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Friday, August 31, 2007

Defining success leads to new focus

A recent post on a freelance forum I belong to posed the question, "How do you define success?" The answers are as illuminating and varied as you'd expect. But if there's a common thread it's that success is not typically defined monetarily for writers and that what constitutes success evolves over time.

Making money has never been a motivating factor for me. Neither has the pursuit of fame. I view being a journalist altruistically. That moment hit home for me as I sat in an interview recently talking with three people involved with helping undocumented Hispanic immigrants assimilate to American culture.

With little to no resources, these three individuals are trying to change people's minds—both Americans and Latinos—about each other. It's a monumental undertaking and yet they are convinced that this is what is needed to solve the immigration crisis in our country—for groups of people to get to know one another.

It's so simple and yet so complex because you are dealing with so many obstacles—namely fear and prejudice—on the part of both groups. But I realized sitting there, understanding far more Spanish then I thought I would, that this is the kind of work that is meaningful to me—writing about people who are quietly going about changing our country.

My great-grandparents came to America from the Ukraine. (As the family archivist, I have their papers and photos.) I tried to imagine what they fled and what they confronted once here. What courage it takes to leave all you know behind and come to another country. And yet the dream of America and the reality are often so far apart today.

Likewise, I don't think there's any place more misunderstood among Americans than public schools. Even as parents, I don't think we really know what happens there during the day. Of course it's a mixed bag of successes and challenges. But how teachers, students and administrators deal with so many changes is fascinating.

As I begin my third year inside Cleveland Heights High School, covering the reform movement there, I've decided to expand my knowledge on education reform. I'd also like to explore how curriculum materials are chosen, how teachers conform or don't conform to teaching mandates, how scripted or unscripted the day is, how NCLB affects everything from what gets taught when and how to the breadth of educational experiences available. Of course I'll also be closely watching the debate over reauthorization of NCLB in Congress.

How faith plays out in our lives, work, art, music and literature continues to interest me greatly. Regardless of our spiritual background, I believe that faith of some kind, whether it's belief in a higher power or in some organized religion, inspires us daily. We may be aware of that inspiration or we may have never considered its quiet impact on our lives until someone asked.

Books continue to be a huge part of my life. I've done a good deal of reviewing for publication, but that's also something that doesn't pay much. Instead of spending time pitching reviews for publication and since so many newspapers have scaled back on book sections, I've decided to keep writing my reviews here. I'm going to write about what I'm reading here anyway, so this way I can indulge my inner book critic without having to chase down assignments for so little money.

Great stories to me will always feature ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I'm very fond of interviewing people and writing profiles. It's not often that I'll take credit for any journalistic skills, but I do think my ability to get beyond the surface of a profile is one of my strengths. So I'll continue to seek out and write those stories.

Multimedia storytelling is an exciting development in journalism. I'd like to experiment with audio in storytelling and, eventually, video. There are so many ways to tell a story and multimedia so enriches the experience. Hopefully, you'll bear with me here as I used this site as my testing ground for those experiments.

Greater Cleveland needs a good media criticism/commentary site. I'm willing to convene a group of talented people who would be interested in discussing how a site devoted to independent reporting and informed commentary could be built. My model for such a site here would be LA Observed: An Online Journal of Los Angeles Media, News and Sense of Place.

The Cleveland site will feature all the things I'd love to see in a good print magazine such as politics, business, economic development, education, culture, books, sports, history, profiles, travel, architecture, style, urban culture, media, the environment.... This site would be a mix of independent, in-depth reporting and intelligent, informed commentary. And it would be a mix of professional journalists and the best citizen journalists.

Does that sound interesting? Doable? Something you'd like to contribute to? Something you'd like to fund? If so, let me know (wendyhoke(at)gmail(dot)com).

I have a few stories I'm interested in selling, actually more than a few but those are all in various stages of pitching. One is an interview with syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer, one of the female pioneers in foreign correspondence. I had interviewed her for an article for Quill magazine in mid-summer, but I'm obviously not contributing to that publication in light of my having left SPJ. She was a wonderful interview and filled with amazing stories from a lifetime of writing about world leaders, revolutions, guerrilla warfare and more.

Linda Perlstein wrote the new book, "Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade," about how one Maryland elementary school works to improve test scores. It's an amazing story that I was first interested in because of the way she immersed herself in the school, much as I do for KnowledgeWorks Foundation. My original intent was to see how such reporting translated into book form.

But after interviewing her and learning more about the origins of the education reform movement, I've decided that this is a story worth telling on a bigger scale. The timing is exquisite given that the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind will probably be one of the first items tackled by Congress after Labor Day. Perlstein is incredibly knowledgeable having spent years as an education reporter for The Washington Post.

So I've sharpened my focus to education reform, social justice issues, religion and people. I'm grateful for the gift of time and freedom that the past month has given me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Federal study on reading programs offers little insight to what works

A federal review of reading programs offers little evidence to suggest that certain school-wide programs are effective. Acccording to an article in Education Week:

When a federal review of beginning-reading programs was commissioned four years ago, experts and educators hoped it would help school leaders sift through the vast marketplace of instructional materials and find those most effective for improving achievement. But the long-awaited study by the What Works Clearinghouse, released this month, may not fully deliver on that promise.

In fact, the analysis found that few comprehensive or supplemental programs have empirical proof that they work. And none of the most popular commercial programs on the market—including McGraw-Hill’s Open Court, Scott Foresman Reading, and Houghton Mifflin Reading, which have earned hundreds of millions of dollars in sales to districts—had sufficiently rigorous studies to be included in the review by the clearinghouse.

My middle son, Patrick, is a seventh-grader who has been through Title I reading services and other reading interventions through last year. He's participated in a variety of different reading programs, but last year was asked to participate in the Wilson Reading System, one of the reading programs reviewed by the Institute of Education Sciences. According to the study, Wilson Reading System was shown to have no discernible effects on fluency and comprehension and potentially positive effects on alphabetics.

What constitutes a successful reading curriculum? How about one that enables a student to jump from a third-grade reading level to an almost sixth-grade reading level in one school year.

Attempting to rate the programs seems futile when individual students respond successfully to different methods. Saying one way works for all kids is extremely constraining to the educational process.

As NCLB discussion heats up poll shows Americans increasingly concerned

House education leaders yesterday released a draft of a plan to reauthorize N0 Child Left Behind and are actively seeking input on the draft.

According to a letter to education stakeholders from House Education and Labor Committee Chairmen Rep. George Miller (D-California), Rep. Dale E. Kildee (D-Michigan), Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-California) and Rep. Michael Castle (R-Delaware) , "This draft is a work in progress, subject to change over the coming weeks as the Committee moves a bill through the legislative process. [snip] If you would like to offer comments, please send them to and include your name and/or organization, the page and line numbers of suggested changes to legislative language by September 5, 2007."

