Archive for the 'Journalism' Category

Dropped chain, Palin vocabulary much ado about nothing

Controversy and mistakes sometimes make for good television, whether they’re the result of a dropped chain in a big bike race or what amounts to just another typo by a passing fancy who refused to pass.

Sarah Palin - Dead Grizzly
Image by smiteme via Flickr

Take the outrage over Alberto Contador’s reclaiming the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. Andy Schleck was the overall leader until his chain came off and he had to stop to fix it. Contador sped on.

How unsportsmanlike of AC to “attack” Schleck at that point! some fans cried.

What a display of dishonor!

Schleck had anger in his stomach and vowed to take his revenge. (That was the good television part – the melodrama.) Contador was booed on the podium and even apologized, but continued to hold the lead.

I have to agree with commentator Phil Liggett: Contador did nothing wrong. If an Olympic sprinter stumbles in a run for the gold, do her opponents stop and wait for her to get up? When a NASCAR driver blows an engine, do the other guys pull over while he switches cars?

Let it go, people.

Then there’s the hoo-ha over what was simply the latest example of Sarah Palin’s chronic cluelessness.

Were her tweets really an important part of the story about where a mosque should be in New York? Was her use – again – of the non-word “refudiate” newsworthy?

No, and no.

Good television, though, if you’re into dumbed-down discourse and style without substance or spelling.

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Keep the newspaper? Some advice for me

Off the bike…

Mrs. Smith and I are trying to decide if we should renew our subscription to the newspaper that employed her for 19 years or so before she decided to move on.

I asked for advice the other day. Following are some of the responses that came via Twitter and Facebook. (I think I used my weekly quota of asterisks.)

Unless otherwise indicated, these came from Eastern Iowa:

Dave* – I would keep your Gazette subscription for sure!

Paul (MN) – I went to weekend only subscription a couple years ago. I can only take the time and aggravation a couple days a week.

Ron – I only read the Sat/Sun edition for years then dropped it to read the e-Edition

Rita – If I made the choice on that in my household – it would be ‘no’ though I do enjoy chatting with the delivery woman at 6:30 am. It is a rehash of local – on all the time – news.

Rob – Dumped mine 20 years ago. Test is: do you recycle them unopened??

Denise – Haven’t gotten the paper in yes. There r so many ways ti keep informed

Jennifer** – Keep it. Keep it. Keep it.

Beverly (MN) – I got rid of mine years ago. Minnneapolis Trib had nothing to say and had gone to bigger print…I think to fill the space. Tried New York Times on sunday. That kept me up to date. So, you decide…

Sarah*** – How will you do your crossword puzzles?

B.J. – Good question, Sarah! I hardly ever get to do them (since your Mom does them). I swore off Sudokus as a waste of time. I can read those great Jennife rHemmingsen columns online…. Still undecided and waiting for more community input.

Larry – We still get the weekend papers but gave up the daily 6 months ago. No content beyond what was on last nights TV news and I can read it on line for free. I don’t miss it a bit.

B.J. – We do read them pretty closely B4 recycling. Sometimes enjoy the wacky letters to editor. Check the obits to make sure I’m not there….

D’Anne (NJ) – if you can subscribe (paid) online, save a tree; I still subscribe to 2 dailes (7 x/week) although both are available online, 1 is free online, but who’s paying the freight if there’s no advertisers? and advertisers won’t advertise if there’s no circ. even so, on line adverts go for pennies, not the $$$ of paper. So subscribe (online or paper) to newspapers with meaningful content.

I had thought I might provoke a response from a circulation type making a case for home delivery, but nothing like that so far. One more loss won’t make much difference, right?

Now leaning toward dropping it to see if I can handle the withdrawal. I had a rough time recently when visiting my sister at her newspaper-free home in Denver, but after 14 days the craving for the rustle of newsprint with my morning coffee was pretty much gone.

* * *
* Dave Storey is publisher of the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Nice try, Dave. I hope the feedback from these folks is helpful.
** Jennifer Hemmingsen, Gazette columnist.
*** My daughter.

Nasty reactions to Share the Road efforts

After asking people on Twitter and Facebook yesterday to advise me on keeping a daily newspaper subscription, this morning I discovered at least one advantage of getting my news online.

I came across this article about our efforts to improve safety on county roads.

The advantage of reading it online?

