Friday, March 31, 2006

Latest project in hand



Yesterday I picked up my copies of the Judson at University Circle Centennial Book. It looks gorgeous! This was a great project I was asked to write by Beth Yurich and the good folks at Judson. They knew exactly what they wanted from the book, but also gave me creative freedom in writing the copy.

The 40-page book includes historical information about the organization, and interviews with staff and residents. During the research and writing process I discoverd that the history of Judson closely mirrors the history of Cleveland. The oversized (11-by-14) book is physically and visually impressive. A great project.

TPM has had enough

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo calls attention to mainstream media ripping off original reporting on blogs without credit.

To sum up — creditibility and standards are a two-way street.

Yesterday's speaking engagement

I had the pleasure yesterday of participating in a panel discussion about investigative journalism at John Carroll University. Also on the panel were the three Daves — Dave Davis from The Plain Dealer, David Knox from the Akron Beacon Journal and David Fitz, formerly press secretary to Jane Campbell and now veep of communications for University Circle Inc.

We were charged with discussing investigative journalism with journalists from Colombia, India, Yemen, Uganda and Zimbabwe. They were in town through a U.S. State Department tour, arranged locally by the Cleveland Council on World Affairs.

We were unable to record the program because of fear of reprisals from some of the governments of the journalists' home countries. But their questions were incredibly fascinating and their worldview on journalism in particular was eye-opening.

My co-panelists and I discussed the growing influence and investigative reporting prowess of bloggers, how the bottom line implicates news coverage, how major news organizations have cut back on state coverage even as the state politics affect all Ohioans and the merits of a Federal Shield Law.

It was a good entree into a much larger discussion that must take place in Northeast Ohio regarding how news organizations and the citizen journalists can evolve together. Stay tuned on that front.

I'll be on statewide tour next week operating from my remote homebase of my sister's house in Columbus. Posting will likely be sporadic:

First stop is Ohio University where I will talk to the student chapter of SPJ. While I'm there I plan to have coffee with one of my former professors and take a nice tour of the campus. I haven't been back in 10 years so I'm told many things have changed.

I'll be in Columbus on Wednesday and Thursday for a KnowledgeWorks writing workshop. And then I'm headed to Cincinnati on Friday and Saturday for the SPJ Region 4 convention. Again, I'll be talking about freelancing and reconnecting with some of my favorite SPJ pals.

What's wrong with boys?

Oh boy (literally)...here we go.

Okay men and parents of boys, I'd like your opinion on this piece in today's Washington Post. The education and long-term support of boys is something about which I care most deeply. This piece has provided the impetus to work on a longer investigative piece.

I'm not saying that I agree with the author's point of view, but I have seen firsthand how our educational system can let boys down, even without intending to do so.

Here's another piece that ran in The Weekly Standard in January. It focuses on men (or lack of) in higher education. I contend that if we focus our attention on the lack of males interested in pursuing or succeeding in higher education, we've failed them again. The problem begins much earlier.

Way up in Alaska they have a new organization called, The Boys Project. I'm pretty skeptical about such an effort, particularly given that its Web site contains very little information about what it seeks to do.

Another site hails this project and its director as the "Messiah," but I still remain skeptical. I'd like to hear from you as I begin research on this issue.

What else keeps a boy from developing drive?

Is this another example of an overblown media trend?

Are their societal conditions in place that restrict the movement and aspiration of boys and men?

Are the women to blame?

Have parents let boys down?

Has the educational system (K-post-secondary) let boys down?

Has our push for gender equality tipped the scales in favor of women?

Post your comments here or send me an e-mail.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Breaking news: Jill Carroll is released

The Washington Post is reporting this morning that kidnappers have released 28-year-old American freelance journalist, Jill Carroll.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

O'Neill: Archaeologist of family life

There’s a poll on the PBS American Experience Web site that asks if family turmoil should be revealed for the sake of art. Overwhelmingly, respondents have said, “No!” But I think the framing of this question is wrong. Because what we look for in art is ourselves, is some truth and beauty that speaks to our individual experience. And I think most people who have ever been moved by words or images or music or a painting have experienced something that touched them deep within.

I’ve never had the privilege of seeing Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” but after watching Ric Burns’ documentary on American Experience I must see this play before I leave this world.

Certainly he was a tortured writer and the documentary reveals the emotional and physical toll that writing this autobiographical play took on him. I think that’s why so few writers take the plunge to those emotional depths and surface intact.

Putting words to the human condition in all its faults and failings and insecurities and neuroses and joys and loves and resentments and wounds that puncture the soul is frightening because of what we must tap to call forth those experiences. In doing so, we reveal our own failures and losses and wounds that can be unbearable to face.

O’Neill led the way for American literature to find itself, to delve into its past and reveal the universality of the human condition. Here's Ric Burns' take.

What did O'Neill accomplish with Long Day's Journey Into Night?