A new poll out this week from Phi Delta Kappa International and Gallup shows that the more Americans know about NCLB the less they like about the sweeping law. Read through the data and the findings because there's ample fodder for discussion here. Parents and public school advocates need to make their voices heard on this issue. Poll results shows that Americans are resisting the idea that passage of one test on one day is the only measure of student progress and that despite its good intentions, NCLB promotes teaching to the test at the expense of other critical skills.

Here's an interesting commentary that shows that the more people get to know their local districts, the more favorable view they have of its work and direction.

Schools Have Stepped Up

Like politics, all education is local. Despite what detractors say about "the nation's schools," the closer the public gets to its local public schools, the more it likes them, and this continuing trend reflects well on those who lead schools.

The public's satisfaction with local schools reflects the schools' fulfillment of the diverse mandate given to them. While NCLB counts only that which can be counted, two-thirds of the public calls on its schools to see to its children's social and emotional needs in addition to their academic needs, and, if poll numbers are any indication, the schools have stepped up. School leaders can be proud of what they've accomplished, but we still have work to do. Forty percent of the public remains unconvinced that students leave high school ready for college, and only about half believe that students leave high school adequately prepared to do skilled work.

But it's interesting to note that the public doesn't see a solution in NCLB. In fact, the more the public learns about the law, the less it likes it, with 43% pointing to an overemphasis on standardized testing and more than a quarter of those polled asserting the law is actually hurting our children. Further, the public continues to recognize a lack of financial support as, by far, the leading challenge facing its schools.

Policy makers have done an impressive job of ignoring the voice of educators for the past several years. Perhaps the public that puts them in office will have better luck delivering the message: reform NCLB now to emphasize testing less and promote learning more, and provide schools the flexibility and funding they need to fulfill their mission. -- Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Reston, Va. (Bold is mine.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tuesday Tidbits

This week has been a bit crazy, so I'm once again left with a few quick hits.

1. Howard Kurtz did not refer to CNBC anchor Erin Burnett as "Money Honey" and "Business Babe." The flipping title of his Media Notes column is "Looking Good at CNBC (Pretty, Too)." Almost did a spit take on this line:
Under the lights, in a smoky blue dress that matches her eyes as well as her shoes, her flowing dark hair perfectly teased, she is not exactly hard on the eyes.
And then there's this!!!
During an MSNBC interview this month, Matthews egged her on: "Could you get a little closer to the camera? . . . Really close." When Burnett expressed puzzlement, Matthews exclaimed: "You look great! . . . No, you're beautiful. I'm just kidding. I'm just kidding. You're a knockout." Burnett now calls it "a strange moment."
Jesus, Chris! Thing is, Howard's column is really about how smart and quick-witted Burnett is. Of course, he can't resist taking the sensational route to get you to that point.

2. Want to give a shout out to PunditMom, who commented here recently and proves (along with Jill) that the words Mom and politics are not oxymoronic.

3. What the heck was Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson talking about today on The Sound of Ideas? Props to Dan Moulthrop and callers for attempting to get at a meaningful conversation. Afraid is not very successful.

4. Teachers have such a powerful impact on our lives. This came back to me as I listened to Alec Klein, author of "A Class Apart: Prodigies, Pressure, and Passion Inside One of America's Best High Schools," on Diane Rehm (with Steve Roberts) this morning. He shared this lovely tidbit: "I'm reminded of another teacher I had, Dr. Binman, who returned a creative writing assignment to me when I was about 15 years old and on it he said, 'Become a writer one day!' I actually still have that paper because it meant so much to me as a 15-year-old to be told that I was good at something. Sometimes that's all you need is some positive reinforcement."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Two UB stories this week

Been busily writing for the Catholic Universe Bulletin of late. Here's a link to a cover story from Friday's issue and a feature story, with text below.

Invisible no more
Duarte Center building needed bridges between immigrants, Americans
By Wendy A. Hoke

CLEVELAND-In a home in Wooster, immigration advocates have gathered about 25 people from various Hispanic families to pray the rosary. They’ve traveled from Cleveland to share their Catholic faith—along with valuable information about their status in a country torn apart by the immigration debate.

The goal? To build a bridge between the Latino dream of America and the isolated reality they often find here.

“In meetings we ask, ‘Do you want to go back to your own country?’ (and) 99 percent will say they want to go back,” said Jose Amin Cortes, a native of Colombia and one of the three people on the staff of the year-old Archbishop Isaias Duarte Center.

Based at Our Lady of Lourdes Church off Broadway Avenue, the center is named for the archbishop of Cali, Colombia from 1995 to 2002, who was an outspoken critic of Colombian guerrillas and drug traffickers. The bishop was slain by two gunmen outside of a church after he had presided over a wedding Mass.

“We tell immigrants that they are in America so get to know Americans and let them get to know you. Why else are you here?” said Dora Harper, another staff member who also translates for Cortes.

The difficulties new immigrants face is much larger than what the center can address, but Harper, Cortes and Sister Jane Blabolil believe they must reach out to develop leaders in the Latin community, help them understand their rights as immigrants and improve their quality of life.

Sister Blabolil, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Third Order of St. Francis, is new to the effort, having returned in December from 20 years as a missioner in Peru. “So many are isolated here,” she said. “Many are undocumented, working with the same ethnic group and not having any contact with Americans. They have no need to learn the language. But that takes away their confidence and their ability to know and be known.”

The advocacy effort is rooted in Catholic faith, a common point of contact that could swing wide open the doors of understanding between Latino immigrants and Americans. But there are challenges to reaching the population even through church.

“There are limited Spanish-speaking Masses outside of Cleveland,” Cortes said. “Most people live far from the central city and just to commute is to take a risk.”

The answer, he explained, will not be found in more Spanish language liturgies, but getting the immigrants more involved in the American Catholic church.

Most immigrants admit that they came here to get a better life, Cortes said. Many have achieved the goal of earning more income.

“However, the cost they are paying is very high—the loss of family and friends and the loss of culture. Most important is their sense of being an invisible people,” he said.

In America Hispanic immigrants are largely invisible and are considered criminals because of their “illegal” status.

Cortes believes that the solution to immigration is in fostering greater understanding.

“Just like the Europeans who came here running from war, hunger, disease, misery and lack of opportunities, the people from Latin America also leave for the same reasons,” he explained. Many cannot return because their government has condemned them.

“We need to think through the solution of how to help our neighbors,” he said. “They come here with big dreams and are surprised when they find something very different.”

Americans do not realize that immigration law changed in 1986, effectively saying that anyone who lets their visa expire will never be able to become U.S. citizens. That leaves large numbers of immigrants in this country who are unable to change their status.

So the Duarte Center’s mission is two-fold: to assist the immigrants with pro bono legal help, educate them on U.S. laws, teach them the language, help them find a place within the Catholic Church and help them to become leaders of an American faith community that isn’t divided by native land. At the same time, the center tries to help Americans become more aware of the realities for immigrants, to educate them on the stumbling blocks to becoming citizens and to find a way to being missionaries in their own faith communities with their own neighbors.

