Monday, January 31, 2005

Working smarter

Humans are slow learners. At least I can speak for myself. Tomorrow marks one year since I started my solo venture. There isn’t a day that goes by that I haven’t learned something new about how to engage—and not engage—in business.

I learned last fall that some monthly retainers sound like a lot, until you realize the amount of hours that project will consume. And that it’s best to get it in writing no matter how loudly the client doth protest. If they insist on working on a handshake, I’m not doing business with them.

When my world is thrown into a professional/economic tailspin, it’s best not to panic. Reassessing for me means thinking clearly. In order to do that, I need to take extra care of myself — exercising daily, eating well and sleeping well. Once I stop panicking, good things just seem to fall into place.

I don’t want to have my entire business focus translate into working for someone else, though from the convenience of my home office. When faced with the prospect of a well-paying job managing special sections for national business magazine, I realized several things:

• I don’t want to give up the other fun projects I’m working on.
• While the money was substantial, it was not enough for me to give up my family life and become consumed by a frenetic corporate culture.
• On the ride back to the airport, while on the phone with my husband, I suddenly realized that I’ve already done that kind of work and I don’t want to go back to it.

From then on certain parts of my business focus became crystal clear. My journalistic endeavors are rapidly expanding. That was the whole purpose in my starting this gig. I’m getting back to writing about those things about which I care deeply—books, the arts, people and leadership.

But the place I struggle most is in time management. Ever so slowly, I’m learning that my time is exactly that—MY time. And in order to call myself a businesswoman, I need to do a better job of managing my time in a way that works best for my family, my business and me.

After a hectic month of meetings after meetings, I’ve learned a couple more things about my time:

• To fill in any and all school-related events on the calendar FIRST.
• Not to schedule meetings past 2 p.m. (with rare exceptions) since my middle son gets home from school at 2:30.
• To keep the early part of my week unscheduled in order to attend to the business of my business (whether it’s writing, researching, invoicing, etc.)
• To not be so quick to run to the east side, when it would be far more convenient for me to meet people closer to home.
• To limit my amount of extra-curriculars during the week.
• To do a better job of tracking the amount of time spent on a particular project.

Of course, these lessons didn’t hit home for me until I found myself articulating them during lunch on Friday in which a colleague was picking my brain about being self-employed. So I’m trying to work smarter in an effort to better manage my life. And I think better management will also lead to business growth.

When people ask me if I accomplished my 2004 goals, I have to say, "I guess." Those goals were fluid and they changed a bit as my desires and needs shifted. I'm feeling good about my first year in business and even better about the next year. In the end, even my husband (so reticent in the beginning) has realized that my being self-employed makes the most sense for our family.

And it has its perks. For the record, I was able to get excused from Jury Duty. (I served two years ago.) Good thing since I was to report on Feb. 7, which also is the 100th day of school at Normandy Elementary. And my presence is requested there by one Michael Hoke.

One of my compulsive habits is to check my horoscope daily. Here’s today’s from Washington Post. Fits rather well with the subject of this post.

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22). Survey the landscape of your life. What hills do you need to climb? Where can you rest a bit and catch your breath? Is the climate right to plant new seeds for growth? Draw your own map, and then, forge ahead.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Friday round up

So many odds and ends today. Pardon the ADD nature of this entry.

First, I cracked up at this article by Washington Post style writer Robin Givhan. The photo of the Veep doing his best Nanook of the North impression is priceless. I picture Lynn Cheney looking at today’s Post over morning coffee and smacking him yelling, “Idiot! I told you to wear your top coat.”

Also from today’s Post was this horoscope:
VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22). Fighting for someone else's rights brings out the warrior in you. "No" is not an option, and you're willing to make a scene if that's what it takes. You're now the sign most likely to be called to jury duty.

As it happens, I have a jury summons sitting on my desk. Very freaky…

Heard a fascinating discussion on The Diane Rehm Show this morning. Steve Roberts, sitting in for Diane, was talking with Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University and author of “Animals in Translation.” The kicker is she has autism. Her book is a discussion of how her own experience as a person with autism helps her translate what goes on inside the minds of animals. It was one of those NPR gems you just stumble on from time to time, usually in the car in between meetings.