Sometimes I forget how many ignorant and potentially dangerous people are hiding under rocks out there. Then the mostly anonymous, uninformed and often venomous commenters expose their contempt  and sometimes hatred for others, and I remember to be more careful.

You don’t get that immediate feedback in a daily newspaper.

Concerns about how tax money is spent certainly are legitimate, but inexpensive signage telling people to be careful isn’t asking much. We will have signs.

Wide shoulders might be a good idea in some places, and it’s responsible and smart for the supervisors to be looking into that concept. (It isn’t just cyclists who benefit from wider shoulders and better-built roads.)

It’s clear we have a long way to go to educate people about sharing the road. Some will never get it, so be careful out there.

Later, I’ll share some of what I heard about renewing my subscription to the daily paper. I don’t have to make a decision for a few days yet.

Pedal on.

Let us suppose: The “heretic” Malcolm MacLean and journalism today

Off the bike

A few words and links about journalism:

In the early 1970s, the University of Iowa School of Journalism was denied accreditation and lost a good bit of its reputation. This sort of thing happens sometimes when innovators are involved.

It is a complicated story, which is conspicuous by its absence from this timeline.

Some of it was documented in the Iowa Journalism Review several years ago (albeit very poorly, to judge by the subsequent comments from Brent Ruben, Richard Budd and Ken Starck). I have not read the book mentioned in that story, but I will be looking for it. I suspect there are good lessons to be learned.

I met the central figure, Malcolm MacLean, just once, when I visited the university as a high school senior.

Much of what he said, I readily admit, went right over my head. As a school newspaper sports editor and aspiring Hawkeye journalism student, I was focused on what we were having for lunch at the Memorial Union, the blizzard my mother and I had just driven through, and on what I thought of as journalism’s nuts and bolts – writing a good lede, the inverted pyramid, and getting the facts right.

Except for the lunch, the blizzard and, to some extent, the inverted pyramid, those things are still important.

But so, as we’ve come to see more clearly in more recent history, is imagination.

One of my favorite phrases, which I have used more times than I can count in just as many contexts, I learned from Dr. Joe Ascroft, who taught one of my freshman journalism classes in that soon-to-be non-accredited program:

“Let us suppose.”

Let us suppose we are trying to build a strong team of journalists for a thriving organization today. What lessons might apply? What skills would we look for?

I’ll propose a few basic principles:

  • Get the basics right, of course. Write clearly.
  • Learn and use the many tools of the trade.
  • Value diverse experience and perspectives. If the best minds in publishing have brought us to our present circumstance, cast the net wider.
  • Find ways to involve people with content. Look for connections between information and people, and show those people the connections.
  • Acknowledge your biases and let the community judge.
  • Be a part of the community.
  • Have no fear.

MacLean might not have seen the Internet coming, but he and the J-School staff of the time had us thinking beyond the printed page. We were learning about film and broadcasting and interactivity as well as typography and writing newspaper stories and headlines.

All of those skills are needed now.

My hope for journalism is that someone is looking beyond the next few months with a good deal of imagination and no fear at all. My guess is that Malcolm MacLean would be right at home in digital journalism and looking well down the road, afraid of nothing.

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To Robert Davison: Be the media

Off the bike…

Interesting letter to the editor in this morning’s Gazette / yesterday’s online Gazette.

Robert Davison of Cedar Rapids says the newspaper needs a columnist who will be a “biased promoter” of Cedar Rapids.

Not that anyone asked me, but I couldn’t disagree more.

For one thing, such a columnist/promoter would not be taken very seriously as a journalist. The newspaper might as well devote a column to be authored on occasion by the head of the Chamber of Commerce, local economic development groups, maybe the mayor and various business owners and non-profit causes. (Now that I mention it, I seem to remember seeing guest columns by some of these characters. They even let me do one about bicycling last summer.)

I’d say this to Mr. Davison, pretty much as I said to cyclists who bemoan the lack of bicycling stories in the local media:

If you want someone to champion Cedar Rapids, find something good to say and say it. Get your friends and neighbors to say it.

You may not quite understand this yet, but you are part of the media.

  • You and others have your say occasionally on the Gazette’s opinion page and letters and comments in other media.
  • You are free to write your own blog, to be your own columnist and promote Cedar Rapids as much as you want, whenever you want. You might get people to read your column and help you spread the good news. You might not.
  • You can publish information about Cedar Rapids in various social media for all the world to see.