When things are complicated, and deep, and hard to get to -- hopes and fears and wounds and resentments and the inability to forget... Well, the truth of that can be very hard to get to. How do you really grasp the truth of the meaning of one's person experience? Of two people in a relationship? Multiply that number to four -- a mother, a father, their sons -- the complexity of the love and fear and pain is almost astronomically complex and deep. O'Neill simply strove to find out what those things were. How were people bound together and torn apart by their feelings and the wounds they inflicted on each other? He was the archaeologist of family life, more than psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in a sense. He went into the heart of the American family.

I’ve spent my morning searching online for the words to Edmund’s speech in Act Four of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” In the absence of finding it intact, I’ve cobbled together bits of it from Robert Sean Leonard’s performance on the program, and from The Electronic Eugene O’Neill Archive.

For anyone who has ever felt outside, who has a pressing desire be in even as they recognize the value of observing from afar, for one who has never felt truly at home, this speech is so hauntingly beautiful and painful that it feels as if the words are pressing in on your chest, squeezing whatever has been sealed inside to burst forth.

When the words won’t come, the tears will…

I was on the Squarehead square rigger bound for Buenos Aires. Full moon in the Trades. The old hooker driving fourteen knots. I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail, white in the moonlight, towering high above me....

***

I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it, and for a moment I lost myself - actually lost my life. I was set free!

***

I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky!

***

I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of Man, to Life itself! To God, if you want to put it that way.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Norgs — news organizations

Check this out. I'd like to get a similar conversation going here in Northeast Ohio. Let's move beyond the vitriolic, tired debate between MSM and new media. Who's game for similar conversation in Northeast Ohio?

Scroll down to check out the white board notes with feedback on questions such as:

Who is a journalist?

What is journalism?

What are we trying to grow?

Who are we trying to serve?

What does democracy require?

What is an act of journalism?

Who runs the operation?

What is the culture of the newsroom?

How does it make money?

What do we do now?

Here's Jarvis' take:

I say this is the day that the war ends. This isn’t journalism against bloggers anymore. It never was, really. This is journalists and bloggers together in favor of news.

It was dubbed The NORG Unconference because:

This is an unconference — no speakers, the agenda in the hands of everyone — because, (Philadelphia Daily News Editor Wendy) Warren says, “Whoever’s in the conversation is the right person to have in the conversation.”

UPDATE: Here's the NORG site.

It's the security, stupid

CBS Baghdad correspondent Lara Logan on CNN’s Reliable Sources yesterday as reported in Editor & Publisher.

You don't think that I haven't been to the U.S. military and the State Department and the embassy and asked them over and over again, let's see the good stories, show us some of the good things that are going on? Oh, sorry, we can't take to you that school project, because if you put that on TV, they're going to be attacked about, the teachers are going to be killed, the children might be victims of attack.

Oh, sorry, we can't show this reconstruction project because then that's going to expose it to sabotage. And the last time we had journalists down here, the plant was attacked.

I mean, security dominates every single thing that happens in this country. Reconstruction funds have been diverted to cover away from reconstruction to -- they've been diverted to security.

Soldiers, their lives are occupied most of the time with security issues. Iraqi civilians' lives are taken up most of the time with security issues.

So how it is that security issues should not then dominate the media coverage coming out of here?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Who will be invited to the dance?

After tonight, either Danny or I will no longer be invited to the dance known as the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. That's right, Gonzaga Bulldogs take on the UCLA Bruins tonight in a big-time matchup of skill and determination.

Danny has the Bruins winning it all. I have 'Zaga as the darling of March Madness. My passion for college hoops is pretty frightening at times. You live with four guys who are as passionate about basketball as my guys are and you begin to pick up on a few things.

Like just how sweet a come-from-15-points-behind victory over Kobe, er the Lakers, is for the Cavs. Or how sweet LeBron's jumper to win at the OT buzzer was last night against the Charlotte Bobcats (just can't get used to that nickname).

But when it comes to excitment for the game and playing with your heart on your sleeve, the March Madness Tourney is da bomb. My money (literally) is on Adam Morrison and the Bulldogs. During the tourney, I break my "No TV in the morning" rule to allow everyone to grab the latest tidbits on ESPN SportsCenter.

This morning they were reporting a flu bug rolling around the 'Zaga locker room. Morrison, who TV analysts and print journalists can't help but identify with his moppy hair, cheesy moustache and old-school (Larry Bird) style (and see, I've done it here), says he's ready and feeling better. Hope so, the guy is diabetic to boot.

Bottom line: I don't care how he looks, the guy can play ball. He's an unbelievable shooter from outside, inside and all around the perimeter. Even Danny had to concede that he's a helluva shooter.

So, who will be crying in their coffee in the morning? My bet is UCLA.

Don't tell my kids, but...

With Florida a few weeks away, the workout regime has been kicked up a notch. I've added some serious weights to the regular running schedule. I love the way I feel after an hourlong workout, but getting myself motivated to head into the basement is not always easy.

