August 14, 2009

Passion drove former Newhouse reporter killed in Afghanistan

Bill Cahir did not slide through life. The Marine sergeant who worked for the Newhouse Washington D.C. bureau, let passion drive him into politics, into journalism, into the military, into politics and to a company whre he hoped to make change happen. He didn't always win, but he kept doing what he thought was right.

Cahir of the 4th Civil Affairs Group, Marine Forces Reserve, based out of Washington D.C. "was killed in Afghanistan's Helmand Province Thursday by a single gunshot while conducting combat operations on a dismounted patrol. "

Co-workers shared memories online in news stories, blog posts and on Facebook, recalling the 40-year-old's high journalism standards, his passion for politics and his personal mission to do what is right. It was hard to stop following the links, to stop reading, to stop smiling even while knowing his family and friends are grieving.

Bill almost enlisted three times before finally joining the Marine Reserves at age 34 in Oct. 2003 He served two tours in Iraq. He didn't have to be in Afghanistan. But he was.

No decision made easily

The Pennsylvania native talked to a lot people before he left politics in 1995 for journalism, before he joined the Marines in October 2003, before he left journalism in January 2008 for an unsuccessful run for Pennsylvania's 5th Congressional District.

I suspect there was a lot talking before he and Rene E. Browne, a business litigation lawyer in Washington D.C., married three years ago, and again when they learned they were expecting twin girls.

He talked, he listened and then he made up his own mind.

David Wood, who started working with Bill in 1999 in Washington D.C., posted this:
"Bill Cahir struggled so openly with the conflicting responsibilities of home and family, and service to his country. With painful honesty, he went hard at the difficult issues that many of us choose to ignore."

Jim Barnett, who started working with him in 2000, wrote this in a post that talked mostly about the goodness of a traditional journalist who worked for many bosses and asked the right questions:
"When we last talked at length, shortly before his announcement to run for Congress, I was surprised, but also not. He was unhappy with the conduct of the war, and he wanted to do something about it. This was Bill's new mission, and he was doing it his way - at the front line, working passionately and methodically."

Back to politics

The Harrisburg Patriot-News profiled Cahir when he resigned to run for the Congressional seat in 2008. Brett Lieberman, who had worked in the same office with Bill for eight years, explained that running meant a move from northern Virginia back to his birthplace Bellefonte.
"I think as an Iraq veteran, I offer a unique perspective. As a journalist, I've covered federal education, transportation and health care issues in detail, and I'm opposed to the tolling of I-80. I want to stop the tolling of interstates in Pennsylvania and across the country.... I am personally energized."

Loss leads to consulting

LeHigh Valley Live caught up with him after he lost in the three-way primary race to find out what was next. His answer:
"My journalism career is over. I'll talk to the Marine Corps and see what they want me to do and talk to my wife and see what she wants me to do."
David Woods wrote:
"He didn't win, but he didn't sulk, and after it was over he landed a job as a consultant in the private sector (Booz Allen Hamilton) while remaining in the Marine Corps reserves. Bill Cahir found nobility in military service and exulted in it."

Fought to be a Marine

Getting into the military, when you are old, overweight and facing other obstacles isn't easy.

"...other recruits would taunt him at boot camp for being a decade older than them. ... drill instructors would give him a hard time for being a college graduate and ... newspaper reporter... "
Politico and the Washington Post interviewed Deborah Howell, Cahir’s bureau chief at Newhouse before she left for the Post. She recalled how the Sept. 11 attacks inspired Cahir to enlist in the Marine Reserves at age 34.

Politico wrote it this way:
"Howell called Cahir's determination to enter the Marine Corps a late calling in his life. Despite her attempts to talk him out of it, she said Cahir was steadfast in his decision to enlist.

"He just had to do it. And finally, you know, you just have to say I understand you have to do this," Howell said. "He regretted nothing."
Howell told the Post about attending Bill's wedding several years ago, remembering how touched he was by the gift his fellow soldiers gave him, a sword to wear with his dress uniform.

Running for answers

David Wood recalled Bill's dilemma, discussed during lunchtime runs:
"Clearly, the excitement, adventure and camaraderie he imagined of military service attracted him. He felt deeply that he owed something to his country. He wanted to be part of a measured American response to Islamist extremism, and he could think of no way he could better contribute than joining the military."
Yet Bill knew, as he shared in a first person account of boot camp published in his former newspaper on July 4, 2004, that he'd be a private first class facing a pay cut, taking orders from younger men and almost certainly heading to the Middle East.
Cahir almost joined the military after college, after working a few years and after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
"In October 2003, the recruiter asked the decisive question: In the future, would I look back and regret my inaction if I didn't enlist?"

