wish in the fountain” or “kiss under the arch” that many colleges and papers peddle this time of year, this is a fun, snarky, no-B.S. list of things NOT to do when you’re a student in NYC.

I always wanted to go to NYC for school. But ah las, I could barely afford to stay in my own home state for college. So that wasn’t an option. But I think this type of approach would be fun for any school/student newspaper. Here’s 5 of mine from my time at Kent State, followed by a few observations on my time around Purdue.

Kent:

  • Don’t spend all your money on campus. Just because you can buy food and groceries on campus doesn’t mean you won’t get ripped off. Dude, Acme is within easy walking distance, has better selection and a bonus card. Extra bonus points: Campus Wine Cellar is on the way. Plus, Kent State is already making a killing on you through fees and tuition. Don’t encourage them.

  • Don’t make eye contact with the people handing out fliers or “you’re going to hell” tracts near the student center. Sure, they have the right to be there, even if what they’re peddling is disgraceful or disgusting. Don’t get into a conversation. Even when you agree, you lose. And then, you’re late to class.
  • Don’t pull the fire alarm. Just because your drunken self has nothing better to do doesn’t mean the rest of your dormmates don’t have 7:45 classes or jobs to get to in the morning. Seriously. Grow up.
  • Don’t catch the bus to class and then complain when you’re late. Nothing on campus is that far. And everyone know the bus schedule is merely a suggestion not the reality.
  • Don’t forget to see downtown Kent — during day light. Far too many Kent Staters see only the bars of downtown Kent and never eat at Franklin Square Deli or watch the train go by or sit by the Cuyahoga. There’s also some pretty quirky “only in Kent” stores you should see.

Purdue:

(noting that I don’t actually have much to do with the school, this is all based on my experience living among and around college students, these are decidedly more tongue-in-cheek)

  • Don’t live on Dodge Street if you intend to sleep or park anywhere on game nights. Wish someone had given me this tip before I moved into what I came to pretty quickly learn was party central — every night of the week.

  • Don’t bother crossing at cross walks. Only seven pedestrians have been hit in 2007, and only three of them were actually injured. Besides, all the cool kids are jaywalking. Don’t believe me? Watch the video.
  • Don’t bring a car to campus. Seriously, there’s no where to park anywhere in Lafayette/West Lafayette on a good day. Add 40,000 additional vehicles, driven by inexperienced, caffeinated and sometimes drunk students and those seven pedestrians hit is likely to skyrocket. Besides, walking across campus will help work off those late night binges.
  • Don’t complain about how there’s nothing to do. There are hundreds of student organizations, tons of restaurants and bars, a few libraries (and book stores) and 39,000 other undergrads who have nothing better to do than play cornhole and walk around half-naked near the streets. Plus, Indy’s only an hour away and Chicago is just over two. Stop complaining. You could be in Kent.
  • Don’t bother going to graduation. I don’t think they tell you this in the view book, BUT, they don’t even announce your name. In fact, your name is projected about 20 at a time on the stage as you and another student walk simultaneously across the stage in opposite directions toward the middle. The whole culmination of four (or more) years hard work and thousands of dollars in tuition lasts less than 15 seconds. Sorry to break it to you, but someone should.
  • I’ll think of some more. I’m tired now. I’ll recruit some actual Boilermakers to help with this.

And there you have it. My five reasons Meranda is over college, and why she has realized living in a college town, while having its benefits, also has many downfalls.

A stripper’s story — on the front page?

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

Yesterday, one of my fellow reporters asked me if I saw Monday’s Columbus Dispatch. I don’t normally read the Dispatch, favoring the Beacon and the PD for my Ohio news.

She told me to check it out the story about a stripper. So, rather than walk all the way across the newsroom to find the paper, I just did a quick search. The first things I found were a couple letters to the editor condemning the paper. That got my curiousity.

So, when I found the story, I read it.

It took me to about the fifth paragraph to understand why the other reporter wanted me to see this story. Although she took it as offensive, I wouldn’t say it was offensive so much as uncalled for, seriously unnecessary. I mean, and I hate to say it because I do respect the Dispatch, but I don’t think this description has a place in any newspaper:

She twirls her fit, 22-year-old body around gold poles, her breasts enhanced and exposed, so that men will slide dollar bills into the thin, white thong stretched across her slender, tan hips.

