May 16, 2009

Daughter graduates to next phase of cancer battle

chemo postLike many proud parents, I bawled like a baby as my daughter crossed into a new phase of her life on graduation day.

Actually, I spilled the tears in the cancer center's family nutrition room while thanking a hospital volunteer. OK, I cried when she hugged me but that's another post.

Yes, my daughter has finished her 16th chemo treatment and we move on. The latest scans show the largest tumors have shrunk. In fact, Friday we spent about 90 minutes with a physician's assistant and nurse prepping for and learning about surgery, now scheduled for June 4.

Certificate marks end

On that last chemo day, she received a certificate signed by many of the folks who have helped pour the chemicals into her body since December.

There also was a nicely wrapped basket of her favorite granola bars - the kind she says still taste like granola bars - from the volunteer who brings a cart filled with granola bars, candy kisses, magazines, homemade hats to those getting chemo and those waiting with them.

Will it surprise anyone that my daughter now knows the volunteer was drawn to the center by a friend who has cancer and plans to volunteer more now that her paid job is history? She pulled that out when the volunteer found her getting the last treatment in a private room with a bed and not in the long hall of chemo chairs that made people watching easier.

Gifts mark start, end of chemo
It's nice that gifts marked the start and finish of her chemo treatments. At her first session, she sat next to a "veteran" whose brother Mark Slaven was visiting. The glass artist had brought along some pendants of dichroic glass that hospital employees were buying. He offered one to my daughter.

We were not sure if the last treatment would happen as planned. But a rushed visit to the family doctor the afternoon before for an infected toe started an infusion of drugs that got the infection and fever under enough control to allow the scheduled chemo. That's good because my daughter was hyper about finishing this phase.

I borrowed an idea spotted at a meeting of the Young Survival Coalition and made my daughter a bracelet marking this important day and journey. I wanted her to have something pretty to remember the positives.

Visualizing chemo at work

hatchetmanMy daughter visualized the ICP Hatchet Man chasing the cancer cells out of her body with his hatchet so I found that charm.

I pictured straight lines of liquids rushing through her body, slowly converting the bad into something beautiful. That led to an image of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon so 16 crystal butterflies end slivers of silver on the bracelet. Four of them are bright pink as the drugs for the first four sessions were bright pink. The rest are a pale pink.

Ironically, we shared the butterfly image as I learned a week earlier she was on the Internet looking for butterfly pins to give out on her last day. (She settled for pink ribbon pins.)

A cheerleader charm and heart-shaped bead represent the support that came her way. Praying hands hang there as a reminder of all the powerful prayers and spiritual resources sent our way. (Please, keep them coming)

Txt me please

A cellphone suggests the text messages that linked my daughter with me, my friends and me, my daughter and friends. The messages received as I drove from the Girl Scout conference in Indianapolis to my daughter's home in Tennessee ensured I regularly took road breaks. During the first days, the messages were the relief from the intense decisions as I learned to live in a town where I knew two people.

I believe we exchanged at least 100 messages - hey, I had questions and mom suggestions - the time I was too sick to go with her to the hospital for an infected eye. We could have done more over that 22-hour visit but her phone died. She left her charger at home because Ms. Optimist thought it would be a short visit.

newspaper purseCrafting toward cure

She has given my sewing machines quite the workout, embroidering towels and creating purses from newspaper and material. I hope the sewing machine charm also reminds her of the blankets, hats, blankets and bags she has crocheted. Oh, and the craft projects, which I will see whenever I see my dining table.

The symbol of breast cancer, a pink ribbon, encircles another silver heart that completes the silver bracelet.

Silver goes with the pink, yellow and purple rubber bracelets that alert all to her causes or condition.

The pink one is from her boyfriend, who walked in an American Cancer Society fund-raiser the month my daughter discovered a lump in her breast.

The yellow one is from the Lance Armstrong Live Strong effort, a gift from the people I was with in Indy when the diagnosis was made by a shocked doctor.

The purple one is from the maker of her port, implanted to make soften the impact of the 16 chemo treatments and a year of Herceptin.

Next up: Surgery

I'm glad that the first phase is over. Her hair and eyebrows are growing back in. She's lifting weights and doing yoga though she learned Friday that a lot of yoga poses will be banned for her soon.

She has decided to just take out the lumps and lymph nodes instead of getting rid of the whole breast. It means six weeks of daily radiation and we're told that recurrence rate is about the same. The surgeon can see the advantages of doing the first.

But I hear the surgeon also say that the option allows hanging onto the breast for awhile, through the all important 30s, perhaps the 40s. That is good news, you know, that we are talking of 30s and 40s. But I also hear the probability of another operation.