For more information on the work of the Duarte Center, call Harper at 330-256-8124.

Hoke is a freelance writer.

And then there was this feature from the Catholic Life section:

Deacon Bill Starkey is living his ministry
By Wendy A. Hoke

BEDFORD HEIGHTS — Bill Starkey was trying to make sense of two back-to-back tragedies when his wife Cindy informed him they were going back to church.

He had lost his father and his brother tragically in 1992 and was seeking answers to explain the sudden losses.

“I found the people here at Holy Trinity very welcoming. They didn’t know what had happened in my life but they sensed something had rocked me,” he said. “ I got more involved with the church and eventually people starting saying that I would make a good deacon, including our pastor.”

At first he dismissed the notion, but he prayed on it eventually it started to make sense to him.
“Quite surprisingly I was accepted in the first round and entered formation with eight others with whom I became very close. They became my surrogate family,” he said.

He credits his wife and the entire parish community of Holy Trinity for getting him through formation. “They were very uplifting. There was always someone there to pick me up.”

Working in construction and juggling the academic and time commitment to formation was pretty tough. Deacon Starkey’s wife had a full-time job and carried the family’s health insurance so she suggested he find something part time that would free him up to pursue his studies.

The city of Bedford Heights was looking for van drivers for seniors. A former police officer, fire fighter and paramedic, it’s in Deacon Starkey’s nature to help others so he took the job and became advocate for city’s seniors. In December, a group of seniors attended a city council meeting to show support for Starkey being named coordinator of senior services for Bedford Heights.

Today he coordinates everything from the emergency alert devices, transportation, snow removal, lawn care, bingo night, special events and social services. He’s been known to sing at special events and even has his own “doo-wop girls.”

It’s his quick and kind response that impacts residents. Recently, a resident had written a note that said, “Help me,” and put it in her mailbox. When the mailman picked it up he called Deacon Starkey, who then got the police and social workers involved. “Within hours we learned that her roof had caved in and water was pouring and the power had shorted out. We got the woman here, got her warm and fed and then provided transitional housing while her roof was repaired,” he said.

The ministry works both ways. When Deacon Starkey’s mother passed away in May, every one of his seniors came to the funeral home. “Pastor Albert Veigas told me to give the homily. It was tough, but those seniors got me through that, just by looking out and seeing their faces.”

Like a lot of parishes, Holy Trinity is older with a strong mix of racially and ethnically diverse families. Its demographic mirrors that of Bedford Heights. “It’s very warm and open. People shake your hand to greet you whether you’re a stranger or a friend.”

As permanent deacon, Starkey has liturgical duties on the weekends, handles the bereavement ministry and works with Father Veigas in the operation of the church.

He insists that he remains the same Bill Starkey he was before ordination and peppers his conversation with a healthy dose of common sense. There’s a temptation, he said, to let the deacon collar go to your head.

“If you’re looking for perfection in me, you’re not going to find it. If it’s all about wearing the collar, then it’s for all the wrong reasons. I can do a ministry in shorts at a barbecue the same as I can in vestments preaching on a Sunday,” he said.

“I’m always interfacing with parishioners and seniors. There’s a lot of overlap in my two positions. I’ll be greeting someone at church on Sunday and they’ll tell me about grass that hasn’t yet been cut,” he said, laughing.

“I am who I am, which is 100 percent Bill Starkey. I’m God’s shepherd for this population that needs continuous help. This job is my family and the church is my family. I have a loving supportive wife and two terrific daughters. Being a deacon has made me better at all of those jobs.”

Hoke is a freelance writer.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Summer's (odds and) end

Can't believe how fleetingly the summer passes. School begins on Monday morning and life returns to whatever we call "normal." But today is about spending one last afternoon at the pool (albeit an interrupted one as I take two out of three to football practice). There is so much I've been reading and wanting to comment on, but haven't had the time. So here are some items and abbreviated thoughts.

1. The whole Michael Skube blogger blast in the LA Times this week would be laughable were it not so stinking prevalent, still. Thank God we had Jay Rosen's blowback. Will there ever be an end to the blogger versus journalist dispute? I find it ironic that most journalists, when they leave a mainstream organization either willingly or unwillingly start their own blog. Is this argument merely the result of sour grapes? Envy? Fear?

2. Diane Rehm had an amazing show yesterday, which did much to illuminate the realities of No Child Left Behind. Listen if you have the time. Her guests were Jonathan Kozol and
Dan Brown. Spinning the Bush Administration message was Doug Mesecar, Acting Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. To his credit, Mesecar stuck to the message that NCLB does not put pressure on school districts to teach to the test. He also pushed the mantra of "no excuses," as in it doesn't matter if the kid isn't able to sleep at night out of fear because her mother's a crack whore and has a parade of men in and out of the house during the night. A good teacher should be able to teach her.

3. I've been reading Linda Perlstein's book, "Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade," and was amazed that she was not included on this program. I interviewed Perlstein yesterday afternoon. Her experiences spending a year in Tyler Heights Elementary in Annapolis, Md., are illuminating on many levels, showing how the education reform movement began in 1983 with Reagan's education secretary trying to hold onto his job and guarantee his department's relevance. And who was leading the, "Education should be more like business charge?" Why, it was none other than that bastion of social progress -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But that's all fodder for a much longer commentary.

4. Are clotheslines making a comeback? I sure hope so. Let's hope that people who choose to make green decisions about energy are not punished for aesthetic reasons. Thankfully, I do not live in a neighborhood with an association.

5. Now that I have more time on my hands (which I won't really feel until next week when the boys are back in school), I've been thinking of a multitude of projects. But there's one that I'm VERY interested in. LA Observed is one of the coolest sites I've ever seen. I'm interested in starting something similar here in Cleveland. LA Observed is an award-winning online journal devoted to independent reporting, selective linkage and informed commentary on Los Angeles and Southern California. Greater Cleveland could use some independent reporting and informed commentary. I can think of at least a dozen people I'd love to have participate. Jeff? Does this sound like something you'd be interested in?

6. Regina Brett tackled the female attorney issue this morning on WCPN. The doozer from Linda Bluso, who doesn't have children of her own: "Oftentimes they [female attorneys] are so bored at home [on maternity leave] they come back early."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sloppy sports reporting

I'm delighted to see The Plain Dealer devoting so much space to high school football this morning. But is it too much to ask to get them to spell the names of players correctly? Two of the three Bay High players noted in the West Shore Conference preview are spelled wrong. It's Cale LaRiccia and Brian Harrell (not Cale LeRiccia and Brian Herrall).

This isn't limited to the PD sports guys. The West Shore Sun today also has a story about Bay's new head coach and new turf field. In it, Dale Meggas, whom I worked with while I was a reporter at Sun from 1990-95, references senior leader Jon Rieke and in the next paragraph refers to him as Reinke.

