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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Our eyes--and hearts--are opened

I am forever changed by my visit to Korea and much of that it owing to the people I met and the conversations we had. The first time this notion really hit me was when we arrived at the Twin Cities airport on our way home. We had maneuvered through customs and immigration in Japan and South Korea and were never made to feel as unwelcome foreigners. But from the moment Mac and I walked off the jetway and into the customs line, the difference was palpable. We both observed it instantly.

We are the big, ugly Americans, singling out foreign travelers and questioning them ceaselessly about where they've been, what they're carrying with them and the purpose of their trip. It was profiling at its worst. If that were my experience in Asia, I would not feel compelled to return. Customs agents operating like rent-a-cops were a complete embarrassment to our country. We were forced to pick up our bags, walk them less than 100 feet through declarations and then check them again for the flight home, something we were not asked to do in Tokyo.

I was on my cell phone when we got in line, calling home for the first time in seven days, when a customs agent (no doubt with short man's disease) comes up to me and says, "Ma'am, you can't be on the cell phone in here." What???

American airports are bastions of paranoia. No photos can be taken, no talking on the cell phone. After all, this is critical infrastructure. The Asian airports are far more sophisticated and modern in their technology and design than anything we have (not to mention a whole lot cleaner). Watching this crass TSA woman shouting to an elderly Asian man in a wheelchair, "Sir, you're going to have to walk through the security monitor" made me bristle. The screening area resembled a retrofitted fortress and was an utterly depressing welcome. There's an illustration of what you cannot bring into the states including a drawing of a bomb that resembles something Wile E. Coyote would be handed by the Road Runner.

All I could think was that we Americans, though victims of a horrific terrorist attack, really have no idea--still--what it means to live with threats day to day. The threats our colleagues in Asian countries face may seem small in numbers, but the impact is seismic.

And so it was with great interest that I read this column by David Shaw in yesterday's L.A. Times.

I was compelled to write to Shaw about the struggles I heard from our Asian colleagues. Throughout the afternoon on Nov. 18, we heard reports on the status of journalism and freedom of the press from all the participating countries. I was struck by the stories of our colleagues in Malaysia, Indonesia,
Bangladesh and the Philippines.

In fact, the Filipino delegation could not attend at the last moment because of the latest killings of journalists. But while these journalists decried the fates of their fellow colleagues, they remain ever-vigilant in their efforts to speak truth to power. It's interesting to note that in most cases, no one has been arrested, let alone charged, for these crimes.

Here's a brief rundown of some of the threats:
In Cambodia 11 journalists have been arrested or detained since 2002. Two
were under death threats and a third was tortured. A radio broadcaster who
criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodian People's Party was
gunned down in front of his office.

15 Filipino journalists have been killed in the past two years. Only Iraq, a
nation at war, had more journalists killed this year. And the Philippines
is supposed to be a democracy.

In Bangladesh:
Anwar Hossian Appollo, asst. editor of the Daily Asian Express, was shot
twice in the head on Oct. 24 inside his newsroom by an attacker who stormed
the office.

Dipankar Chakrabarty, executive editor of Durjoy Bangla newspaper, was
murdered while walking home on Oct. 2.

Kamal Hossain, a correspondent for Ajker Kagoj, was killed Aug. 22 after he
had been receiving death threats.

Humayun Kabir Balu, editor of a regional daily, was killed in a bomb attack
on June 27.

Nabile Ahmmed, a freelance journalist, was killed on March 7 after he helped
police to ID some gang members.

Manik Shaha, of the daily New Age and a BBC correspondent, was killed when a
bomb was thrown at his head on Jan. 15.

During May and June, 108 Bengali journalists were tortured or harassed in 80
incidents of press bashing.

Shaw responded by calling it "a sad and tragic state of affairs." But the story doesn't end there.

