Monday, January 29, 2007

On Race

I knew if I didn't say it, nobody would.

"As we come upon Black History Month, I just want everyone to remember to look for stories and pictures featuring, well, black people," I said during our staff meeting. "I hate to be the black reporter having to say this, and I know it's hard because our section doesn't have a large black community, but make a real effort."

I'll admit; it wasn't the single most eloquent statement I've ever made in my newsroom, but it got the job done. After I finished, everyone agreed with the ultimate goal - even going so far as to thank me for reminding them of the month set aside to honor African-American achievement.

And it gets better.

We started talking about stories. We talked about diversity education in schools and in the workplace. We talked about discrimination. I shared my experiences with some less than tactful people I've encountered since I've been in the state. I even suggested we meet again next week to brainstorm story ideas to mark the month.

And it felt good.

As I mentioned before, Rhode Island isn't the single most diverse state in the union. And our black population is fairly dismal. For goodness sake, we don't even have a street named after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (though we do have a school and a community center). Honestly, it's a little weird being in a place like that - where I'm constantly aware of my race, whether its by my own consciousness or I'm alerted to it by someone else. And its even more weird realizing that my face is not reflected in the pages of my publication.

I've started the conversation in my bureau, just because it was something important to me.

But ultimately, who's responsibility is it to bring up race when it comes to coverage?

Posted by T Dot at 6:49 PM | link | Tell us what you think [2]

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Brother Bowl and what it really means....

That we have a long way to go. Bottom line. In case you've been submerged in different forms of work, schooling, or you just don't give a damn about sports, the Super Bowl, the National Football Leagues's championship game and one of the premier events in the world, will feature a black head coach for the first time...on both sides of the field.

Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith beat his mentor and friend, Indianapolis Colts head man Tony Dungy, by a couple of hours when the Bears defeated America's New Team, the New Orleans Saints 39-14 in the NFC title game. Dungy, probably the one of the more respected men in sports, finally got to the chip when his Colts pulled off a stunning 38-34 victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC title game.

So you can imagine with Super Bowl media week coming up, one can only imagine the line of questioning these worthy men will face. It underscores the fact that since we are talking about it (and YES, it is important), that racial equity, not just in sports, or in journalism, but as a whole still leaves a lot to be desired. This is only the second time in American pro sports history that two black coaches will face off in a league championship. The only other time? The 1975 NBA Finals, when Al Attles' Golden State Warriors bested K.C. Jones and the team known then as the Washington Bullets 4 games to 0. 32 years. Strides, yes. Journey completed, hell no.

Those in sports old enough to remember Al Campanis' disparaging remarks about the intellect of black baseball players and coaches and Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder's insightful thoughts on slave breeding creating superior black athletes, will remember that it was just less than 20 years ago when these remarks were made. In my generation's lifetime. People can make 20 years seem like forever, but in the fight against racism, bigotry and bias, it's a small window of time that apparently won't close without a fight.

So by no means is the fight for racial equity over. We've got has-been comics calling us "niggers," Affirmative Action being threatened in a time where the Good Ol' Boy network still seems to be thriving on all levels, stereotypes gaining steam thanks to VH1 and other foolishness, and of course an insane government regime ripe with acts setting us up to fail. We as black folk still need to raise hell, protest and show the world that we are worthy of equal treatment and opportunity. Just like Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith will do February 4th in Miami, Florida.

Posted by Chris at 7:53 AM | link | Tell us what you think [0]

Monday, January 22, 2007

Vivid storytelling wins the race

One cool thing about our profession is that we get to take the odd, the unusual, or the mundane and make it spectacular.

Take this story from The New York Times for example.
The bugler sounded his call. A bone-numbing chill rushed through the paddock, tearing into the jockey’s silks and biting at his skin.

In the day’s ninth race, Mr. Amonte guided Eightyninecentsday, a long shot, across the finish line.

It was the ninth and last race on Saturday, a frigid afternoon at Aqueduct, and the only people left in the stands and on the track were those down to their last chance.

“Go get ’em, Frankie,” someone yelled from the crowd gathering along the rail. “Go get ’em, old man.”

Frank Amonte Sr., the wiry 71-year-old jockey, hadn’t won a race in his last 61 tries. He probably will not make it to the Hall of Fame. He has never ridden in the Kentucky Derby, or indeed in any major race. And at his age, he would not be considered by many trainers for the quality mounts they give to big-time jockeys.

But he was chasing something far more important to him than a catalog of impressive wins: the one victory that would make him the only jockey over 70 to win a race.
In the story that follows, the writer details Amonte's beginnings in the sport, what it takes to be successful as a jockey and takes the reader onto the horse's back with Amonte. Nothing particularly pertinent to my life - I don't plan on switching careers any time soon - but yet, I continued reading to the end.

The story struck me, I supposed because I'm embarking on a story about the mundane, yet unusual myself. I won't give away details because I've learned that some employees of my competitor also read this blog (waves). But the NYT story just gave me a sense of what could be done in a few hundred words, with some vivid detail and good storytelling.