It seems Sy Hersh has drawn the ire (again!) of the Bush administration with this piece in the current issue of The New Yorker. He was the victim of government smear tactics, until the venerable Post and New York Times ran similar stories. Ari Berman’s blog “The Daily Outrage” in The Nation details the criticism and the non-denial denials.

And finally… I receive all manner of e-newsletters these days, many of which are geared toward writers. But this kind of stuff just cracks me up. I would advise writers to steer clear of ads that proclaim, as does this piece in today’s Absolute Markets Newsletter:

“If you ever dreamed about the romantic life of a travel writer, here's a very unusual opportunity to actually live it!” When you click on the link it takes you to a loquacious sales pitch that includes such gems as this:

“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Steenie Harvey, and I'm not exaggerating when I say my passport pages are as well turned as a child's favorite story book. I really do travel the world... and get paid to do it.”

And it gets better:

“Right now, Passport to Romance: The Ultimate Travel Writer's Course, and AWAI's exclusive photojournalism course, Big Bucks for Snap Shots, is yours for only $287.

Get Started Today for Only $49!

All you have to pay to get started is $49. After that, you will be billed $34.00 a month for each of 7 installments that follow. That means you can begin this exclusive program for less than $50.”

What a racket!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Dynamite Napoleon

Ever since Christmas my oldest son, Ryan, has been wandering through the house reciting lines from a movie called, "Napoleon Dynamite." And so we rented it one recent Friday night (in addition to a few others).

The joke in our house is that dad never stays awake past the first 10 minutes of a movie. He's just not a movie guy. But since we had picked up one of his all-time favorites ("Animal House"), he was motivated to keep the Diet Coke flowing and stay awake through Napoleon.

It's a quiet movie, full of pregnant pauses, limited dialogue and very little action. My first reaction was, "This is dumb!" But I have to say, upon subsequent watchings the movie and its bizarre characters (Napoleon, his 32-year-old weasly brother Kip and their '80s-throwback Uncle Rico) began to grow on me.

Napoleon is the ultimate loser, sporting moon boots, harvey high-zips and a red 'fro. He gets shoved into lockers, calls from the nurse's office for Chapstick ("My lips hurt real bad!"), plays tetherball and loves to dance. His unemployed brother, Kip, spends his day surfing Internet chat rooms for the love of his life until he meets LaFawnduh, who travels from Detroit and turns Kip into a bling king. ("LaFawnduh is THE best thing that's ever happened to me. I'm 100% sure she's my soulmate. Napoleon, I'm sure there's a hot babe out there somewhere for you.")

I was amazed to learn in today's PD that the movie was made by several film students at Brigham Young University. It never dawned on me, but the movie is free from profanity, drugs, drinking and sex. In fact, the harshest language is Napoleon yelling, "Flippin' ID-iot! Gosh!" That's pretty tame (sadly) compared to what my kids are used to seeing.

In fact, Danny and I were almost embarrassed by the raucus, beer-swilling, carousing antics of the members of the Delta House in Animal House. In the immortal words of Dean Wormer: "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

So maybe this movie and it's popularity signifies a turn in filmmaking. That teens will watch (repeatedly!) a movie that doesn't contain violence (unless you count a locker slam and what amounts to a 10-second bitch-slapping session between Kip and Napoleon), drunken debauchery or sexually explicit scenes.

That gives me hope. And so I welcome Napoleon and all his lines into my house. Think we'll leave Belushi and friends at the video store for now.

— As Kip would say, "Peace out."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Will catch up soon

Been very busy in the past week, nursing my family back to health after a bad bout of influenza and bringing many exciting new projects to fruition. Thanks for your patience. I'll fill you in shortly...

"It is never too late to be what you might have been." — George Eliot

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Time is short, but make it anyway

Well hell's bells! The washingtonpost.com has a blog! And it's fun and witty and, at times, irreverent. And it's not at all about politics (at least not yet).

This is how newsblogs can function at their best. Achenblog by Joel Achenbach is going to be about "science, history, sports, journalism, and cool stuff that’s in the news."

Achenbach admits that it's not a place for screeds, acknowledging that there are many more questions than answers in this life. "Would that just once I knew the truth about anything," he posts.

Would that our fair city's paper could take a cue from the venerable Post and Guardian and create not only a clean site, but also a Newsblog that would engage readers in a dynamic conversation.