In a flurry of e-mails exchanged since our return, I've wished my Asian colleagues Godspeed in their pursuit for a free press. Certainly we have serious problems here in the U.S., but as my colleague, Peter Lewis, of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. wrote: "I've returned home inspired by what we have in common and humbled by our courageous colleagues in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Malaysia for whom press freedom is all too often a matter of life and death."

And from Neil Ralston, a fellow SPJer and professor at Northwestern State University in Louisiana: "My main impression now is that the visit to another country has taught me as much about myself and the American culture as it has about the people in Korea. We Americans have much to learn if we want to stay ahead economically and otherwise."

Indeed. There was something utterly depressing about coming home to headlines of a NBA brawl in Detroit and our President acting like a cowboy, rescuing his Secret Service agent in Buenos Aires. Major stories in Korean papers focused on the the Korean won's appreciation (and the weakening of the U.S. dollar in foreign markets, a story you'll find in today's business section on page 3)and its impact on exports; the national university entrance exam, which is a huge deal for students and their families; and a front-page analysis piece on the impact of Condoleeza Rice as secretary of state on Seoul.

I'm not saying that this news is more important, only that it demonstrates what is perceived as important to the region. How important is an NBA game? What's more important about the the Asia-Pacific summit--that Bush mistakenly thought he was John Wayne or that he squeezed the South Koreans out of the next round of talks with North Korea?

It seems I and my American colleagues are not the only ones who are changed. I received this response from my dear Mr. Park. "Are you changed? So am I. I have been too shy to make me known or "heard by singing" to people around me, particulary foreigners. Your open heart has contributed to the change in my attitudes. I'll never forget the happiest moments spent with you and your friends.

"I would like to show you a Korea felt inside when you make a second visit to Korea, the land of morning calm. Korea has undergone so many hardships ranging invasions from Chinese and Japanese to financial crisis. We survived, nurturing the ability to see hope in the face of adversity. You could find in the fragmented piece of a roof tile - one of the souveniors you have taken to America - the smile of perseverance and hope."

And that's what impressed me most: In the face of such horrific adversity there was unquestioning perseverance and boundless hope for a better future.

Monday, November 22, 2004

A life-changing trip

Fresh from my trip to Korea last week I'm still trying to process all the friendships, experiences and conversations I had. To say this was the trip of a lifetime is an understatement of the highest order. In the days and weeks to come, I'll do my best to share it with you. For now, I think I'll let the experience marinate a bit. Here are a few snippets that my jet-lagged brain can process.

• Though Asian journalists face challenges to their job (including threats to life and limb) that we American journalists cannot fathom, we all share a common belief that borders on the idealistic to do what is right and good and in the interest of freedom.

• That karaoke and boilermakers can promote peace among cultures. There's something about a roomful of people from Korea, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and America all singing "Daydream Believer" at the top of their lungs that is singularly moving and unifying. There was a whole lotta love in the room.

• That we can all share a laugh. On a bus trip from Suwon City to Seoul (with all of us glowing from the after-effects of Suwon whiskey shooters), the jokes began. It all started with a delightful riff between the Australians and Americans, but quickly spread to include the Cambodians, Bengalis and Koreans.

• That I will never forget the generosity and beauty of my new friends at the Journalism Association of Korea. They taught us what it means to truly bring people together in the spirit of fellowship and learning and how to cross seemingly insurmountable cultural divides.

I am especially thankful to the many wonderful insights of Mr. Seong-Ho Park. He had a quiet manner, but never hesitated to share many cultural insights, whether we were discussing Buddhism, Korean food, our sons or the state of the press in Korea. And, admittedly, I'm a sucker for being serenaded. Move over Tony Bennett....

I am equally thankful to my family for enduring my absence so I could learn so much. And to my fellow SPJ travelers (Mac, Sonya, Ann, Susan, Terry, Robert, Irwin and Neil) who now feel more like family–my sisters and brothers in spirit if not in name-than mere colleagues.

Kamsahamnida. Thank you...

Friday, November 12, 2004

My gypsy soul

"In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag."
- W.H. Auden

Okay, the light at the end of the tunnel is nigh and I'm about to call an end to a hectic week. There's still much to do before departing the states, but the work portion is complete.