Plus, I hear the surgeon say her breast size would allow three attempts of ensuring the lab finds no cancer cells in the tissue removed.

I think I have poured all of my positive energy into my daughter and am left with the negative vibes that say just get it over with and take the whole breast now. But that's not my decision to make.

Changing priorities

Our optimism kroger purse has given way to a more practical approach - I'm not going to squeeze in the freelance job that would have taken nearly every daytime hour during the the "free weeks" between chemo and surgery and we are not going to travel the nine hours to her home to check on the job and catchup with friends in Tennessee.

Instead, we'll stay home. Katie hopes to stitch up some more purses, dishcloths, embroidered towels and other items to sell at our neighborhood garage sale and craft shows. We're also hoping to go through items and see what else might garner some cash during the event we've always been too busy to participate in before.

I'm thinking a little rest would be good too.

Why write well

“Writing well means never having to say, ‘I guess you had to be there.’”
—Jef Mallett

I found this quote looking for a good web site about Jef Mallett, who I wrote about in a post on commenting. It's over on Meranda Writes, a blog by a reporter who loves newspapers and works for an "information center." Actually, her blog will show that what she really loves is journalism and understands why newspapers report their woes. What would you expect from someone who tags her blog with "curious by nature, journalist by trade?"

May 15, 2009

Surprises unnecessary in "comment here"

FrazzComments online intrigue me and a Frazz comic inspires me to speak up today.

I'm a gray person who often wears rose-colored glasses so it is as hard for me to completely dismiss all comments as useless as it is to see news organizations abandon acquired skills of managing and monitoring community conversations just because the mode of delivery changed.

Let's start with the what and move onto where.

Life is a series of patterns and the Internet is no different. Stay online long enough and you know that some people will always say the same thing, that some themes will prompt certain responses and that the time of year can influence what's being said.

That's also what I learned by reading printed letters to the editor. And, oh my, those ideas were hammered home the three times my work obligations included sorting and picking what to print.

I get to decide

So over the years, I've learned that people will say and believe just about anything. That helps me decide where I want to read comments and when I want to jump into the fray.

I also have learned that only some sites or some parts of sites are more likely to offer "some kind of Socratic discourse" so if that's what I want now that's where I go. Unfortunately, I rarely find that I'm going to places hosted by news sites even when I want discussion about the news.

Wasted talent

Many news sites started by print organizations do not use their years of experience handling discussion on opinion pages effectively online. Perhaps it is a matter of letting the medium frighten them into not using their developed skills, time and talent.

I'm not alone in my amazement as a recent Online-News discussion revealed so I can only hope that those who can make changes read "why comments suck" and "if you're not doing comments right, you shouldn't do them at all."

Howard Owens
has suggested comments might be like the mother-in-law who won't shut up at Thanksgiving dinner.
"She seems necessary, after all she brought the pie, but she really isn't very entertaining and sometimes offensive. And she's probably the main reason your sister and her family decided to stay with her husband's parents."
Improve comments, not mother-in-law

Owens wisely sticks with the possible by sharing ideas on how to improve comments:
  • Make one person responsible for watching over the community conversation,
  • Require all writers to read and respond,
  • Get rid of libelous statements quickly,
  • Make sure community knows you take conversation seriously and
  • Require real names.
Dan Conover also suggested that something as simple as allowing pictures or avatars can help improve the quality of comments by cementing identities. Sometimes, knowing that public comments are associated with your online personality and reputation is enough to stop what some of us consider ridiculous comments.

Actions guide outcomes

Conover says comments suck because news sites:
  • Don't value them,
  • Don't touch them,
  • Don't have time,
  • Are afraid and
  • Are not a community
But Conover offers hope by suggesting news sites improve their comments. For those with good tools, improvements might start simply by wiping out the old comments ("rebooting the system") and investing staff time. Think of reallocating some of the letters editor time online. He also suggests:
  • get better tools and learn to use them,
  • stop making excuses and
  • learn to talk to people.

Transforming comments into gold

Talking (and listening) to people is what got The Plain Dealer's Robert Schoenberger on the Beatbloggers Leaderboard without a blog. Patrick Thornton explained:
"Schoenberger wrote a story about UAW rallies in downtown Cleveland, where workers called on Washington to protect GM and Chrysler plants in the area. The story drew heated comments on both sides, because of the contentious nature of this issue. Many commenters don’t believe the auto industry should be singled out for a bailout, while other industries sink."
Thornton said The Plain Dealer recently called on reporters to interact more, and this story shows why interaction can help make a better product.
"Schoenberger enters the comments and provides additional facts and figures. His presence helped make the comments less volatile, despite this being a topic with passionate people on both sides. Most of all, however, he helped make better journalism by directly responding to claims made by commenters."
Go away, please

Read the Leaderboard for more insights into what the reporter is doing with comments as an illustration of why news sites investing time on comments is worth the time, talent and money.