I'm a HUGE fan of the iPod, which makes the workout much more appealing when you can program your own pumped up soundtrack directly into your ears. You would laugh your tush off if you saw my soundtrack. It's about as eclectic as it comes — got a few show tunes (I can't sit still when Catherine Zeta Jones and Renee Zellweger sing, "I Move On"), love that British bad boy Robbie Williams, then I move into a few bluesy tunes with a good beat and end the high-charged segment with "Sweet Home, Chicago." My run usually winds down with a little Van Morrison.

Lifting weights requires another level of high-powered tunes altogether. A new addition is something I found in Ryan's iTunes library. It's Kanye West's "Golddigger." Love the mix with Jamie Foxx adding his Ray Charles' in the background, while Kanye raps. The groove just rocks and though the language is pretty off color, it sure is great when pushing through a tough weight workout.

Hey, whatever it takes. Just don't tell the kids I dig Kanye West.

Get down, girl, go 'head get down.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

MSM vs. new media: Getting beyond the smack

Been doing a lot of thinking of late about the great divide that seems to separate old media vs. new. It’s bothering me because we can’t seem to move the conversation forward beyond the tired old arguments that have been bantered about for the past several years.

In the new media corner we have bloggers, citizen journalists and online writers, chatters, consumers, producers, etc. They have been dubbed by the mainstream media (MSM) as freaks, unimaginative, purveyors of dreck, unaccountable, inaccurate, partisan and (fill in the blank with choice slam here).

In the traditional media corner, we have reporters and editors at various mainstream media outlets shouting "standards, ethics and professionalism," which is greetd with uproarious laughter by a cynical public.

On the whole, the cadre of reporters seems to embrace the new media more so than the editors. Editors have been attacked for having a tin ear to news and an arrogant belief that the threshold of journalism is too high for the average Joe or Jane. These editors have been characterized by bloggers as hunched in their corners with their arms covering their faces shooing the onslaught of new media with girly slaps and covering their ears while shouting "lalala … I can't hear you, you're irrelevant" at the new media onslaught.

They taunt bloggers with personal attacks about their work habits and ability to feed themselves, ignoring that most work in other professions but pursue certain topics as a labor of love. They issue sweeping generalizations about bloggers being bloviators and unprofessional that largely overlook some of the very good original reporting being done online.

Both sides have got to grow up and move beyond this petty territorial handle on the news. Because while we waste time arguing over who's entitled to report news, the news-consuming public simply tuned out.

So it was with keen interest that I opened last night’s E-Media Tidbits column by Amy Gahran titled, “Newsrooms and Bloggers: Can't We All Just Get Along?”

She links to Alan T. Saracevic’s column by a similar name on SFGate.com.

Saracevic wrote about the ugliness of revolutions, but he wrote about what can happen when both sides tiptoe beyond the threshold that has held us prisoner for the past couple of years.

He writes of the decision to launch The Tech Chronicles. Only before launching, the Chronicle staffers reached out to Bay Area media revolutionaries for input and advice.

And in typical Bay Area fashion, the real revolutionaries responded in kind, encouraging us and offering to help the dreaded MSM bridge the gap between old and new.

The move has energized and invigorated conversation and even some of the old crusty newsroom types got jazzed up. “We're having a blast playing with a new printing press,” writes Saracevic.

Bottom line in his piece is:

Let's face it, analog needs digital. And visa versa.

I submitted the following comment to Amy Gahran at Poynter Online:

How do we expand the conversation further? How do we get beyond the us vs. them/old vs. new mentality that persists in cities across the country?

I'm thinking a little humility vs. hubris on both sides is a good place to start. What are the strengths, weaknesses and limitations and opportunities afforded by citizen journalism and new media working with MSM and vice versa?

That's a conversation I'd definitely like to hear. Because there are a number of us with feet in both camps who are tired of the same old paranoia and arrogance dogging the momentum.

Anyone care to start that conversation with me?

Monday, March 20, 2006

NJ Citz Journo hits 1 million mark

Under the "all news is local" rubric…

Several months ago I was turned on to Debbie Galant's Web site for suburban New Jersey news. In case anyone is wondering whether or not local, independent news sites can pull in audience, Galant proves they can. And interestingly, it has started an offshoot to cover the Newark mayoral race. Sound like a familiar endeavor?

I was under the weather bigtime all weekend and unable to attend yesterday's Meet the Bloggers Democratic gubernatorial debate, but I can't wait to read the transcript and the rundown on my fave sites.

Anyway, check out the news that arrived in my inbox this morning. And take a minute to look at the sites. I'd love to hear what you think.

Dear Baristanet Reader,

We have two pieces of news we'd like to share with you today.

The first is that last week, we had our millionth visit to the site.

The second is that starting today, we're launching a blog about the Newark mayoral race. We're calling this new blog GrudgeMatchNJ. After Sharpe James bicycled into city hall last Thursday, we decided we just couldn't keep our hands off this story, unfolding in our county and just five miles down Bloomfield Ave.