There are other similar examples in the story where I cringed at the inclusion of details far from necessary to help me understand her plight.

But one thing I noticed, because I didn’t just read the lede and first few paragraphs like my co-worker, is as I told her, “At least there’s a news peg.” She hadn’t noticed. Probably because this “nut graph” is buried about eight or nine long paragraphs down:

Dunn and other strip-club dancers — often used to hiding what they do from people outside club doors — have made recent headlines for teaming to fight legislation they say would have put them out of jobs.

As originally proposed, the measure would have created a 6-foot “no-touch” bubble around dancers — effectively shutting down strip clubs, some maintained.

The legislation that eventually passed prevents dancers from touching patrons — or patrons from touching them — while the dancers are nude or seminude.

Even the watered-down version, expected to take effect by mid-August, still concerns club owners and dancers, who doubt its constitutionality.

Although they have many questions about the new restrictions, the most important one is this: Will they scare off patrons?

All right. I was at least relieved to see the news peg. But as I continued to read the story — all 1,600+ words of it — I found myself not just cringing at those borderline pornographic details and descriptions, but also at the girl herself. I know women who are strippers. Personally. They are fine mothers and friends. They do their job and it is what it is. So I’m not in anyway condoning the profession. It is a way to make a lot of money for those with the right personality and body type. And, like I said, it is what it is.

But this story, except for the paragraphs I pulled out above, is just the girl’s soap box about how hard her life is, how she’s working for a better life, how she paid for her sister’s braces and bought a house in the suburbs, how she reads inspirational books, how nobody thinks you can do anything if you’re a stripper and how there’s more to it than taking off your clothes. OK. I get it. I get it.

But what I don’t get is why this story ran on the front page of a major U.S. daily? I didn’t see the story in print, but apparently it was front and an entire inside page. Precious real estate.

Maybe I was just annoyed by this because I hold newspaper’s to a higher standard. All week, I’ve been subjected to the torture of seeing Paris Hilton be the top TV news story, and was relieved it wasn’t so in print. But ah las, is the hard knock life of a stripper worth so much space? Especially when the “news” angle is apparently only worth about four of those inches? I don’t know. Obviously, the Dispatch editors thought so.

I think there could have been and, if you were going to do this story and run it where and how long they did, should have been so much more. How many people in Ohio would be affected by this law? How many people work as strippers, as bouncers, as bar tenders, and how many patronize the clubs? What about the legislators. What prompted this law? What do they have to say? What about strippers who have had patrons go to far, who haven’t had such a good experience and who might welcome tightening restrictions? Maybe they’ve been reporting on this law for awhile… but I, not following the Ohio legislature or the plight of strippers, could have used some more context.

That’s my two cents.

ABJ managing editor’s departure strikes a chord

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

The managing editor at the Akron Beacon Journal is leaving to be the editor at the Evasville Courier-Press.

Mizell Stewart was the top editor at the Beacon since last fall when they randomly announced the editor would be leaving. This after being sold by Knight-Ridder, then bought and then sold, all which were followed by a round of lay-offs that cut about a quarter of the newsroom.

Though I’ve never worked for the Beacon, I have had many friends who did, including several during or since that transition. And from my understanding the morale of the newsroom is pretty much non-existant these days; their belief in the future of journalism is in question. I’m sure there are exceptions to that rule, but from what I’ve been told, of late it became a depressing place to work.

So, when my editor pointed out this announcement on Friday night, it made me sad. The Beacon needs stability and strong leadership now more than ever. He didn’t understand why it would trouble me to hear of another shake-up. But I grew up reading the Beacon Journal. The ABJ is my hometown paper, and everybody has a soft spot for their hometown paper. I was extremely fortunate because my paper was so high quality. The journalism they produced mattered, and the stories they chased changed things. It’s the paper that made me believe in quality journalism and the nobility of pursuing this as a career. It’s still the place I go to find out news about the people and places I grew up with, but sadly, it’s not at all the same paper I grew up reading. So my sincere hope is this is the last change in editorial leadership for awhile, and the new editor, Bruce Winges, who is apparently a long-time newspaperman (much of it at the Beacon), can turn around not just the morale but the decline. And I hope he redesigns the Web site, too.

