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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Review listed on

Just received an e-mail from Alicia Shepard, author of "Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate," about an upcoming appearance in Arlington, Va. She referenced the book Web site, so I thought I'd see if she were planning a trip to Cleveland.

Instead, I found my review of the book listed on the here along with some heavy hitters. File this under "very cool."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

SPJ/City Club event is tomorrow

From SPJ Cleveland:

Nov. 30 -- “News Media Newly Delivered” at the City Club

The Cleveland chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and The City Club of Cleveland will present three news experts who will discuss and answer questions about the current transformation and the future of news for traditional mainstream radio, television and print. The luncheon event, which is open to the general public, is from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006.

Each panelist is responsible for managing the direction of their respective news operations. They will address their current transitions, and predict the future, for getting their news “products” delivered to consumers:

• Mike McCormick is news director of Channel 3-WKYC Cleveland, part of the Gannett Broadcasting group, a major news and media producer,
• Tom O’Hara is managing editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper and part of the national Newhouse News Service, and
• Darren Toms is director of news programming at WTAM-1100 AM Cleveland, part of Clear Channel Communications, a global operation with 1,400 radio stations.

Moderator of the question and answer session that follows is SPJ’s Denise Polverine, editor-in-chief of

The event is at The City Club, 850 Euclid Avenue, 2nd Floor, downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Admission is $15 for SPJ and City Club members, and $25 for nonmembers. To reserve with a credit card, call the City Club at (216) 621-0082 or toll-free at (888) 223-6786 or (888) CC-FORUM. Corporate and nonprofit tables are available for this event. Register today.

About this New Series: “News Media Newly Delivered” kicks off a fresh and innovative joint SPJ-City Club educational initiative that features experts who will examine:

· The changing state of mainstream media’s approach to delivering the news,
· How the public and journalists are responding to the news evolution,
· Implications of media ownership, regulation and technologies for an informed democracy, and
· What media critics like and dislike about local news,
· Series participants will also attempt to predict the future of news and how consumers will
want and use it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Things that make you go, “Hmm…”

Gospels writers were not interested in what happened during Jesus’ lifetime, they were interested in what it means. Modern thinkers have difficulty getting their heads around the fact that the bible is not history or biography of Jesus. It is written accounts of who Jesus is for the believer.

Around the second, third and fourth generations of the Common Era as the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life began to die off, the Gospels began as a way to commit to the page the rich oral histories of his life. [What if no one had troubled to begin that effort? Would his extraordinary life be lost forever?]

Catholics tend to conflate the Gospels. We focused last night on the infancy gospels. Since we don’t read them often enough, we tend to blur them together. Did Luke write about the magi or was it Matthew? Did Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem or were they living there? Were there three magi or only three gifts? Was Jesus born at home or in a stable?

Compounding the problem is that the peculiarity of each Gospel is lost in the translation process, which mushes it all out to the point where it all sounds the same. But it's not the same. The writers of each of the four gospels are each writing a separate account. They don't presume you've read the other guy.

And about those miracles…

No miracle is told to impress us about the miraculous act. They are signs of what all humans need. We need to see ourselves in the stories in order for them to having meaning to us. But we've missed the meaning and the reason for the stories.

The fundamental method of Jesus’ teaching is parabolic. But he didn’t tell them to comfort. He told them to turn our world upside down, to confront. Our reaction to these stories should be, “I don’t know what you mean by that but I don’t like it.”

But we don't realize this because preaching has let us down. It focuses on the moral/ethical comfort available in a parable. A shepherd leaves 99 sheep to get his one lost sheep. Aw, isn’t that a sweet story about compassion? No! It’s weird and doesn’t make any sense. Why would you risk losing 99 sheep for one?!

The point is that God’s actions are extravagant. We human beings are stingy. Jesus’ teaching helps us to rearrange our thinking but as a result we’re left scratching our heads wondering what to do. Hmm...

Let's take one parable. The story of the prodigal son is not about the prodigal son. It’s about the older son who is jealous of the father’s mercy toward his younger brother. [Whenever we read, “A father had two sons” in the Bible, we should know that the younger son – the underdog – will prevail.]

The prodigal son story shows how we are jealous of God’s mercy. It’s not fair that people who break the rules and run away get a party upon their return. It’s akin to arriving in heaven and saying, “What’s she doing here?”

We realize, then, that we are not God. We don’t get to say who gets in and who doesn’t; who gets punished and who doesn’t. “God’s mercy is so huge that we can’t take it in unless we accept we need it, too,” says Father Bob.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Newsroom bloodletting continues

Okay, I understand there are newsrooms that have been bloated for a while. And I don't disagree that a little trimming is good for the bottom line and the increased productivity and opportunity for the remaining journalists. But this one cut struck me as alarming and here's why.