Baristanet editors Liz George and Debbie Galant will write Grudge Match along with Matt Caruso, a veteran political and public relations consultant in New Jersey and author of The Daily Doormatt. Annette Batson, who joined us late last year, will continue to hold down the fort at Baristanet.

So please go over to GrudgeMatchNJ (www.grudgematchnj.com) and vote in our Booker v. James poll. If you'd like to advertise on the new site, call Liz George at 973.783.4475. Tips for either Baristanet or GrudgeMatchNJ should continue to go to tips@baristanet.com.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The 2006 St. Paddy's Day quote

If it was raining soup, the Irish would go out with forks. — Irish dramatist,
Brendan Behan

Heh, heh ... made me laugh.

Cheers!

Stteelllllaaaaaaa!

"A high station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace." — Tennessee Williams

How loudly can you scream the famous line from Tennesse Williams' "Streetcar Named Desire?" If you think you've got a fighting chance at competing with other Stella and Stanleys across the country, then you may want to book passage to the 20th anniversary Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival being held March 30 - April 2 in the Big Easy.

This is a power-packed literary feast the likes of which can only be found in such a great literary city like New Orleans. Wasn't sure if this event was even going to happen, but I just got the e-mail schedule of events and it looks to be pretty great.

Here's an excerpt from the letter by Board President Pat Brady.

Back before Katrina blew through and blew all our lives and plans away, the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival began planning for our blowout 20th anniversary celebration in 2006. Since Aug. 29, we've all spent weeks or months in exile, communicating via e-mail and new cell phones. Once everybody was located from Marksville, Louisiana, to Kewanee, Illinois, from Houston to Richmond, Virginia, and elsewhere around the nation, we've scrambled and regrouped, faced overwhelming losses in income and uncertainty about location availability. But it all boils down to one simple thing — we're still here!

Rick Bragg, Nora Roberts and Elizabeth Berg are leading master classes. Stephanie Zimbalist and Rex Reed with be there. Esquire food columnist John Mariani is speaking and you can partake of a bevy of panels, conversations, dramatic readings, storytelling and performances. Wish I could be there for this special celebration.

Anyway, thought I'd share correspondence with Joe DeSalvo, owner of Faulkner House Books about how Katrina is affecting businesses even in the relatively untouched French Quarter.

Hello Wendy,

Thank you for your kind words and thoughtfulness. Our beloved New Orleans
has been badly wounded and those of us who have returned need all the help
we can get. Business has been mosly terrible. Do come visit soon.
You'll be shocked by the extensive devastation and desolation.

Sincerely,

Joe

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Briefly up for air

There … may … soon … be … light …

I'm nearing the end of this book manuscript and feeling pretty good about making it happen. Of course, I've got to roll right into other writing deadlines for Friday and Monday. It's off to Columbus for a writing workshop for a couple of days next week, but the last week in March is looking pretty open. The breathing room will be welcome.

More than anything else, I'm looking forward to Florida over Easter break. The entire extended Hoke clan will be gathered at Santa Rosa Beach in the panhandle. White sandy beaches, crystal blue water, three pools and lots of R&R.

Before that happens I've got two more speaking engagements coming up. I'll be heading down to OU on April 4 to talk to some journalism students. I'll also get the chance to have coffee with Dr. Anne Cooper-Chen, one of my favorite J-profs. We've recently reconnected via e-mail. And then it's on to Cincinnati April 7-8 for the SPJ Region 4 Convention to talk about freelancing.

I've been working on a new profile for SPJ's Quill magazine called TEN: a profile of people with some of the coolest jobs in journalism. The January/February issue featured a profile of NPR's Nina Totenberg. It wasn't available online, but you can download the entire issue in PDF. One of the highlights was Nina saying, "Can you hang on for one second, Susan Stamberg is asking about my lunch plans." Pretty funny eavesdropping on this typical office conversation from two of the grand dames of radio journalism.

Here's the March profile on Poynter columnist and journalism insider Jim Romenesko. Romenesko doesn't like to have his photo published. He keeps a pretty low profile.

The April issue profile is by far the best yet. I won't yet reveal who it is because you may not know him by name. I had to cut the actual interview in half to fit the magazine space, but plan to run the interview in its entirety on Creative Ink. Look for that here in early April.

Finally, today, the doc for whom I'm writing the book on chronic pain shared this quote with me and I thought it rightfully encapsulated what I've been working on for the past two months. Who knew that a doc could so readily quote Viriginia Woolf?

“English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy or Lear; has no words for the shiver or the headache … The merest schoolgirl when she falls in love has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind for her, but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry.” — Virginia Woolf

Friday, March 10, 2006

Why doesn't Cleveland embrace young leadership?

WARNING: I'm feeling very salty today, very glass-is-half-empty. If you're feeling great today, don't read any further. I wouldn't want to bring ya down. But I gotta get this off my chest.

I’m sort of following the selection of a new Cleveland Schools CEO, but I have to say I’m not inspired by what I read. My gut reaction — it’s more of the same.