Former Marine knew Bill's challenges

Paul McHale, who Bill had covered when he was a congressman and then former assistant secretary of defense, recalled Cahir discussing the idea with him and how they grew to become friends. McHale, clearly shook by the news, knew that Bill "was in a particularly tough area in a particularly tough region." Bill's job as a civil affairs officer also was challenging. McHale told the Express Times:
"He was a community organizer while carrying a pack and a rifle.
The Express Times's interview with McHale helps me understand more what Bill faced on his latest tour. It's also an illustration of the rich relationships that can develop as a result of a reporting relationship.

When you read all the comments left on blog postings and articles, you learn that Bill did what had to be done, changing direction when necessary.

The Pennsylvania native, who once was a newspaper carrier, left the Capitol to start his journalism career. After graduating from Penn State in 1990, Cahir worked for Sen. Robert Kennedy and the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, helping on the Family and Medical Leave Act. In 1993, Cahir joined Senator Harris Wofford's staff, where he worked on health care reform legislation until the Wofford's retirement in 1995.

Moving into journalism

He worked for the The Southampton Press for a year before moving to the Education Daily before moving to the Newhouses' Advance Publications newspapers and news services in 1999.

The Washington Bureau once had 24 employees, including 11 reporters like Bill who wrote for specific newspapers. Bill wrote the Capital Cahir blog and worked for these Advance Publications: The Express-Times, Gloucester County Times, The News of Cumberland County and Today's Sunbeam, all New Jersey-based newspapers owned by Advance Publications, according to a post on

Bill left the Newhouse Washington D.C. Bureau in January 2008 to run for Congress; long before the bureau's closing was announced in July, before the actual closing on Nov. 7, 2008.
His current civilian job was senior consultant for organization and strategy at Booz Allen Hamilton, a strategy and technology consulting firm based in McLean,

The Washington Post also wrote about Andy Rosenberg, who met Bill working on Kennedy’s Senate labor committee (Bill was one of Andy's groomsman) now the spokesman for Bill's wife, his parents Mary Anne and John Cahir, two sisters and a brother.

"Bill was an extraordinary person in every respect and truly exemplified the very best of our country. Every part of his life was devoted to helping others, and he ultimately gave his life in this pursuit. Bill will be missed terribly by his loving wife, his wonderful family and his many, many friends."

He'll be missed by many. Reading about Bill and his decision making helped me understand a bit more about my brother who is a Marine and a nephew now in the Air Force. The beauty of the Internet.

Will you say sorry if I learn how to say I am unemployed?

The most unusual letter - a rejection letter - came to this household.

Unfortunately, it is the letter and not the rejection that is unusual in a household where three people have sought jobs in the last eight months Why is that? Why is it that potential employers can't, don't or won't take the time to even say "Thank you for applying. We have filled the job."

If I have applied online, how difficult is it to send me an email? If you had me come in, I'd be happy to get a postcard. You can even slip it in with your paper application, I'll address it and you can check the appropriate line:
___ We filled the position with someone else
___ We decided we can't afford to fill the position
The silence is especially perplexing to me if we have had a past relationship. I don't expect that just because we have worked together before means I will get the job. A simple "we found someone" would be so polite when we've worked together, served on committees, shared projects and pasts.

Instead, I learn of rejection via LinkedIn, Twitter, press releases and news stories. At least I know to stop waiting in hope of a positive response.

This post from JibberJobber Learn How To Say You Are Unemployed talks about a friend who is in a job search. The friend is mad, hurt, wounded, depressed, sad, and feels incompetent.

But really, he's MAD - mad at the people responsible for his need to seek a job. That could make his search difficult, dimming his chance for success, the writer says

JibberJobber explains how to talk about being unemployed, the last job and why you were let go:
  • Be concise.
  • Be positive as you tell "your side" of the story and talk about your former boss..
  • Make an impression about YOU.
That's my summary of the JibberJobber post in a blog I have found helpful in this change of life.

Fortunately, I am surrounded with family and friends. A lively discussion on the radio recently started when a woman revealed a first date went flat when she learned the engineer was laid off.

She was careful to say he was upbeat, good looking, and more. But unemployment wiped out all of the pluses despite the fact that this. couple lived in Michigan, unemployment capitol of the nation. She had no interest in sticking around to see if he found a new job, got called back or could live on his assets without a job.

I wondered if he should have waited to say he was laid off - I have watched the sparkle leave a person's eyes when they learn you are not collecting a regular paycheck. But I admire his honesty. I am what I am what I am.

