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Friday, February 24, 2006

Cash infusion at citizen journalism site

Red Herring is reporting that OhmyNews International, a citizen journalism site in South Korea, has received $11 million in funding from Toykyo-based Softbank.

I first learned of OhmyNews during the East Asia Journalists Forum in November 2004. There CEO Yeon Ho Oh and I were on new media panel together and spoke for bit after the session. OhmyNews was already setting the standard for citizen journalists, even paying them for stories and photos.

And it's having much better success than any citizen journalism attempts here in the U.S. Dan Gillmor, an early proponent of citizen journalism, says his site Bayosphere, is struggling due to lack of participation.

Is it because our online activity is less sophisticated? At least one person thinks so.

Anthony Lappé, executive editor of the Guerrilla News Network was quoted in the Red Herring piece saying, "the success of OhmyNews and the size of its investment speaks to the behavioral differences between Asia and the United States. ‘Asian participatory anything is just way ahead, whether it’s Japan or Korea,’ he said, emphasizing the involvement of young people. ‘The sense that I get here is it’s just so much more about MySpace and about hooking up.’ ”

I'm not so sure that Americans are less sophisticated, but I do think Koreans are years ahead of us and perhaps a bit more motivated to engage in citizen journalism. Their press is not so independent as it is in the U.S. Plus, South Korea is an incredibly technological society at all levels.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Taming the watchdog

The level of secrecy and discourse in this country is reaching authoritarian proportions. I’m not sure who the government thinks it is protecting. Consider this in today’s WaPo, claiming that the U.S. government can prosecute journalists who receive classified information.

So much for watchdog function of the press:

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, who first disclosed the government filing on his Web site said yesterday, "The idea that the government can penalize the receipt of proscribed information, and not just its unauthorized disclosure, is one that characterizes authoritarian societies, not mature democracies."

And then there’s this from yesterday’s Times. Like the story above that was first reported by a scientist, this is one of those stories that could have easily been missed had it not been for historians who rely on the National Archives for research.

In a seven-year-old secret program at the National Archives, intelligence agencies have been removing from public access thousands of historical documents that were available for years, including some already published by the State Department and others photocopied years ago by private historians.

The story continues:

But because the reclassification program is itself shrouded in secrecy — governed by a still-classified memorandum that prohibits the National Archives even from saying which agencies are involved — it continued virtually without outside notice until December. That was when an intelligence historian, Matthew M. Aid, noticed that dozens of documents he had copied years ago had been withdrawn from the archives' open shelves.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Disappointing news from U.S. Supreme Court

Just receive from Marc Goodman, executive director at the Student Law Press Center: He reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has announced this morning that it will not hear a case that questioned the authority of administrators at an Illinois university to censor a student newspaper that published articles critical of the school.

The Court's ruling lets stand a June 2005 decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that could open the door to providing university administrators with authority to censor school-sponsored speech by public college students and faculty, including speech in some student newspapers, at schools in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The appeals court ruled that the Supreme Court's 1988 decision in
Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which has been used to restrict the First Amendment rights of elementary and high school students and teachers, applied to colleges and universities as well. The appeals court decision was in stark contrast to over three decades of law that has provided strong free speech protection to college student journalists and protected them from censorship by school officials unhappy with what student media published.

By refusing to hear the case, the Court lets stand the extension to colleges of a censorship standard it created to oversee speech by students as young as five years old. The 7th Circuit's decision is only binding in three states and is in direct conflict with decisions of other state and federal courts around the country.

Today's ruling disappointed student press advocates.

"The appeals court decision last year turned on its head the traditional belief that a university is a 'marketplace of ideas' where speech from all sides is not only tolerated, but encouraged. We hoped that the Supreme Court would step in to reaffirm that important principle," said Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. "We are very disappointed that the Court left that issue to be decided another day."

Political thoughts from an apolitical blogger

I woke up this morning to the sound of WCPN reporting that former Democratic candidate for the Senate, Paul Hackett, was pressured out of the primary by a whisper campaign suggesting he engaged in questionable behavior during the war in Iraq.

I'm not a political blogger and I don't necessarily follow state politics. But I have nosed around to learn a bit about the candidates because I strongly believe Ohio needs a drastic change in leadership. But the recent political machinations, gossip-mongering and character assassination of folks who are sideliners in the process has made me ill. No, not ill, I'm raging!

When did political discourse become so personally vile and so wholly unrelated to the issues facing our state? Makes me want to move and worse, makes me want to disengage altogether from the voting process. I'm worried about what happens in Ohio, but I feel utterly bereft that any of the candidates in the statewide races possess either the understanding of the issues facing real Ohioans or the capacity to improve our state's economic environment.

