February 20, 2009

My house became a home 26 years ago today

Enough boxes had been unpacked. Enough furniture was bartered, begged and bought to fill at least some of the space in the two-story pink house. Enough money was saved up to buy food and drink for invited guests and to host a grown-up party.

It was time for a party to celebrate my purchase of my very own house, to celebrate my independence and willingness to live on my own unafraid of stalkers, to celebrate my decision to stay in Flint, Michigan, for at least five more years.

Three months earlier, I found a house I could divide and sublet to help cover the monthly mortgage. It was within walking distance of my employer in a neighborhood I already had spent nearly four years in. Friends, museums and music were nearby.

In 1982, few single women bought houses in Flint, Michigan. But I was determined to invest in the city and listen to my grandfather who preached that renting was like throwing your money in the garbage and move on with the lifestyle I chose. Only a year earlier, I acknowledged it would be a bigger mistake to continue a six-year marriage and divorced the man I fell for during the dreamlike days of college. We had already spent three of those years living apart; it was time to sever the last ties.

It took a year to recover emotionally and financially from the official action of separation. But I was ready and started looking for the right house.

I checked the house closely with a friend who knew a lot about electricity, plumbing and carpentry. I looked over the city inspection records (and later learned why it's important to check the relationship of the inspector and property owner). I reviewed property assessment records to make sure I offered a fair price.

With the help of a last-minute loan to pay unexpected costs, I signed the papers that tied me to real estate payments for 30 years. With the help of a few friends and family, I moved in shortly before Christmas.

The next weeks were spent removing features I hated - gold wallpaper with black flocking, for instance, - and getting things comfortable.

I was also getting comfortable with something unusual - a steady relationship with one man. In fact, since I left one date to go on one with this guy in early December I'd spent at least part of every day with him. That was unusual for a woman who dated many or none since moving out in 1979 and divorcing in 1981.

Still marriage was not on my mind - been there, done that.

I picked the date for the open house, ready to celebrate my independence with family and friends. The invites were out, RSVPs started coming back, and I was ready to share my new home with all.

I don't remember the exact date this new guy and I started talking about the possibility of a more permanent relationship. We kept talking, meeting each other's families, talking, exploring and talking.

Then one day, we slipped from someday to now. In fact, we decided let's get married and tell everyone when they come to the open house. It would be a simple exchange of wedding vows followed by an already planned celebration.

In a moment of sanity, we told our parents, brothers and sisters. Suddenly, the plans expanded to include a wedding day breakfast following the ceremony in our living room. The 30 or so members of our immediate family from the Detroit area, Ohio and Flint-area communities wanted to witness the marriage.

The wedding was a surprise to most friends who came to the open house. Many said they were not surprised we had tied the knot, just that we would do so after knowing each other less then four months.

The weather was another surprise that day - warm enough that people did not need a jacket to stand outside on the porch. Somehow, a spring day snuck into a Michigan winter.

Another surprise was the birth of our Leap Day baby a year later.

Surprises continue to come into our lives. But I wasn't surprised that roses came today with a note that says "the honeymoon isn't over yet."

Neither is the making of our home together.

Caught my eye: Police blotters

Could ex-journalists who once covered the crime beat make money with their own online crime report? It's an idea Jim of L-Town and some other mid-Michigan boughtout journalists explored and rejected.

I think that's why this paragraph jumped out in the Baltimore Police Blotter turns 30 article:
"What is suprising to me is that the while newspapers shed features once thought sacrosanct, such as stock tables, the blotter remains one of the most popular items in both print and web formats. People complain when it's not in the paper, and the words "police blotter" are among the most searched for terms on our Internet site."
The writer, Peter Hermann, noted:
"Few newspapers have blotters anymore -- the New York Post still does -- and even fewer send reporters out to station houses to compile crime. Such lists typically come from headquarters, and are usually sanitized and contain only the most serious incidents, the incidents that command cares about and thinks everyone else cares about as well.

Community and neighborhood newspapers publish blotters. The one in the Baltimore Guide is very popular among residents, and I thought it was great timing when this week the New York Times wrote a brief sketch of a reporter for the Brooklyn Paper who still walks to the 94th Precinct in Greenpoint to compile a weekly blotter. The headline: "The Dying Art of the Crime Blotter."
I know that one of the first questions I want to know when my husband returns from his monthly board meeting for the neighborhood is what's interesting from the police log.

Sure, the Grand Blanc News and the Grand Blanc View post some police items. The Flint Journal will print the big crime news - a fatal accident, a possible murder.

But unless you know the officers and the meaning behind what's written in the police log, you don't get items like ones featured in Offbeat.

Unless you know the area, you can't spot a trend by neighborhood.

Unless you know the courts, you won't suspect the neighborhood crime spree ended because someone is back in jail.