I have nothing personal against William Denihan. He’s demonstrated himself as a fine public servant. But to my mind his being considered as a finalist for the Cleveland Schools CEO job represents all that is wrong with leadership in Cleveland.

Regardless of intent, the message is that if you stick around in the same incestuous circles you can just pass your jobs along to the same old cronies. It’s despicable, really. And it is a contributing factor to why young leaders flee for regions that actually embrace young leadership. And by young I mean the legions of 40-somethings who have ample experience and expertise, but who lack the entrĂ©e to the top positions because they are more entrepreneurial in their thinking and less willing to play by the rules that have defined Cleveland for generations.

Denihan is 69 years old. Why would the board even consider someone of retirement age for such a high-energy and vital post? I’m sure Denihan has the energy of someone at least 10 years younger. But what about the acting superintendent, you know the one who was told by Case Law School that her BGSU undergrad degree was not “prestigious enough” to gain her a scholarship to that fine institution.

Perhaps she doesn’t want the job. Perhaps as I write she’s being recruited to another city that embraces young leadership better than Cleveland. Regardless, I think we’ve already seen that the board has exercised an, at best, lazy search.

But that’s not the only post that irks.

The other big one that absolutely blows my mind is the Center for Families and Children. Lee Fisher has left as President & CEO to run as lieutenant governor to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland. An item in The PD’s Openers column, which I cannot locate online, states that former Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell is being considered as Fisher’s replacement. The salary: $350,000 a year.

Is it me or is that an absolutely ludicrous sum of money for a nonprofit devoted to children and families?!?! Beyond the salary it smacks of cronyism as one pol leaves and hands the job off to another. Okay, so the board of directors has to hire the president but the fact that Campbell’s even considered makes me want to wretch.

There are so many dedicated nonprofit professionals in this town, some of whom are already working at the Center for Families and Children and doing the actual work for which the political figureheads claim credit. Why not consider bringing in and bringing up someone with direct knowledge of the agency and the people it serves?

Don’t Cleveland children and families deserve to have someone in place who truly cares for them rather than have the top job passed off on a career politician who will probably use the job as a scouting position for the next campaign? It’s not a rhetorical question. I’d really like to know the answer.

We talk a good game in this town about bringing young talent to the fore, but our actions rarely follow our words. One very bright exception to that rule is David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. He quietly, but effectively goes about raising our city’s profile among the sporting crowd. At least one Cleveland CEO (himself a 40-something) has said that people like Gilbert are the future of Cleveland.

David is an incredible leader and has a fine mind for organizing gargantuan events. But he is also something Cleveland’s Old Guard isn’t – humble about his individual contributions. He could easily be plucked by dozens of cities for higher profile jobs. But David’s heart is in Cleveland.

When my design partner Brian Willse and I were working on the wrap-up book for the 2004 International Children’s Games, it took some convincing to get David to go along with having one small photo of him addressing a group in the book. He was more interested in making sure the young athletes and the Old Guard honorary chairs were represented than himself. I’m sure convincing him to do the full-page photo for the Believe in Cleveland campaign in Sunday's paper took a lot of arm-twisting. But he probably did it as a favor to Alex Machaskee who has served as honorary chair of GCSC events.

I want to believe in Cleveland. I want to believe that younger people will be embraced for their contributions and talents and considered for some of its top posts. But the record speaks clearly.

Wait your turn.

Pay your dues.

Kiss the right asses.

Make donations to the right politicians.

Make friends in the right high places (i.e. law firms).

Be entrepreneurial if you choose, but know that the powers that be really don't value autonomy.

And maybe you’ll be considered by the time you’re 69.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Live blogging about Diane Rehm Show

Oh boy, Diane Rehm is talking with author Leslie Morgan Steiner about her new book, "Mommy Wars."

I have a huge problem with her title. That was Diane's first question, but Leslie gave some song and dance about it being an internal war more than a war between stay-at-home and working moms. The thing is, that's not what the title suggests at all. It's sensational, it's a sellout and it does nothing but perpetuate adversity where it shouldn't exist.

This conversation is falling way flat because of WCPN pledge drive. We're missing the freaking callers on the show. I'm betting there are some great conversations.

Okay. I've got a book deadline next Wednesday and need to get back at it, but rest assured I will pick up this book and write about it later this month.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Stillness in the midst of chaos"

I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction." — Saul Bellow

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Of puberty and IM

It’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that I have not one but two children going through puberty simultaneously.

Seems a tad unfair given the two-year age difference between them. But them’s the facts. Interestingly, this puberty thing is manifesting itself in different ways in each kid.

For example, Ryan (at 13) has grown four inches in the past year and has recently developed this shadowy fuzz above his lip. I say recently, but what I really mean is that it erupted overnight. I threatened to apply my magic cream, but I fear damaging his so-far beautiful complexion.

Patrick is only 11, but let’s just say that on gym day or after basketball practice, he’s a bit odoriferous. Actually, he’s a LOT odiferous. This is different than that sweaty boy smell. It’s pungent and hormonal. But worse than that, my sweet little Patrick is developing something of an attitude.