Karl Rove would be tickled to know that he has inspired a new generation of political operatives in both parties — operatives more content to publicly (though underhandedly) shame private citizens who committed disgusting crimes (but who have nonetheless paid their debt to society) because they have strong opinions. I'm sorry, but don't we all live in one giant glass house? Last I checked, a democracy allows for free speech, even when you don't like the person speaking or the content of what he or she says. From what I saw of the court record, this person has paid his debt to society and now I read that we are so high and mighty and moral ourselves that we no longer believe in rehabilitation? There are no second chances? What a sad, sorry, unrecognizable world this has become.

I was against the war in Iraq, but I come from a long line of veterans and believe they are doing a difficult job with limited resources. I find it impossible to imagine what our men and women face daily in Iraq. I'm not sure what Paul Hackett saw or did in Iraq. I'm sure there are things that happen there that they would never have dreamed of here at home. But the same is true for all war veterans. My grandfather, who was in the Army in Guam in World War II is only just beginning to find the words for some of his stories. The experience causes him great pain. So why don't we help veteran's adjust instead of shaming them for serving?

By now the Republican candidates are laughing all the way to the polls as the state Democratic party implodes under leadership that is immature and vacuous. As a voter, here are my questions, and I don't consider them rhetorical. I want specific answers, nay, I am ENTITLED to specific answers. If you want my vote you damn well better earn it with specifics.

What are we going to do about fostering entrenepeurship in Ohio?

What are we going to do to make higher education affordable for more students?

How are we going to make Ohio an attractive place to live, work, play and retire?

How are we going to address the funding of our state's public schools?

How are we going to engage in budgeting that demonstrates our commitment to education at all levels?

How are we going to take care of the least among us?

How are we going to ensure that more Ohioans are insured?

How are we going to create an inclusive culture that doesn't prey on the prejudices of the small-minded but vocal, but rather opens our hearts and minds to be more accepting of those unlike us?

How are we going to encourage innovations and research that retain and bring in the bright, young talent that helps to stimulate our economic growth?

When is our political system going to encourage true leadership from those other than the lucky dozen with the right last name or family pedigree?

When are we going to tire of dwelling in the sewer of party politics and start meeting the needs of all Ohioans?

Monday, February 20, 2006

The next few weeks at CI

Coming off of what was a highly emotional and draining weekend, the reality of the next few weeks is now staring me in the face. Here's the deal and why I won't be present here very much.

First, I've got a book manuscript deadline of March 15. Most of my waking and many of my working moments will be spent writing, rewriting, editing, revising, worrying about revising, worrying about editing, second-guessing ... you know, all the dysfunctional writerly things we do on shorter pieces that will only be magnified by a book-length project.

Second, I'm prepping for two talks this week -- one at Judson's President's Circle luncheon on Thursday and another about Thomas Merton for the Serra Club of Cleveland on Friday.

Third, I'm channeling a lot of my blogging energy into The Independent Journalist, which is rapidly picking up steam and subscribers.

Fourth, I'm working on my next two original reports for Creative Ink. The second report I hope to finish and post this week. Once again it's a lot of offline revising, editing, verifying, etc.

Fifth, I'll be spending a lot of time writing about my observations of the community engagement in the small schools transformation at Cleveland Heights High School for the KnowledgeWorks Foundation.

I've got some other miscellaneous assignments tossed in for variety, but I'm afraid my focus will have to be sharp. I'll have to curtail my mental wandering in this space for a few weeks.

Please be patient and stop back when you can. And know that I will catch up more frequently in a few weeks.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Come back soon, Connie

OPEN is reporting that Connie is taking sabbatical while her husband, Rep. Sherrod Brown runs for U.S. Senate. I'll miss her voice in the PD, but look forward to her new book coming out in April and her eventual return to the PD.

Moving on

Joanne M. Hoke passed away last night, leaving eight children, a brother and sister, assorted nieces and nephews and 30 granddchildren. Danny and I talked about how strange it will be to actually sleep without the middle-of-the-night phone calls. He is sad to be sure, but also relieved that his mother is no longer suffering.

We're home together today and after the flurry of morning phone calls informing friends and neighbors, it's nice to enjoy the peace and quiet. We took Riley for a walk at a nearby park and she had a field day chasing geese and generally absorbing every mud puddle she could find. It was good to get fresh air and to laugh at good memories and our crazy labrador retriever.

There have been so many tears shed over the past couple of weeks that I think Danny is just tired. It didn't take much to convince him to nap. He and his siblings have plenty to do in the next few days. My grandmother told me after my grandfather died that planning a funeral was like planning a wedding in three days. But for now the chance to just be without demands is exactly what he needs.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My newest project

For the past few months I've wanted to start a blog for freelancers. But I just didn't have the time to get it in place. The need reached a head when I realized I had to offload a lot of the information people share with me about freelancing opportunities. It was threatening to take over my Outlook.