I encourage you to read Xark's Why comment suck and "If you're not doing comments right, you shouldn't do them at all."

Still have time? Head over to Nancy Nall's post on The Whatever BBQ but finish up with the comments on Snow Flu Day to see how community conversations can become as interesting as the original post.

Consider also spending some time on the Save the Media post reacting to the Wall Street Journal rules for social media.

What's in your reader?

Meanwhile, I'll ponder why so few folks who stumble through here ever comment in public and wonder what Jef Mallet, who creates Frazz, and the Stephan Pastis, who creates Pearls Before Swine, are reading online.

May 14, 2009

Skill with language sets tone for Grimm speech

Laughter is not a bad thing and when putting together the post on the need for department stores, newspapers and journalists, I realized that I hadn't shared a speech that Joe Grimm gave to the American Copy Editors. The multi-talented guy exhibits his skill with spoonerisms, certainly appreciated by language lovers at the conference. "Bet gizzy!"

Department stores, newspapers and journalists no longer necessary?

Last week, the Buzz Bin posted old news: Newspapers are like Department Stores. It's just one more of many opinion pieces explaining why the printed product is failing. Still head over to the Buzz Bin post to learn why the mall is like the internet and why two mass market products, newspapers and department stores are failing rapidly. It's a post documented with links.

The comparison between newspapers and department stores isn't new to those who read That's the Press, Baby, a blog that carries the tagline "The future of newspapers, copy editing, and how it all relates, like everything else, to department stores."

David Sullivan, a full-time journalist since 1975 and recently home from the American Society of Copy Editors conference, has long been interested in department stores as well as journalism.

In his latest post, he recalls a time at The Flint Journal when local news copy editors were deemed unnecessary. That memory is just part of a post that looks at the dustup over the Tribune Co.'s layoff of design and copy editors and moves on to look at the jobs required in news organizations. Those future jobs will require some sort of copy editor because it's wrong to believe:
"that reporting staffs of the future are going to be composed of flawless wordsmiths whose writing will tumble into pre-formatted spaces in print or online, with little benefit of human intervention."
Sullivan explains that the Gods of Newspapers "made copy editors to make copy better, approachable, intelligible, and well presented. They are journalists, not mechanics."

He encourages copy editors to break out of past patterns and make sure the editors above them realize that copy editing is an editing job, one that will help information produced by trained and talented journalists stand out in the flow of information delivered online and off.

Sullivan's post starts off with another line of thought that I think a growing number of people in and outside of the industry are spending more time on: Are journalists really that special?

Sullivan says "Readers could give a flying fig" about who Steve Yelvington, Charles Apple or TTPB are and their dispute about the need for copy or design editors.

The idea of journalists having a better opinion of themselves than their audiences came up in discussions following Michigan State University's ReThink the News symposium. Three groups spent time dreaming what the news product needs to be and how to get there. A common theme in the reporting out of those ideas was the need to do a better job of promoting the value that journalists bring to the table.

There also was an overwhelming thread that the businesses now producing news are the ones best qualified to keep providing the community good of news coverage if funding can be found.

But maybe funding isn't the real issue.

Dave Winer is not the first to suggest "journalists are already an anachronism." Over on his Scripting News, he suggests that journalists need to believe their value was permanent, much like homeowners need to believe that the value of their houses is what they paid for them.
"I own a home myself, it's worth a lot less than I paid for it. I'm not happy about that, but as an adult I accept it. The same kind of acceptance is required of everyone who earns a living in journalism. And the higher up the ladder you climbed in your career, the harder that must be to accept."
Winer is exploring the idea of cleansing journalism in Rebooting the News #9, and why mainstream media is lashing out at him for arguing for change:
"If they did the job they say they do, following the truth where ever it leads, we would have avoided a lot of problems. But they don't do that. They avoid risks, like most people. They aren't the swashbuckling and courageous investigators portrayed in the movies. They're gray, average people who feel superior to the rest of us. And that veneer is disappearing now. "
At the Rethinking the News sessions, there was some talk about what will happen if newspapers go dark because ideas like a property tax or Chamber of Commerce dues to fund news in a community fail.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey, who is managing editor for Model D, was able to point to Hamtramck 's reaction to the closing of its community newspaper as one example. Those interested in seeing coverage continue are meeting, brainstorming ideas and figuring out different ways to ensure information is shared in timely ways. (One way the self-forming groups are exploring is using students to collect and share news.)

