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Monday, October 31, 2005

Women in the workplace

Today’s Business Monday feature was a real eye-opener for me on many levels.

Special thanks goes to Mary Vanac for her extraordinary support of this story.

Another busy day and so much to post about: developing CIA leak story, new Supreme Court nominee, etc. But I’ve got to stay focused on the deadlines before me. Hopefully, I can post more later in between handing out treats.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2005

This week at the White House

• U.S. Military deaths in Iraq surpass 2,000

• Harriett Miers withdraws nomination to U.S. Supreme Court after Republican legislators turn up the heat and the religious right turns it’s back on Bush.

• Scooter Libby is indicted on five counts of lying and obstruction of justice in the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name to the press.

• Karl Rove isn’t free and clear yet. He remains under investigation.

“I’ve earned capital, and I intend to spend it.” — President George W. Bush following his November 2004 re-election.

Hey, Mr. President, how’s that working out for you?

“The freedom to share one’s insights and judgments verbally or in writing is, just like the freedom to think, a sacred and inviolable human right that, as a universal human right, is above all the rights of princes.” — Carl Friedrich Bahrdt, German author/theologian, 1787

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Nuclear proliferation of work

I’m writing like a madwoman in order to meet some deadlines this week, but wanted to direct your attention to the proliferation of work taking place in my little Bay Village office. Sometimes we forget to toot our own horn, but I thought I’d point out some of the print (and paying) work I’ve been doing lately and why I may appear somewhat scattered here. Plus I'm just grubbing for compliments.

Here’s my latest column on freelancing in Quill magazine.

And this book review from today’s PD. I’ve had some very interesting books of late and continue to research local bookstores and publisher catalogs for the more compelling religion titles.

I’m working on another review for the January/February issue of PAGES magazine.

Had a profile of a young man who recently returned from Iraq where he was a member of the Christian Peacemakers Team in the Oct. 21 issue of the Catholic Universe Bulletin, though it’s not available online.

And I received copies of Cleveland Clinic Magazine for which I wrote a short piece on a new heart scan back in summer. The entire fall pub is available online in PDF.

I’ve got a lengthy and IMHO moving nonprofit marketing piece heading to the printer this week and another in layout. Working on a column and two stories for Quill today and (editors willing) will have a cover piece in the PD’s Business Monday section on Monday.

I’m wrapping up some long-term projects just in time to start on another in early November.

Time willing by the end of this week I will have written half the book manuscript that has been something of a monkey on my back. It’s a great project, but tough to coordinate since the doc is so very busy doing his real job and often travels worldwide.

I can’t see straight and have probably forever ruined both my posture and my eyesight for the sheer number of hours seated at my computer in the past month, but it’s all good. And when the good stuff is rolling, you’ve got to ride the wave, baby.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

More food for thought

Eugene Robinson at WAPO penned an interested column today about Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s image among African Americans. He writes:

…I've long wondered what the deal was with Condoleezza Rice and the issue of race. How does she work so loyally for George W. Bush, whose approval rating among blacks was measured in a recent poll at a negligible 2 percent? (Lower, according to Newsweek, than Jefferson Davis’s approval rating among blacks during the Civil War.*) How did she come to a worldview so radically different from that of most black Americans? Is she blind, is she in denial, is she confused -- or what?

*Parenthetical comment added is mine.

Robinson had spent three days with Rice in Birmingham. In a bizarre conversation, she proclaims that Civil Rights leaders Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. worked their magic from the inside. If that’s so then why do the majority of African Americans still feel on the outside? There’s a connection missing and it’s a human one.

One of the things she somehow missed was that in Titusville and other black middle-class enclaves, a guiding principle was that as you climbed, you were obliged to reach back and bring others along. You know, let them inside. Kinda works for humanity as a whole. Send the elevator back down.

Rice may be able to talk about race and struggles among African Americans, but she was sheltered from its harsh realities. While dogs and fire hoses were unleashed on men, women and children marching for Civil Rights during her youth, Rice sat in her finery playing piano or practicing ballet.

There’s a disconnect between her and African Americans and to extend Robinson's point further I would say there’s also a disconnect between her and other women. It’s not much different than the disconnect between her boss and the American people. Maybe that explains their mutual admiration.

Food for thought

The power is to set the agenda. What we print and what we don't print matter a lot. — Katherine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, 1993

Monday, October 24, 2005

Trading spaces?

Time was… 1984.

That phrase will always remind me of junior year in high school when I had American Tradition (American history and lit combined), known as AmTrad. We used to watch the old Dick Cavett program, “Time was…1930s, 1940s,” you get the picture.

Anyway, I was thinking of that phrase because time was when I was a neat individual. I mean, look at this mess on my office floor. My co-workers used to mock me for my clean desk. I had this fetish about not leaving work until I had all files probably filed, all post-it messages resolved, all e-mail answered and all items crossed off daily list.