So, I invite you to visit The Independent Journalist. In the past 12 hours alone I've posted quite a few entries. It's hard enough to feed one blog, let alone more than one. So this is also an open source forum and I have invited members to post.

Check it out, post a comment, get added to the member list and visit often for information and inspiration about freelancing.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Follow you, follow me

If you’re an adult and you lose both your parents does that still make you an orphan?

I’m not sure what the answer is, but it’s been a question I’ve been pondering lately. Not for myself, but for my husband. Danny lost his dad to a sudden heart attack on Dec. 28, 1980 – 25 years ago. He had just turned 14 years old and woke up to find his household in a state of hysteria and sadness because his dad had died in his sleep.

Danny’s older brothers and sisters wouldn’t let him see his dad. He is the youngest of eight kids in an Irish-Catholic family and it was probably an effort to protect him. It’s something his older siblings would try to do until fairly recently. They didn't need to because in reality he is the strongest person I’ve ever known.

Edward “Bunny” Hoke was buried on New Year’s Eve in 1980 at Holy Cross Cemetery. He was a popular guy, an insurance man with Dawson Insurance, active in the Cuyahoga County Republican Party, a golf fanatic and friend to many. Danny remembers that his wake at McGorray’s in Lakewood was so heavily attended that the line stretched out the door and around the corner. His eight children played the Genesis song, “Follow You, Follow Me” in tribute to their dad. Whenever I hear it now it brings tears to me eyes.

He learned to live without a father. And he learned to live with four older brothers who all tried to be his father at different points in his life. He’s made a kind of peace with that fact, even as he misses his dad so profoundly.

Now his mom, Joanne, is lying in hospice with her body’s systems slowing shutting down one by one. It’s been such a painful process that began five weeks ago. Joanne was unable to eat and she needed to have some tests done. She was fearful and unwilling to go to the hospital. But it reached a head one Sunday when her children convinced her it was for the best. She entered the hospital weighing 99 pounds.

An endoscopy revealed that she had a mass in her stomach that was blocking entry to her intestines. It turned out to be a bleeding ulcer. She required gastric bypass surgery and a transfer to University Hospitals. Joanne is such a strong-willed Irish woman and she was not going to have the surgery no matter how much her children and doctors pleaded with her.

One night, Danny sat in our darkened living room and asked himself and me a question that was haunting him: “What are her wishes? Why are we doing this? For us or for her? Can she survive the surgery and the recovery? She’s so frail.”

Tears were streaming down his face as he dried to wrestle with how to let go. Early the next morning, Joanne gave the surgeon her consent to operate. The surgery went well. Everyone was pleased.

But a few days later, her breathing was labored. Tests showed pneumonia, collapsed lower lobes of the lung and a pulmonary embolism. She was whisked into ICU, hooked up to a ventilator and filled with blood thinners, antibiotics, anti-anxiety medications, pain meds and oxygen.

Surprisingly, she was stabilized within a couple of days and able to return to a surgical floor. Doctors felt confident that she was stable enough to be transferred back to St. John West Shore Hospital in Westlake to recovery in their skilled care unit.

She would be close to home and to her children. But Joanne has been fighting battles on too many fronts. Another pulmonary embolism developed and her breathing once again became labored on Friday. Danny knew what this meant. Her living will clearly states that she does not want to be hooked up to machines and wants no extraordinary measures taken to prolong her life. The ventilator was not an option this time.

On Friday night, doctors suspected congestive heart failure and the decision was made to bring in hospice. Make her comfortable, there’s nothing more to be done. On my way home from a conference on Saturday, Danny called and asked me to come to the hospital. I stopped at the gas station earlier that day and when I got back in my car, “Follow You, Follow Me” was on the radio. Was it a sign?

I hadn’t seen Joanne since Christmas day. I was shocked at her appearance. She’s down to 88 pounds, her translucent skin is riddled with bruises, her hands look like those of a child and her skin is falling away from her eye sockets. It was startling. She is only 75, but she looked 100.

As I sat in a chair behind Danny’s niece who was feeding her baby food bananas I fought back the lump in my throat. I am not close to Joanne. That was her choice. But I was there when she needed me and I think she respected that. She leaned up a little and with her voice muffled by her oxygen mask asked, “Is that Wendy?”

“Hi Joj,” I said and scooted over to hold her frail hand. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“Don’t be,” I said, knowing that her apology could have been for so many things not necessarily directed at me but at Danny.

I’m glad I saw her and I know it meant everything to Danny. She continues to hang on this morning, though her body is showing signs of an accelerated shut down. Danny’s brother Tom called at 3 a.m. Sunday and said Joanne was asking for him. So he jumped out of bed and rushed to the hospital. Of all her boys, he’s been by her side consistently in the 25 years since his dad died.