Come on, guys! Get it together. These players work hard and the least you can do if you're going to single them out among the thousands of players is to spell their name correctly.

In my sophomore year reporting class at Ohio University J-School, misspelling a word in an assignment was an automatic C; misspelling someone's name was an automatic F.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Women lawyers falling behind at local firms

[Sigh] Well, here we go again.

There's another study out indicating [shockingly] that women attorneys quickly fall behind at local law firms. Are we surprised?

We shouldn't be. Women partners at local firms range from 7 percent to 22 percent, according to the Cleveland Bar Association, and despite graduating from law school at the same rate as men.

PD reporter Alison Grant writes:
Though law firms are gradually become (sic) more diverse, the panel said lopsided patterns persist because of:

The entrenched model of billable hours as a measure of productivity.

The diminished chance to make partner after taking a detour to have children or care for elderly parents.

Discounting of women's ambition and drive if they don't follow a standard path.

The tendency of some women to be so relieved about their success that they forget to help female associates coming behind them.
Let's look at these a little more closely, shall we? Billable hours means the more hours you work, the more you can bill and the more money the firm (and ostensibly the partners) can make. Related to that is reason number two, which basically means if you take time off to have a family or care for aging parents, you're no longer producing money for the firm and hence, become a liability.

Not following the standard path? Seems to me that's cause for celebration and meritorious pay, not a hindrance to success. But I suppose if you break out of a firm's group think mentality by combining unusual interest areas—hmm, say law and social work—that throws the good ole boys into a quandary. I mean, what do you do with such a lawyer? Hey, quantity over quality though, right?

Sadly, that last point is something I've written about for The Plain Dealer business section, though at the time the topic was greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Women need to recognize that the sooner we start helping each other out in business, law, education, leadership development, finance, philanthropy, social services, etc., the sooner we will achieve a more equitable playing field with men. We certainly can't leave it to THEM to grade the terrain.

My favorite quote in this story comes compliments of Bob Duvin, founder of Duvin, Cahn & Hutton. He says:
"I've been dazzled, stunned by the ability of many women to work either full time or something close to full time and also be wives and mothers," Duvin said. "It isn't easy, and a byproduct is it sometimes hurts your career."
Bob—can I call you, Bob?—to say we are dazzling in our ability to juggle is a gross understatement. How do YOU manage working full time and being a husband and father? I mean, it isn't easy and the byproduct is that is sometimes hurts YOUR career.

Oh...wait...only it doesn't. THAT, Bob, is the fundamental problem. It's called a "double standard." So take that back to your board room and chew on it for a bit. Better yet, why don't you talk to the female partners and lawyers in your firm and ask them how they do it. While you're at it, why don't you ask them how the firm can help them better balance both with impunity. Please, Bob, don't forget to bring a woman into that discussion.

Then you can come back to a public forum and talk intelligently about this topic.

One more quibble on this story: I would've asked the women partners quoted in the story how they've gotten where they are in their career. How do they balance marriage, family and career? Did they give one or more of those up in favor of the other? Did they feel they had no choice?

It's not enough to say they lead law firms, we need to know in the context of this story how they broke the mold to get where they are.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Judy Blume still rules

It's good to read that Judy Blume is still writing. She carved her way into my readerly heart at a young age. * (Original info deleted)

My mom reminded me that I read "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," in one day while lying atop our backyard picnic table. I never put the book down — not even when I ate or went to the bathroom.

Later that summer, I discovered "Forever" in my mom's dresser drawer. Of course, at 12 I wasn't allowed to read it, but I would sneak the book out and would carefully (not breaking the spine) hide in my parents' walk-in closet to devour the story of teenage sexual awakening.

* Thanks to Dawn's comment, I realized I mixed up my childhood authors and included info about Ramona, which was Beverly Cleary NOT Judy Blume. Thanks, Dawn!

Creative Ink hits PD Blog 5

Thanks to the PD Blog 5 for feeling that an all-too-common story about a teenager dealing with disappointment is worthy of attention by its readers.

Of course, a hat tip goes to Jill for even bringing to my attention.

Ryan managed his first scrimmage from the sidelines on Friday. It was tough, but he did what he could to support his teammates, especially since there were only 15 able-bodied freshmen able to dress. He's more determined than ever to come back strong.

One week down -- seven more to go.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Documenting women's role in journalism history

There's almost an urgency to Sheila Gibbons commentary in Women's E-News yesterday. She's urging female journalists to start saving those notes, documents, scribbles, story drafts, e-mail correspondence, journals and blogs for donation to the National Women and Media Collection at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Why? Because without the documented history of women in journalism, the gender gap in journalism history will persist. It's hard enough to be a women in this business. What a tragedy if there were little to no record of those who toiled away, too busy multitasking or simplifying to document their impact.

I admit I'm no packrat and in my haste to organize and simplify, I'm quite good at tossing materials without a moment's thought. I don't believe for an instant that any future journalists or historians will care about what I said, wrote or documented. But I do believe strongly in the value of history for history's sake. In other words, you never know what source will unlock a story for future generations.

If I needed any evidence of that, I need only look to the biography of Edith Wharton that I'm about two-thirds through today. Wonderful example of how the tiniest details, in one case a note to a beloved niece, express a private detail not found in other works about her.

Hat tip to Romenesko for including in the left rail.

Are boys adrift?

From time to time, I've touched on the issue of boys and education, so I was interested when my neighbor mentioned Diane Rehm's interview with Dr. Leonard Sax.

Sax is author of Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men.

He lists those five factors as:

Video Games
Teaching Methods
Prescription Drugs
Edocrine Disruptors
Devaluation of Masculinity

I'm not sure what to think of all his theories, but I'm interested enough after hearing Diane's program to read his book. Fortunately, my sons have never been medicated. They tend to go in spurts with video games (like now, for instance). I've decided to unplug the Xbox for the remainder of the week, mostly because the weather is cooling off and they need to be outside until school starts on the 27th.

But the reading thing really hits home.

All summer long I've struggled with getting my three boys to read. Ryan has two books he must read by the start of school. I know he'll do it, he's always been an advanced reader, but it makes me sad that he doesn't just pick something up on his own.

Patrick has struggled all along with reading. However, through an incredible intervention program he participated in last school year, he raised his reading level two grade levels. When I got the results, I called the district reading specialist to make sure I was reading the results accurately. She replied:
Mrs. Hoke, Thank you for your phone call. Yes, Patrick’s results are dramatic! Congratulations on his wonderful progress! Let me know if you have any questions.
Michael picked up reading very quickly and with seemingly little effort on my part. But I realize as he starts third grade, I need to spend the time with him, nurturing that love of reading. Not to offer up any excuses, but sometimes as parents we just lose steam.

I'm a big believer in letting the kids have a break in the summer, of letting them just play and cruise town on their bikes and organize whiffle ball games and—yes—football games.