Ryan’s attitude only flairs when he’s tired or hungry (my how that doesn’t change from the time they are babies). When he does snap at me, he quickly apologizes for being a jerk either out of love, guilt or some twisted combination thereof. Patrick snaps with what I can only describe as an F^&$-you attitude. There’s no guilt, it’s just out there.

Fortunately, he hasn’t yet wizened to the realization that mom granteth privileges and she taketh them away. Here's a case in point:

They’ve been on my case about getting screen names and having Instant Messenger. I’ve been pretty successful at dismissing the topic. But Patrick, when he really wants something, can be something of a pit bull.

After my mother-in-law’s funeral a few weeks ago, the entire Hoke clan was gathered at a local hotel. The 30 grandchildren (minus the one who is about to graduate from Loyola New Orleans) were having a ball hanging with each other. In the midst of catching up with in-laws and cousins from afar, Patrick wanted to discuss with me the issue of screen names.

I tried to put him off several times, gave him the hand and still got a, “Mom, Mom (because saying my name twice is better than once), Kevin can set it all up for me right here.”

“What? Patrick, we’re in a hotel. We’re having a party with your relatives. I can’t discuss this right now. DO NOT set anything up.”

The matter was going to quickly reach a head. I knew this, but felt relieved that perhaps I’d safely put it to rest for another day.

I say all this because last week, while getting over a bout of strep throat, I was lying on the sofa in the living room resting after the boys got home from school. Patrick walked very quietly up the steps and I heard him roll my office chair closer to the desk. (Walking quietly is not something my boys do well.)

As I was lying there I realized exactly what he was doing. I gave him a minute and then heaved myself from the sofa to go see what he was up to. When I turned the corner to walk into my office, I heard the slam of the laptop.

“Patrick! What are you doing?” I yelled in that wonderful, accusing way that we moms seem to master upon birth.

He had downloaded AOL Instant Messenger and was in the process of setting up his screen name. When I confronted him, he fired with one of those wonderful little brother comebacks:

“Ryan has one!” It seems he set one up as his cousin’s house as well.

“Downstairs. I want to talk to both of you.”

The sneaking around thing? That really frosts my goat. We’re getting a computer for our family room. (Like their father, they roll their eyes when I respond, “When I get paid” in answer to a question that begins, “When can we get…?”)

So I apologized to the boys for putting them off on the whole screen name conversation and then launched into my reasons for not wanting to discuss previously:

1) I don’t want them monopolizing the computer I use for work. Seemed pointless to discuss until the family computer was set up.
2) Also, my office is in the fourth bedroom of our house and is too secluded and not adequately monitored.
3) There are creeps on the Internet lurking about and many children don’t realize how much information they unintentionally give out. So that required a much more detailed conversation about pedophiles, etc.
4) I feel very strongly that young people today rely too heavily on technology to communicate. It’s important that my children learn the value of communicating in person through all range of emotions. I wanted to talk to them about the hazards of spreading gossip, writing hateful things, etc.
5) Both boys are excelling at school and I think that’s because their distractions are kept to a minimum. I find it interesting that aside from their cousins who live in Cincinnati and Rochester, the only ones requesting their screen names are girls. Surely you can understand my hesitancy to race down that path.
6) If they really feel the need to talk to someone, pick up the phone.

I told them I’d be willing to consider allowing IM once we have the family computer set up in a public location. But I also said that much like the Xbox, its use is a privilege and will be closely monitored.

“I want all buddies identified by name and screen name so I know who you’re talking to. And don’t write anything you wouldn’t want me to see,” I said.

Their punishment for now is having to wait for the computer (and hence their screen name). And they have to live with the constant threat that their online and IM activity will be monitored by Mom. IM activity will be restricted to times when homework is complete and will be monitored for time. Should any academic or athletic lapses occur, the privilege will be revoked. I told them that if they could live with those conditions, Dad and I would allow IM.

The boys seemed okay with that and they seemed to understand that I wasn’t being mean; I was simply a concerned parent. I asked them if they felt my reasons were unfair or illogical. They said no, but also stressed that I was worried about nothing. They only want to chat with their friends and cousins and no chat rooms are involved.

It saddens me that I had to have such a frank discussion about the exploitation of children and of IM gossiping run amok. But I’m glad I did and I think they have a greater understanding of the chain of consequences involved in online activity.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Beachwood Chamber site is live

It was a long time in the making, but the Beachwood Chamber of Commerce Web site finally is live. Had the very great pleasure of working over the past year with SCK Design on this project.

Like many volunteer-driven organizations, it took time to get all the wheels aligned and the motors humming on this project, but I think the new look and focus is a great step forward for Beachwood. The chamber is doing some terrific things, but what I found most impressive is the Business Development Center. It's a great model for encouraging entrepreneurship that could be replicated on a regional level.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Meet the Bloggers is raising level of political discourse


In the front room of Talkies Film and Coffee Bar in Ohio City a group of people have shoved together tables and draped their coats over chairs to have a conversation. It’s a scene that happens in coffee shops across the area, but there’s one difference here.