As he crawled into bed at 7:30 yesterday morning he told me he was at peace. He had said his goodbyes and prayed that she would close her eyes and take her leave. The human will to live is stronger than can imagine. She’s labored through another day, working so hard just to breathe.

Finally, last night she said to Danny, “I’m ready to go.”

“Then go, Mom. Close your eyes and go,” he said.

I told him yesterday that he’s been a good son. Joanne knows this and it’s what she loved about him even though she couldn’t or wouldn’t say the words. In the end, I realized that for much of his life their roles have been reversed. He has been the parent and she the child in need of nurturing.

But I saw a change in him on Saturday night, a very subtle change, as if he were suddenly free to blossom into the full adult he was meant to be. I had told the boys that JoJo (that’s what they call her) was probably going to die in the next couple of days, and that dad was sad and really needed us now. As if on cue, Danny walked in and when he saw us, he fell to pieces.

I’m sure it scared them a bit to see their normally composed and calm dad so emotional. Soon they were all crying and hugging. I stood back and let him soak in their love and support. I realize now that they were crying for him. “I don’t want you to not have any parents,” cried Mikey.

“It’s okay, Mikey,” he said. “I have you guys.”

Stay with me,
My love I hope you’ll always be
Right here by my side if ever I need you
Oh my love

In your arms,
I feel so safe and so secure
Everyday is such a perfect day to spend
Alone with you

I will follow you will you follow me
All the days and nights that we know will be
I will stay with you will you stay with me
Just one single tear in each passing year

With the dark,
Oh I see so very clearly now
All my fears are drifting by me so slowly now
Fading away

I can say
The night is long but you are here
Close at hand, oh I’m better for the smile you give
And while I live

I will follow you will you follow me
All the days and nights that we know will be
I will stay with you will you stay with me
Just one single tear in each passing year there will be

I will follow you will you follow me
All the days and nights that we know will be
I will stay with you will you stay with me
Just one single tear in each passing year...

— “Follow You, Follow Me” / Genesis

Friday, February 10, 2006

Standing up for Cleveland's homeless

EDITORIAL NOTE: This story marks the first in a series of original reports on Creative Ink.

Lines of cars squeeze into the one-way drive behind the Bishop Cosgrove Center at East 18th and Superior in efforts to drop off goods for day one of the 2006 Homeless Stand Down. There’s an organized chaos to the place, with volunteers poised every few feet and providers from social service and health agencies wheeling in carts of literature and supplies.

They are all here for the single-biggest gathering of agencies in service to Cleveland’s homeless. The gym upstairs resembles a trade show, overflowing with tables and literature. Only instead of selling widgets, providers in attendance are selling health screenings, haircuts and housing options. Downstairs about 150 homeless men and women are gathered in the cafeteria after their hot breakfast waiting for the check-in and the chance for a fresh haircut, a visit with a podiatrist, blood pressure and diabetes screenings and voter registration.

Representatives from Recovery Resources, Mental Health Services, Help Me Grow, West Side Catholic Center, Legal Aid Society, Cleveland Department of Aging and of Public Health, MetroHealth, Y-Haven and the Veteran’s Administration are ready to answer questions, hand out freebies such as socks and soap and connect people to much-needed services.

It’s an all-out effort that also seeks to give the homeless a voice. Jenna Klopovich from Shaker Heights is volunteering for her fourth year and she’s leading a new project this year called “Guest Conversations.” Armed with a notepad and pen, she talks with the homeless to learn how they feel, what kinds of services they need but aren’t getting and how the community can better help.

“We’ve got 50 volunteers over the four days who are talking with the homeless to learn more about them,” she says. “We are trying to empower them by giving them a voice.” She plans to compile the conversations into a booklet.

Some are more than willing to share their stories and I’m quickly spotted with my reporter’s notebook, OU baseball cap and camera. They are ready to talk. I’m ready to listen.

Eric is a 50-year-old black man who has spent the past six months living on the streets. A native of New York City, he’s shuttled back and forth from New York to Cleveland throughout his life. His two sons, Devon and Joshua, are back in New York. Though he is unable to travel to see them, he does talk to them on the phone. A former steelworker, Eric came to Cleveland to be with his grandparents and other relatives. A series of missteps, including getting hooked on crack cocaine, being unemployed, spending time in prison on drug-related charges and losing his grandmother who helped to raise him has left him floundering.

“I had some personal problems going on and I used as a way to get away from the reality of my situation,” he says. He claims to be clean and thanks God for that. “When God lets you wake up everyday, that’s a good start.”

Despite the adversity, Eric is a charmer with a smooth-shaven head and a contagious smile. He’s teasing but respectful but quickly becomes pensive when talking about his life on the streets. I ask him if he’s ever been afraid.