(Oh, I added that last comment and then read the whole story which says there’s an Ohio.com redesign in the works for July! Thank you journalism Gods.)

FYI: Evansville, according to the job posting for the editor position, has a circulation of about 67,000 daily and 89,000 Sunday. The Beacon Journal’s circulation is about 134,000 daily and 174,000 Sunday, according to the Beacon’s article.

(As an aside, I would like to see paper’s including their online viewership / unique visitors per day in these things. It’s interesting to me, just from what I’ve heard from other friends at different papers and comparatively here, how the online numbers can be really disproportionate to the print circulation. Some smaller papers have online viewerships on par or even higher than papers twice their size.)

More on the announcement:
The Beacon’s take and new editor announcement or The Courier-Press’s really long story about Stewart’s arrival.

‘Why is this carbon-based?’

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

As I was reading Paul Conley’s latest post about skills students need to get hired, something clicked. He references another post he made that’s worth reading: Folks with resumes need not apply. The more important post, however, is the three things j-school students need to know to get hired.

I agree with that entire post. But here’s the thing that clicked:

Few things tell me less about a prospective hire than clips from a college newspaper.
Yet most of the students I meet use clips as the center of their job-searching efforts. The students, apparently at the urging of teachers, are often quite proud of their clips. And they have come to believe that the perfect clip will lead to the perfect entry-level job.

Most importantly, a clip ties a student to the part of the industry that is least likely to hire him — print. When a student hands a clip to a publishing executive today he’s likely handing it to someone who has already laid off a slew of print-only reporters. It’s an exercise in absurdity for students to market themselves as talented print journalists to executives who have laid off talented print journalists by the thousands.

I learned this relatively early in my job search from an editor who was impressed with my resume, mostly by my demonstrated new-media experience. But she raised one extremely valid point about my package. In her words, “Why is this carbon-based?” Good question. Why was I, of all people, applying on paper?!

As soon as she said it, I knew she was right. It was the catalyst I needed to organize my professional work online. The next week, I registered a domain, started my blog, uploaded my resume and posted my clips online in one central location.

As I sent out a few more applications for jobs or e-mails to editors inquiring about postings or openings, it was that site I sent. Usually with the note itself serving as the cover letter and an attached resume document. I always offered to send a package of clips. But I was not once asked to.

Until about two weeks ago, I’d still been collecting the papers/tear sheets with my stories at the paper where I work now. Thinking, of course, I should keep my clips, at least the best of them, in print.

Now, I’m going to recycle the papers when I finish reading them unless it’s a presentation I think comes across better or particularly well in print, and even then, I’m saving it for my own benefit. Because, duh, it dawned on me, there really is no need to do that. The job I will apply for next is not going to be one where printed clips are expected. If they are, it’s not the job for me.

In fact, none of the papers I actually interviewed with when looking for a job post-graduation ever saw my clips in print before my in-person interview. A large part of me thinks it wasn’t those clips that got me the interview.

Paul Conley is absolutely on target. If all you have to show for yourself after your undergrad experience is a few solid clips from a newspaper, then you’re wasting your ink. (As well as several thousand dollars in tuition at a school that obviously didn’t adequately prepare you.) Seriously.

People will be far more impressed even by a blogspot or wordpress account that keeps a running list of your latest stories than by a stack of copies that will likely end up in some filing cabinent to be stumbled upon several months later and then tossed (and hopefully recycled). At least post your resume online. But why not step beyond that? At a minimum start a blog about something you care about. It’s free, and it’s easier than ordering a coffee at Starbucks. Then start making some videos or podcasts, start experimenting. Keep a flickr account. Organize your interests in del.icio.us. Etc. Show that you have mastered the technology that news organizations are moving towards not the very thing they’re running from. That will help you land the elusive job you covet.

And as for the alternate story forms Conley talks about in the latest post? You better believe this is important, whether you are writing for print or online. At every paper I interviewed with, I was asked how I would either re-do a story they had already run in an alternate way, OR given a hypothetical story and asked how I’d present it in a unique way, OR asked to give an example of a time where I had opted for a non-traditional story form.

And guess what? I’ve done a lot of non-traditional stories since starting my job at a newspaper. In tomorrow’s paper, I have six “charticles” running as a package for an annual award given instead of a linear story. This is real.