Not anymore. Maybe I’ve become lazy because I work at home. Maybe I need an assistant. I dunno. But I better get a system in place for this mess because chucking all the mags, books, papers, files, etc. into this one corner of my office is getting precariously close to slovenly behavior (something I abhor!).

'Tis a montage of Wendy Hoke, freelance journalist (not to mention a bizarrely cozy place for Riley to perch). I look at this photo (or at the “live” pile) and I see magazines I’m trying to pitch, magazines containing my work, books I’m either reviewing or pitching for review, publisher catalogs, leftover SPJ convention droppings, printout of an article that needs a little more revising, notebook of notes just waiting to be transcribed into something resembling an article and various miscellany that either needs to be tossed or filed.

Oooh, wait, save the deck of cards from Vegas.

Hey, how’d that photo get in the file for the pain book?

How many books can one read simultaneously? Isn’t there a way to make more money reviewing books?

The Didion is a treat for moi and must be relocated to the very large stack growing near my bed, but at least that gets it out of THIS stack.

Gotta save those issues of The Working Press for Stan.

What happened to all my magazine files? Oh, wait, they’re full. Crap! Maybe I can jam a few of these things into … my … book…sh–, oh wait, it’s full, too.

Oy! Anybody want to trade spaces?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Creative Ink gets ink!

I’m breaking my "no weekend posting" rule to share this news with you, readers.

Creative Ink has been featured in The Blog Spot column in Writer’s Digest Personal Writing magazine (November issue is on newsstands now).

I can’t link to the exact article because it’s not available online, but I’m thrilled at the exposure. Doug White, a Cincinnati-based freelancer, contacted me last spring after I submitted a write-up to Writer’s Digest on why I blog. The result is a great little piece that really captures my reasons.

Here’s what Doug writes about CI:

Wendy Hoke launched Creative Ink after leaving her job as managing editor of a small publishing company. Initially, Hoke’s goal was to simply keep her writing muscles tuned for her new career as a full-time freelance writer. But blogging soon became her passion.

“It became a way for me to explore myself as a person and as a writer—kind of like my personal therapy sessions,” she says. “It didn’t start out that way, but that’s what it’s turned into.

“The process of blog writing gets me out of myself,” says Hoke. “I work alone in my house all day and tend to think too much. Sometimes you need to offload some of that information.”

Here’s part of a post titled, “How Wendy gets her groove back,” about breaking through a creative block:

It’s not easy when you work alone. You spend so much time inside your head that you forget to look up and around at the possibilities everywhere. I keep using the excuse of scaling back for the summer for my seeming lack of productivity, but in reality it’s been because so little has inspired me of late. I’ve become complacent, which is a scary place for a writer.

But even in that complacency, I’ve taken recently to scribbling ideas and fragments on scraps of paper that now litter my desk. (Don’t throw away that envelope!) And in my heavy reading, I’m finding the inspiration to keep going by putting one foot in front of the other even when I feel like crawling back into bed.

Hoke says Creative Ink allows her to be open and fearless in expressing her feelings about writing and life in general. She adds that blogging has given her the courage and confidence to move from reporting on other people’s lives into writing personal essays—and pitching them to national publications.

The other two bloggers sharing that space are Joshilyn Jackson a novelist who blogs at Faster Than Kudzu and Maggie Downs, a columnist for The Cincinnati Enquirer who blogs at Maggie Jumps!

So thank you Doug and Writer’s Digest for such a nice write up.

Other kind news
The PSR teacher I substituted for a couple of weeks ago just came to my door with a stack of letters of apology from his class. It was an unnecessary though much appreciated gesture. He said it was a good lesson in living the values we’re trying to teach the kids. I agree and though I know they did so under duress, I am glad for their efforts and certainly forgiving of their behavior.

Joe Wessels on Judith Miller
My SPJ pal Joe Wessels from the Cincy Pro Chapter has written on Miller's visit to the SPJ convention, sharing his thoughts and photos. Report This! brings an interesting mix of personal, professional and photographic experiences of yet another freelance journalist. If you scroll way down you'll find a photo of a very serious looking reporter interviewing a very serious looking Miller. So far this from Tim Porter is one of the best I've seen yet on the whole Miller fiasco.

Friday, October 21, 2005

If I were Newsweek

Newsweek disappoints again. (By again I am first referring to the cover story on Judith Warner's book, "Perfect Madness.")

Regular Creative Ink readers know how passionately I feel about leadership and leadership development. While on the flight home from Las Vegas I read with great interest this week’s Newsweek cover package: “When Women Lead.” Oprah on the cover, Karen Hughes on the inside and all in all an under-whelming package that missed the boat in a HUGE way.

Here’s the subhead:

As a growing number of female executives rise to the top, how will they change the culture of the workplace?

It begins with a look at how women have important roles — AS TELEVISION CHARACTERS! As if that’s helpful to a real-word discussion. And then it cites as recent examples (never mind that they are dated) Harvard President Lawrence Summers gender/science snafu, articles about women at elite colleges ditching it all to stay home with kids and younger women deciding that the struggle their mothers navigated just isn’t worth it.