“You have to be selective about people, places and things. You gotta have good foresight and good hindsight. I’ve gotten bad vibes in certain places, but I try to maintain a low profile,” he says.

Sadly, he is one of several veterans I meet today. From 1975-78, Eric was a boatswain’s mate on a ship based at Naval Station Mayport near Jacksonville, Fla. He’s traveled the world—Barcelona, Naples, Germany and Puerto Rico. “I like Puerto Rico, they have beautiful weather there,” he says. Though he’s grateful for the mild Cleveland winter, he has thoughts of moving to warmer climes.

Later he comes back and gives me a little stuffed animal. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” he says, smiling and bowing. “A man’s got to feel like a gentleman every once in a while.”


“Sunday is the worst day of the week,” says Willie, 51-year-old black man who has been on the streets for four months. “There’s nowhere to go from 6 a.m. until 1. I walk around and freeze and wait for the library to open so I can use the computer.”

He found himself on the streets after living for the past eight years at W. 140th and Triskett. “My roommate started getting high. And then he had a stroke. I couldn’t afford the rent on my own. I used to work for the railroad, but I hurt my back and now I’m on SSI (Supplemental Security Income). I have an income, but I have no place to live and these agencies don’t help,” he says.

Although his children are grown and he has four grandchildren, Willie is proud and won't tell his children that he’s on the streets. “My kids are all grown. They got their own problems. They don’t need to know I’m homeless. I got myself into this predicament, I can get myself out,” he says.

Frustration over the lack of affordable housing is taking its toll on Willie and others like him. When asked what he would like to do, he said he would love to get a job working for a social service agency. “I’d show them how to help people like me. Hell, I’d volunteer to help people find a place to live. We have incomes, it shouldn’t be that hard. Half the people working here were once homeless and now that they have theirs, they don’t care.

“It’s getting too hard to live in Cleveland. I’d like to go to Seattle to be near my mother but then I’d miss my kids.”


“I’m older and wiser says George,” a 70-year-old white man who claims to have been a chemist for Diamond Shamrock and Lubrizol. He makes no apologies for the reason he’s on the street. “I had a place but the landlord boosted the rent. I like to drink beer and I like to have a lot of company and I don’t think he liked that,” he says.

He has three sons who live in Painesville, but he’s not seen them in five years. “I did have a granddaughter, but I could have more grandchildren by now. Anyhow I don’t like to impose,” he says.

After his “retirement” he had some emotional problems and now receives SSI. Living on the street hasn’t gotten him down. In fact many at the center today embrace each other like family. “I’m a social animal,” he says, laughing. “I like to talk in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Sitting across from George is a young white man who I initially mistaken for a volunteer. Kyle is one of the “guests” here today, but in his nearly 24 years he’s had a hard life. He was taken from his biological parents when he was 6 years old and placed in an orphanage in Cincinnati. At 10 a Lakewood couple adopted him.

After high school he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force where he spent four years. “I loved it,” he says of the experience. Except for one tour of duty.

“I spent six months in Iraq and I saw a lot of stuff over there. I guess I went a little crazy,” he says. Now estranged from his family, Kyle found himself spending four months in Cuyahoga County Jail after committing “a little bit of a felony.” Turns out he was sitting in the car while his friend attempted to rob a bank. Kyle says he didn’t know what his friend’s intentions were, but he was convicted of accessory to commit robbery nonetheless.

His face is sad and masks a life of trauma. After seeking counseling from the Veteran’s Administration, he was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He wants out of Cleveland and wants a new start. “I’m trying to get SSI and then I want to move to Phoenix. I want to be away from here. This city is depressing. I need a change of scenery and really liked when I was stationed at Luke Air Force Base.”

If he could do anything, he says he would like to help others—kids who were adopted or abused or neglected—like him.

Security Guard, Larry Collier’s booming voice lets everyone know that the handicapped get first dibs on the services available upstairs. The guests all listen to him and the entire check-in process runs smoothly. Everyone is calm and there’s no pushing and shoving.

Collier chalks it up to the demeanor of the volunteers working the check-in desk. They are a group of four welcoming people from the Mayfield United Church of Christ.

Last year nearly 1,000 homeless people were served at the Stand Down. “This is the only one-stop homeless outreach event where they can register to vote and get their blood pressure checked,” says Sarah Sommers, membership/volunteer coordinator for InterAct Cleveland, an organization based at St. Stanislaus Church that is dedicated to creating an interreligious community working for social justice through service, dialogue and advocacy.

InterAct Cleveland spearheads the event, now in its 15th year. “We have representatives from 30 agencies here today offering everything from flu shots to mental health services,” Sommers says. Men were waiting in line to have podiatrists look at their feet and to get a shave and a haircut. Some were pleased at the results of their blood pressure or glucose screenings. Others shrug and know they need to take their medicine.