And here is today's self-help quote of the day from Alan Jones, an Episcopal priest and Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco:

"We get imprisoned in what we take to be reality. Our world remains small and our allegiances petty when we refuse to use our imagination. To be fully human is to commit ourselves to what we do not fully know."

Friday, January 14, 2005

God and tsuanmis

Earlier this week while I was waiting in line to pick up Patrick at Westerly Elementary I was listening to Talk of the Nation and was stunned a little at the topic of conversation. Did God cause the tsunami in Asia? A caller from Florida, a Sunday school teacher no less, said that this was one more act of God as we head toward the apocalypse when only those who have accepted Jesus Christ as savior will live in His kingdom and the rest will burn in hell.

Of all my boys, Patrick seems to have an above-average grasp of the Catholic faith and its teachings. He looked up at me with his eyes bulging.

“Mom! Does that man think God caused the tsunami?” he asked.

“Yes, he does,” I said. “What do you think?”

“Duh! It was an earthquake on the ocean floor. Besides God loves everyone and wouldn’t hurt people like that." Enough said as far as I’m concerned.

But this notion has perpetuated in the media and I find it deeply disturbing and yet not surprising all at the same time. In the wake of such tragedies we all search for something or someone to blame. In this case, we cannot. Who do we blame? Plate tectonics?

A friend sent me this column by Mark Morford of the San Francisco Gate. He writes with such passion about the randomness of the act and I thought I'd share this segment with you.

He writes: “Maybe you see such horrors, as I tend to do, as a call to carpe diem, to cherish the day and enjoy the moment like never before and maybe make a change in your life and your perspective before it's too late and because you have nothing, really, to lose, and because life is frighteningly fleeting and it can all be literally washed away in the time it takes to walk your dog to the park and back.

“Primordial. Primeval. Prelapsarian. Many other polysyllabic words come to mind to describe the tragedy that only seems to point up the fact that we know far less than we think we know about How It All Works and even less about Why the Hell We Have to Be Here to Witness It.

“And what's worse, there's not a damn thing we can really do about it all, except get slapped, again, with the fact that life can be unspeakably violent and brutish right alongside stunning and beautiful, and there is not a single place on the planet that is absolutely free of potential catastrophe or epic disaster or slow and painful rebirth. Nowhere.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The end of one dream

It’s amazing to me how someone’s greed, arrogance and blatant disregard for others can have such a far-reaching, devastating effect on people’s lives.

Four years ago this month, the actions of Tom Durkin, president of Cashel Management, destroyed a dream that my husband and I had. I suppose there are those who can find solace in that Tom is currently residing in a federal penitentiary for his crimes. I’ve had to find solace in letting go of dream that wasn’t meant to be.

In February 1999, I was on maternity leave (sort of) as a contract employee and assistant editor of Avenues Magazine. It was one of three city magazines in Cleveland, focusing on arts, education and entertainment. The magazine was housed in dumpy offices in the Knights of Columbus building at the corner of E. 9th and Huron. To my knowledge, the suite remains empty (thought it has been remodeled). My guess is the Knights have yet to invest in an automatic elevator. Instead, you had to ring for Leo, Bill, Jim, Phil or Keith to take you to the third floor.

Certainly Cleveland did not need, nor could it really support three city magazines. But that’s what it had. Avenues had a broad circulation of about 55,000, more than Cleveland Magazine and more than Northern Ohio Live. That’s because our circulation comprised members of WVIZ/PBS.

Danny was working in advertising sales at Advanstar when I received a call from the publisher that February asking if he would be interested in selling advertising for Avenues. Danny followed up and talked about the possibility. We had many conversations with Bob Zack over the weeks and Danny felt good that, although we would be putting all our eggs in one basket, the opportunity also was there to buy into and take over the magazine within five to seven years.

And so we plunged into Avenues with both feet, both hearts and both minds.

People always asked how we could work together but you know—we were good together. For one thing, I worked from home most days and he was in the office. We would attend various community functions together and did a fine job representing the magazine and meeting many people. He and I have great chemistry working a room, making sure everyone feels welcome.