The one shining quote comes from Marie Wilson, of the White House Project, saying: “There is no real balance of work and family in America.” No kidding!!!!

But then writer Barbara Kantrowitz asks the following questions in the intro, which features a double truck photo spread of KAREN HUGHES of all people. She may be big cheese inside the Beltway, but to middle America she’s just a Bush croney with a job she’s under-qualified to handle:

“Do women lead differently than men?”

“Have they changed management culture when they make it to the top?”

“What lessons would they pass on to the women who aspire to follow their path?”

The answers are not found in the pages of this magazine. Instead it is filled with gratuitous first-person narratives dubbed, “How I Got There” and pithy quotes that could have been pithier had they stopped at the first lines:

• You must make sacrifices.
• Surround yourself by people whom you respect and who know more than you know.
• Maintain a sense of humor.
• Always leave a little something on the table (this from the head of Martha Stewart Omnimedia).
• See everything as an opportunity to grow.
• Take responsibility for your own career.
• Adversity breeds character.
• Successful people are passionate about that they do.
• Set goals.
• Delegate.
• Nurture support.
• Find your voice.

I’m not interested in curriculum vitae. There are many paths to the top. I want to know how they define leadership because I think everyone’s definition is different. I want to know how they survived in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

I want to know how they’d shorten the learning curve for other women. I want to know how they kept their cool when they really wanted to blow. I want to know who were their earliest influences. What did their fathers tell them? Or their mothers? How did they bounce back from a dressing down by a higher up?

What was the single greatest piece of advice they ever received? What role does mentoring play in the lives of female leaders? Are they actively mentoring young women today? If not, why?

Did they envision themselves in this role? If they could change anything about their career path would they? What personal sacrifices were made to get where they are today? Were those sacrifices worth it?

How do they achieve balance between work and family? Is it even possible at the upper levels of leadership? What would they say to younger women who look at the struggles and sacrifices and deem the attempt not worth it?

How have they nurtured female relationships (personal and professional) in light of their career success? Do they ever feel isolated by their success? What keeps them grounded? What needs to change in order to encourage women to aspire to leadership?

Does their spouse or partner support their choices? How do they handle the conflict inherent in one person’s success over another? What do they tell their sons and daughters about being a leader?

Is a leader born or made? What specific changes to the workplace culture have they brought? What do they do differently from their predecessor that has made marked change? Do they consider themselves an insider or outsider? Do they believe women are "entitled" to leadership or do they happen upon it accidentally?

There were some bright spots in this coverage. One piece, "A New Team in Town," profiled the three women in charge of San Francisco's public safety — police chief, fire chief and district attorney. Very cool and nicely done with good narrative illustrating how they do their job differently.

And of course there was the incredible good sense found in the mind and pen of Anna Quindlen, who reminds us of the value of being an outsider. "You're less wedded to the shape of the table if haven't been permitted to sit at it."

And so I give her the last word on why this issue is of such importance:

More than ever people yearn for someone worth following, someone interested in more than self-aggrandizement. Our world is filled with prominent women now, women who manage law firms and give out grants and run museums and oversee the Ivy League. yet virtually all of them came of age, and come to power, with the institutional pushback that grows out of prejudice.

There's a fire in the belly that creates a willingness to step off that treadmill of custom. They are a new breed: the Inside Outsiders. Powerful, accomplished, yet among their male peers still in some essential way apart. Often you will hear them say, "I never expected to wind up here." Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that's the secret to leadership, the path not of entitlement or enrichment but the liberation of the unexpected.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Waiting for Judy

As I sat sipping hot tea in the small boardroom at the conference center of the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas on Tuesday morning, I began rehashing the events that led to this moment.

About six weeks ago, I got a call from Joe Skeel, editor of SPJ’s Quill magazine asking if I would be willing to cover a couple of stories about the convention. One, of course, would be about Judy Miller. But at that time, she was still in jail for not revealing the name of confidential source and her appearance at the convention was not likely.

In a twist, however, she was released from prison after agreeing to testify before the federal grand jury. About a week and half out from the convention I received an e-mail saying, “Judy Miller is in.” Suddenly I had a seriously big story on my hands.

The Society was awarding Miller the First Amendment Award for her actions on behalf of protecting her source. It was a controversial award both inside and outside the Society. Miller was going to receive the award, make a short speech and then participate on a panel about the use of confidential sources.

Of course I immediately I asked if I could get a one-on-one with her. I was told they would run it by her but it wasn’t likely. She was swooping in and out and not likely to grant any interviews.

When I approached the registration desk on Sunday afternoon, Chris Vachon, SPJ director of programs and convention mastermind extraordinaire pulled me aside and said that Judy Miller agreed to an interview with Quill — and no one else.

I let out a big, “Woo Hoo!“ The catch, of course, was that I was on standby and had to be ready to go whenever she said, “Now.”