Still, after reading "how to say I am unemployed" I wondered if he had been "concise, positive, and focused" on who he is besides unemployed. Oh well, at least he did not read of his rejection online. I hope he didn't have the radio on.

August 13, 2009

Assistant photo director from Ann Arbor sad

Erin O'Neill, who grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, aka A town without a newspaper, looks at the city's newspaper's death and the birth of

She is the assistant director of photography for the Missourian and a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism so you can understand her disappointment that only two of the staff members are listed as photo journalists. (Read more about why the two were hired.)

Hint: She's written about photos before, as in "Show me the photos" and "the problem with Facebook photos." The long-time photographer puts her photos in another blog, preferring to hone selection skills over boring someone with too many photos from the same event

Community keeps its newspaper going

LedeObserver follows up on a community's reaction to the attempted closing of the Birmingham Eccentric in Michigan.

I'd written of the early struggle in Citizens won't let newspaper stop printing and 5 Bs still hoping so I enjoyed hearing more about the effort's success and the possibility of some of the newspaper's online content pushed behind a you-must-pay wall.

New family softly launches Portfolio

The American Business Journals quietly kicked up its work on the now-online-only Portfolio, a business magazine that until this spring was part of the Conde Nast organization.

J. Jennings Moss
, the former deputy editor and new editor, announced the start, though some postings had continued even after one part of the Advance Publications family had pulled the plug. (Portfolio had posts about the death of the chairman of the business journals and his son stepping into the top role.)

We're promised that the new Portfolio will "dig deeper into selected industries—health care, technology, banking and finance, advertising and marketing, media, aviation, and more—and will present a wider range of stories from across the nation."

The looks at media include the new Pressed blog by Matt Haber (see the latest posts on Michael Jackson's conservative benefactor and Hip-Hop is not Dead-- he actually first posted July 31) and Numberology, "a fun interactive look at a number in the news.

Heavy Doses by Brett Chase tackles the business of health care in posts such as "Insurers pass the buck."

Advance opinions: Open eyes, dignified hats, virtual running

Grand Rapids Press editor Paul Keep tells how a mother listening to her son ensures the news organization was on top of a story in a column about "Keeping our eyes and ears open for a good story."

David Mayo is back writing, the latest on Curtis Granderson joining the 30-30 club.

Speaking of coming is a guy who once worked for The Flint Journal but moved on to the Star-Ledger in New Jersey. Barry Carter is calling for the "return of the fashionable, dignified hat." Tuesday's column goes further south - a plea for teens to pull up those sagging pants.
(Remember when that was a Flint concern and Flint Journal blogger Andrew Heller came up with a solution.)

While I'm over at, I remembered I never shared that columnist Kathleen O'Brien is off on a leave. However, she's also blogging as energy permits in "We'll know more on Monday." It's a phrase familiar to those waiting diagnoses. In this case, O'Brien has cancer and you'll want to start with "my blog, my breast, my rules."

Cancer gets a mention by the Jersey Guy because a friend of his has the little c. The next day he zeros in on tragic news in his back yard, able to find a positive, a lesson that might make lake living safer. Timely post on water safety tips from a lifesaving professional on Omamas, a blog of "journalist moms working for you" in Oregon.

In New Orleans, Twitter has seduced another journalist.

In Oregon, it's End of life care: A new way to die rich. Or go give Jack Ohman a caption for his latest cartoon. You can even watch a video on how he draws while you are there. (He's the guy who won the RFK Award for editorial cartoons in June.)

Did you know that in states like Tennessee and Alabama, kids are already back in school. Press-Register columnist Frances Coleman says that starting school this early should be a crime.

I thought I'd found the perfect way to run - a virtual race - until I learned you still do the running.

August 12, 2009

Blogger advises news staff to "Blog it or report it"

Gordon Young, a freelance journalist who blogs as The Flint Expatriates, gives four hints to help The Flint Journal help its readers know the difference between a blog post and an article that happens to be online.

Perhaps his distance will encourage staff to think about shaping the blogs into blogs.