Danny didn’t interfere with editorial and I didn’t interfere with sales. But we both had a keen understanding of the importance of each other’s roles. We saw ourselves eventually as publisher and editor, making the magazine something truly unique in Cleveland, with solid editorial content, featuring strong writing and photography, and plenty of advertising to support the content.

It wasn’t a pipedream. We were on our way. In 2000, the magazine broke records in page-count and ad revenue. We were poised to rap on the doors of our nearest competitor, Northern Ohio Live.

But on a Monday in January, I heard the garage door open as Danny returned home. Something was wrong. He always had sales meetings on Monday mornings. When I came downstairs, he told me we needed to talk. Our jobs were in jeopardy.

Tom Durkin, who owned 50 percent of the magazine (Bob Zack owned the other 50 percent), had been investing his clients’ money, unbeknownst to them, into a failed dot-com known as Rx Remedy. Rx Remedy was owned by one of Tom’s pals, Karamjit Paul. Tom was hoping for a big payoff and invested and lost millions of his clients’ money month after month. The venture went bankrupt and Tom was left answering to his clients, friends and federal prosecutors about why he continued to invest without their permission into something that was clearly failing. To this day, I think he’s arrogant enough to believe that if they could have rode the wave a little longer, everyone would have made millions and been happy.

Instead Tom, who went to St. Ignatius High School with Bob Zack, lost all of his friend’s savings and any chance Bob had to buy out his share of the magazine. Bob, completely devastated by his friend’s betrayal and financial losses, tried his best to regroup and find other investors in the magazine. But it was early 2001 and the economy was tanking. WVIZ was concerned, but waiting to see if Bob could find other investors.

And then, on a Thursday morning, I received a call from one of my friends. She said that police cars were in the driveway of the Brennan’s home across the street. Word on the street was that Tim Brennan, a partner at Cashel and Tom’s roommate at Notre Dame, had killed himself. As it happens, Tim’s wife, Maureen, was Ryan’s first-grade teacher at St. Raphael. Shortly after that call, I received a call from school telling me the news. Tim, in his despondency over the allegations, had pulled his car over on the Hilliard Boulevard bridge in Rocky River and jumped to his death.

This work disaster had now entered our church and school life as well. Word of Tim’s death was too much for WVIZ and we learned they were going to find alternative means for communicating with members. It was the very beginning of ideastream and the possibilities of a multimedia company featuring radio, TV, Web and print vanished as quickly as they arrived, though radio, TV and Web exist.

Within two weeks, the magazine folded. The official news release sent to the media and advertisers was that this was a tough economy and a tough market and we weren’t able to compete. As if WE failed somehow. I was so angry and vowed to Danny that I would never accept the blame for the magazine’s demise. Our advertisers and supporters weren’t fooled. We fielded many calls from them saying that the magazine page count was way up, response to advertising was strong and they demanded to know the REAL reason it folded.

Danny and I lost our jobs that month. We also lost the dream we had of making an impact on the publishing world of Cleveland together. But at least we had each other, and our meager savings. Danny quickly rebounded with a job at Advanstar. And I gave up contract work for the security of a steady paycheck.

Maureen Brennan and her four daughters lost a husband and father. Tim Brennan would have welcomed his first grandchild this year. Bob Zack lost his livelihood, his retirement, his family’s savings and two very close friends. Families throughout Cleveland — both famous and not so famous — lost their savings. St. Ignatius and St. Joseph schools lost some of their endowment. Northeast Ohio readers lost what would have been a terrific publication under our stewardship. And the arts community lost a strong advocate, something it desperately needs today.

I recounted this story once to my counselor. She stopped me at one point and said, “This was the beginning of the snowball that led to your panic attacks.” She was right. I tried so hard, so quickly to just move on. That’s always been my way. But I couldn’t shake the loss and would sit in my home office and cry, wondering what to do next and how it could have all gone so wrong, so fast. It was a lesson in how little of our lives we actually control.

Ironically, Tom Durkin never met Danny and I. He prided himself on keeping a low profile and chose not to meet the people who were running his magazine. That’s his loss — and so was his low profile. Tom’s case made news only for a few weeks and at that never really garnered the coverage it deserved. Few grasped the extent of his destruction. And besides, within a few weeks, Tom’s antics would look like child’s play next to one Frank Gruttadaria. But not to those whose lives he damaged.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"Everybody just wants to bounce their ball"

Wanted to share this poignant little story from a book I reviewed this week called, "Awake at Work," by Michael Carroll. I couldn't work this story into a 275-word review, but it was too beautiful not to share in some way. The author describes how, as a senior in high school, a German priest taught he and his classmates how to think.