Made for a stressful couple of days, as did the saturation of coverage in both the mainstream media and the blogosphere. On nearly all fronts, Miller was getting crucified. A part of me was sure she would back out. And the media converging on the convention was persistent in attempts to garner interviews.

But she didn’t back out of ours and she didn’t grant them to anyone else. I was told to meet her in the room at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday. The interview was kept hush-hush. The few people who knew what I was doing would come up to me and say, “You should ask her about …”

That continued for two days until my brain could no longer get a handle on exactly what to get from this interview. So in a fit of exhaustion, I slumped down on the floor of the hallway next to Joe Skeel and we hashed strategy. We worked out worst-case scenario and moved on from there.

I was feeling better, but still got up at 5 a.m. to check out what was being written. It was a feeding frenzy and so was our convention. It turned into a media circus when the local Vegas gossip columnist had quoted Chris Vachon as saying, “We’re preparing for the worst” and cited protests being organized outside the hotel by bloggers. (Appparently those protests never materialized.)

With my Starbucks, tape recorder and notes, I tried to clear my mind and focus on what I would ask. This kind of preparation isn’t how I normally interview people. I prefer to wing it, but I felt that simply wasn’t an option in this case. Too many issues, too many expectations.

Ultimately, I felt I had to tie my questions to the Society’s mission. And I would try to interject some personal questions. I mean, how does one handle the lambasting by your profession in such a spectacularly vicious and public way?

But then my cell rang and it was SPJ Associate Executive Director Julie Grimes telling me Miller had to postpone to prepare for her speech. Hurry up and wait. Hurry up and wait. That’s what this endeavor became.

Fellow freelancer/photographer/blogger/newly elected regional director and all-around good guy, Joe Wessels and I convinced the staff to essentially make us staff for the big event. And that got us into the main ballroom and front-row seats before the stampede of hyperactive journalists stormed the ballroom.

There were many delays and pregnant pauses while the packed room awaited Miller’s arrival. Word was that Bruce Sanford, SPJ’s attorney from Baker & Hostetler, was going to ask the questions. It was a dubious format, but the organizers were unsure how to handle a roomful of journalists (many of whom were hostile toward her) clamoring to ask questions. They heard about that later as they also were grilled about why this showcase program was moderated and run by attorneys. (The short answer? They pitched the program idea.)

Scheduled to begin at 8:15, the program didn’t start until 8:45. While I sat taking notes, I was tapped on the shoulder and told to be in Sapphire 1 in 15 minutes. Miller was going to be escorted through the bowels of the Aladdin and I was to await her entry. I had 15 minutes for the interview.

I was sitting the Sapphire 1 room when finally a rush of very large security guards with earpieces and the SPJ brass and lawyers came through the back door with Miller. For a minute I thought I was conducting this interview before a large audience. Thankfully, most of them left the room and the interview was conducted in relative peace.

With that, you’ll have to wait for the November/December issue of Quill magazine to find out what she had to say.

Brain dead in Bay

Absolute. Utter. Exhaustion. That’s what I’m feeling this morning. Can’t even wrap my brain around all the stuff I have to do nor all the info I have to process. Must. Get. More. Sleep.

Here’s hoping for lucidity later today…

Monday, October 17, 2005

Live from Las Vegas

Jill and I are having a great time, talking to oodles of journalists young and old and everything in between about the joys and perils of freelance writing. The session I moderated and Jill spoke at on the business of freelance writing was heavily attended and our Q&A went well beyond our allotted hour.

I'm taking a breather after having talked too much, plus I need to replenish my card supply. And in between all of this I'm jumping online to catch the latest buzz about Judy Miller. I'm on standby for a one-on-one interview with her and questions are rapidly filling my notebook. I've apologized to many as I break it open mid-conversation to jot something down before I forget.

I have no idea whether or not she'll answer my questions, but I believe as a fellow journalist at the very least she'll respect the tough questions. There's a lot of media swarming around the convention in anticipation of her talk tomorrow -- CNN, C-SPAN, ABC, FOX, AP. Should be interesting, though there's concern among the conference planners on how to handle the Q&A.

Lucy Dalglish does a mean Arianna Huffington impersonation. Last night she was talking about her appearance on Howard Kurtz's program and Arianna's insistence that she get some new talking points. Very funny stuff.

At last night's opening reception, Jill was introduced to many SPJers from all over the country. We had some terrific conversations and I hope she enjoyed herself. She seemed to, particularly when a young college girl came up to her and complimented her on her smashing outfit.

We're running constantly at this point and I'm off to my next meeting shortly. But despite my sore dogs and my dry throat I'm feeling invigorated by all the conversations. As one little aside: The lack of humidity out in the desert is doing wonders for my hair. No more frizzy curly hair. I actually look as if I have straight hair. Woo Hoo!

Gotta fly ... the region 4 committee meeting awaits. I must nominate young Joe Wessels of the Cincinnati Pro Chapter as our interim regional director. We plied him with liquor last night and encouraged him to take the job.