I even started a blog for folks who want to share nice stories about what’s going on in their communities. It’s called Iowa Nice. No, it’s not just about Cedar Rapids, so some other places get mentioned.

It’s about whatever contributors want it to be as long as it’s related to the overall theme of Iowa people being Iowans, about favorite Iowa places (physical, digital or otherwise).

You’re not confined to the Gazette’s opinion page any more.

Be the media.

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No, you don’t have to go to Madison to get a bike that fits

There are shops closer to home

Susan and I went to Madison the other day for a bike fitting. Our choice.

We go there often just because we like Madison, despite all the Badgers fans. (Actually, I respect the Badgers and their fans. I even have a Wisconsin spare tire cover for my red Wrangler. It’s hidden away in the basement.)

Our trip did leave me wondering who are the best bike fitters in Iowa. I asked this on the Bike Iowa forum and warn you, of course, that there is absolutely nothing scientific about the results. I won’t even share them just yet; maybe I’ll get a little more feedback.

Then I hope to get some of these Iowa experts’ thoughts on fitting by asking them to answer two or three questions.

Meantime, a couple of generalizations I’ll throw out there:

One generalization: Most bike shops that have well-trained, experienced personnel will do at least a fair job of getting you on the right bicycle.

Another one: That’s plenty good for most recreational cyclists and casual pedalers. If you’re in the habit of riding long distances, you probably want and need to pay more attention to fit. If you’re a competitive cyclist or triathlete, you already know this stuff.

But what should a novice look for? What questions should she ask?

Someone who is in the market for a new bike asked me about this just yesterday. I could use some help answering her.

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Unhappy with lack of cycling news? Do something about it

The Des Moines Register reported on Gary Fisher’s visit to a West Des Moines bike shop while he was in Iowa for the Iowa Bicycle Summit.

A couple of commenters quickly took the DMR to task for not covering the summit itself.

While I’d like to see more in the news about cycling, of course, I’d like to challenge these folks to quit their anonymous whining and do some reporting themselves.

  • Add your comments to this blog right here, or make your own blog. It isn’t rocket science.
  • If you were at the bike summit, tell us about it.
  • If you weren’t, find someone who was and ask them to write about it.

Don’t count on the mainstream media to give you the news. The newspapers that aren’t bleeding out or already pronounced dead are trying desperately to figure out how to save themselves. If they don’t see the payoff, they’re not going to spend the money. Television news? Let’s just say they have obviously limited resources, too.

I was hoping to find some coverage here in C.R. the other day about a report that our local Bicycle Advisory Committee was to make to the city council. Nada so far. (If there was some, please let me know. I emailed bicycle coordinator Ron Griffith to ask if he can share what he told the council. I’ll pass along whatever I get.)

You can whine about how little attention cycling gets in the media, or you can make a difference yourself.

Put up. And use your real name.

Just stop it with the whining already.

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Did it matter that dead cyclist was homeless?

The sad case of Jerry Person, the apparently homeless man who was killed while riding his bicycle in Iowa in 2007, got me wondering. If he had not been homeless, if family and friends had been around to advocate for a stiff sentence for the hit-and-run driver who killed him, would that driver now be facing more than six months in jail?

I asked the Muscatine County prosecutor, Alan R. Ostergren.

He replied:

“No. I do not believe that had any impact. The sentence was dictated by what the state could have proven at trial, the defendant’s criminal history, and the circumstances of the commission of counts of conviction. Incidentally, the sentence of six months in the county jail is quite possibly longer that he would serve (in actual time before parole) than if he had been sentenced to prison for the felony charge of leaving the scene of a fatality accident.”

I’m not sure what to make of the “incidentally” part. Sounds like maybe we need to have a tougher penalty for leaving the scene of a fatal accident, not to mention our need to impose serious time when people hit and kill other people with their cars.

On the more general issue of the homeless and how they fare as victims in our justice system, I’ve sent out a few queries and hope to find out if anyone has studied that issue.

All due respect to Ostergren, I find it hard to believe Clark Anderson would have gotten just six months in jail if someone had to explain that to Jerry Person’s widow and children.

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Muscatine man to serve 6 months in jail for cyclist’s death

Updated with info in italics

Clark Anderson is a lucky guy.