"For a year we studied Aristotelian logic, the Socratic method, John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism, syllogistic reasoning, logical fallacies, deductive and inductive reasoning, a priori and a posteriori statements … We were trained well in analyzing life's situations logically, systematically, rationally.

"On our final class together with this wise and gentle man—a day I will always remember and cherish—he gave us a little speech that I recall to this very day.

'When we started off the year, many of you gentlemen felt that
learning to think was rather silly. Some said to me, 'We all think,
so what's there to learn?' But now, after a year, you see that
thinking properly is demanding. To think properly is to be disciplined
and to listen well. To think properly, in the end, is to be logical.

'Yet, gentlemen, I leave you with one last lesson—probably the most
important lesson I have to offer. Life, my dear fellows, is not
logical. While you may work hard throughout your lives to be fair
and reasonable, thorough and correct, your lives will not follow
such rules. And if you try to understand your fellow humans beings
by logic alone, you will be doing yourselves and others a great
disservice. There is actually something much more basic and impor-
tant that is at the heart of every human being.'

"Our teacher began to walk around the classroom, placing a single sheet of paper facedown on each of our desks."

'So I leave you today with one final puzzle that I hope you keep with
you for the rest of your lives. Contemplate it, remember it, let its
meaning unfold. I believe that what I am handing you will be helpful
to you in understanding what we all really want as human beings.'

"I turned the sheet of paper over to discover a rather unremarkable photograph from a local newspaper. It was a picture of a young boy standing alone outside an empty basketball court. The shot was taken from behind him. He had a basketball under one arm and gripped the tall chain-link fence with his free hand. Though it was a warm, sunny day, the court was empty and the gate was locked. The caption below read, 'Everybody just wants to bounce their ball.'"

It was years later before the author understood the riddle—"a deeply person lesson on how to conduct myself in business and in life. And though these are not my teacher's actual words, I can hear them in my heart today as if they were being spoken from his lips to my ears.

'Don't take yourselves so seriously, gentlemen, for if you do, you
will miss what it means to be human. Your logic and correctness, your
rationality and thoroughness, can actually blind you, lock you out of
the game, prevent you from becoming who you most deeply want to be.'

"'Everybody just wants to bounce their ball' reminds us to respect the gentle enthusiasm that everyone brings to life."




Monday, January 10, 2005

A call from Scottsdale

I spent five years working at Sun Newspapers as a general assignment reporter. It was both good and bad, as work experiences go. I learned a great many things about people, culture, writing, good government, bad government, the criminal justice system, firing weapons. But I also felt stifled there. It didn't really hit home until my basement flooded in 1997 and I was going through old clippings trying to find out what was salvageable. That's when I realized I was writing about the same core issues for five years. I was long gone by then and glad I made the leap when I did.

But I know others who have made the Sun experience their life. I heard from one today. Pete Gaughan (aka Petey, the Postman, Post) called me last November to tell me he was retiring and moving to Scottsdale, Ariz. Pete and I shared a computer for four of those five years and grew to know each other very well. He loved to tease me when I was pregnant, but would be the first to make a run to pick up my Szechwuan broccoli (which I absolutely CRAVED) from the Szechwuan House. To say he was rough around the edges would an understatement of the highest order.

He was colorful, both literally and figuratively. I suppose if I were his editor he would drive me nuts with his often-unpolished writing, unorthodox work habits and frequent absences. But there was something else that Petey possessed that I think often was overlooked by higher-ups at Sun. He had a genuine love for sports and for the kids and coaches he covered. And, when he was particularly revved about a subject, that love came through in his writing.

Of course, Pete wasn't always that engaged. In fact, he was known to apologize profusely to then-assistant editor Marsha Bragg for "power-slamming" cutlines and shorts. But for 25 years he showed up on Mondays (sports deadline), sometimes massively hungover, sometimes kicking creative booty, and did a job which mattered a great deal to those he covered.