More later, including photos...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The pre-trip frenzy begins

I'm nearly through all the work that needs to be done before I leave for the SPJ convention in Las Vegas on Saturday evening.

I've got a review left to write, two more queries to get out and some marketing projects to finish up. And then it's the all-important balance the checkbook, transfer the necessary dough and pay the bills.

The boys are off school tomorrow and I'm hoping to work tonight and get most of that done so I can spend a little time playing with them tomorrow. Got a quick trip to the salon in the morning, need to hit Crocker Park and maybe pick up another suit and then it's time get my stuff together for the convention.

I'm interviewing New York Times reporter Judy Miller on Tuesday for an article in Quill. I'm trying to stay on top of all the media surrounding her, but it's been crazy. I keep printing stories and blog posts off to read on the plane (oh, who am I kidding, Jill and I will be having a gab fest).

Need to remember all laptop accessories, files for committee meetings, stories, panel discussions and other SJP biz. Tape recorder, gotta bring the tape recorder and batteries. And my digital camera and more batteries. Looks as if I'm going to have to haul out the bigger suitcase (which means checking my baggage) for this trip. I always come home from these conventions with ten times more crap than when I arrived.

Since it's Vegas, I gotta bring some cash to play at least a few slots. Though admittedly I have a low threshold for pain when it comes to gambling.

BUSINESS CARDS!!! Egads I can't forget those. Hope the Info Mart has more Bloomberg or PR Newswire reporter notebooks cause I'm fresh out.

And then there's all the arrangements on the home front. Make sure kids are all accounted for various activities, laundry is done and to remind Danny that bedtime must be enforced, particularly on Sunday night. He ignores it at his own peril.

I can't keep all this in my head. It's time to make the big list. Calgon, take me away.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Collaboration with editors

What I miss most by working independently is the steady influence of an editor. There’s a saying that a good editor can make a mediocre writer great and a bad editor can make a good writer mediocre.

I’ve had my share of both kinds. When the editor/writer relationship works, it is simply a thing of beauty. After 17 years in this gig, I’ve found that editors, much like writers, all have their strengths—and weaknesses.

My first editor was Ellen Walker. She was a generation older than me, a chain smoker and intense newspaperwoman who banged away on her typewriter taking notes while talking on the phone. Though diminutive in stature, she scared the crap out of me. She was so … authentic.

Under her tutelage, I learned reporting skills such as how to read a school budget, how to cover a municipal story when the mayor won’t talk and how to investigate land deals. I received crash courses in the functions of municipal government. I learned (or at least I tried) photography and getting over the fear of asking strangers for their opinion for a man on the street column.

We were a staff of two and with her help I began to figure out what this newspapering business was all about.

She made me feel at turns incredibly inept and incredibly gifted. I never knew precisely where I stood and I suppose that kept me hungry and working. I wanted to please her.

The next five years of my career left me without a strong editor as guide, though I had an assistant editor I worked with who set a quiet example for professionalism, strong reporting and gifted writing. Though we have both long-since moved on, we continue to remain friends and have worked together at another magazine as freelancer and editor.

What I learned during those years was how to push myself when no one else did. Any amount of success I had there was a reflection of my own initiative and not the mandates or the challenge of any editors. I attempted my first series, volunteered for investigative teams and dabbled in column writing.

I was very unsure of myself in my first magazine job, but I had a sense that the longer form would allow me to develop and exand as a writer. My editor there was not so much a reporter as she was a wordsmith. My writing abilities grew there in ways they never would have otherwise. Her influence is found in my writing to this day.

At my last job, I had a colleague who didn’t so much serve as an editor, though she did review my work, as much as she was a collaborator. We could get together over coffee and brainstorm like crazy. We could take rough copy and make it sing. And we prided ourselves on finding diamonds in the rough and nurturing them into writers. It was great fun and we did what did out of love. That relationship gave me my first taste at sharing what I know about journalism with others.

But now I don’t work with AN editor, I work with many. Some of those relationships are very good, some are strictly on a “get me the work, this is your deadline, this is your fee” basis. No warm and fuzzy collaboration.

I miss plopping down in an editor’s office and saying, “I’m struggling with parts of this story” or “The reporting is not coming together the way I’d like, any suggestions?” It is possible to forge those kinds of relationships with editors as a freelancer, but you straddle the line between being collaborative and being a nuisance. One is clearly good, the other not so much. I’m just not sure where that line is and I suspect it’s different for every editor and every publication.

I’d really to find a way to engage in more collaborative-style relationships with editors. Because in the end, I think it results in expectations met and stronger stories. In the past couple of weeks I've found a great outlet for collaboration. To nurture it along, I'm going to buy this editor a cup of coffee when I get back from Vegas and brainstorm about how we can help each other.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Creative tweaking

Okay, I'm working on this site. I had to change the template (AGAIN) to incorporate links. I'd love to add people to my blog roll so feel free to give me a shout. Those listed are the ones I check daily and that I could recall off the top of my head.