There are few women and no children at the event today. Sommers says that the population served is typically 80 percent men and only 20 percent women. More women will show up tomorrow at Pilgrim Congregational Church at W. 14th and Starkweather for the winter clothing distribution. On Feb. 19 and 20, the Stand Down will feature relaxation days, providing entertainment in the form of music and movies, massages and a relaxing atmosphere for the homeless to come in for a rest.

Sadly, nearly 30 percent of all homeless men are veteran’s, says Brian Davis, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. This year the VA is staffing tables in full force. Tammy J. Stennis, clinical administrator for the Painesville/McCafferty Outpatient Clinic wants to spread the word that the VA has 12 outpatient clinics in the region in addition to the two main campuses in Brecksville and University Circle.

Toni, a homeless outreach worker with the VA, says better access to affordable housing, exposure to training programs and effort on the part of the individuals can help them turn their lives around.

But the local government also has a role to play. NEOCH’s Brian Davis has sent a list of 11 recommendations to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, as he’s done to other mayors, in an attempt to alleviate the problems in shelters. Here’s a rough outline of his points. See the site for more details:

1. We need someone who will take the lead to solve this problem locally.
2. Cleveland needs a 24 hour drop in center downtown in which homeless people could get a warm meal, a place out of the cold or heat, and a place for the hundreds of churches to coordinate their help.
3. We need to pass local legislation to set standards for the shelters.
4. Shelters need to focus more attention on outcomes.
5. There should be no discharges from one shelter to another, and there should be incentives for moving people with multiple barriers into housing.
6. We need help in pushing the state to provide counseling to all homeless people in order to work through the trauma of homelessness or abuse or war in their background.
7. We hope that you will push the State to recognize that it is raining in Cleveland, and we need those funds.
8. We need to follow the lead of Franklin and Montgomery County and create a County-wide affordable housing trust fund.
9. Help us forgive and forget (to accommodate those leaving judicial system).
10. Can we work on planning for problems within our system before they become crises?
11. Please let the panhandling ordinance die a quiet death.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Helping graduates

UPDATE: Should mention that I'll have the chance to share my pet peeves with journalism students at my alma mater next Tuesday. I'll be addressing the OU student chapter of SPJ, talking about the realities of magazine journalism and the benefits of maintaining membership in organizations such as SPJ.

I get a lot of e-mails asking for career advice these days (though lord knows I don't profess to have all the answers). It’s largely an outgrowth of my role as Freelance Committee Chair for SPJ. But I’m getting increasingly frustrated with the helplessness of some of the recent graduates who have sought my help.

Here’s one I received last night:

Hi Wendy
I'm a recent graduate from Michigan State with a degree in communications or public relations. I'm looking for a job in journalism. Since I work full time It's hard to fit in an internship. Of course I still looked but no one seems to need any help in any sort of freelancing in Michigan. I've gotten alot of great responces for a lot of job opportunities but they still want to see my work. I was wondering if there was some way you could give me a step by step process on how to use quark or indesign to show my work. Maybe you have some references of someone I could talk to in learning how to market myself. If you could write me back with any suggestions I would appreciate it greatly!

Thanks, Julie

This is cut and pasted from the actual e-mail to show her writing. These were the questions I had upon reading:
• Does she know what her degree is in?
• Does she know what she wants to do with her professional life?
• Does she have any clips?
• Does she know how to use spell check?
• If she has “great responces” then why is she waiting to show her work (presuming she has some to show)?
• I have no idea where she’s from, what her last name is or why she contacted me.
Initially, I wasn’t going to bother responding. But then I realized that what this young woman needs is some direction. Why didn’t she receive better while she was in college? Where were her advisers in this process?
Everyone needs a break and sometimes they need someone to tell it them straight. And so here is my response:

Hi Julie,
Thanks for your e-mail. I have a few suggestions for you:
1. Determine what kind of communications job you want — journalism, pr, freelance, etc.
2. Try to find some publication that will publish your work. You need to get some clips if you have none from internships.
3. Talk to your college adviser or career planning office about possible paid internships you can apply for even though you’ve graduated.
4. Take the initiative to help yourself by talking to people in your area through informational interviews, informal coffee chats, etc.
5. Read “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser to help you understand the power of your chosen profession and the importance of strong writing.
6. Focus on substance over style. How your work “looks” takes a big back seat to your actual writing and reporting.
7. Visit a local career office for help on resume writing. There’s no one way to do this and much of it depends on what kind of job you’re seeking and how you can package your experience to present yourself in the best possible light.
8. Be respectful of professionals’ time. Do the work in advance of reaching out to others who are pressed for time. They will be willing to help if they see you’ve first done your homework.
9. Be mindful that even your e-mails are a reflection of your writing. Go back and re-read this e-mail you sent to me and ask yourself how you could have presented your need more clearly and professionally.
10. Always include your full name and contact information in your signature line.