Young suggests:
  • Hire a blogger or two to comment and aggregate on what the reporters are doing. I'd amend it to to aggregate what the community is saying, too. I prefer drinking filtered water, not fresh from the river at times, and had high hopes that Blogging and Talking would continue.
  • Make the blogs look different from the rest of the online site. In other words, let the personality shine through.
  • Stop running hard news in blogs. In some cases, I think a blog can break hard news if the blogger has developed the story. At The Flint Journal, there's a better way to present news. I think that even the name of some of the blogs indicates the lack of a clear vision for what to expect.
  • Let bloggers use news from all sources. Actually, from what I can tell the bloggers are using all sources. I'm just not sure they know how to mine the Internet efficiently. There's even less time available to learn what others are doing, or to pick up skills like linking and condensing what others say.
The ideas of the altering the site's looks are out of the hands of even the upper management. Young, of course, is not the first to criticize the site for its navigation problems and looks. At least four Advance Publications were heavily criticized in June in "Rating the Top 25 Newspaper Websites" for their template-driven problems.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, for instance, was given a D+. That grade was partly because "The editors seem to be throwing darts to decide what content takes priority."

I'll even take some of the blame for the news organization's site since I pushed using the blogging software to get all of the content online instead of sticking with the previous shovelware methods.

Don't expect changes soon. There's a software upgrade in the works, judging by the items I'm stumbling into because of my past work with the news organization.

By the way, it's also good that Gordon didn't see a recent print editon that had a blog post right in the middle of a newprint page. Doubletake time when an unbylined article started out like this:
"We'll have to wait to find out more about Joe Serra's potential involvement in the new Saturn. "Online, it was posted in a blog.

Head to the Young's post as I merely summed up his points.

Is Google newspaper cartoon correct?

So is Google helping to preserve newspapers or not?

I remember Google's effort to keep adding archived newspapers to its online resources slipped into my blog reader not long ago.

I remember John Temple coming up with his own suggestions of what Google should do to help save local reporting.

There are lots of folks talking about the effect of content behind paid walls affecting the quality of Google's content.

That's why this cartoon stopped me when I started meandering while checking some blog stats - Cartoonist blogged up energy to save print had a lot folks looking at it recently. That led me to a cartoonist site where I found this Google search cartoon, illustrating a post on the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists site.

Bonus: It's Jack Ohman of The Oregonian who got the RFK Journalism Award for cartooning.

Check out some more recent work from the former Detroit Free Press cartoonist.

August 11, 2009

Wrong photo brings grief to Kalamazoo newsroom

Joyce Pines of the Kalamazoo Gazette explains an uncomfortable newsroom moment in a column on Correction mixup is reminder we should all be treated with dignity.
"It began Tuesday morning with an angry mother claiming we ran a photo of her deceased daughter in Monday's newspaper."
Yet Pines, the news organization's public editor, could find no photo caption with that name. She learned the photo, provided by the police department, was in a column that is about individuals are being sought for probation violations or failure to appear at court hearings. Pines learned that the photo accompanying the item about Kawanna Earlean-Denise Nabors was her sister Terecita Smith.

Unfortunately, the correction repeated the mistake. You can learn more about how that happened and what the newsroom learned in its investigation.

At least in Flint, the recent photo mixup was buildings, not people. The story was about the US Army Reserve armory that a local college bought for $1. The photo was of the Michigan National Guard armory. This is an old postcard of an armory.

And this column: West Michigan rosary effort adds to the armor of God overseas is over on

Over and out.

Rookie professor: Jumping from newsroom to classroom

A laid-off editor teaching students to edit seems ironic. But Christofer Machniak, who worked at The Flint Journal for 11 years before accepting a buyout, has turned the experience into three articles up on Nieman Reports.

I remember stumbling across the class blog, JRN 375. where I learned that students got extra credit for finding mistakes. More on that later.

Chris expected to keep working for the newspaper. He had just become the interim opinion editor, he had been blogging, he was picking up new skills. But two days before Christmas, he learned those skills, those attributes were not enough.
"I was valued, but there wasn’t going to be a chair for me when the music stopped. If I didn’t leave voluntarily, my boss advised, I’d come to regret it."
That notice came just weeks before he was to become an adjunct journalism lecturer. You can read about his experience, including the struggle of managing two jobs for awhile.
The Michigan State University graduate is working toward a master’s degree in English at the University of Michigan-Flint and will return to the classroom. He will even teach the News Editing class again, the one that included this blog.

The blog was part of Chris' expectation that he had to do something different:
"I knew I couldn’t teach them a curriculum based solely on Associated Press Style, editing a newspaper story and crafting a snappy, yet accurate headline."
Yet, he found teaching was harder then expected:
"Looking back, given my lack of teaching experience and the long hours I was still putting in at work, my ambition exceeded my grasp. Teaching turns out to be way more work than one imagines in preparing for it, and it demands more time (not to mention energy and persistence) than one budgets in the beginning."
I admire the work and the thought that Chris put into the class. The articles explain some of the process and I encourage those thinking of teaching read them.