But as school gets ready to start, I can't shake the feeling that maybe I should have insisted they do more to keep up their skills. I just don't know. But I'm going to pick up Sax's book and see what he has to say on the matter.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Life's first big disappointment

When my oldest son Ryan was very young, maybe four, we had taken a bike ride at this time of year and cut through the high school. The football team was in the middle of two-a-days practice.

Ryan stopped his little silver bike and jumped off to watch. In the treeline that ran alongside the practice field, he juked and spun around trees pretending they were defenders and mirroring the moves of the big guys on the field. Cradled in his arms was his imaginary football.

Seems like yesterday to me. Today he is a 6-foot freshman who has spent every morning this summer out on that field or in the weight room—conditioning, lifting, working on agility drills, throwing the football with receivers, muscling through two-a-days. He woke up at six every morning to get there early.

Waiting even a few weeks to get back to the sport he loves is like asking him to give up eating. He got an early taste of what was to come this season last Saturday in a scrimmage. He took a few snaps at QB for the JV team. Still on his morning high, he was goofing around in the yard that evening with a bunch of neighborhood guys.

Ryan was running with the ball, was tackled from behind, lost his footing and fell on his shoulder. Rather than drop the ball to break his fall with his hands, he held onto the ball, fell and broke his left clavicle. He knew it the instant it happened.

Disappointment builds character. When I saw the x-ray, showing that his collarbone wasn't just broken, it was displaced—badly, I knew we were in for challenging few weeks. The bones weren't even touching. My heart sank. He worked so hard this summer, giving up sleep and downtime to work on his passion. In one instant, it was snapped away.

Yesterday was our first visit to the orthopedic and confirmation that it will be eight weeks before he can return. That gives him the possibility of maybe playing in the last three games of the season, provided it heals well.

The good news is that he's young, still growing and will not need surgery. The collarbone heals well with no real residual issues. It's his non-dominant side (not his throwing arm) so that's even better news.

But there was only one thing Ryan heard yesterday—No football for eight weeks.

He looked at me once the doctor left the room with tears in his eyes and said, "Mom, I can't play for eights weeks?"

It sucks. It sucks when you work so hard for something only to see it snatched away in an instant. The tackle was an accident and we had warned him and the neighbor kids many times to play touch, not tackle for just this reason.

"I'm such an idiot! I let the team down," Ryan said.

He was bummed big-time when we got home. Not even three junior bacon cheeseburgers could change his mood. But after a while, his buddy Jake came over and having his friend (and right tackle) hanging around cheered him up. Grandma stopped over on her way home from work. Then a few of the seniors stopped by with wings from BW3. The phone started ringing as news spread. I was amazed by the support, particularly from the senior parents, in letting us know that he would get through this—that we all would get through this.

Their advice was so good. Get him back up to practice, tell him to ask the coaches to give him a job to do. There's much to learn about football just from watching how the linemen move, seeing how decisions are made, watching how the older players handle situations and just being around his friends.

Today is a new day. Ryan is still devastated that he can't play for a while. But he woke this morning, asked for some help getting cleaned up and had his dad drive him up to practice.

Sure he's disappointed, but he's a competitor and this is about his team. And he's not going to miss out on helping and supporting his teammates no matter how badly he feels about himself.

Heroes and tragedy

"Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy."
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Getting it in writing

My good friend TJ Sullivan has done a fantastic job of getting to the heart of freelancer issues in his Native Intelligence column on LA Observed.

TJ writes:
What's really going on here is the logical progression of media budget battles from the newsrooms of publication companies to the dining rooms of freelance writers and photographers.

With his own host of contract horror stories, including one that broke at the same time as the SPJ/NGS saga, resulting in his walking away from a paying gig, TJ writes poignantly about how the struggle for rights is a David and Goliath scenario. Certainly it's nothing new to independents:
It doesn't take long to imagine the logistical nightmare large publications would face if they allowed each and every independent writer or photographer to negotiate their own contract terms. For that reason, the one-size-fits-all agreement has been used, and verbally abused, by independents for years. But now, with more and more highly trained journalists being cut out of newsrooms and thrown on the freelancer woodpile, there might just be enough friction to light a fire. Already, many former full-timers have realized what their independent colleagues have known for years, that out here the rules are different.
(Bold is mine.)

He writes eloquently about the shift in trust that naturally occurs when you move from staffer to independent, an unwelcome change for most writers and, I suspect, many editors. He writes of the exhaustive time it takes to negotiate contracts and make even the simplest of changes, and he ponders how thousands of independents can effect meaningful change. Any suggestions?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Latest UB story: Urban Community School 'attuned' to different learning styles

My latest Catholic Universe Bulletin story ran on Friday. Unfortunately it is not available online. Here's the story:

Urban Community School 'attuned' to different learning styles
By Wendy A. Hoke

Celebrating learning differences fits well with the philosophy at Urban Community School (UCS), an independent Catholic School on Cleveland’s West Side. This past week the entire faculty has been in an intensive instruction designed to help them teach children better.

Susan Barnhart, a first and second grade teacher at UCS, took part in Schools Attuned last year and had the opportunity to put the ideas into practice during the school year.

“I’m taking master’s classes right now and brain research comes up in every class. We’re always talking about how students learn and putting that into the educational strategy,” she said.

Schools Attuned teaches educators about different learning styles, and how those can be tapped in the classroom.

The training, which will be implemented by all teachers this school year, is based on neurodevelopmental research done at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and our understanding of the constructs that affect learning such as language, spatial ordering, memory and higher order cognition.

“It has always been our philosophy at UCS that students learn in different ways, and to reflect that, our teaching focuses on individualized instruction rather than standardized lessons,” said Sister Maureen Doyle, school director. “The Schools Attuned program expands on that view.”

The training is intense and Barnhart admits she was a bit overwhelmed at first. But the ideas fell into place through the classroom training.

“When we become aware of different learning styles, the children become aware of that also,” explained Principal Pam Delly, who also participated in the training last year. “Students realize that it’s okay for them to do things differently and as a result you have a classroom free of humiliation.”

The idea behind this educational approach is to meet children where they are. Some are good at taking tests, some at making presentations, some need to tell teachers what they learned, and others prefer to use artistic representation.

“It becomes the norm that children are being assessed in different ways,” added Delly.

Barnhart said the result is that teachers feel a sense of freedom and flexibility in how they approach classroom instruction.

That’s why UCS is offering the training to its entire faculty. “It’s helpful if our staff all have the same vocabulary and understanding of what’s happening with our students,” said Delly. “It helps that teachers continue to build on student strengths versus student weaknesses.”

Another important component to the training is the staff-initiated collaboration that has developed. Teachers became interested in reading and discussing workshop creator Dr. Mel Levine’s book, “A Mind at a Time,” and held discussion groups to help familiarize everyone with the concepts.

“We met after hours and had a cross-section of different levels of teachers. It was great because we could take as much time as we needed as opposed to the classroom training time, which moves along quickly,” said Barnhart.