You’ve asked a lot of questions here, but I think the first step is to figure out what you want to do with your career. You can’t effectively market yourself if you don’t know the answer. Be resourceful; it’s a big part of being a journalist. And do a little soul searching. In the meantime, keep writing, whether it’s a journal, a blog or stories you’d like to pursue. Keep those writing muscles in shape.

I hope you find this information helpful.

Best of luck,
Wendy Hoke
Chair, SPJ National Freelance Committee /

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Calling on Anna Q

The thing that is really hard and really amazing is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. — Anna Quindlen, "Being Perfect"

Perfectionism is an illusion held together so loosely that a slight breeze can send it spiraling away. Instead of seeking shelter from the winds of change, let it inspire you to new possibilities.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Strapped in the middle class

Do you remember the circumstances around obtaining your first credit card? I do in vivid detail.

It was a gorgeous early spring day in Athens, Ohio, and as I walked through Baker Center there were tables set up with representatives from American Express who were soliciting new members.

I was lured in and signed my name on the line. Soon I was an American Express cardholder, never mind that I had little means to pay off the monthly bill. “I’ll use it to help pay for books,” I reasoned to myself as I’m sure many others did also.

Long story short, I was 20 years old and incapable of handling the burden of a credit card. I placed a modest order at J. Crew and then charged a few other items and found myself later that year with a $450 credit card bill. I panicked and was afraid to tell my parents what I’d done. They had just moved to Columbus to start their own business. Money was extremely tight and the pressures of relocating, launching a business and paying for three children in college were, at times, more than they could bear.

I kept my mouth shut trying to figure out how to handle this on my own. Eventually, I called Danny and asked for help. I was fortunate in that he had a good-paying job on breaks and got so much money in grants and financial aid that he usually received an overage check. He lent me the money to pay the American Express.

It was a lesson I was doomed to repeat several times before I wisened.

Danny and I were saddled with debt from the very beginning of our marriage. We paid nearly $400 a month in student loans. My yearly income as a reporter was $17,000. Danny made a whopping $25,000 selling parking equipment. I had a cheap car, though it always broke down, and he got a car allowance. We lived in a duplex and yet we still were strapped.

He hates when I talk about this. I’m sure he’ll be mad at me even now if he sees this post. But it’s a fact of our early lives together and as I learned listening to a GREAT show on Diane Rehm today, we are NOT alone.

Sure things are better, but we’ve spent the better part of the past 15 years playing catch-up or operating just behind the eight ball. It’s a sickening cycle. You get ahead for a few months and then the roof needs to be replaced and you find yourself pondering (on dark days) how long it would take the bank to foreclose in the event of financial disaster.

Rehm’s guest today was fellow OU J-School grad, Tamara Draut, author of ”Strapped: Why America's 20- and 30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead.” She led an interesting discussion on the sad state of our financial affairs and lays the blame on public policy that doesn’t support: affordable higher education, regulation of credit card industry, quality affordable health care and child care, a workplace that insists on employees with advanced degrees when not always able to pay salaries to cover those costs.

She struck a chord. A man from Cleveland e-mailed into the show to say that he and his wife have a combined $240,000 in law school loans and have been unable to find employment (surprising given that Cleveland is a town of lawyers). Another man talked about how he has no credit card debt, holds a bachelor’s degree, rents a home and is stretching two cans of food to last until payday.

We’re all well educated (even if some are still paying for that education), but it’s high time we found our voice. Start making some noise, first at the state level and then the federal level. We’ve got a chance to make some changes in 2006. Let’s demonstrate how fed up we are with status quo.

The middle class in America is an illusion. Let's blast away the smoke and shatter the mirrors reflecting "all is well."

The writer's desk

The process of finding the proper desk calendar is always excruciating. It mustn't be too big, but it must have enough space to write in appointments and deadlines. It has to be weekly for I must be able to see my entire week in order to function with any sense of purpose and organization.

This year I spent two hours at Barnes and Noble before I found the right calendar. Actually, I purchased two — one that looks good and lies flat on my desk, the other a tan leather one that travels with me. Mind you I also possess a Palm Pilot, but I find it increasingly frustrating to poke in the information when I'm out and about and prefer to view my week and month on paper. Of course I still carry the Palm because of all the data it contains ... phone numbers, e-mail addresses, the all-important cell number of someone you're supposed to meet in two minutes.

As I was waiting for a few things to print early this morning I was thumbing through the pages on my desk calendar. It's called, "The Writer's Desk," and it has black-and-white photos by Jill Krementz of famous novelists and poets at their desks. There's also an extended caption with a quote from each writer about his or her creative space.