So maybe we will all end up shopping at Wal-Mart, reading one national newspaper and getting the rest of our information at the community coffee shop, or mixed in with the papers our kids bring home from school or in our RSS feeds.

Maybe not.

May 12, 2009

Words work wonders in relieving my stress

I stumbled across comforting words in a blog post on on a night I was irritated by what seemed to be a useless, unorganized meeting that followed another chorus of "why did you buy that?"

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundred of ways to kneel and kiss the ground”

-Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi

Years ago, I would remember the words to remind myself how important it is to "love what we do, do what we love" as I contemplated leaving journalism.

The quote, with a focus on love what we do, came back when I accepted a buyout that would allow me time to determine where my next paychecks should originate.

But when I read the words in Doug Berch's "Embracing the Creative Life" post, it was the part about hundreds of ways to kneel that spoke directly to me.

Doug, who makes beautiful dulcimers and music, reflected how an older friend had advised him as a teenager that creative people don't always fit into the mainstream and happiness is not the same for all.

The Michigan man's blending of words helped me see that different approaches can all be right. He was speaking of passionate people in pursuit of creativity. I heard that all meetings don't have to follow the published agendas, all resources don't have to treat comments the same way and that it is OK that I prefer big, get-it-all-now shopping trips while others want buy-only-when-it's-on the list excursions.

Or as George and Ira Gershwin said in 1937 and the feuding Holly Harper and Sarah Whedon sang in the May 3 "Brothers and Sisters" TV show
"You like potato and I like potahto,
You like tomato and I like tomahto;

Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!
...We better call the calling off off.

Newhouses praised for Star-Ledger cuts

The Star-Ledger in New Jersey ispraised for how upcoming pay cuts were determined. David Cay Johnson, in a post on Poynter, liked that the % cut varied by amount earned. That doesn't please a reporter who suggested the loyal, longtime staff suffer more under the plan.

Johnson, who added up the newly required copays for health coverage, suggested the news staff might start paying closer attention to paying for health care on the news pages as staff members start shelling out more for their own care.

May 11, 2009

Spring ritual: Visit MSU for burst of journalism inspiration

Update: Some folks will twitter about the event using #rethinknews hash tag. New web site:

Michigan State University is one of the major places I learned about journalism, earning a bachelor's degree years ago from the College of Communication Arts, exploring my first business and management courses and learning by doing at the award-winning student newspaper that came out five days a week.

Today, I return to the campus for my annual burst of journalism inspiration.

Three years ago, it was to learn more about the American Press Institute's Newspaper Next. Last year, I started my buyout-funded sabbatical with a frustrating day at API's progress report on the program designed to get newspaper's innovating their way to success. (By the way, API says Newspaper Next is Alive with things like the CEO Summits and other resources.)

Today, the journalism school has organized a forum on In Search of a New Journalism. The press release says "a dynamic mix of journalists, news consumers, students, entrepreneurs, academics and innovators from outside journalism" are coming for a daylong summit so that the 100-year-old j-school can take a "leadership role in redefining journalism and seeking fresh ideas and perspectives on creating viable business models."

As Jane Briggs-Bunting, director of the School of Journalism, notes in the official press release Michigan is becoming a hotbed of innovation as the Ann Arbor Press morphs into Ann, three mid-Michigan newspapers move forward by dropping four days of print editions and the Detroit News and Free Press offers e-editions, newsstand-only editions and limits home delivery editions.

John Bebow suggested some of the folks invited in a post on the Center for Michigan:
  • Amber Arellano: Detroit News, writes a weekly Monday online column
  • John Bebow: Executive Director, The Center for Michigan
  • Bill Emkow: Editor-in-Chief of
  • Jonathan Morgan (MODERATOR): Multiplatform Editor at the Detroit News
  • Aaron Olson: MSU journalism student
  • Clare Ramsey: Managing editor of ModelD, a website that creates "a new narrative of Detroit."
  • Professor Joe Walther from MSU's Department of Communication.
I'm heading to East Lansing to be a part of the audience for the afternoon session, which will be broadcast on SpartanTV from 1:30-4 p.m.

I'll let you know what's up.

Sharing the blues, sharing the doubts

Our household finally managed to nab a copy of the movie Doubt when I'm having lots of doubts.

I want to grab the opening lines as they echo what is behind the silence in this blog when there is so much happening with Advance Publications - more cuts at the Post-Standard in Syracuse and at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the magazine Portfolio closing, and Tina Brown speaking out the "Quake at Conde Nast." (And between the time I wrote this and actually publish, more cuts at the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.)