The Muscatine, Iowa, man was charged at one point with vehicular homicide for the death of Jerry Person, who was killed Sept. 4, 2007, while riding his bicycle. Anderson could have faced up to 25 years in prison, but for the subsequent deaths of two witnesses and another witness who couldn’t be found when needed to prosecute the driver. (This was reported in an Associated Press story in various media this week.)

His sentence in a plea deal? He’s supposed to do six months in jail for leaving the scene of a fatal accident and driving with a revoked license.

Someone runs me down and leaves me for dead on the side of the road, I hope he gets the max. If you witness my demise, please stick around for the trial. I’d appreciate it.

If anyone has more information about Jerry Person, who was identified as “formerly of Fort Smith, Ark.,” please pass it along. I couldn’t find much and am curious.

For now, pedal on. Carefully.

Jennifer Meyer of the Muscatine Journal sent these links in response to an email, in which I asked for additional information about the victim:

She added: “No one from Mr. Person’s family or any friends attended the sentencing on his behalf.”

Little more seems to be known about him. Melissa Regennitter, who covered the story initially for the Muscatine Journal, said she understood he was homeless and was seen often in the West Liberty area.

I also asked the prosecutor – Alan R. Ostergren – a few questions. Among other things, I wondered what it was in the witnesses’ statements that had led to the initial charge of vehicular homicide. His response:

“I cannot comment on the specifics of the investigation due to ethics rules which apply to prosecutors. I can state that Mr. Person was riding his bicycle southbound on County Road X-54 when he was struck from behind by Mr. Anderson’s vehicle. Mr. Person was killed instantly from the injuries suffered in the impact. We do not know where Mr. Person was headed at the time.

“We do not know how to contact Mr. Person’s family. The Muscatine County SO [Sheriff’s Office] conducted a thorough investigation but were unable to find next-of-kin for him.”



I may have hit the delete button too quickly this morning on what I thought was spam. It said something about telling the other side of a story. If you posted that, please comment again and I promise to take a closer look at it. Thanks.

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Stepping offline to pound the pavement: U.S. has jobs to fill in Linn County

Off the bike…

Over the past several months I’ve followed and participated in some online conversations about building networks. I’ve assembled some networks of my own for diverse purposes and helped some clients do the same.

In the past couple of weeks, though, I’ve taken some steps backward technologically into non-digital network building. Why? Because there are many people in the Cedar Rapids community who are not linked in, online and able to tweet at will from their digital devices.

Some things, I’ve been reminded, can’t be done entirely electronically – things like recruiting temporary workers for the U.S. Census Bureau, as I’m temporarily engaged in doing.

My territory is much of Linn County, Iowa, south and east of Highway 151, including Ely and Fairfax. In making the rounds of churches and other community centers to talk to people and distribute information, I’ve been reminded also of the devastation wrought by last summer’s floods.

A number of churches that were flooded are still holding services in other parts of the city. Some other organizations who serve the poor were dislocated, too. For example, when I visited Hope Lutheran Church, which at 2736 Bowling Street SW was spared from floodwaters, Pastor Dan’s generous help included a suggestion that I come back an hour later and talk to the CrossRoads Mission staff.

The mission’ s building at 526 Third Avenue SW was a victim of the flood along with the neighborhood it serves. The folks at the mission’s temporary quarters the day I stopped in said it was very likely they would have visitors who could use some temporary work. Most, however, wouldn’t have Internet access or even a phone to call the toll-free number.

The loss of our library in the flood only compounds that problem, since those computers are no longer available. Fortunately, people who don’t have other ways to apply can get the information and access to phones and computers at Iowa Workforce Development, 800 7th Street SE, Cedar Rapids. That office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The toll-free U.S. Census Bureau Jobs Line phone number is 1-866-861-2010.

Information about applying for jobs is online, too, of course: Click here.

The benefits of having a job, even on a temporary basis, are obvious. A couple of final notes about the census:

Getting a correct census count in our area could be especially challenging because of the people who have lost their homes and had to relocate. Missing anyone who should be counted could mean missing out on federal funding that we need.

To quote from the website:

“The census count is used in determining representation in the U.S. House of Representatives, state legislatures, and local governments. It is also used in distributing about $300 billion in federal funding annually to states and localities for public programs in education, community healthcare, public transportation, housing, and other areas.”

Help spread the word. We need a correct count, and we have jobs for people to do.

Thank you.

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