I'd rather have a person involved with the reporting, but I'd settle for something like Everyblock - a news feed for your neighborhood. So far, Everyblock is limited to
The grant funding the program is ending soon and the idea of the parent company of the Journal's internet site picking up Everyblock is floating around the Internet. Founder Adrian Holovaty wrote about the program's future, prompting Metaprinter to suggest:
1) Gannett or Advance Publications buys the services of the entire EveryBlock team to incorporate EveryBlock into their news sites. Most importantly the team is tasked with creating logical, simple, cheap ad placement on news sites.
Doubt it would happen - even MetaPrinter gives seven more ideas. But it would help make the web sites go-to news sites.)

Inside view: AF1: A novice's account

The first flight captured

I could have written these words about Air Force 1:

"AF1 was something I'd romanticized since childhood, a symbol of motion, internationalism and national pride and power that transcends whichever plane – or president – is in action at the time.

There was a time when I was sure I wanted to be on that plane as a press reporter, wanted to be on the bus on the presidential campaign trail, wanted to be inside the White House and sharing what I had learned in print.

But my earlier dreams of covering the president of the United States or any politician have been replaced with newer dreams. Still it was fun to read what it was like Feb. 5 aboard Air Force 1 on President Obama's first official flight.

The post, AF1: A novice's account, on Planet Washington, a McClatchy blog opens:

After a year and a half of dragging my laptop and bags on and off of candidate Barack Obama's campaign buses and planes, I wondered if my first trip on Air Force One might feel sort of ho-hum.

The adrenaline kicked in as I drove from downtown Washington into Maryland last Thursday afternoon, cleared the gate at Andrews Air Force Base, went through the Secret Service security sweep and got a special ID tag to wear on my lanyard.
Ahead, I saw a gleaming 747, white with a sky-blue stripe and the words "United States of America" down its length and an American flag painted on the tail."
XXXwas the traveling print pool reporter for half-hour flight each way,to Williamsburg, Va. She wrote five reports that night, so didn't get much time to see much or eat much. Obama did come back to the press area, something the "regulars" said was unusual. But I suggest go read the entry to get more details of the inside.

The post gives details such as this:
The pool serves as the eyes and ears when there isn't room for the full press corps. The White House travel- and in-town pools, with representatives for wire services, networks, news magazines, radio, photography and print, are determined on a rotating basis, and news organizations pay their way.
Just don't expect to find easily who wrote the piece . Guess you are supposed to be a Washington insider to know that.

If you want some more details, including some "historical" info on the first flights of other presidents then check Mark Smith's piece.

February 19, 2009

What would you tell a college student today? Michigan State seeking talking alumni

Yesterday I was invited to join the annual Michigan State University Student Alumni Networking Luncheon to talk with current students how attending MSU has benefited me in my professional career.

I know what I learned at Michigan State University - in class and out - contributed immensely to my career. I still believe in the journalism program. But there's no way I could tell a student to expect to follow a career path like mine.

Jane Briggs-Bunting, dean of the journalism school, says today's "college students will be tomorrow’s innovators and leaders in reinventing the news business."

The school's web site continues:
"Storytelling is now done in a variety of formats using text, photos, video, sound slides, hyperlinks, graphics, maps, databases and more. Deadlines are 24/7, 365 days of the year. J-School students are learning the skills needed to thrive in this warp speed news environment. We call it Journalism 3.0."
So let's see - text and photos would have been on the list when I went to MSU. Storytelling, too.

So if I could go to the lunch, I would share this advice with students:
  • Keep learning. When I started, computers filled rooms, not pockets. Phones were attached by wires within something solid - a phone booth, a house or a business. Publishing a book required a printing press, not just determination, skill and knowledge. We don't know what others are creating and what tools will become available so it is important to find a way to learn what's happening outside the newsroom and your closest community.
  • Be flexible. There's no way to know where you will end up because the jobs you may do may not be invented yet.
  • Love telling stories. There are all types of stories to be told. Some hide in data. Some hide in process. Some hide in people. Storytellers enjoy drawing out the pieces, making the connections and replacing their findings with a tale others can remember.
By the way if you need another reason to go you can hear MSU gaduate Bob Fish, CEO of Biggby Coffee, speak. (His first store was in East Lansing, earned his degree from MSU in 1989.)

The event is open to all Michigan State alumni:

When: Saturday, February 28, 2009, 12 p.m. doors open
Where: Spartan Club in Spartan Stadium Tower
Guest Speaker: Bob Fish, CEO & Co-Founder Biggby Coffee
Price: No cost for Michigan State Alumni

Interested? You can register online.

Nothing new in news business

A search on Google last night reminded me there isn't anything new in the news business.

A comment in the Rent-A-Journalist post over on Free From Editors sent me searching for more on Dorf Feature Services. Like, what does Dorf mean?

That led to a sidetrack on news reporting services because mantra said there are 483 such services in the United States. I checked out some of the 14 with Michigan ties. (At least one is extinct, the Press Row Sports hasn't written anything for a few months and Associated Press bureaus counted for 4 services, confirming one of my Anonymous commenters that the Rent-A-Journalist idea is like a wire service).