So what does Schools Attuned look like in the classroom?

Delly said that one younger child was proficient in reading, but didn’t enjoy the early reader series. The child was interested in architecture and started reading when presented with books about Cleveland architecture.

“Hopefully we will continue building on children’s interests, acknowledging that everyone learns differently and to appreciate and celebrate those differences,” said Delly.

Hoke is a freelance writer.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

SPJ withdraws support of amicus

I'd like to declare unequivocal victory on this front, but unfortunately irreparable damage was done to SPJ's reputation.

Here's how this whole issue began, between four people (president, secretary-treasurer/LDF chair, freelance committee chair and myself) on July 24:
Hello folks,
I was searching for advocacy news to share with some members when I came across the following news brief, which I found disturbing:

I would respectively ask that you consider the large and growing number of independent writers in this organization and their position, which may stand in stark contrast to that of a news organization. Please discuss any future issues of this nature with Kerri and members of the freelance committee to get a balanced view and to fairly represent ALL SPJ members.

Thank you,
Wendy Hoke

In response I got this:

I am happy to consult with freelancers anytime -- and I also urge freelancers to take the helm of national leadership so that they are an active part of the discussions and decisions that must be made for SPJ often in very short order. (Bold is mine.)

[And then...]

Any journalist must be careful to protect his or her rights. If people sign contracts, they must be adult enough to accept their terms. If they can't abide by a contract, they shouldn't sign it -- and they should certainly not contribute to that news organization. (Bold is mine.)

[And finally...]
If anyone raises any questions about this, please let me know. I would be happy to speak with them.


Kerri and I got this thing rolling, but it was the scores of other freelancers who carried the ball into the end zone. Thank you to all of you who weren't afraid to speak up and take a stand publicly.

To the headquarters staff I would say that I'm deeply sorry for starting this major distraction at such a critical time. You all work so hard on behalf of the organization and it's a shame more members don't have the pleasure of knowing you as I do. But please try to understand that this was something that could not be left unchallenged. It drifted far, far away from SPJ's mission. Once this decision was discovered, it was impossible for me to remove my journalist/member hat and look the other way.

To the other members of the national board, specifically those who fought and challenged and tried to reason on this one — I applaud your efforts and I certainly hope you don't think they were in vain. Damage has been done and it will be a long time—perhaps never—before freelancers will feel welcome again in SPJ. But I hope that doesn't mean you'll give up trying. I hope you are never hesitant to challenge when you feel something is amiss.

To the leadership ladder: Early in this discussion, Kerri and I warned of the potential damage this one decision could do. SPJ was one place where freelancers from all across the country (the world, actually) found common purpose and a voice. I'm sure you never counted on hearing from them so vociferously. But SPJ promised them something and then delivered them to the wolves. They were ready to fight because the stakes were so high--it was about their ability to get paid fairly for the work they do.

I learned very early on as a chapter and national leader that one of the most important skills a good leader should cultivate is the ability to listen. What I found most distressing was the choice to listen to legal counsel over your own members. That was your first and biggest mistake. And it was perpetuated for days on end by non-answers and promises that specifics would come. We are journalists and we would never accept such pat responses from people we cover. More importantly, neither would you.

Membership organizations only succeed when they have equal measures of inclusiveness, diplomacy, advocacy and support. Leadership is informed by guidance of people who have expertise in specific areas. That's what the SPJ committee structure provides—ready access to people who spend their volunteer time focused on one aspect of journalism. Their exclusion in this process was a failure of leadership.

While SPJ's initial decision on this amicus failed due to lack of inclusiveness, the attempt at a rationale failed in diplomacy.

I included the start of this conversation above because it was at this point that all of this could have been avoided. An acknowledgment that due process was not given this issue, that the impacted parties were not consulted and a pledge to review and do better next time was all it would have taken to stop this train wreck.

Instead, leadership took a high-handed, "we-know-best-you-couldn't-possibly-know-all-the-legal-ramifications" approach that disenfranchised an entire segment of membership and permanently tarnished the organization's image.

To date, I am aware of the following collateral damage: loss of one part-time staff member and longtime volunteer; loss of one national committee chair, longtime volunteer and former national board member; loss of one convention panel; loss of one contributor to The Journalist; years of hard work and goodwill on the part of many expended in one badly dealt hand.

For those freelancers who choose to stay and mend fences and find a way forward, I applaud your optimism. Some had suggested to me that this was a plot all along to rid the organization of independents so that it could focus on saving staff jobs.

That may be, but if it is then it would have been nice to know before freelancers started paying dues and paying their way to conventions that our presence was not appreciated nor welcome.

I take leave now of this matter that has so consumed me and many others these past few weeks. I hope we are all wiser and more informed about the repercussions of decisions we make. I know that I am. I continue to believe in the ideals of SPJ, but I cannot expend anymore energy in an organization so concerned with preserving one group that it's willing to sacrifice another.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Superheroes in the freezer

Maybe you need to have boys to appreciate the humor of this piece in Christian Science Monitor. But I laughed out loud, picturing the Office of the Director, Family Intelligence Agency (er, Mom) opening a leftover container to find a headless Han Solo action figure mixed in with the meatloaf. Boys! Sheesh! Reminds me of The supercollider in my basement.

Finding good company

"To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea of what he says, but to go off with him and travel in his company."
— French writer Andre Gide

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Because sometimes we need to be reminded

Three years ago, on the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Bill Moyers gave a rousing speech to journalists gathered in New York City. It was part scolding, part revival and part call to arms. Here are a few excerpts I wanted to share today:
[Edward] Wasserman acknowledges, as I do, that there is some world-class journalism being done all over the country today, but he went on to speak of "a palpable sense of decline, of rot, of a loss of spine, determination, gutlessness" that pervades our craft. Journalism and the news business, he concludes, aren't playing well together. Media owners have businesses to run, and "these media-owning corporations have enormous interests of their own that impinge on an ever-widening swath of public policy" -hugely important things, ranging from campaign finance reform (who ends up with those millions of dollars spent on advertising?) to broadcast deregulation and antitrust policy, to virtually everything related to the Internet, intellectual property, globalization and free trade, even to minimum wage, affirmative action, and environmental policy. "This doesn't mean media shill mindlessly for their owners, any more than their reporters are stealth operatives for pet causes," but it does mean that in this era when its broader and broader economic entanglements make media more dependent on state largesse, "the news business finds itself at war with journalism."
Methinks we need a reminder of this reality, particularly as the proposed Federal Shield Law moves forward and the language of who is and who is not covered remains too narrowly defined (one colleague this week suggested the test should be whether or not Tom Paine would be covered). Or when we're more concerned with image over substance, branding over values, bottom line over front page. When we're sufficiently blinded by our own comfort and self-righteousness that we actually believe that citizen journalists are to blame for the public perception of big media instead of recognizing its our own failures that are the cause of public distrust. (Who was it this week who said the worst thing to happen to journalism was the mortgage?)