Now I turn my attention to making the ever-lengthening list of kids' activities, practices, homework, etc. to keep track of while I'm gone. And then it's time to pack.

I tend to check my horoscope before embarking on major events such as traveling, and found this one today:

Physically you might be feeling a little under the weather today, dear Virgo, but mentally you're flying high. Ideas could keep popping into your mind at a thousand miles an hour, sending you off into flights of fancy that could excite your creative abilities. This is a great day to read, or watch documentaries on TV, or otherwise feed your intellect. Whatever you learn could be of great practical use to you later.

I'm afraid I've spent most the day in my car, but the ideas do keep coming. I hope to share more on those in the coming weeks. For now, the only flight of fancy I'll be taking is the flight to Seoul, departing Cleveland at 8:55 a.m. Sunday.

I haven't really let myself get too excited about the trip until today and I am flying high. Someone is going to have to pull me off the ceiling and back to earth. It would be a hard task because my gypsy soul is singing, my friends. I'll be traveling until Monday night, but hope to be posting regularly on Creative Ink beginning Tuesday about my experiences in Korea.

This is wholly unrelated to the above post, but I had to share nonetheless. I just picked up Carl Hiaasen's children's book, "Hoot," for my boys. Here's a great interview with him in Miami's New Times. Hiaasen, talking about the journalism profession, states:

"You have to have a strong masochistic streak," he counsels. "You have to be able to say, 'I'm never going to be rich, but I'm going to be happy. I'm doing good work and changing people's lives.' You have to tell yourself that every morning when you go into the office, because every day this business is becoming less and less fun."

Reporter: That's some pep talk: Welcome to a life of diminishing returns! Now polish your lede.

"Well, being a journalist is also a legal way to work out a lot of problems," Hiaasen quips, flashing just the hint of a smile. "I look at it as free therapy.... If you can make people laugh, if you can take them along on this great ride where they're enjoying themselves, and at the same time get a few riffs in, if it sticks, fine. If it doesn't, at least you've got it out of your system."

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Why we love Yeats

While sorting through the many stacks of books that now clutter my office, I happened upon a slim collection of poems by Irish poet William Butler Yeats, a master romantic. Thumbing through the pages I found this quietly beautiful, moving verse.


When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false and true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Truth to power

This time next week I'll be sitting on a panel with the founder of Ohmy News, a professor from Korea's Ewha Womans University and the executive director of the Journalism Association of Korea's Journalism Research Institute talking about trends in the new media industry.

We'll be amid delegates from all over East Asia gathered at the Korea Press Center for the second East Asia Journalists Forum. I'm not sure what to expect of this event. I was asked to prepare remarks in advance, which I did and sent to Korea in October. My subject: "How Blogging is Shaping News Coverage."

Found it curious that at last night's program, "Media Ethics and the 2004 Presidential Campaign" at John Carroll University (sponsored by SPJ and the JCU Center of Media Ethics and Program in Applied Ethics) that most of the panelists spoke about bloggers with venom dripping from the corners of their mouths, nearly choking on the word.

I chuckled a bit because it was providing ad lib fodder for my presentation next week in Korea. Clearly missing from the panel was a blogger who could address some of the invective directed at them en masse by the four representatives of the traditional media and the token academic.

Their characterization of bloggers working in the middle of the night on computers in their rooms with no windows spewing vexatious lies was off base and missing the larger point: That bloggers are serving a readership, sometimes with clear point of view, other times without. And that the public, in some measure, and the media, probably to a larger degree, are reading them.

Many, though clearly not all, bloggers “devour information, making them a smart, skeptical audience. Any journalist who would not welcome that is a fool. Given a choice between a world of nonreaders zoning out with MTV or a posse of tart-tongued digital watchdogs, I say: Up with blogs!” said Chris Satullo, editorial page editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, in a Sept. 26 column.