And big ups to the reporter who wrote it - YBJ/NABJ's own Trymaine Lee, of Pulitzer Prize-winning fame.

You go, boy.

Posted by T Dot at 5:00 PM | link | Tell us what you think [2]

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Family matters

They always see you coming.

And when they do, its all about the story they read in the paper, saw on TV, or listened to on the radio. You know the member of your family I'm talking about. The one who saves your newspaper clippings and breaks them out at family functions. The one who always wants to pitch you stories about their company offering its employees flu shots and about their kid's pee-wee basketball team traveling to Vermont.

But he or she is indispensable because they are your main source to the most cutthroat material -- family news. Even though they are a gossiper by trade, your occupation, journalist, allows them to dish dirt guilt-free.

Well my aunt, Sherri Pettway, used to be that person. I'm taking her off the payroll. She was featured in a story that ran in the Boston Globe's business section about mortgage companies and how their unfair legal fees cause unforeseen financial woes.

I felt betrayed.

Not that I could have objectively written the story -- or even wanted to -- but she can no longer be my go-to person. I shall from now on be getting my PTA meeting story pitches elsewhere.

Posted by Darren Sands at 12:49 PM | link | Tell us what you think [0]

Friday, January 19, 2007

Reporters' Roundtable

One of my favorite things to do as a young journalist is to sit and listen as seasoned pros talk about -- anything. It could be a meeting on story ideas or a discussion on the best options for takeout.

Which is why a new series called Story Conference has piqued my interest. It's a Post reporters' roundtable on what's going on with politics and the people surrounding it.

I've been a fan of reporters' roundtables (and have produced a few for NPR) particularly because the people discussing these issues are, in fact, reporters (and editors). Not pundits pushing an agenda, but well-informed newspeople who can provide context and analysis of what's going on. The result -- a smart, informative discussion that uses the wisdom and knowledge of some and teaches others..

Posted by Veronica Marché at 12:11 AM | link | Tell us what you think [0]

Monday, January 15, 2007

I had a dream

Friday night, I sat in the meeting of the local Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. chapter being berated by a member.

"Well, the MEDIA needs to do a better job publicizing his legacy," the man snapped at me. "If your paper would write about black people doing something, maybe things would change."

I spoke sincerely as I tried to regain my hold of the situation.

"I understand what you're saying and that's exactly why I'm writing this article," I told him and his brothers. "I saw that there was a need to explore this topice. I'm doing what I can. What are you doing?"

After the meeting, I spoke to the man (who I think was sort of hitting on me) and he apologized and told me not to take it personally. But it's hard not to when people chastize you for the work of others that you have no control over.

Today, my story on the way Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday is celebrated in Rhode Island ran on our front page. I was proud of it when I filed it Sunday. It was a little wordy, true. Some quote pong was played toward the end. But it started the conversation and without it, we may not have had anything on the front page about the holiday. So, after I returned from the MLK Scholarship breakfast (which started at 7 a.m.), I grabbed a paper to check out the story placement. My 32 inches of copy was on the right bottom of the page. I scanned the front to see what had beat out my story of the legacy of MLK.

A 5-column, half page picture from the Patriots game.
Bush standing by his Iraq plan.
The U.S. summit in the Middle East.
The second in a two-part series on former senators in the U.S. legislature.
Stars hawking wares in Japanese commercials.
And then, my King story.

All of my self-righteousness went out the window as all of the words the man told me about the press not caring came tumbling to my rememberance. The pictures I'd asked them to let us take of their meeting didn't appear in the story (granted, they were only profiles, no exciting shots). I could imagine how that man and his fraternity brothers were reacting to the story.

But I tried. I'm only one person and I can only do so much. But in an industry where many of us don't even get King's birthday off, I'm beginning to wonder how much of an impact I can make. I found the article below as I thumbed through our archives to get a sense of how things used to be. It's definitely a wake up call. I can have all the dreams in the world, but dreams only get you so far.

Nothing would be taken from Dr. King
Mon. Oct. 10, 1983

"Is Thomas Jefferson any the less revered because there is no nationalholiday in his name? Or John Adams? Or a multitude of others in thetwo-centry-long pantheon of outstanding Americans? Of course not. And neither would Martin Luther King Jr., the martyred black civil rightsleader, be reduced in popular esteem should Congress and the Presidentnot memorialize him with a national holiday on his birthdate, Jan. 15.

Were such a designation needed to show proper respect for Dr. King, it would imply that his reputation could not stand by his deeds aloone ashas been the case with a whole roster of equal greats in U.S. history. And this is not true. Dr. King measures up with the best of them. Let's face it. The notion in Washington that enactment of the King-holiday bill is a must arises principally from the politicians' fear thatfailure to pass it will result in their loss of black voters.

Besides such self-serving cravenness, the idea that black Americans (more than other large ethnic groups, each with their own heroes) have to be placated by such a gesture is to patronize them - and the day for that fortunately has gone by in this country. The best tribute to Dr.King is that increasingly paid him on a voluntary basis annually bywhites and non-whites alike, and by the nation's constant move towardending all forms of bigotry. No formal holiday is necessary to advancethis process and none need be created.