Every year during the state track meet, he would jot down athlete's names from the program and pull together a clever column based on their names. (A particular noteworthy column was the year of the condiments.) And when Shaker Heights High School counted then-basketball star Malcolm Sims among its ranks, he put together a great feature (and even art directed photos) about the teammates behind Malcolm Sims.

Petey loves to party and that fact did not always sit well with his bosses. He was a free spirit and I suppose managing him would be akin to herding cats. But he was infinitely generous of spirit (and wallet) and loved to show people how to have fun.

Back in 1992 he invited me to spend a day as a sports reporter. We started with Thistledown's Media Day and proceeded from there. It was a great time. And it was when I met Junior O'Malley, the legend of the racetrack. I'm currently working on a piece about Thistledown and it was great to have known Junior as one of the track's legendary regulars. I reminded him of that excursion today and he said, "You know, that was a great day. You never knew if you were going to have a great day, you just had to go out and see."

Pete's true love is golf. And that's what he's doing these days, working for a fantasy golf club out in Scottsdale. He's organizing his first outing and already has the attention of The Golf Channel. I may have to tune in to see him. He won't be hard to spot — he's the guy in the flowered shirts and jams. Or wait, I think he left those behind in Cleveland. Good luck, Pete. Good to hear from ya.


Friday, January 07, 2005

Discovering self-indulgence

Did something yesterday that I rarely do. I actually went shopping and bought myself some new clothes. To put this event into context, you need only hear the words of my Patrick who said:

"Mom, I've never seen you buy clothes for yourself."

He's right. I didn't mean for it to be that way, but it is. And there are a number of reasons. Of course the first is always financial. By that I mean there are always other things deemed of higher priority (by me, not anyone else). Second, and probably equally important, is that I'm NOT a shopper. I've never had the patience, and I get easily overwhelmed by it all.

And then there's the worst reason of all: That somehow I don't feel myself worthy of being able to buy myself clothes. It's stupid, but I am prone to buyer's remorse, wondering if I shouldn't have spent the money after all. This can set in even after spending a measly $30 on a ribbed turtleneck (my winter uniform).

There's hope for me, I believe. Yesterday I partook of guilt-free shopping. I knew it was a successful trip when, after having modeled my purchases for my hubby, I heard not one: "How much did you spend?" comment. He approved, and even seemed pleased that I had spent money on myself.

I don't believe in New Year's Resolutions, I believe in making incremental life changes as they become clear to me. Last March I set about on a weight-loss regimen. Really, it was about exercising regularly and eating a LOT less — more a lifestyle change than a diet. As a result, I lost 25 pounds.

But for the past year, I've not bothered to buy myself new clothes, particularly pants, because I've been enjoying the feeling of loose clothing. And maybe, deep down, I wanted to make sure I could maintain the weight loss.

While staying at my sister's at Thanksgiving, Jen, who's much better at shopping than I (and really the only person I care to shop with) looked at me and shook her head when I got dressed.

"You're not still wearing those Big Yank jeans are you?" she asked. I looked down and realized yes, they were awfully big (but REALLY comfy). "Come with me," she said, grabbing me by the arm and shuffling me off to her splendid walk-in closet, loaded with all the latest fashions. "Try these," she said, holding out a pair of hipster, bootcut jeans.

"I'll never be able to fit in those," I said. (That's always been my pat answer.)

"Try. Them. On."

"Okay, okay," I said. I put them on and couldn't believe they fit really well. Jen was ecstatic and ran back into closet, emerging with a very cool belt. The outfit was complete.

"You look FABU!" she said. (You've got to know Jen to understand her lingo.) The true test is what my guys would think. They were all very sweet in their approval. Jen gave the jeans and belt to me as a gift and inspired me to buy more. How sweet it all was yesterday finally spending guiltlessly. It improved the way I look but – more important – how I feel about myself.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Where are the Newsblogs?

Back in November, a panel of traditional media journalists and professors gathered to discuss ethics in the wake of the U.S. presidential election. It was a revealing discussion in that it displayed, with pinpoint accuracy, what is wrong with traditional media today.

The blame for all that’s bad with elections, America, media, etc., was laid at the feet of bloggers. One panelist described us as nut-jobs who spew venom in our windowless rooms in the middle of the night. Too bad the organizers of the event didn’t see fit to include a blogger (of which there are many notable contributors to the public discourse in the Cleveland area) to respond to such invective.