I'm concerned that the type color for titles and sidebar info is too faint. Any suggestions? Can I change that in my template? And can I had something with visual interest to the top like a photo, kinda like Democracy Guy? Please bear in mind that I'm NOT a tech-geek. These little changes have taken me all afternoon.

I gotta get back to work. Chronic pain awaits... (more details on that down the line)

Happy 75th, Fortune

I’ve never been a big Fortune mag reader. My sensibilities lean more toward small and growing business (ala Inc and Fortune Small Business), but I’m going to have to pick up the 75th anniversary issue after reading Peter Carlson’s story in the Washington Post.

He promises a great issue and has a great intro about the alternating genius and idiocy of its Fortune-telling over the years. I’m hoping for a glimpse at some of Margaret Bourke-White’s work. I consider her a journalistic hero and greatly admire her photography. I’ve got to scoot over to Legacy for an exhibition of her work at Contessa Gallery. But mostly, I want to read Carol Loomis's "My 51 Years (and counting) at Fortune."

Carlson writes:

Loomis is one of the little-known heroes of journalism. A dogged investigative reporter -- she read 50 years of annual reports for a recent article on Bethlehem Steel -- Loomis specializes in holding the Gucci-clad feet of America's CEOs to the fire. The titles of her greatest hits give you an idea of her bite: "The Madness of Executive Compensation," "AT&T Has No Clothes," "The $600 Million Cigarette Scam" and "Recipe for Jail," a prescient pre-Enron 1999 piece on fraudulent corporate accounting that was illustrated by a cover photo of ledger books being cooked in a big stewpot.

She continued perfecting her craft with “guts and integrity," he writes.

… (she) ranks with Fortune's other great writers. She wrote this memoir with brio and wit. It's an inspiring piece that ought to be required reading in America's journalism schools.

A stab at teaching

My eyes have been opened. Last night I volunteered as a substitute teacher for an eighth-grade PSR class. For the non-Catholics that’s Sunday school on Monday night.

It’s a long, involved story, but I had volunteered to teach middle school PSR at the end of last year and never received a call from the church about doing it. So I just assumed that either A) my services were not required; or B) my services were not wanted. (Though I admit I was little put off by not even getting so much as a “no thanks” call.)

Anyway, my church engaged in a parish-wide census this summer to find out more about its members. There was a space on the back for comments about the church’s strengths and weaknesses and in a fit of exasperation I launched into a tirade (in bullet-list form because I like to be concise) about the weaknesses of the parish and why we pulled our kids from the day school (since nearly two years later no one ever bothered to call and ask us).

If the church was a business and it was losing its customers (parishioners), don’t you think it should at least find out why? But I digress.

I got a call from the parish development director who was compiling the census information asking if I would come in to discuss my comments. She promised to keep them confidential, but I assured her that I would not have bothered to share my thoughts had I known they were to remain confidential.

One of the biggest problems at our church, and I suspect at others, is the deep divide between day school parishioners and PSR parishioners. Having been on both sides of that chasm, I see it as a huge problem for the Catholic Church. And I’m not sure it’s solvable without tremendous effort. There may simply have to be a separate but equal doctrine. The day school parishioners run the show. Step aside PSR folks, we’re more committed to this institution than you because we send our children here.

We talked of many things and I told her I’m not one to complain without offering to help improve things. And so we talked of a number of ways that could happen and I even offered to facilitate. Long story short: my ideas were not going to fly. Thanks, but we hope people notice the small changes.

Fine. Move on. But then the director of PSR and our pastor show up at the Bay Middle School seventh-grade football game. It was a much-appreciated gesture given how busy the pastor is and Danny and I made sure Ryan wrote him a thank you. We spoke about many ways to improve PSR. I only had one year’s experience but I can tell you that it’s painful. Home schooling my kids in their faith is a viable option.

Got a call last week asking if I’d sub for an eighth-grade teacher who had a business trip. No problem, happy to do so. He brought materials over the weekend and I prepped for last night’s class. The topics? Freedom, responsibility, free will and conscience.

I doubt they picked up any of these concepts. These kids were incredibly disrespectful. They never shut up. The boys were all over the place, snapping pens and pencils from the day school kids desks, kicking chairs out from under each other, requesting frequent bathroom and drink breaks (all of which were denied by the evil sub), shaking up bottles of pop (what parent sends their kid to an evening class on a caffeine jolt?) and throwing their religion books at each other. It was chaos and mayhem.

I find it hard to believe that they are much better for the regular teacher. I’m a tough gal and not one to take nonsense from these kids, but I couldn’t control them. It was demoralizing to say the least. I asked them what would make PSR more tolerable. The answer? Snacks, going outside and games. These are eighth-graders to be confirmed in the spring. Confirmation is a rite of passage into adulthood, the last sacrament before marriage and the supposed affirmation of the Catholic faith. And they want to play on the playground and eat Jolly Ranchers.