The Bangor, Maine, paper has made the decision to lay off its one statehouse reporter. Instead of having its own original reporter, editors will rely on the fine folks at AP. Although I have no doubt that decision will cut costs in the short run, I also think it's a terrible mistake to lose your newsroom connection to the statehouse because at the very least you're shortchanging readers and at worst you're reducing oversight and creating an environment that could breed corruption.

If you think I'm overreacting, just look at the mess of scandals that have plagued Ohio state government. But it goes beyond that.

Other than your local school board or city council, no other area of government impacts daily citizen life more than state government. Issues are decided related to school funding, job creation, higher education, public assistance, insurance, tax rates, public health, the environment, roads, bridges and waterways, parks and beaches. Those are only the tip of the iceberg because at least in Ohio, state government also has debated who can marry, who can adopt children, the role of religion in public life, what is taught in our science classrooms and how many tests your kids have to pass to graduate high school.

The powerful of our state government have twice helped to determine the Presidential election. Some of those same people are now headed to jail. The entire Coingate mess came to light years after the original red flags were sent in an audit. Why? Probably because there are fewer and fewer reporters working in the statehouse bureaus, developing sources and expertise on certain beats. In other words, no one was watching the pot of spaghetti until it bubbled over.

Good public journalism needs to do more -- not less -- in reporting about how state government impacts our lives. Editors in Bangor just made it easier for state officials to be less accountable to the citizens of Maine.

R&B's greatest gather here to honor late Gerald Levert

Danny just called to report that Mayfield Road in front of The Civic in Cleveland Heighs is jammed with stretch limos as R&B's finest convene for the late Gerald Levert's memorial service today at The Civic. Although none of this is confirmed, co-workers of his claim to have spotted Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder in the crowd. There's also been a possible Janet Jackson sighting. Again, absolutely no confirmation, just pure speculation.

Here's the announcement of activities on his Web site:

GERALD LEVERT "Celebration of Life" - Friday, November 17, 2006
The life and legacy of Gerald Levert will be publicly celebrated on Friday, November 17, 2006 with a musical tribute. The program will begin at 12:00pm with doors opening promptly at 11:00am. The location is as follows:

The Music Hall - Cleveland Convention Center
500 Lakeside Avenue (East 6th Street @ St. Clair)
Cleveland, OH 44114

A special area has been dedicated for fans that wish to come and pay their final respects to one of the most incredible voices and performers of our time. Seating will be on a first come, first served basis. All celebrities, VIP’s and media must contact W&W Public Relations, Inc. for further instructions.

In lieu flowers, the Levert family is asking that donations be made to the R&B Foundation. Checks should be written in the name of the R&B Foundation and forwarded to Andy Gibson c/o Trevel Productions, Inc., 13816 Cedar Road, University Heights, OH 44118.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Downie announces major changes at Washington Post

Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. announced a major newsroom shift for both the Post and It will be interesting to see how this change occurs. The Washington Post has been a leader in daily journalism and it appears to be breaking ahead of the pack once again.

Here's evidence of a key component of that leadership:

We also are working on ways to expand and increase the impact of our journalism on The re-launches of Health, Food and Home will be accompanied by the launch of a related section of the Web site. Our plans for coverage of the two-year 2008 campaign, which is beginning now, will include both re-direction of newsroom resources for expanded political coverage in the printed newspaper and significant initiatives on In her new role as editor of, Liz Spayd will help us think first about the Web site for all of our best journalism. (Bold is mine.)

Here's the full memo as posted on Editor & Publisher:

Phil and I met yesterday with the newsroom's senior editors to discuss proposals and make decisions as we continue to transform our newsroom, the newspaper and our relationship with We have much more to do to maximize readership of the printed newspaper, build audience on the Web site and further reduce costs in the newsroom.

As you have noticed from developments at other newspapers, readership and economic challenges remain daunting. Our goal is to be the one newsroom that does this right. We must produce high quality, compelling journalism and carry out our public service mission while adjusting our cost structure to shifting advertising revenues.

We are not just cutting costs. We believe that everything we are doing will make the newspaper stronger and increase readership of the printed paper and

We are re-directing newsroom staff and resources to our highest priority journalism in print and on the Web. In form, our priorities include original reporting, scoops, analysis, investigations and criticism. In content, they include politics, government accountability, economic policy and what our readers need to know about the world – plus local government, schools, transportation, public safety, development, immigrant communities, health care, sports, arts and entertainment.