Traditional media should fear not. It will always have a place. After all, it is traditional media that often provides grist for the daily blogging mill. The larger question is: Isn’t there a way for us all—journalists and bloggers—to get along?

I think there has to be. If journalists are to continue to serve the public, we have to find ways of delivering quality content in formats to which readers will respond. In the end, we’re all reporting on events. New media is simply another method for reporting.

The danger comes in the outbursts of both sides blasting one another. Journalists dismiss bloggers as non-journalist scum while the bloggers shout big media bias and monopoly at traditional media organizations. There’s an underlying friction and maybe a bit of it is healthy for the craft. As a blogger and freelance writer for traditional media, I would venture to say we need each other more than either side will admit.

There’s no question that there is power in blogging. They serve increasingly as newsmakers and news breakers, but also as the watchdog of the watchdog.

And if there’s any good to come of this, it’s that bloggers will continue to challenge journalists. In our hearts, journalists are fierce competitors and bloggers are pushing us to become better—at research, sourcing, interviewing, verifying and, yes, writing. Those journalists and news organizations with any foresight will figure out a way to create a symbiotic relationship between the two. The smart organizations are doing it already.

Journalism, regardless of the method of delivery, must survive “(Media conglomerates) enable the craft, but they also inhibit and cheapen it. What matters is that journalism survive, that the craft of speaking the truth to power with factual care not be snuffed out. Because power prefers lies. Without journalism, lies flourish and liars rule,” said Satullo.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Conversation with my soul

I can't remember a time when music didn't profoundly influence my life. It was always in my house. We had a piano, though sadly only my sister was serious about learning to play. She's now an elementary music teacher.

My mom played piano, my dad sang and whistled constantly. My older brother sang and played guitar and my younger brother played drums. As for me, I played flute for seven years and took voice lessons for a year. But there's more to music then what I learned at the B-W Conservatory of Music. It's helped define me at so many points in my life. I've come to believe that it opens a conversation with my soul.

One of my most favorite things to do as a child was to take my dad's stereo headphones and lie on the floor with my eyes closed listening intently to rhythms, melodies, harmonies and phrasing. My sister and I can still pick apart any melody and harmony. We could spend hours together harmonizing. At one point, music was so much a part of my life that I considered pursuing it in college. But I am much more an appreciator of music than a performer.

Though if you can keep a secret, I'll tell you that I've always harbored the fantasy of being a great jazz vocalist. While I have no problem belting it out alone in my car or in the company of my sister, I'm painfully shy about singing in front of anyone else.

Still, I've had some poignant musical moments in my life. The one that stands out most vividly was a trip my dad and I made to Educator's Music in Lakewood to get my flute repaired. I had a beginner's flute. It was all my parents' could afford. But I asked if I could try playing the gleaming open-hole flute in the display case. The salesman pulled it out of the case and I began playing a piece I knew by heart. My dad's eyes were rimmed with tears when I finished. "You play beautifully, Peanut," he told me. I wanted that flute so badly and I knew in that moment that if he could have, he would have bought it for me. And that was enough for me.

During my senior year in high school, I took voice lessons from a private teacher. By day, she was a teacher and mother of young children, but by night she was a jazz vocalist. I envied her dual life. Things she taught me still stick with me today. She would seemingly contort my body to get it to produce a beautiful sound, explaining where I should "feel" the sensation of singing. "The tip of your nose should buzz." And when I did it well, it did buzz. She would press in on my belly, forcing the power within to find a way out.

For reasons I didn't know then, I spent a lot of energy holding back. I was afraid of that power within and not simply the musical power. To a degree, I still am. But as I get older I realize that music has a spiritual verve that resonants in my subconscious and I find it's been a lifelong companion, at turns comforting and provocative, and yes—powerful.

So now I'm going to end my afternoon with a little Van Morrison, who always soothes me like "Tupelo Honey."

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Values, day two

And on day two post-election the values impact continues. This New York Times op-ed by Garry Wills, an adjunct professor of history at Northwestern University, says Karl Rove’s approach shows “many more Americans believe in the Virgin Birth than in Darwin's theory of evolution.”