Clearly, the format for PSR doesn’t work for middle schools. To their credit, these guys have sat in school all day, some have gone to practices after school or started their homework, some may or may not have had time for dinner and now they’re being asked to sit in more desks and read from a book called, “Morality,” and talk about being good.

That doesn’t, however, excuse their disrespectful attitude toward their fellow students and me. Afterward I recommended to the PSR director that she send a letter home to middle school parents informing them of the problems with disrespect in the classroom. Maybe a “come to Jesus” meeting with those parents and kids is in order. These are behaviors best addressed at home. And they need to be addressed. Because the people who teach PSR are volunteers who they don’t have to be there. While they may be called to share their faith with young people they effectively serve as nothing more than babysitters for an hour and 15 minutes. It's a joke, and worse, a disgrace.

Early teens are completely self-involved. It’s all about them. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that they must also be selfish. They need to be exposed to life outside the bubble.

Maybe the format needs to be changed. I’d like to see the faces of these young people when they are serving a homeless old lady wearing everything she owns and smelling of urine down at St. Augustine’s. Maybe they need to meet in a chapel and sit on the floor and stretch out and be encouraged to talk frankly with the priest. Maybe they need to see the people at St. Malachi’s who receive the lunches they make. Maybe they need to pour coffee for those who seek refuge from a life on the streets at the West Side Catholic Center. Maybe they need to read books to the elderly in Bay Village. Maybe they need to clean up Huntington Beach. Maybe they need to see there’s more to the world.

Why don’t young people latch on to their faith? I heard a few things from them that I wish we could have discussed more had they behaved:

1) We learn the same things year after year.
(Yes, but it bears repeating.)
2) This is all common sense.
(Not always, particularly as you become adults.)
3) The Bible doesn’t make sense. It needs to be written in modern English.
(Agreed. Anyone want to take that on? Doesn’t the priest help you understand how scripture relates to you today?)
4) Why do we have to be here?
(That’s a conversation between you and your parents.)
5) Who made God?
(He just is. It’s faith, you don’t know but you believe.)
6) If I’m a sinner all my life and I confess my sins on my deathbed I’ll still go to heaven? Why should I care about being good then?
(Because the person most hurt by your sinful behavior is you.)
7) We’re tired of sitting here and reading this book.
(That’s painfully obvious.)
8) It’s all so confusing.
(Yes, it is and will continue to be.)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Fresh start

Contrary to appearances, I am still here, writing and somewhat lucid. I’ve been on a whirlwind of writing that is both invigorating and exhausting. I’m up, briefly, for a bit of air today but will be hunkering down again for the remainder of this week.

How much do you write in any one day? Do you have limits to the amount of time spent writing? Do you have hard and fast rules about when and where you write? I’m curious because I sometimes feel as if there is no rhyme or reason to my creative process. It feels … scattered.

For example, while writing a piece about transitional housing and addiction recovery for chronically homeless men, I was inspired by listening to their gospel CD. I rarely listen anything while I write (except occasionally for classical music played very low and no rousing Mozart or Beethoven). But the inspiration worked in this case.

I’m usually an early morning writer, but I’ve had so much to do lately that I’ve been writing at all hours. And in the course of researching and interviewing for my various assignments I’ve been inspired to many other great stories. So I’ll stop what I’m writing midstream to fire off a query. I usually never stop for something — not the phone, e-mail, food, bathroom.

A recent phenomenon is that I’ve quit agonizing over queries so much and I’ve just started firing them out right and left. Seems to be working because I’ve gotten some good bites on some very fun work.

But when work comes in such fits and starts it can fry my brain to the point of absolute mental exhaustion. The writer’s brain needs time to recharge or it becomes a pile of mush. This was another weekend of work, but I did finally take time to read a book my pals, the two Lisas recommended. It’s called “My Sister’s Keeper,” by Jodi Picoult and it’s a truly haunting story about one girl’s quest for medical emancipation from her parents.

It was a good and necessary break because I worry that I become so entrenched in what I'm writing at the moment that other writing falls through the cracks. It’s happened before.

Here’s a little tidbit to file under lesson’s learned. I spend a lot of time preaching to other writers about the importance of follow through and professionalism. I do so not as an expert, but fully acknowledging that I have a lot to learn on both fronts.

I tend to overextend myself both personally and professionally and when it’s all too much and I’m unable to reign in, I lose track of things. And that’s never good, particularly for people who rely on me.

Two things have happened in the past few days to cause me to re-evaluate how I work as a writer.

Sometimes there are stories that plague your brain when they are really not financially worth the time. For a variety of reasons, I decided not to pursue a series of stories in a local magazine and I find myself breathing much easier as a result. There’s a chance the editor may never want to work with me again, but that’s a chance I felt compelled to take. I also left very kind words for her and spelled out my reasons in a manner I think she appreciated. So hopefully the bridge is not burned, just a little frayed at the moment.

On another front, I wrote a piece last March for the newspaper that I turned in feeling incredibly confident in my prose. That should have been my first clue to re-read. Most of the time I turn in stories with incredible anxiety and fear that if I don’t hear something back immediately I’ll be washed up forever.