We are moving reporters and editors within and among staffs to accomplish this. In particular, we are moving a number of reporters from general assignment positions to more specific assignments and beats. We also are centralizing reporting and editing of some core subjects across staff lines. Metro now has responsibility for all education coverage. We will build on the model of Sandy Sugawara's cross-staff coordination of immigration coverage to do something similar for that and other core subjects. This may lead to the movement of more reporters and editors around the newsroom.

In the process, we will continue to shrink the newsroom staff through attrition, as low-priority positions become vacant. We also are tightening up the paper's news hole, beginning with the reconfiguration of the financial market tables in today's Business section, which saves two pages of newsprint each day. Other newshole reductions will be scattered throughout the newspaper, so readers will not lose significant content.

We are continuing to renovate sections of the paper to make them more attractive to readers. The re-launches of the Health, Food and Home sections are scheduled for early next year. Work is also well underway on creating a new Style and Arts section in the Sunday paper. The revamped Outlook section is an example of the improvements we are seeking.

We will make more progress in presenting our coverage more effectively in news sections. We will take a new approach to story length, which remains an important challenge, despite the progress already made in some parts of the paper. We will soon publish story length guidelines for the staff, along with ways to adhere to them. Our goal is for the newspaper to be filled with stories of different sizes and forms – and to provide both reporters and editors the tools to better edit for length. Our philosophy will be that every story must earn its length, so readers will want to read and finish more stories.

As part of this approach, we will better coordinate the preparation of related stories, photographs and graphical elements – and the design of pages on which they will appear. Visual journalism will be given still more importance in the printed paper.

We also are working on ways to expand and increase the impact of our journalism on The re-launches of Health, Food and Home will be accompanied by the launch of a related section of the Web site. Our plans for coverage of the two-year 2008 campaign, which is beginning now, will include both re-direction of newsroom resources for expanded political coverage in the printed newspaper and significant initiatives on In her new role as editor of, Liz Spayd will help us think first about the Web site for all of our best journalism.

The senior editors will meet again early next month to take more steps to re-direct resources to provide high quality journalism on key strategic subjects that matter most in print and stand out on the Web. We will have another newsroom staff meeting on Thursday, December 14 to tell you more about what we are doing and answer your questions.

This remains a challenging time, but also one of great opportunity – the opportunity to transform journalism for a new era in The Washington Post and on Even as we reduce newsroom staff and costs, we will have amply sufficient staff and talent to make this transformation.

It is the most important change that I will lead as executive editor. It reminds me of my early days in the newsroom, when Ben Bradlee began boldly transforming the paper during the 1960s and 1970s. The newsroom was well less than half the size it is now, and we were underdogs. But we found our edge, produced original journalism and had fun creating The Washington Post all of you joined.

Now, we're taking the next step.

Consider, by contrast, that the person leading the dialogue about what our local newspaper should cover is a Metro columnist. It's a great exercise in learning what people want, but will it hit a tin ear? And who will have the vision, the leadership and the fortitude to see such sweeping changes enacted?

Couldn't help but notice that someone asked about self-help book reviews. As you may remember, I used to review books about religion for the PD. I stopped at the end of 2005 because I was burned out on the genre. Religious/spiritual book reviews never appeared again in the self-help column. I had long ago suggested they add those reviews to the Saturday religion pages, since that's where people are reading about religion. Good idea, I was told, but it never happened. Apparently, moving a 250-word book review involves more than just copy and pasting content. It's rearranging editing schedules, designing a slot on the page, etc., etc. I don't know this, of course, but I'm just guessing at what may or may not have prevented a good idea from being acted on. Or it could simply be that as a very long-term reader, journalist and contributor to the publication, my opinion was ignored or shoved to the lowest of priorities list. That's fine. I just offered up the suggestion.

To be fair, the newshole in Arts & Life is nothing and that is a travesty, one wholly outside the control of the newsroom, and a reflection of display advertising declines. But it's a chicken-and-egg thing. If you create a quality product, won't more people (advertisers and subscribers) support that product? Or maybe you can't create a quality product without financial support.

The A&L front usually has a column, cover story and one other not always focused on what's happening in Northeast Ohio (say news about a new TV show that will be one for five weeks and then get cancelled). Once you get beyond the lame-o celeb gossip that can be had 24/7 via Web, all that remains is a story jump or two; comics, horoscope and TV listings; and film directory and Nielson Ratings. This is the coverage from a community that finds the arts so important it just voted to support public funding for arts and culture.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Some usage stumbling blocks

If you want to piss off a journalist, just mark up his or her published copy with a red pen, mail into the newsroom and sign it "Miss Crabtree, former English teacher." I'm not saying mistakes don't occur in print, sadly they happen all the time. But journalistic writing is not Chicago Manual of Style and it's not the same as writing a term paper.