That led to another sidetrack - in 1911, the news was delivered by telephone for $18 a year. Yes, folks could call the Telephone Herald. Check it out. (and to think some thought audiotext was new)

Oh, and Dorf? It was named by the founder based on his name. Sid Dorfman took over the news syndication firm he was working for in 1938 and renamed it a year later. By the way, the link will take you to a 2006 New Jersey Jewish News story, where I learned the agency supplied "life cycle stories" like weddings, obituaries to area newspapers. And, in 2006, he had 50 full-time and 40 part-time employees.

He had started as a correspondent for a Newark, New Jersey three years earlier. He's still writing a sports column for the Star-Ledger - see NJ Sports. NJ.com has a photo gallery with 19 photos of Sid, including a Dorf press pass from 1938.

Yes, the more I learned about Dorfman, the more I learned just how long NJ's Star-Ledger has arranged for content via agencies. For instance, read this memory of the first SL byline.

I even found a copy of a 2007 article the Dorf Feature Service buying out some employees.

Enough. I've got a Google request from my daughter. Let's see where that goes.

February 17, 2009

Flint Journal sister paper to hire Local News Service to supplement Coverage

A sister newspaper of The Flint Journal -- Star-Ledger in New Jersey -- will hire a local news agency - founded by a bought-out journalist - to cover news once covered by staff journalists. Here's a link to 'Star-Ledger' to Use Local News Service to Supplement Coverage in trade magazine Editor & Publisher.

Kind of eerie to come home to this in my rss reader as one of the 5:30 a.m. today conversations with my daughter today was getting serious about formalizing my business plans.

One of the proposals we talked about today on the ride to her chemo treatment (2nd of next set of 12, or 6th of 16 total) was Rent-A-Journalist.

My theory is that with severe cutbacks, the flu or a natural disaster - heck, maybe even vacations and 'big' events like election night - could leave a newsroom aching for a way to hire temp journalists. The journalists would be the bought-out or retired ones with some fire in their bellies. Rent-A-Journalist would be the go-between, charging newspapers for developing and covering beats.

I think it would work. It was just surprising to read this tonight:

Just months after losing more than 150 newsroom staffers in a hard-hitting buyout, The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. is poised to replace some of the departed by contracting with a new outside news service.

Former Star-Ledger Managing Editor Rick Everett is hiring about 30 reporters, and some college students, for an outside news service that is to provide local and municipal coverage of New Jersey to the paper.

The New Jersey paper hires a similar firm to cover some sports so there is a history.

And, as others in the Advance Publication company know - if it plays in New Jersey there's a chance you'll see it play in Michigan, Oregon, Alabama, etc.

I'm mulling over some other ideas as I am not sure I want to jump back in the news world. But this hiring piece is worth followi g. E&P article - link above - has more.

February 15, 2009

Dropsies and dogs do not mix

My bedroom got an unscheduled sweeping tonight as the household went in search of the needle piece of my Copaxone shot.

The panic started when my husband got back from his mother's house and spotted a chewed partial syringe on the sofa. That syringe was missing the plunger and the cap with a needle. Let's see, 3 dogs, 1 shot - how many x-rays?

My daughter had returned earlier and was bringing me up-to-date on family news and, of course, the dogs followed her in. I was intent on keeping them out of my wastebasket because I had thrown forbidden items such as used Kleenex and candy wrappers in (one dog will shred, one will eat). I should have remembered that I had dropped the needle earlier and LEFT IT ON THE FLOOR!!!

See, a migrane has kept me in darkness in bed most of the day. I figured bending over - Ouch - could wait until morning. I was wrong.

The family searched, finding pieces but not the actual needle. My husband and daughter were unwilling to take their shoes off during the search. I grabbed a broom as guilt was trumping the allergy to dust (besides, the room had been swept just a few days ago.) My daughter soon joined me. Oh my, the things I found. Lost socks. Dust bunnies. 1 dust-covered slipper. And to the surprise of no one - beads.

In the midst of this treasure hunt in the bedroom, my husband found the needle. After my daughter checked that all pieces were found, she returned to finish sweeping. That led to a conversation reminding me that dogs are like babies, only dogs can't tell you where they hurt. (No, I didn't ruin her rant by telling her babies don't tell you either. Time enough for that.)

She also shared that she had been puzzled by the fact that one of her two dogs had left while we were talking but the other one had been coming in and out the whole time. Now she realized the one was looking for his needle treat - her two dogs always get two of everything.

Me? I realize I need to stick to the rule of no dogs in the bedroom. (Although if you ever heard the three dogs barking/howling/whining you would understand why sometimes I dream of no dogs in the house.)

Oh well, at least I got the Copaxone in before I flipped the needle to the floor. I hate wasting medicine - especially at $30 or so a pop.

And the cleaning service? He comes with fringe benefits and, if asked, I could serve in Mr. President's administration.