A few calls back and forth with the editor eventually ended with her telling me that she had to do a lot of work on the story and that I needed to look at the published piece and compare it with what I originally sent.

My stomach immediately contracted upon this news and I became light-headed and ready to swoon. My self-confidence as a writer is a precarious thing and this was enough to cause me great distress.

I did read the article when it came out and felt better that it essentially read as I remembered, despite the onerous addition of a wrong fact by some copy editor. So I never did follow up to call her back. And I didn’t feel it was worth pointing out the copy editor’s addition because I’m sure someone else caught the error.

Flash forward six months and I’ve been pitching story ideas right and left to no avail. Always a kind e-mail, but until recently not an assignment. And then today she let me know that she values my work and my journalistic instincts but that she was disappointed in my failure to respond to her charge to review the March piece. She admitted her reluctance to give me an assignment because of my negligence.

Now I’m sure there were a million other things going on after that story ran, but the point is I had an editor whose opinion I valued and whose writing I admired telling me I needed to be more careful and I wasn’t.

So I emailed her back today and apologized, offering no excuses for my negligence. I thanked her for her very valuable feedback and then did as she said and printed off my original version and read alongside the published version.

She was right. I made one of the sloppiest errors of all by writing in the wrong tense! Newspapers write in past tense; magazines in present. Although I write for more magazines than newspapers, this was egregious and amateur. I cringed all over again.

And though the substance of the story was intact, my writing was clearly too flowery and loquacious for the daily newspaper. In my enthusiasm to write about the subject, I completely forgot about the market I was writing for and the audience. And that, too, is an egregious and amateur mistake.

So I sit here today, humbled as I so often am by the process of writing. And grateful for people who understand my humanity and mistakes and are willing to give me a second chance.

I called her to thank her for her patience and we agreed to start fresh with the 2006 assignment.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Drowning in words

Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written. — Henry David Thoreau

Think I set the record last week for number of UPS and FedEx book deliveries arriving at my house. In an effort to feed the religion book review beast, I’ve taken to finding interesting titles from the many publisher catalogs piling up.

My office is once more drowning in books. But I’ve got some very interesting titles from which to choose:

“Maimonides” by Sherwin B. Nuland
“Opus Dei” by John Allen Jr.
“Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens” by Neil Cole
“Mary Magdalene: A Biograph” by Bruce Chilton
“Facing Pain, Finding Hope” by Daniel Hurley, MD
“The Soul of Christianity” by Huston Smith
“God’s Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church” by George Weigel

Of course I’m going to need to mix those titles up with some other faiths. Could use Buddhist, Jewish and I’m really looking for a good book about Islam to review. But going through these catalogs does take some time and I’m (once again) pressed for that this week.

Did get another letter from national mag saying my query was being considered. That makes two for the same publication. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that one or both will bloom into actual assignments.

I’m amazed by bloggers who find the time to post on the weekends. With one or two exceptions, Creative Ink doesn’t post on weekends. That’s because A) I rarely have time to sit on the weekends (running from here to there with kids’ activities and household chores) let alone think coherently enough to post and B) I’m trying to keep Creative Ink a part of my job and so I try to confine it to the work week.

I noticed while checking out BFD this morning that not only is George prolific, but so too are his readers/commentators. Wish I had more time to engage with them because they are a lively and intelligent bunch that I hope I get to meet someday in person. I often feel incredibly out of their loop because I can’t afford to keep up, but I enjoy reading nonetheless.

While scanning my favorites I saw that Jeff Hess posted this event with Sen. Russ Feingold (and hosted by ACLU). Wish I could attend, but I’ll be at the SPJ Convention in Las Vegas. As Jeff points out, Feingold was the lone senator to vote against the Patriot Act. Should be a good event.

SPJ is hosting a workshop for reporters and writers this weekend. Hope you’ll consider joining us. Here’s the 411:

Ted Gup, a Case Western Reserve University journalism professor and former Washington Post and Time magazine reporter and Plain Dealer projects editor Dave Davis will lead morning sessions to help you improve your reporting skills.

Gup, a veteran investigative reporter who worked with Bob Woodward at the Washington Post, will focus on developing sources.

Plain Dealer projects editor Dave Davis, who was a Pulitzer finalist in 1995 and 1993, will talk about computer-assisted reporting and the Internet as a source.

A third session will bring together reporters and First Amendment lawyers to talk about getting information from government through Freedom of Information Act requests.

This is the first in a planned series of four programs sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists to help journalist improve their reporting and writing skills and advance their careers.

The program will be at the Middleburg Heights Library is at 15600 E. Bagley Road, Middleburg Heights. It starts at 9:30 a.m. and will run to about noon.

Bagels and beverages will be provided.

The cost is $25 for one session, $40 for two or $75 for all four. To RSVP contact Tom Moore at 440-333-7382 or by e-mail at You can pay at the door.

Finally today I want to wish my Jewish friends a Happy New Year.