Copyeditors work their magic over stories, moving commas to the appropriate places, changing their to its when describing something like a company, changing like to as, etc. They, too, are not infallible. I've had copyeditors add info to make my story incorrect. One once changed reference to Darmsala to read "Darmsala, Tibet." Of course I heard from a million people who called me a ninny for not realizing Darmsala is in India. I knew that; tell it to the copyeditor. In a Sunday Arts profile about Frances Mayes, I referenced the movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun, starring Diane Lane." Enough said, I thought. A copyeditor inserted, "and Sharon Oh." The actress' name is Sandra Oh.

Hence the need to always insist on seeing the final version of your edited copy before it goes into print. Those are two clips I never use even though the book review with Darmsala error has been picked up as a blurb by many. Enough about the human foibles of copyeditors. Good ones make average writers great; mediocre copyeditors can make a good writer bad.

Good writers pay attention changes and log them into their grammatical memory bank. Unless you were born with the copyeditor gene, you're never going to remember all this stuff. Writers write and obsess over reporting and word choice, but not necessarily over where to insert the comma.

Although I always check final published copy against what I turn in, I also find there are certain certain things I can never remember and others I can never forget.

In the can't forget category are:
• utilize vs. use (this was grilled into me in J-school) it's use, not utilize. Only the business world prefers utilize and I cringe every time I hear it. It smacks of icky jargon and puffery. I've been known to correct people who use it in my presence.
• Ditto for the word irregardless and towards (it's regardless and toward)
• less vs. fewer (less refers to quantity; fewer to number)
• lay vs. lie (hens lay eggs; people lie down)

However, there a few usage rules that always cause me to hesitate.

The use of may and might may always slow me down, or is it might always slow me down. I'll be cruising along while writing and throw out one of those words, pause and then try to keep going because I'll go back to check on proper usage in the editing phase. But the word will sit there on the screen, nagging at me as I strain my brain to remember the usage rules, reading it aloud both ways to determine what sounds correct.

Another is more importantly, most important. Can't ever seem to keep the usage of those clear in my head. I don't need to keep them straight in my head because Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" is always close by. And it is more importantly, most important.

As for may vs. might, S & W advise: "Save the auxiliaries would, could, should, may, might and can for situations involving real uncertainty." In other words, don't dilute the authority of your writing by waffling with such words. When in doubt, find another way to say what you want.

Okay, good tip. Now I've got to get back to editing the piece I wrote yesterday that is due this morning.

Two views on writing from Stephen King

I've never read any of Stephen King's novels, but I have read his book, "On Writing" — a must read for any serious writer. Here are a couple of pearls from King to start your week. Happy Writing!

King on content:

I don't take notes; I don't outline; I don't do anything like that. I just flail away at the goddamned thing. I'm a salami writer. I try to write good salami, but salami is salami. You can't sell it as caviar.

And King on process:

I work on what's important to me in the morning, for three hours. Usually, in the afternoon, I have what I call my "toy truck," a story that might develop or might not, but meanwhile it's fun to work on…. I begin to pile up some pages, and eventually it'll get shifted over to the morning…. Working on a new idea is kind of like getting married. Then a new idea comes along and you think, "Man, I'd really like to go out with her." But you can't. At least not until the old idea is finished.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Alterman on dropping editorials from paper

Writing in The Nation, Eric Alterman provides some provocative ideas on losing unsigned editorials altogether in daily newsapers. Here's his conclusion:

Wouldn't most papers be immediately improved by dropping their editorial page and increasing the ideological range and informational expertise of their contributing columnists? I'll go even further. Why not heed the examples of Britain's universally admired (liberal) Guardian and (conservative) Economist and drop the frequently phony distinction between "fact" and "opinion"? Why not just let reporters tell us what they know to be true and how and why they know it? Such a solution would borrow what's most engaging from the blogosphere without sacrificing the crucial function of newspapers in a democratic society. What's more, it would offer the potential to re-engage people in a (Deweyite) discussion and debate without dumbing down their sources of (Lippmann-like) information.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Narrative Magazine is a must-read

Last summer while searching for possible writing workshops, I stumbled across Narrative Magazine, an online-only publication featuring the work of some of the marquee names in narrative writing.

It's been a wonderful source of delight in an unexpected format. One doesn't usually expect to read longer narrative works online only. One of my favorite stories from the most recent edition is Life is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days by husband and wife writing team, James and Kay Salter. I saw in this piece a literary version of mine and my husband's own life with food.