The Bacon Blog post The Ann Arbor News : Homicide or Suicide gets plenty of chatter. Then, posts job descriptions and talks about advertising models and a group of guys so interested in sports go on the radio to give their strong ideas of how must work to survive and the future of journalism in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

So much to talk about, yet I'm reluctant to post for fear strong feelings will cloud my judgment, let me forget fairness, toss out the belief that good will prevail. Published words are so hard to pull back even when we believe what we write to be true at the time.

It was a year ago that I said goodbye to a Flint Journal paycheck. It was six months ago that I learned my 25-year-old had breast cancer. This is the week that tests will reveal if the chemo treatments worked enough to let her avoid a mastectomy.

The end of the month brings its own pressures for freelancers. And, as I have posted before, there are the challenges of medical billings, misplaced prescriptions and required paperwork to keep folks at a nursing home and Social Security happy.

There's enough on my plate that I probably should have closed myself off from the Internet, my hometown newspaper and other bluesmakers.

The Flint Journal's Andrew Heller, columnist and blogger, shares his decision to leave the safeness of a newspaper paycheck, drop his radio show and see what's there in a world you negotiate alone. He leaves with a promise of a print home for his column and online site for his blog. I pray that his promise is not broken like others have been, knowing it doesn't matter as his abilities assure he will survive, find a way to still support the family he brags about so loudly.

A sports reporter signs his exit papers and we trade hopeful blurbs via Facebook. I'm sorry, but I worry about what's next for him and the others who had survived earlier buyouts and layoffs but now face the unemployment line. I know they liked me best when I brought donuts or pizza, not when I begged for online updates - first please. And now I read what they share and worry as people once did about me.

An editor who once worked for me as a reporter, who never forgot a birthday or missed a chance to cheer, who deserved so much more respect and love then she got, slipped out quietly, ending years of service without the fanfare she engineered for so many before her. Her choice, I'm sure.

I watch people building new lives. The classroom is popular. One journalist interviews for a teaching spot many states away, which explains why the move back home with the 'rents months ago. Others also are back in school, aiming for a teaching certificate or jobs in the medical field.

Another writer spends her first time as a substitute teacher in the same week some cheered her in a building that housed shows, exhibits and more that she once wrote about. It seems like it was a hard first time, but her stories will carry on, carry her through.

It is not just the newsroom that is emptying., so there are more changes I feel as those in accounting, circulation or the warehouse or wherever are leaving the company they planned to work for until retirement.

And why do I understand that the men in the glass offices have hearts, have feelings, and yes, have families who love them. There is no pleasure in doing the difficult task of trying to make the Titanic avoid an iceberg. The optimist in me believes they struggle, fear the unknown and wish for a way to continue on without disrupting lives.

And even as I recognize the humaness of those who orchestrated the changes - fewer people, fewer benefits, less salary, fewer newspapers - I wonder if the fact that the changes are announced ignited unnecessary angst. Would those in the trenches devise different solutions?

The salaries once paid were set and gradually increased when the newspaper's circulation was higher, when the majority of employees' neighbors worked on the line and not behind counters or driveup windows, when a business was more likely to be family owned and unique.

I understand that. I see the conflicts. But then I stumble across a help-wanted ad in my newspaper. Wham.

Why is Valley Publishing seeking reporters and other help?

The ad, with its awkward phrasing and horrible online translation, illustrates what is scary about the attempt to forge a future from a business still weighted by a past. If the positions were for a start-up company, people would be excited about opportunities. But this collection of words advertises for people to fill posts once held by people now looking for new jobs.

A public silence masks fierce discussions lobbied through emails, heated calls, snarky tweets and anonymous comments. Scrambling to find answers becomes an exercise in frustration. New jobs or old? Voluntary layoffs? Who to believe when each believes they tell only the truth?

And really, what right do I have to raise any of these questions?

I am clearing out my feeds, able again to read about the layoffs, the dreams of others, and I stumble across the Ink-Drained Kvetch' post on the fighting through the blues.

Oh my. Is this funk a universal one birthed by curmudgeons, layoffs and buyouts? Can I stop fearing I am like May Boatwright of The Secret Life of Bees, in need of my own wailing wall to throw off the pain I collect from others.

The Ink-Drained kvetch reminds me how well Molly Ivins summed up what I feel:

“I don’t so much mind that newspapers are dying — it’s watching them commit suicide that pisses me off."

That quote also reminds me why I can raise the questions in hope of answers. I care about journalism, the future of news. Sometimes asking questions is all that I can do - right after I count to 10 (or higher) to ensure I'm cool enough to think things through.

Possible related posts
Do layoffs make journalists blue or is everything just ducky after leaving newspapers?