Anyway, as I'm thumbing through I notice that these writers' surroundings are either opulent or austere, messy or pristine, high-tech or very low tech. Fascinating really. Toni Morrison sits on her sofa with a legal pad. It's hard to tell where Edward Gorey ends and his cat perched on his shoulder begins. Eudora Welty more closely resembles a school marm than a churner of the written word.

Saul Bellow stood at a drafting table, again pen and pad in hand. Veronica Chambers is perched barefoot atop her kitchen counter with laptop in lap. George Plimpton works on a typewriter on what looks like a wooden TV tray (his twin baby girls are lying on a fur rug drinking from bottles and grabbing at their toes behind him). Arthur Miller sits at picnic table in his kitchen with pen and paper. Joyce Carol Oates types at an electric typewriter like the Smith-Corona I had in college with a dumbbell on the desk and a kitty in her lap. Mind you this photo is dated 1997.

One writes on a legal pad in the subway, another at a makeshift table in his bedroom surrounded by packs of Marlboros and overflowing ashtrays. Amy Tan sits at her dining room table with her laptop. Is Tom Wolfe in a smoking jacket??!!! In 1999 he, too, works on a typewriter? And what's with the matching set of lamps with fedora shades?

Sonia Sanchez sits in bed ala Edith Wharton. Card tables, dining room tables, makeshift desks, stacks and stacks of papers and books, pens and pencils, pets curled in lap or at feet. And light. These are the tools and the environs in which stories are spun and magic created.

I admit to being a voyeur when it comes to other writers, wondering about their environments or what rituals and items they surround themselves with in order to open the floodgates of creativity.

My favorite of this collection, and I'm also sorry I jumped ahead in the year to find it, is that of E.B. White. Taken in 1976 in Maine, it features White sitting in a wooden shack, a boat house perhaps, at a small wooden table with his typewriter, pencils and a stack of paper. Next to his desk is a pickle barrel one assumes is for trash. And to his right is an open window gazing out on a lake. So simple and so pure. Much like his writing.

UPDATE: John Ettorre has the photo of White that I mentioned posted on Feb. 2.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Growth is good

A preliminary calculation of income for 2005 shows net growth of 9 percent over 2004. I'll take it. Now I've really gotta get my @#$% together for the accountant. Tick tock, tick tock...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Kaplan essay online

The Robert Kaplan essay I wrote about is finally available online. Check it out here.

My littlest man

This is my son who just yesterday talked me into plunking down $20 in toy guns so he can be adequately armed when playing war in the neighbor's woods. UPS will deliver his booty next week. Had to chuckle at the disclaimer warning that Toy does not ship outside the U.S. I'm trying not to think about what I've encouraged. After all, it's just play.

Happy Birthday, Little Mikey!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A great original idea

My pals at CPG came up with an original idea for holiday greetings. In my mailbox today arrived a Happy Groundhog Day card.

CPG, also my former employer, used to send out Thanksgiving cards to beat the holiday rush. The joke was in the past few years more and more businesses were getting their cards out early and that it would have to bump its cards back to Halloween to set its efforts apart from the masses. Though that may sound like no big deal, there was far more involved in CPG card-creation than buying a box of embossed cards and licking a few envelopes.

The CPG card was a big production involving a photo shoot, the occasional prop and the design talent of its amazingly talented creative team (with a bit of copy by us editorial folk).

When my Thanksgiving card didn't arrive I became concerned that the tradition was axed. To my delight, it wasn't axed, only carved into a new tradition. So bravo to my pals for beating the 2006 holiday greeting card rush.

What Tab scare?

Had a flashback after reading this in The New Yorker. It seems that Tab, a now-obscure Coca-Cola product is a cult favorite among journalists.

Who knew?

The cat’s outta the bag now that Coke, in its infinite corporate wisdom, has decided to launch a new drink called Tab Energy. Puh-leeze. Can’t monkey with a good thing and Coca-Cola of all should know this.

Apparently this new beverage is supposed to play into the whole Red Bull craze “while trading on the retro cachet of Tab, with those iconic pink cans,” according to The New Yorker.

My own Tab fixation reached its zenith in college. I was working as a bartender my junior and senior year at The Crystal Casino in posh Uptown Athens, Ohio. A typical evening shift began at 7 and went until 3 a.m. when we had sufficiently wiped and mopped the stickiness and stray popcorn from all surfaces. (Eeewww!)

That’s a long time to be on your feet racing back and forth on the rubber mats, feeding the unending alcoholic appetite of co-eds. To get through a shift I’d bring along a six-pack of Tab. Once my fellow co-workers and I tipped our shot of Jagermeister to get the shift started, it was Tab for the rest of the night.

Oh I flirted a bit with Diet Dr. Pepper, but the flinty, metallic, saccharine taste of Tab was my favorite. Besides none of the guys I worked with would dare touch my pink soda cans.