More than anything, the comments were an example of the fear that traditional media have about blogging, and how it will choose to remain stagnant, and risk becoming irrelevant, rather than embrace this tool. But since 2005 is the year of the blog, I’d like to offer up some contrary viewpoints.

Jesse Oxfeld in Editor & Publisher’s Newspaper 2.0 column writes that newspapers are trying to figure out how to make their sites more blog-friendly. But then he goes on to discuss the bevy of site redesigns taking place at major online newspapers. The bigger question — how a news organization incorporate blogs — has not been answered.

For proof of how they work well, I suggest you visit the Newsblog at The Guardian. It does a great job of giving some behind-the-scenes of the U.K. news operation, some original content that complements existing stories and some fun stuff that satisfies news junkies (and Anglophiles).

Just today, Neil McIntosh of The Guardian posted this
entry about how the U.S. still largely views blogs as the panelist described above.

McIntosh writes: “For all their impact in the US, however, you could still be forgiven for thinking of (blogs) mainly as tools only for political hacks or technology geeks – until last week. Bizarre stories such as this, published (Monday) in the New York Times (registration required), still suggest blogs did little more than twittering about wacky conspiracy theories in the wake of the (Asian tsunami) disaster. But that story, and the impression it leaves, is dead wrong. The truth is far more interesting than that."

He goes on to describe how this unorganized, decentralized mechanism moved through the story using words, photos, sound and video to tell the human aspect of the story and how anyone could engage with the relief effort.

McIntosh continues: “In short: this wasn’t a few political hacks talking to each other. For the first time, powerful coverage of a huge news event was not brought to you purely by established media. An army of ‘citizen journalists’ played a new role, perhaps all the more vital considering the effect vivid reportage, online and off, has had on the subsequent fundraising efforts.

“It would be obscene to remember this tsunami as anything other than a huge natural disaster, a human tragedy on an unimaginable scale. But for those watching this small, comparatively insignificant world of media, this may also be remembered as a time when citizen reporting, through the force of its huge army of volunteers and their simple type and publish weblog mechanisms, finally found its voice, and delivered in a way the established media simply could not.”

There are signs that some newspapers are becoming enlightened to the idea. Greensboro, North Carolina News-Record blogger Lex Alexander reported to his editor about the need to understand and incorporate blogging in order to survive.

On Jay Rosen’s PressThink, Alexander writes:

“If we are to survive as a business dedicated to producing quality local news, information and dialogue, we need to move, too-- with people and resources. It means understanding the culture of the Internet, and of blogging in particular, and understanding how we can work on and with the Internet (i.e., with users of that medium) to expand the quantity and quality of the local news, information and dialogue we provide.”

Why are Weblogs important? Because, as Jeff Jarvis says: “Weblogs are about human lives.”

And nowhere has that been more clearly seen than in coverage of the tsunami.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

You can't get there from cleveland.com

Is it me or is Cleveland.com the most convoluted site in the history of the Web?(Wait, don't answer. I'm sure there's worse.) But I've had it with its abysmal navigation. Basically you can't get what you need within any level of simplicity. Were it not for The Plain Dealer, I would have no reason whatsoever to visit the site.

As it happens, I visit once every two weeks to copy links to my book reviews that appear in Wednesday's papers. I can only do it within 14 days because after that the content no longer appears in the archives. It would seem a simple enough task. But I wind up having to search under something different every time I log on.

Sometimes I have to look under arts, sometimes under life, sometimes using keywords from the books I reviewed, sometimes using keywords from the headline and sometimes entering (and this is what would seem logical) the column name: From the Self-Help Shelf.

I rarely find something in the PD worth linking to, but today I did. Or at least I thought I did. I was going to call your attenion to an op-ed piece by Simon Singh, author of the soon-to-be-released "Big Bang: The Origins of the Universe."
In a piece titled, "Einstein's tutorial on genius," Singh writes that one of Einstein's original theories on the origin of the universe, he later admitted to being wrong. This is news now because 2005 is the beginning of the Albert Einstein Year (marking the centennial of his annus mirabilis in 1905).