A list of random updates

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

Some random thoughts before I get off for the night:

  • Working Sunday really isn’t that bad, even the 8 a.m. shift when you’re alone in the office babysitting the scanner and updating the site. The drawback is there is pretty much nothing going on that isn’t somehow church-related. I’m not sure how my editor took it when my reaction was, “You want me to… cover a church service?” But luckily, we were able to come up with a pretty sweet angle. I’ll probably post that story in the clips tomorrow when it runs (not because it’s amazing or “clip-worthy” but because I liked it). Add to the mix that it was a holiday and Sunday, and today was the slowest news day of my working life.
  • I also work Christmas this year. Both of these holidays I inadvertedly talked myself into working. I should keep my mouth shut.
  • I have been wasting too much time on Twitter already. It’s cutting into my Facebook time. ;)
  • Speaking of Facebook, I have a question and want to hear some opinions. One of my co-workers, about my age and also a member of Facebook, today told me I was “brave for listing your political leanings” on Facebook. While I’m not a hardcore anything, and I do understand how having my political leanings known could be perceived as a conflict of interest, I’m wondering if it actually matters? I’m not out there crusading for any causes or signing and circulating any petitions. I know it really depends on the organization’s policy, and I would have to ask my editors if it was a definite don’t. But I wanted to hear some thoughts. I’ve discussed this blog with the powers that be at my paper, and we kind of came up with some ground rules. One of them being I can’t go off on political rants. (I wouldn’t anyway. I don’t know enough or care enough about politics to get into it. Most of it’s just semantics anyway.) But I don’t see how admitting I lean liberal is a horrible thing? It’s a bias I know exists and because of that, when dealing with issues where it comes into play, I almost overcompensate for it. I do not cover government where political parties really play any role, and I don’t really ever want to do such reporting. Though, the same person also raised the point that being registered as a member of one party or another falls in the same category. I definitely disagree with that. If I want to vote in a primary election, I have to pick one party or another. Should my job dictate that it is not OK for me to vote in a primary election, which is part of my constitutional rights? (Granted, either way it doesn’t matter this year — we have no contested seats in primaries in the county.) My argument was my Facebook also indicates I am “Christian.” Should that bar me from covering anything that has to do with religion because I have stated publicly what camp I stand in? I don’t know. But thought it was an interesting topic to bring up.
  • I have pretty much finished reading Somebody Told Me and can already tell that I am a stronger writer because of it. I think I am more aware of the nuances of word choice and descriptive details after noticing how effortlessly he weaved them in and impressed me. Seriously, at several points I was jealous of his talent at finding the perfect words and phrases to describe people, places, actions or even ideas. They say reading makes you a better writer. Anyone wanting to write, I recommend reading the articles in that book.
  • Currently, I’m reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. I really like it so far. I read one of the quotes on the book that said it was like the Sound and the Fury meets the Catcher in the Rye. I agree, and think it’s equally as good as both of those classics.
  • All of this reading is part of my effort to get through the mountain of books I have purchased but not had time to read. It is actually getting ridiculous in that I am out of room on my shelves for anymore unread books. And I really miss visiting Borders. So I need to clear this queue quickly. I also really want to sign up for the local libraries, but I can’t because I feel guilty looking at the stacks of unread books for which I’ve actually paid.
  • At the end of this week is my 90-day mark at my job. This means I’ll be eligible for health insurance and all that fun stuff. That is, as long as they don’t think I suck too bad and decide, eh, it’s not working out. (The first 90 days are “probationary.”) I looked over my review checklist already, and it looks like I’ll be sticking around. So yay for not being horrible at journalism and not failing at my first job. I know it’s silly, but I have a tendency to worry about these things.
  • Also, I can’t believe I’ve only been here three months. It seems like I’ve been here for only a few weeks and also like I’ve been doing this for years. It’s hard to describe. There is still so much unconquered territory, even just on my own beat. (In my defense, I’m responsible for something like two dozen school corporations spread out across 10 counties, each with several schools.) But I’m also taking on more responsibilities here and starting some new projects. It’s also a reminder that I’ve been gone nearly a semester from the Stater, and yet that world still turns without me. God, so much to learn!

That’s all I’ve got. What, like that isn’t enough?