If I ever doubted that my colleagues in newsrooms felt threatened by all this change, the events of the past few weeks have certainly plopped that reality right in my lap. Those outside of newsrooms don't share the same sense of foreboding about the news industry as those inside newsrooms. Spend a little time outside of newsrooms and you see opportunities for good journalism opening up all around. But you have to break out of your preconceived notion of where journalism happens.

[Dan Gillmor] … argues persuasively that Big Media is losing its monopoly on the news, thanks to the Internet - that "citizen journalists" of all stripes, in their independent, unfiltered reports, are transforming the news from a lecture to a conversation. He's on to something. In one sense we are discovering all over again the feisty spirit of our earliest days as a nation when the republic and a free press were growing up together. It took no great amount of capital and credit-just a few hundred dollars-to start a paper then. There were well over a thousand of them by 1840. They were passionate and pugnacious and often deeply prejudiced; some spoke for Indian-haters, immigrant-bashers, bigots, jingoists, and land-grabbers. But some called to the better angels of our nature-Tom Paine, for one, the penniless immigrant from England, who, in 1776, just before joining Washington's army, published the hard-hitting pamphlet, Common Sense, making its uncompromising case for American independence. It became our first best seller because Paine was possessed of an unwavering determination to reach ordinary people-to "make those that can scarcely read understand" and "to put into language as plain as the alphabet" the idea that they mattered and could stand up for their rights.
Maybe we're just waiting for someone to give us permission, maybe we're just waiting for the timing to be better, maybe we're just hoping that if we just stay quiet things will improve. And maybe the world is just waiting for us to finally stand up for our rights, no matter what the context.
I am reminded of the answer the veteran journalist Richard Reeves gave when asked by a college student to define "real news." "Real news," he said,"is the news you and I need to keep our freedoms."

Amen, Brother Moyers, Amen.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sherman's SPJ bombshell

Erik Sherman weighs in on Kerri's resignation and the SPJ National Geographic saga. Here's his bombshell:
When [Kerri] Fivecoat-Campbell asked the board about what seemed to be a conflict of interest, she was told that the law firm hadn’t done work for National Geographic since the 80s, and so there was no conflict.

Fivecoat-Campbell argued that once there was a financial tie, there is always at least the perception of a conflict. That’s easy enough to understand. The firm might want to woo back business it lost, and could be perceived as thinking of its own interests, or those of a “former” client, rather than the interests of SPJ and its members, which include editors and writers, both staff and freelance, but not, to my knowledge, publishers.

However, there is another complication. Today I called the office of a lawyer, at Baker Hostetler, who is identified on the web site as having represented National Geographic. I heard from the office that the firm still does work for the society. That raises the very large question of whose interest the law firm was supporting, and the equally big issue of why SPJ leadership decided to throw in with National Geographic.

I’ve called SPJ and both the acting executive director and the president elect have referred me to the organization’s president, who is currently on vacation. (I’ll provide an update when I hear something.)

Notice of my resignation

Here is the text of the notice of my resignation from SPJ, which went out on Friday:
I wanted to let you know that on Monday I resigned from my part-time position as Membership Manager of the Society of Professional Journalists. As most of you know, I’ve spent a lot of volunteer time over the years working on behalf of the organization at the local, regional and national level and still believe that its mission—to improve and protect journalism—is a worthy one.

However, it became clear to me last week that SPJ’s current direction is not to fulfill that mission for ALL journalists. Specifically, a small segment of its national leadership (elected, not staff) made what I believe was an uninformed decision that could be detrimental to freelance journalists, one of the few segments of its membership that was actually growing. After spending four years advocating for independent journalists, I found myself unable to sell an organization that says one thing to attract such members and acts in another to potentially cripple those members in their ability to negotiate fairly for rights and compensation, indeed to survive professionally.

The decision to sign on to an amicus brief in support of National Geographic over a freelancer along with other media organizations (not “journalism advocacy organizations” as was originally stated in the press release), made without the input of the national freelance committee, has the appearance (and note I say “appearance”) of a conflict in that it was recommended by SPJ’s legal counsel, which also lists National Geographic as a media client.

More importantly, I see this decision as a fundamental shift in the Society’s advocacy from never weighing in on labor/management issues because it has both in its membership to now weighing in on behalf of publishers (management) over freelancers (labor). SPJ had no reason to take a legal stand either way. We were the lone journalism advocacy organization along with the Time Inc.’s, Conde Nasts, Hearsts, Gannetts and Forbes of the world. In fact, it's not even clear that the case is ongoing.

In my resignation letter I indicated that I would be spending more time on my journalism and less time advocating for journalists. That’s not entirely true. I am spending more time on journalism. But I’m also a firm believer that you get what you give, so of course I will be doing what I can to help other journalists—just not through SPJ.

As most of you also know (some more than others), I have never hesitated to point out when I think the Society has gone astray. I do not regret my doing so on this issue, despite my staff position. I was willing to sacrifice financially and professionally on this point.

As a freelancer, I have to make careful choices about where I invest my money. I thought SPJ had my back, but this decision and the subsequent conversations have proved otherwise.

I do, however, remain hopeful that SPJ will find its way back to its mission through the many wonderful, talented and dedicated people who comprise its membership. I am proud to count so many as friends. In addition, I consider myself fortunate to have worked closely with a fantastic staff who work tirelessly to support the membership. My regret is that I’m no longer able to work with such a talented group of individuals.

Thank you for your support over the years! Keep in touch and perhaps we will one day work together again.

My best,
Wendy Hoke

SPJ loses another gem

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell, who served for the past year as Freelance Committee Chair, spent time on the national board as a regional director and served the Kansas City Press Club pro chapter, has resigned from her committee position and renounced her membership in SPJ in the wake of the Faulkner v. National Geographic debacle.

Kerri worked tirelessly for freelancers and promoted SPJ to non-members at every turn. She repeatedly made the case for freelancers to join on forums, fighting against the perception that the organization is filled with newspaper staffers and PR flaks. She felt strongly that it was a good place where ALL freelancers could find support and camaraderie without going through a juried process found in other organizations.

As it turns out, the perception that SPJ does not care about freelancers is painfully apparent. Leadership of the organization is now in the hands of people who disdain independent journalists, indeed who are in management themselves. May their organization's ad revenue never fall short and may they never find themselves a freelancer one day as a result, fighting for the very rights they so freely gave away.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Out of commission today

I've got six inches of storm water in my basement this morning, so I'm pretty much out of commission the rest of the day. Ugh! Just waiting for it to stop raining long enough for the water to recede so the long, slow cleanup can begin.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Speak up!