I don’t begrudge anyone their cultural, spiritual or political beliefs. But I am fearful of becoming a nation driven by one political agenda, one cultural view and one spiritual identity. As Wills points out:

“Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein's Sunni loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks us so dangerous, so single-minded, so impervious to international appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed.

“It is often observed that enemies come to resemble each other. We torture the torturers, we call our God better than theirs - as one American general put it, in words that the president has not repudiated.”

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Feeling ill

My heart is sick today in the aftermath of yesterday's election. It's no secret that I supported John Kerry for president. With a huge gulp, I suppose I have no choice but to accept the electorate's decision to give W four more years, though I have grave misgivings about the direction of our country.

But that's not what's making me most ill. It's that this election also saw complete control of the House and Senate in Republican hands, including the addition of some truly frightening right-wingers to the Senate. All I can say to Bush is that I sure hope he gets something done with this Republican sweep.

Districts have been redrawn in states like Texas, resulting in record numbers of Democrats losing their seats. The Democratic Party is quickly becoming irrelevant. The only bright spot is Barack Obama, who will be fighting an uphill battle every day as the only black member of the Senate. My heart is heavy and I wish I didn't care as much.

I was struck by exit polling suggesting the impact moral values played in the outcome. What does that mean in the context of a political election? Or cultural values? Does that mean we don't like anyone different from us and that makes us better people? And who ever said that George W. Bush has high moral values? Give me a break. If he's mister Bible-thumper then maybe he knows that line about "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." The messianic fervor with which he leads is downright frightening.

And with Chief Justice Rhenquist suffering from an aggressive form of cancer, I don't even want to think about what will happen to the court. We may soon find ourselves living back in the Dark Ages.

Then there's Ohio, which despite the objections of its Republican governor and senators, approved the most far-reaching marriage rights bill in the country. Peter Jennings of ABC News felt compelled to read the ballot language on air. For the record, I don't need the state government to protect my marriage. It's a despicable law that I predict will be archaic in a few years. In the meantime, Ohio is fast becoming a laughing stock of a state.

The bottom line is that our country functions best when there is a balance of power. The scariest part of the next four years is that we don't have a balance. My hope is that in the next two to four years the Democratic Party figures out how it and its message can be more moderate and relevant to all parts of the country, not just the Northeast and the West Coast.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Frustrated idealism

I’m a frustrated idealist. There’s a huge part of me that wants to change the world, improve the human spirit and condition in life. But there’s also a dark side of me that often wonders, “Why bother?”

Quite simply, the answer to why is: If I don’t care, how can expect others to care? It's not in my nature to give up and walk away. And so that's why I'm feeling just a little buoyant on this election day. Even my children are engaged in the discussion and talking about what's at stake. And so, as I’ve done in every election since they were born, I will take them with me to see democracy in action.

The only difference is that this year I’m not optimistic that this election will be over tomorrow morning. The words "too close to call" keep echoing in my head. It saddens me to think that the chasm between left and right, red and blue will only deepen in light of today's results.

But just as any good relationship—personal or professional—involves a mix of skills and ideas, and diversity of thought, I’ll remain ever hopeful that our country can come back together to address the very real problems facing our future.

And so on the heels of this divisive campaign season, I’m looking at the glass as half full. Early reports from family and friends describe long lines at polling places. Though I've also heard of one story where a voter was harrassed about wearing a campaign button in the polling place. Surely engaging ever-larger numbers of the electorate must be good for our country.

I’m not alone in my hope. This op-ed from NY Times’ Paul Krugman reminds us that there is reason to hope in America.

“I always get a little choked up when I go to the local school to cast my vote. The humbleness of the surroundings only emphasizes the majesty of the process: this is democracy, America's great gift to the world, in action.