Indeed, adding another to the already lengthy list of workdays off wouldhardly improve the nation's economy. And its improvement is the bestfavor that blacks, suffering from an inordinately high unemploymentrate, could recieve. Dr. King himself, who was slain while campaigning for job betterment for blacks in Memphis, would surely agree with that."

Posted by T Dot at 11:30 AM | link | Tell us what you think [2]

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Facebook friends, but you don't know my byline

So what do you do when a source finds you on Facebook?

If you're me, you add him as a friend.

I'd finally gotten a chance to interview a Brown University student for a story I'm doing. I hung up the phone with him, ordered some General Tso's chicken and went to pick it up. I got back to my desk and logged onto my e-mail.

One new message.

"John Q. Public has added you as a friend on Facebook"

I do a double take at the name. Didn't I just hang up the phone with this guy? I log onto Facebook and did what any person does when you get a friend request from someone you really don't know - checked out his page.

Facebook, which emerged in the last few years as THE social networking Web site for college students, is a way to keep in contact with friends from your alma mater, and now, even with friends from anywhere.

John Q.'s page was pretty scarce. I saw a few organizations. Some leadership positions. A job entry. An unsourced quote in his "about me" section.

I browse through his pictures, getting an idea of who I was to look for the next night when we hooked up for an interview. Then I figured, why not, and pressed accept.

I noted that we met randomly in 2007.

Gotta love technology.

Posted by T Dot at 5:03 PM | link | Tell us what you think [0]

Monday, January 08, 2007

Show 'Em What Ya Got

Sometimes you surprise yourself with how much you know.

One of my old professors invited me to speak to his class about life as a young professional journalist. I heart speaking to students, simply because I love sharing what I've learned, just as my mentors have done with me.

Yet it always trips me out, just smidgen, when I realize that students are hanging on to my every word. As if I'm Michele Norris or Fredricka Whitfield or someone. I see that I have their undivided attention and almost want to say, "No! Wait! Don't take this as gospel, I'm just starting out!"

I talked to them about what I knew. About how their professor's seemingly pointless assignments would reappear in actual newsrooms. About the very real pressure of deadlines. About how up-to-date technology is nice, but doesn't compare to having veterans teaching you the business. About not being sure about what path you want to take, but taking every opportunity to learn something new regardless.

And as I spoke, my anxiety subsided. Because I saw my old professor, my mentor, in the corner of the room, nodding along with everything I said.

I knew what I was talking about.

We did an exercise, a demonstration of what I do in my day-to-day job. My professor gave them a newspaper article, and I told they'd have to rewrite that into broadcast copy in 10 -- no, you know what, seven minutes.

They freaked, of course. But they started writing, intently. And as I offered feedback on what they wrote, they continued to scibble, this time taking notes down on the tips I gave.

Seeing them jot down what I was saying was still a bit disarming. But by this time, most of the anxiety was gone. I'd realized the reason I was here is because I actually happen to know a thing or two about journalism. About writing. About fact-checking. About getting it right. About making the reader or listener understand.

And I realized I wouldn't have a career in this business if I didn't.

Making the transition from student to professional involves more than just finding that job, acquiring those skills and impressing that boss. It also requires you to have confidence in your competence. To be assured of what you know and to be able to demonstrate that knowledge, whether it's in front of a class or a colleague.

The training wheels are off. It's time to show 'em what you can do.

Posted by Veronica Marché at 3:29 AM | link | Tell us what you think [2]

Friday, January 05, 2007

To clap or not to clap? That is the question

Young Tyrone gets up at a town meeting and starts speaking about being posted up by the police -- having his pockets searched, being thrown up against the wall, etc. He's articulating his point very well. Talking to the newly-appointed police commissioner cannot be the easiest thing in the world to do.

"That's it and...thank you for letting me speak."


I start clapping too. With approval.

Reality check came when I glanced over at the other two reporters, Mssrs. Stone and Cold. Both were stoic. Unflappable. Unnatural?

I like for people I interview in settings the town meeting covered the other night to know that I live in the community that I cover. I want them to know that I have a pulse, that I care and that I'm not just there "getting the story." However, I didn't clap for the rest of the night. Was I right?

Posted by Darren Sands at 1:33 PM | link | Tell us what you think [2]

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Get a WSJ for $Free.99

Because you know I like free stuff, an item from the Dow Jones News Service, via Romenesko:


The Print Journal Will Be Free on Newsstands Across the Country andThe Online Journal at WSJ.Com Will also be Free

The redesigned Wall Street Journal launches today and to encourage consumer trial, the Journal will be free at newsstands nationwide as part of the largest sampling in its 117-year history. Nearly 500,000 copies will be free and The Wall Street Journal Online, the largest subscription news site on the Web, will also be free today. A cornerstone of the Journal will be an increased focus on interpretation, insight and ideas -- more of “What the News Means, not just "What Happened.” Other changes include new content features, innovative newspaper navigation and better print-online alignment.

Posted by T Dot at 2:04 PM | link | Tell us what you think [0]

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