From NY Time's Paper Cuts book blog:
[U.S. Poet Laureate Charles] Simic has also written, in a 1995 essay called “In Praise of Invective,” these ringing words: “There are moments in life when true invective is called for, when there comes an absolute necessity, out of a deep sense of justice, to denounce, mock, vituperate, lash out, rail at in the strongest possible language.” (bold is mine)

Those words could applied to many things today. Been ruminating on how we live in a society that talks about free speech, but does not really hold it as a fundamental value. How many times do we hear the words from well-meaning family members, friends, colleagues: "keep the peace," "hold your tongue," "it is what it is," "you can't change their mind," "it won't matter." Makes me want to scream. Dwight Garner continues:
Simic has, among this country’s poets, a singular kind of moral authority on issues of war and peace.

Born in Belgrade in 1938, he knew war as a child. “Germans and the Allies took turns dropping bombs on my head while I played with my collection of lead soldiers on the floor,” Simic told The Cortland Review. “I would go boom, boom, and then they would go boom, boom.”

And he said in the Times today: “I’m sort of the product of history; Hitler and Stalin were my travel agents.”

War and morality are subjects Simic has spoken about often, and according to a 2005 interview in The Paris Review, they are always on his mind: “The use of murder to improve the world, for instance, is popular in American intellectual circles as if there had never been any historical precedents. I think about these things all the time.”

It would be a shame if he stopped thinking about them now.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Stories hold the universe together

Hat tip to Michelle for sharing this wonderful thought. Michelle found it in Amy Lansky's book, "Impossible Cure," about how her son was cured of autism with homeopathy. I'm sharing it for its beautiful, simple message about humanity and the power of narrative.
"Conventional medicine conveniently dismisses stories as 'anecdotes'-but I recall a wonderful tale about Steven Hawking, the theoretical physicist...Evidently one of his graduate students had just penetrated the notion that all these little subatomical particles didn't have a material presence in the Newtonian billiard-ball sense at all, but were rather transient arrangements of energy...Lost in his disorientation...[he] asked Hawking what held the universe together. Hawking leaned back in his wheelchair and said, 'Stories.'"
-Will Taylor, MD, 1997

Saturday, August 04, 2007

James Taylor - Something In the Way She Moves - Live Concert

Oh Dave posted James Taylor singing, "Carolina On My Mind" as a song that's meaningful to him.

Made me thing of "Something the Way She Moves," which has always been a favorite of mine. When JT sings, "i feel fine anytime she's around me now," my heart is filled with bliss.

What song is meaningful to you?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Moving on...

Isn't it easier to go with the flow rather than take an unpopular stand?

It's neater certainly, tidier in many ways. But what if you feel so strongly that you cannot sit back and are willing to sacrifice professionally and financially for something you believe?

Does modern society even value such a position?

These are the questions that have gone through my head as I made the decision to rant here and to resign from my part-time position as Membership Manager for the Society of Professional Journalists.

In a nutshell, top officers decided to join major media companies in an amicus brief supporting National Geographic over a freelance photographer. The photographer was suing to get paid for reuse of his work in an anniversary CD ROM. The work dates back to the 1980s before freelancers even knew what "electronic uses" were. Without ever stating what dog SPJ had in that fight, I discovered that SPJ's legal counsel at Baker Hostetler recommended such action. It also lists National Geographic Society as one of its media clients (along with SPJ). I don't know if that played a part in the decision, but absent any other explanation, it certainly appears to have played a role.

At the very least, this was a decision that was made recklessly and without full input of those most affected by its precedent—freelancers. At worst, it was an ethical breach and a break from SPJ's long history of not weighing in on labor/management issues because it has members from both constituencies. Somehow that position is okay for staffers, but not for independents. I was left scratching my head and clearly the top leaders didn't feel a need to answer my questions about the decision.

In the immediate aftermath, I questioned my reasons for wanting to help other journalists. What was I really hoping to gain? Was it selfishness? Pride? Or was it my own sense that someone had to speak up for others who weren't able or willing to speak up for themselves? I like to think it was the latter, but maybe my ego also was served by my involvement.

Monday night was a sleepless one as I tossed and turned, ran conversations through my head, came up with things I should have said or should have said better. That day and night felt very lonely and isolating, as if the good works I had spent fours years on were suddenly erased by my decision to take a forceful stand.

I was the only one in a position to do so. No one else even knew about the decision until I discovered it by accident. Someone had to shine the light and I was in the unique position to be able to do so.

But did anyone else even care? In the wee hours, I would go to my laptop and with my hands over the keyboard, hesitate to type what was on my mind: How journalists routinely expect sources to blow the whistle, to take a stand, but would never do so themselves. I spoke up and lashed out against my own and that night I felt sealed off.

No doubt there is a certain segment who will seal me out permanently. I have to let them go. But as the week wore on, I received support from good people who were sorry to see me go, but were trying hard to understand my reasoning. Most didn't ask for particulars and I didn't share unless they asked. Many more just figured it must have been something extreme for me to take such a stand.

I've fallen on my SPJ sword, taking such a drastic and dramatic step so that others in the organization may look up and say, "What the heck is going on here?" I hope that's the case, but I'm letting go of the outcome.

Because as the week wore on, I found the constant pain in my left shoulder evaporating. I took a two-hour nap on Tuesday afternoon in which I was practically unconscious. I feel a growing calm and peace with my decision. And I feel a sense of excitement at the future possibilities.

One door closes, another one opens. I'm moving on.

I would never presume to encourage others to make a similar decision as I have. This is personal and it's tough. I made so many friends and had so many opportunities through SPJ. Those things will continue. People will continue to join, renew and volunteer for SPJ. I don't begrudge them their support at all. I only know that for myself, selling and supporting an organization that doesn't speak for me as a freelance journalist became impossible the minute the national officers publicly signed on to a legal decision that supported publishers over freelancers.

In my resignation letter, I mentioned that I would be spending more time on my journalism and less time advocating for other journalists. That isn't entirely true. It's in my nature to help others and so I will continue to advocate for freelance journalists, just not through SPJ.

The fortunate thing in all of this is that I now have 20 hours more per week in which to be a freelance journalist. And that opens up a world of reporting and writing possibilities.

My shingle is back outside my door and I am open for more business.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Story Corps in Cleveland today

I'd love to listen in on some of the stories. What a great opportunity! Get downtown today to share your story with others.

There's a new writer in town...

... and her name is Michelle O'Neil.

If you get a moment today, please stop by Full Soul Ahead written by Michelle O'Neil and check out her magnificent, soulful writing.

She's new to Cleveland, having moved here from Virginia earlier this summer. She found me by Googling Cleveland writers. And she's been kind enough to read and comment regularly here on Creative Ink.

We met for coffee at Dewey's at Shaker Square last week and had a lovely conversation. Originally a journalist, she went to school to try doing something more meaningful like nursing.

Today she combines both aspects of her professional life into some of the richest, most personal writing. Her inspiration comes from her children Riley and Seth.

To get a glimpse at how beautiful a child with special needs can be, check out this entry.

Mostly, I hope you'll take a moment to welcome her to town. She's a beautiful addition to our writing community.

Welcome, Michelle!