“But over the last few days I've been seeing pictures from Florida that are even more majestic. They show long lines of voters, snaking through buildings and on down the sidewalk: citizens patiently waiting to do their civic duty. Those people still believe in American democracy; and because they do, so do I.”

And so do I, so don’t forget to vote.

Monday, November 01, 2004

My friend the rock star

Jesus, Friday was one of those incredibly nutty days. Went from spending the morning in my son's kindergarten classroom to lunch with a high school classmate of mine. But this wasn't any friend, she's also the drummer for Kid Rock. We hadn't seen in each other in almost 20 years.

I met Stefanie Eulinberg on my first day of seventh grade at Roehm Jr. High in Berea. It was late October and my family had just moved from Cincinnati. I felt like the world's biggest hick coming into this huge two-story junior high. If I could have melted into the walls I would have. It was all so intimidating and everyone seemed to fast, so advanced compared to my little girl heart.

But Stef latched on to me and saved me from disappearing completely. We were in Mr. Ferlin's English class and this black girl in red overalls leaned over to me and said, "You know Mr. Ferlin gives his pants to me to hem in home ec." I looked down and saw him sporting a wicked pair of floods. I started to giggle and then panicked about getting into trouble on my first day. Stef saw my uneasiness, but she has made me laugh and she loves nothing more than that. Besides, I learned that day that Stef never seemed to get in trouble. Her sense of humor always got her out of a jam.

Her sense of humor hasn't changed much. She left a message on my cell phone while I was in my son's class saying, "Hello Wendy? This is Jean from Jeans R Us. Your jeans are ready." She was calling to say she's running late. No surprise there. And then she gets off the phone singing something quite beautifully, albeit unintelligibly.

So I found myself eating hummus and waiting for her at Aladdin's in Lakewood. I didn't mind that she was late because it gave me time to jot down some of my Stef memories.

Although we've known each other for 25 years, our lives couldn't be more different. I'm married with three children, she's a lesbian caring for her partner's two young children. I work more or less in isolation and she regularly rocks tens of thousands in arenas and millions in television audiences. I find myself on the sidelines of my kids' football games and she's at rock and roll parties with the likes of Sheryl Crow, Mark McGrath and Uncle Kracker.

And yet we found ourselves sitting together laughing like we were in girl scouts again. "We you always that tall?" she asked me. "Yep, you were always a midget," I replied.

She's barely five feet, kinda stocky, with pierced tongue, eyebrow and tattooed arms and I don't want to know what else. Oh wait, she did moon me in the parking lot later that night. When opportunity was there, Stef could never resist mooning. She's still as pigeon-toed as ever, which reminded me of a story we shared later that night (after two bottles of wine!). When we were at girl scout camp she told some of the girls she could make herself cry if they held her feet and ankles turned all the way inward. Stef did cry and they laughed, but they wouldn't stop. I kept telling them to stop because they were really hurting her. She remembered I was upset by their actions and she said it meant a lot to her that I stood up for her.

On a band trip to Iowa just after our junior year we were roommates talking late into the night every night. At one point she introduced me and many others to chewing tobacco. I nearly puked on the spot. But she never mocked my inability to handle liquor, cigarettes or chewing tobacco at 17.

She filled me in on her crazy rock star life, but admitted she couldn't keep doing it forever. Her hands hurt in the mornings and it takes a while to get them working again. The constant partying was getting old and yet it's what you do on the road. She wants to have a baby, she wants to move back to Cleveland and set her mom up in a nice house and she wants to have a music career that allows her a little more normalcy.

She offers to go pick up the boys from school in her Cadillac Escalade. I tease her that she probably needs a booster seat to drive it and she announces a Chinese fire drill in the middle of Detroit Road in Lakewood. And so I drive the Escalade back to my mini-van.

As we're getting ready to say goodbye for the night, she tries to talk me into coming with her to Detroit to Kid Rock's Halloween bash. I pass for obvious reasons. But we hug and promise to stay in touch. As I pulled away I realized that Stef always accepted me, well, as just me. And I'm thankful for her friendship.