THE MEAL IS the essential act of family and clan. It is the ceremony of being, the long record of marriage, the school for behavior, the prelude to love. Among all peoples and in all times, every significant event in life—be it wedding, triumph, or birth—is marked by a meal or the sharing of food or drink. The meal is the emblem of civilization. What would one know of life as it should be lived or nights as they should be spent apart from meals?

What would we know indeed.

Through trial-and-error the two lovingly learned cooking together. Over the course of their marriage they have documented many of their recipes and entertaining successes in a little brown book that serves as the basis for their book by the same (Callaway Editions, October 2006). Reading through the calendar of their epicurean successes reminded me of the many meals Danny and I have prepared for our families and friends over the years.

I had never thought of documenting those before, but reading their piece made me realize how cooking and food is a fundamental part of our marriage and we should being documenting it for our boys. My mother sometimes jokes that Danny and I have food as a hobby. I suppose that's true. For even when we lack sufficient funds, we're always opening our doors to feed the masses of family and friends.

We have different kitchen styles, and yet they seem to complement one another. I'm the more cautious cook, following extensive recipes and savoring the time-intensive preparation of food using my hands. Danny is more free-wheeling, creating incredible concoctions on a whim by tossing a little of this and a little of that into the pan. He's not afraid to experiment with spices and has found no meat unworthy of consuming with gusto.

Aside from the physical, pheromonal act of cooking, we also enjoy entertaining. We've done everything from basic pizza and wings to lobster tails and linguine with clam sauce. In two weeks we'll prepare our famous Thanksgiving feast for my family, stretching our cookware and serving dishes to their outer limits.

It'll begin with our grocery shopping trip, one that can't be rushed and can't be reserved for the last minute. We'll be searching for the usual as well as some special ingredients to create a traditional meal with a twist. We'll spend Wednesday night before Thanksgiving prepping a few side dishes, but most of our cooking will be done Thursday morning, filling our house with that hunger-inducing aroma of butter, celery, onion and garlic sauteeing in a pan.

Oy, I can smell and feel the hunger pangs now.

See, reading good writing prompts me to think in ways I hadn't previously and this is one example from just one piece I read in this magazine. There's also a wonderful essay written by early 20th century novelist Elizabeth Bowen, titled Notes on Writing a Novel.

And Seattle Post-Intelligencer book critic John Marshall wrote a nice backgrounder on the magazine and its founders earlier this week. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Howie Kurtz needs a vacation

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz is pretty surly this morning in writing about the media coverage of the election. After a "if you'd just listened to all-knowing me" he starts in on the obvious course of action for journalists.

Now it is the solemn duty of journalists to cope with all kinds of questions:

What will be the impact on the Democrats' pet legislation? The final two years of the Bush presidency? The 2008 elections? The war in Iraq? Nancy Pelosi? Rahm Emanuel? Denny Hastert? Karl Rove? Hillary? McCain? Obama? The House Republican staffers who will lose their jobs? The playing-to-the-base strategy? The future of democracy? The fate of the civilized world?

Man, there is so much to chew over that we could keep this going for the next month--and undoubtedly will, unless something better comes along, like another gay clergyman sex scandal or something of that ilk.

There's nothing reporters like better than a change in power, because it gives us winners and losers the opportunity to build up some new faces--profile-writers, on your marks!--until we inevitably discover they are flawed human beings and start tearing them down.

My, my, but his cynicism has rocketed to the top of the Washington Monument. Maybe old Howie just needs a vacation. After all, it's really exhausting when you know everything.

Friday, November 03, 2006

His strength is within

The many ways in which my children inspire me sometimes catches me off guard.

We're transitioning from fall to winter sports, which given the weather is just in time. Patrick's last football game is tomorrow afternoon. My son, who was petrified to play last year after having the wind knocked out of him, has been a beastly cornerback earning defensive player of the week after the first game for some fierce tackles. He has consistently pulled guys twice his size down in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage or on the sidelines. Nicknamed, "Hoker," he's also been a leader firing up his team with his stomps and screams after particularly aggressive hits.

Who is this skinny kid in the red Under Armour and matching red tube socks who was afraid to ride a roller coaster this summer? Is he settling some score with himself?

When Danny and I tried to explain to him that he didn't have to play football this year, he finally told us, "Yes, I do. I have to do it for me." There is no better reason in this world to do something. He would prove to himself, regardless of what we said, that he had what it takes.

Whatever the source of his newfound confidence, I remain in awe.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Appeals Court denies WAPO Cheney records

Not altogether surprising, but still a bad omen is news of the decision of a federal appeals court to block the Secret Service from turning over logs that would disclose the identity visitors to both Vice President Dick Cheney's home and White House office.