I stumbled across the editing blog in March, uncomfortable that the editing students were getting extra credit for finding typos and other mistakes on the websites of local media.

After reading Nancy Nall who was in the midst of a website design and shared a milestone in journalism to explain her frustrations I understood better my reaction to the class assignment.

Nancy remembers how a breaking news story showed her something important had shifted:

"In olden times, the top edi­tors would come out to the city desk and stand behind the edi­tor as the story was writ­ten and pol­ished, read­ing and mak­ing sug­ges­tions. Then one day I looked up and they were all stand­ing behind the design edi­tor, watch­ing the page being laid out. Their main inter­est in the story was how long it would be, if we could break out the back­ground grafs into a side­bar and whether we had a loca­tor map."

Nancy wrote in that post:

"Design is a pack­age. The pack­age must be attrac­tive or no one will pick it up and unwrap it. But equal atten­tion must be paid to the con­tents of the pack­age, and that got pushed aside dur­ing this era."

The newsrooms reflect society where looks becomes more important then what's inside.

It is fairly easy to find the surface errors, the wrong word, bad grammar, etc. But a computer program can find typos and even grammar mistakes.

I want editors who know when a story leaves unanswered questions, too little explanation or heaven forbid too little background.

(Updated 8/30/09 - I was wrong to use this example: ... For instance, in my back yard a restaurant, Blackstone's, opened in what once was a clothing store. In between, the building housed the Greater Flint Arts Council.

A trip to downtown Flint, Michigan, showed me the error:Blackstone's is at 531 S. Saginaw and clearly not the building at 420 S. Saginaw that held the Greater Flint Arts Council after Roberts David Allan closed and never a Blackstone's even. Both carried men's clothing.

No substitute example coming.)

I want editors who can coach writers and reporters, who can add links to archived coverage on and off the home site, who recognize a trend while wading through a variety of sources.

I want editors, not computers. Instead of searching for typos, let them look for the holes, suggest ways to appeal to multiple audiences or reflect on the timing of a story (Was this story published at the right time? Why was this story published now?)

Easier said then done.

August 10, 2009

Sometimes, the only way to react is to write even when it is not the right way to react. Or is it?

Nancy Rommelmann shares the puzzling mindset that paralyzes - what to do when something bad happens to those we once knew in the Monstrousness of Empathy.

"I decided I could not send the coffee, because every time her father drank the coffee, he might think, I am drinking this only because my child has been murdered. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t impose myself. "
Yet, she wrote. She wrote a powerful piece. She shared a powerful line about what happened to a daughter who was murdered, that many mothers can relate to:
“makes me want to put my own daughters back inside my body.”
And she thinks about of punishment, of grief, of intrusion in an excellent arrangement of words you should read. Really.

Can you claw through clutter to hear the message?

There's so much chatter going on around us that sometimes it is hard for us to listen to what's being said in a meaningful way. The conversations erupt around us as white noise. We nod knowingly as we catch drifting words that seem to merit a response.

I'm in the midst of catchup, a lull in my daily routines allowing me to sort through overflowing inboxes for email, blog posts and that stuff delivered by the postmaster.

What I've discovered is the clutter created by volume and change means I've missed some messages I normally would have heard. The bigger problem is how can I create systems so that I don't miss messages I need to hear.

Beth Kanter just presented a workshop on listening at a conference with a theme of "Making Media Connections." She suggested in a post titled Are You a Listening Organization? that there are three models for organizations.
  • Centralized listener
  • Listening Team
  • The Listening Organization
See Kanter's post for her explanations.

Not all organizations are formal, of course.

Former Flint Journal reporter Matt Bach has taken on the role of centralized listener for Flint, looking online for all mentions of the area on blogs, news sites and other web pages. He shares his finds via email with a group of people who are interested in the community's image.

Another centralized listener that I know of is Carol Lee Spages, who runs an email list called Green Blood News that frequently features articles about Girl Scouts.

Email and mailing lists are tools I know. I've been challenging myself to learn more about Publish2, a tool designed for collaborative linking. I've been playing with it, trying to find ways to expand the team listening for news about Michigan news or Advance Publications. As I've watched the media-watching blogs collapse,I 've been thinking of what can be used to help watch the watchdogs.

Beth Kantor, of course, goes beyond that simplicity of three models. She shares 58 slides that are a step-by-step to Listening Literacy. The presentation walks you through key skills, essential tools, the art of responding, and "listening in a blizzard." It's a lot for one workshop, but her slides will help guide anyone hoping to listen.

Happy listening.