A group of seven bloggers is relaxed and ready to have a conversation with Sen. Marc Dann, a Trumbull County state senator running in the Democratic primary for Ohio attorney general.

“Check 1, 2. How’s that?” Dann asks, checking the audio levels on his microphone for the podcast.

He scoots in closer to the table covered with newspaper clippings, notepads, Web printouts and coffee mugs. In the background, the gas fireplace heats the room to a toasty temperature causing the windows along Market Square to steam up.

“Hi, this is George Nemeth of Brewed Fresh Daily and I’m here with a number of Northeast Ohio bloggers at Talkies Coffee in the front room and everybody has a cup of coffee, I’m drinking an Americano. We’re here with Sen. Marc Dann who is running for attorney general.”

And so begins another installment of Meet the Bloggers (MTB), a grassroots effort to engage politicians in deeper discussions about the issues facing voters.

Nemeth presides over the conversation reminding bloggers to identify themselves by name and blog and to use full names when slipping into acronyms to clarify for the record. All of his efforts are intentional and inclusive and designed to engage the wider community in the conversation.

It’s a role Nemeth is comfortable in, given that BFD is the nexus of the Northeast Ohio blogosphere. Meet the Bloggers has taken the living room conversation and moved it into a physical and virtual public space.

Topics are all over the map — residency requirements for home rule cities, No Child Left Behind, intellectual property rights, public interest law, health insurance, the role of the AG’s office in state budgetary decisions, intelligent design in the public schools, tort reform, the role of the AG in advocacy efforts, the conflicts with contracting and campaign contributions, and the problems in attracting and retaining bright legal talent to work in the AG’s office.


“I knew coming into this event that I would have a complicated, sophisticated debate on issues and that’s exactly what we had,” says Dann, following his interview. “I would have gone on for another hour if they had wanted me to,” he adds.

That’s typical of the kind of responses MTB is getting from candidates.

“Politicos are incredibly excited about it. It gives them an open forum to discuss their positions and issues in a free, intelligent way,” says Russell Hughlock, from Newark, Ohio, of Buckeye State Blog (formerly BuckeyeSenate.blog). ”In fact we probably have more demand for doing MTB than time or money available.”

What if…?
Meet the Bloggers grew out of the monthly Blogger Meet-Up meeting when members of the group agreed it should be trying to interview various candidates running for mayor of Cleveland.

Nemeth provided technical infrastructure (podcasting); Democracy Guy Tim Russo had the big Rolodex and ability to network with candidates. Bill Callahan had the first contact with Cleveland mayoral candidate James Draper because a staffer on Draper’s campaign read Callahan’s Cleveland Diary blog.

“Without Bill’s advocacy we would not have gotten the (Jane) Campbell interview,” adds Nemeth. All along the group set about getting the smaller fish first in an effort to lure in the big catch.

“Eventually MTB became compelling enough to get Frank Jackson,” says Nemeth. “This is a forum in which he excels and he spent over an hour here. He did commit to a follow-up interview with MTB, it’s now a matter of scheduling.”

What makes MTB so compelling? It’s not focused on personality or political rhetoric. “It’s about issues and candidates positions on those issues. Candidates today are so busy campaigning and fund raising. Unfortunately, the electorate is undemanding, but we are. We don’t want the canned stump speech,” says Nemeth.

He’s put his money where his mouth is, investing more than $1,000 of his own money on equipment to improve the audio. And Jim Eastman of Wine and Politics, station manager at WRUW, has volunteered his time to man the audio board.

It’s a process of continuous improvement. “With every single interview we improve our process and our capacity,” says Nemeth.

“In the beginning we were browbeating candidates to do this. Now it’s taken on a life of its own. We have candidates from Cincinnati willing to come up to Cleveland for interviews with MTB. The difficulty is in building capacity of bloggers who participate,” he says.

For example, Nemeth has had a lot of interest from candidates running for U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown’s congressional seat in Lorain to participate in a MTB interview. But Nemeth doesn’t know the issues important to Lorain voters and would like to have Lorain-area bloggers run that interview.

“It gets back to citizen journalism. If you’re Joe Blogger in Lorain and you get an audience, literally and virtually, with a candidate, you are given the chance to ask questions that are important to you and probably someone else.”

"The actual administration of this thing is taking a lot of my time now," says George. Transcribing the audio podcasts to text is costly, but it’s part of what gives the process its integrity, and that in turn is what has brought candidates forward. In an effort to raise money to primarily help pay for the cost of professional transcription services, Meet the Bloggers held its first fundraiser at Pearl of the Orient in Rocky River in January and raised nearly $800.

More than just talk
MTB has also created a historical archive that other campaigns are listening to and that voters can tap at any time. “This kind of information totally alters the dynamic of campaigns. It results in better democracy, better political discourse and even better journalism,” says Nemeth.