While my boys ate their waffles this morning I read them Einstein's quote: "It's not that I'm so smart; it's just that I stay with a problem longer." Ah yes, that wonderful quality known today as stick-to-it-iveness. Something I hope to pass on to my boys, even as I know they're not hearing my morning news ramblings.

Anyway, as it happens, scientists now believe that Einstein's flawed theory of an anti-gravity force may, in fact, turn out to be the best explanation for the acceleration of the universe.

Since I cannot locate the link on Cleveland.com, I'll share with you the end of this column, which I found most poignant:

"It seems that even when Einstein thought he was wrong, he turned out to be right.

"And, as we celebrate the Einstein Year, let's also bear in mind the fact that he was prepared to admit he was wrong.

"Perhaps humility, more than anything, is the mark of true genius."



Monday, January 03, 2005

Happy New Year

I love the New Year. The optimist in me relishes the thought of a fresh start and the hope that this year will be better than the last. And, quite frankly, 2004 was a doozer for many reasons. But that's in the past and I'm all about renewal.

This year I've started with a greater sense of clarity about the kind of work I want to be doing. There are certain things I've done to make money that don't necessarily fulfill. There are others that don't make much money yet seem to fulfill immensely. Somehow, I'll have to find the balance between the two. That is the unending conundrum, no?

I've recently completed several pieces that have stretched my writing abilities. Just today my colleague Brian Willse from Newbomb Design and I sent our first book project to the printer. It's a wrap-up book on the 2004 International Children's Games that Brian and I worked on with the good folks at the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. This was a pro bono project, but infinitely satisfying. The book will be announced in the next several weeks at a press conference. And Brian and I are hopeful that it will be the first of many projects on which we collaborate.

Creative Ink has really been a training ground of sorts for the kind of work I'd like to do – namely personal essays. I just completed my first thanks to the kind referral from Plain Dealer Book Editor Karen Sandstrom. And speaking of Karen, I also completed my first longer book review for the Sunday book pages.

This week finds my head bursting with ideas, a sometimes-frustrating state because it's impossible to pursue them all. But at least at this time of the year I'm better at writing them down (and getting them out of my head).

For some time, fellow bloggers have asked why I don't have comments on Creative Ink. Quite simply, I felt there weren't that many people reading who would be compelled to comment. And those who did, often emailed me directly. Between you, me and the fencepost, I was a little nervous about opening myself up for criticism. But that's another thing about the new year, I'm going to muster the courage that's been holding me back. I've only myself to blame for missed opportunities. So post your comments. I'm delighted to hear from supporters and critics alike.

I'd love to write about travel (in addition to books) and have the opportunity (as do you!) to meet the Boston Globe's Tom Haines, the 2003 Travel Writer of the Year, at a Writers Salon at 4 p.m. tomorrow at Talkies Film & Coffeebar, 2521 Market Ave. Thanks to my very good friend and prolific writer John Ettorre and his good pal, (whom I had the pleasure of meeting last week) Anton Zuiker, a group of writers will gather to discuss Words That Move.

John says, "Be prepared to talk about writing, journalism, weblogs and other topics. Bring a sample of your writing to share, or an article of interest you'd like others to know about. Theme is Words That Move, so the conversation may meander from travel writing to writing that moves a person to tears (good writing or, ahem, bad writing) to a memoir of relocating."

And I just learned that CSU's Department of English and Creative Writing Program is hosting Imagination2 2005 on five Saturdays from Feb. 19 to March 26. The cost is $69.95 for all sessions covering fiction, poetry, essay and memoir. You can email imagination2@csuohio.edu for more information.

Ah, yes, the start of the year raises the possibility of every good thing.

This is also a time when I take to reading more serious works (in between reading review books). Currently I'm reading "Lincoln's War" by Geoffrey Perret.

What is it about the winter that compels me to read Russian literature? It can't be as trite as the winter weather. No, methinks it has more to do with time more readily available for digesting these lengthy and complex works. In past winters, I've read Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov and this year I think I'll read Boris Pasternak's "Dr. Zhivago." Saw the new Masterpiece Theater version on PBS in December and found it far more moving than the 1960's Julie Christie/Omar Sharif version.

So in the interest of feeding my passionate Cossack roots I leave you today with this marvelous quote about love from Anton Chekhov:

"Perhaps the feelings that we experience when we are in love represent a normal state. Being in love shows a person who he should be."