Bryan Flannery, of Strongsville, is a democratic candidate for governor. He’s publicly expressed his frustration with the Associated Press’s decision not to cover his campaign. But he also embraces the MTB experience and will be present at the Democratic primary gubernatorial debate at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 19 at Talkies.

“Candidates are looking for more creative and cost-efficient ways to get their message across,” he says. “Meet the Bloggers provides transparency and changes the dynamic for both candidates and voters. I think this movement is significant and will play an important role in this and in upcoming elections,” says Flannery.

Tim Russo, a former Democratic political strategist with a sharp tongue says, “Meet the Bloggers’s ethic is an intense visceral despise for how the mainstream media covers politics."

In a critical election year, it's designed to give voters and candidates more coverage between now and the primary on May 2. The Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com have answered somewhat with their own Web-based coverage called, “OPEN.” It, too, features a blog of newsy poltical items, though the dialogue is one-way without a comment function.

“MTB has given more coverage to the attorney general’s race than anyone else. Candidates love that,” says Russo. More coverage means more open discussion. And when bloggers write about the interviews it pushes that discussion forward even further.

If candidates had concerns about the MTB process being about blogger grandstanding, they have seen otherwise. They often stick around after the fact to carry on specific conversations. “We’re sitting in a coffeehouse talking,” explains Russo. “This is how normal humans operate. We converse.”

Bill Callahan thinks the format is MTB’s strength. “It’s straight up questions and answers with no pruning or editing. What you read in the transcript is what happened,” he says. Of course individual bloggers will comment on what they heard or read from the candidates, but the integrity of the process is the word-for-word transcript of the podcast.”

Voters can listen to the candidate speak. They can hear the passion or lack of passion in their voice and judge for themselves. “What one of us does or says on our blog has very little to do with how we conduct ourselves in the interview,” says Callahan.

All of the original organizers express their frustration with their inability to get more diversity of bloggers in the process. It has largely been focused on democratic candidates, but that’s not for lack of trying to get conservatives involved. “We’re making serious efforts to be bipartisan. I would like Republican bloggers and candidates to participate,” says Nemeth.

At least one Republican blogger, Matt Dole of Lincoln Logs in Marietta, Ohio, is interested. He admits that liberal blogs are stronger in Ohio than conservative blogs, but that shouldn’t impede the discussion.

“For better or worse, I am a Republican who believes in the Republican platform and will generally support Republicans even if they are less than true to my personal ideology, because they generally fall far closer than any other option,” says Dole.

“That said, for the electorate — for independent unmade-up minds — the Meet the Bloggers is another excellent opportunity to read what candidates have to say in a fairly laid back and candid manner,” says Dole. “What makes them different is this idea of mixing the commentary with the meat and potatoes of the transcript. It closely resembles cable news, which allows a politician to speak to the world before heading back to a studio so that a group of panelists can dissect the performance and substance.”



Idea, not product
Above all else, the content is king and it is open for everyone to use.

“I’m a happy guy,” says Callahan. “I get to have conversations with important people on issues that I care about.”

However, one of the big disappointments, says Callahan, is that the mainstream media has not participated in the interviews or used the information gleaned from these interviews for its own reporting.

“I’m not sure why they aren’t ripping off this material? This is intended as an open source activity. If anything would make this more politically useful, it’s that it be used as source material for mainstream media reporting,” he says.

There’s a network effect found both online and offline. “The reality is you can’t do this except in a community where people sit down face to face,” says Callahan. And that's why he thinks it has taken off in Cleveland. But that's not to say it can't happen elsewhere.

MTB is an idea, not a product, explains Russo. And the idea is expanding.

“We have already expanded MTB from the Cleveland area to Central Ohio/Columbus in an effort to bring more people into this open process and I think this kind of expansion is something that is going to continue as MTB becomes more and more popular,” says Buckeye State’s Hughlock.

“We’re building a dialogue around technology,” says Nemeth. “It’s the localization of media. It’s crucial to me and to the process that other people bubble up to the surface.”

Good balance today?

Had no trouble doing tree pose this morning. Usually my balance on my left leg is quite shaky. Wonder if that means my focus is particularly sharp today? Hmmm...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Technological improvements

What I covet.

Sure beats the heck out of the 12-inch iBook G3 I've got sitting on top of my Black's Law Dictionary with my crappy USB keyboard jammed in front. Can't even pack up the darned thing and go work at a coffee shop because my freaking space bar is nonfuntional. This is the year of the new laptop. I've had the iBook for four years and it's served me well, even traveled the world with me. But now it is (and therefore I am) chained to my desk. That will never do.

Review in PAGES

Seems only fitting that on World Book Day I should find the latest issue of PAGES Magazine in my mailbox. The March/April issue contains my review of Bernard Cooper’s “The Bill from My Father.” You’ll have to check it out on newsstands because the review section is not available online.

That’s it for my bloggerly diversion today. Now it’s back to writing one book and proofing another.