Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Sunday Milestone

I ran into the newsroom and quickly scanned the area for a stack of Sunday papers. I found a bundle and ripped into the binding.

"Local section, local section, Local section," my mind repeated as I flipped through the massive paper. Then, I saw it:

A Job With Heart And Sole

I sat down and looked at the layout. The story was a centerpiece, with a duo of pictures on the front and a few shots inside to accompany the massive text. I turned back to the front page. I had to see the byline. I needed to see it.

By Talia Buford

My name never looked so sweet.

This story about the dying trade of cobbling was my first Sunday centerpiece in the 16 months I've been at my newspaper. I've had stories in the Sunday paper, but never the centerpiece.

Not until now.

I'd been hipped to the story actually by a copy editor who worked in my section. After he asked me about some questions in one of my stories one day, he mentioned a conversation he had with his cobbler, Marcel Cayouette, who owns a shop in my town. The story intrigued me, so I went to Marcel's tiny shop and asked if I could do a profile on him. He agreed and a few weeks later (after he and his wife returned from Florida), I spent the morning and watched as he repaired soles, joked with customers and rung up sales.

I like a few lines in the piece, but I think in general, this is my favorite passage:
Cayouette's fingers dance inches from the pile of shoes on his
workbench, his hand moving back and forth as he searches for the mate to a pump. He pulls the black heel from the pile and slips it easily onto the last -- a metal foot-shaped device on a pole bolted to the ground. With the precision of a surgeon, Cayouette pries the worn heel from the shoes and discards it.

He reaches to the stack of plastic containers on the top shelf of his bench and finds the perfect match for the discarded heel in seconds. Two pounds with the hammer and the heel is attached. Cayouette takes the shoe over to a large green machine and sands the excess rubber from the newly mounted heel. Then, he sprays a scratch repairer onto the heel, making the patent leather shine like new.

All this, in less than two minutes. It's almost as though cobbling is something Cayouette, 67, was born to do.

In many ways, he was.

This was the story I was referring to when I posted a few weeks back about Trymaine's story. This story gave me the chance to WRITE, something I haven't been able to do in a town filled with deadline pieces that are often best told as straight-forward as possible. Writing this - though it proved to be a pain after the 2nd time it was held and the random requests for information I kept getting from editors - was a major accomplishment for me.

It may sound crazy, but it made me feel that I was a real reporter - this validated me in some odd way.

So, please read it. Send it to your friends. Laminate it and hang it on your wall. Let me know what you think. But please read it.

Then, go out and support your local cobbler.



Posted by T Dot at 10:22 PM | link | Tell us what you think [5]

Friday, February 23, 2007

Reporting Democracy

I guess I'll have to be the first to say that I'm tired of the 2008 election, already. I don't want to read about it, or hear it on the radio, or see it on the television.

The problem: I don't know anything relevant about the candidates or their service records.

Instead I know them as a white woman who is just everywhere all at once, a biracial guy from Illinois who writes good books, an Italian ex-mayor of New York City and a really old guy who opposes a woman’s right to choose.

And trailing behind them are a Mormon, a guy who referred to a black candidate as clean (but he meant to say ‘fresh’), and that other guy with a Southern accent who’s gearing up for his third attempt at the White House.

Almost every respectable news outlet has run stories about Barack Obama’s racial background being an issue with black voters, as if his identifying with the black community is irrelevant.

Or about Rudolph Giuliani being the first Italian-Catholic presidential hopeful. Bada bing and whoop-tee doo!

Or about Hilary Clinton being the first woman front-runner. What do you me to say? "You go girl!?"

Or even about John McCain being for a federal stop to abortion, and not for a constitutional ban to gay marriages. (Has anyone told him that both those issues are equally viewed as attempts to legislate morality?) ...typical.

And why print these stories?

Is America afraid that Obama will serve greasy, heart attack inducing fried chicken and collard greens at his inaugural ball? At least that’s what they thought after Tiger Woods was the first black man to win the masters.

Will Giuliani bring the Italian mafia to the White House? Will they be able to film the lost episodes of the final season of HBO’s Sopranos from the oval office?

Will Clinton’s presence in the White House synchronize the menstruation periods of all the female staff, making it harder for the male staff a few days every month?

Does McCain have any business gunning for anti-abortion laws, when a more realistic issue for him to take up would be senior citizen abuse in convalescent hospices? He's 72. The man probably couldn't jog around the White House for his morning exercise.

Truth is, journalism hasn’t provided me with very many relevant thinking points. As of now I don't see anything but a bunch of jockeys on horses in a race for multi-millions in campaign contributions. And democracy is not being promoted here.

A solution: shut down the presses on the election! We’ve got more than a year to go before the primaries. By then, we wouldn’t care if Obama was born to a Martian and a golden retriever, if Clinton was transgender, if Giuliani starred in Godfather Part Four, or if McCain adopted black orphaned babies from Africa.

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Posted by Aaron Morrison at 6:32 PM | link | Tell us what you think [0]

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Drone! Drone! Drone!

Readers (or listeners) are going to react to your stories. It's a given. They'll send a letter of praise, or an e-mail of disapproval. And the feedback proves that if celebrities say they can't please everyone, well, journalists sure can't either.

You learn to accept it. But still, every now and then you receive a call like this.

Go on. Listen. I'll wait.





The editors at the San Francisco Chronicle found this particular message so amusing that it prompted them to start a series of podcasts, called Correct Me If I'm Wrong..., where they post reader voicemails.

It's a twist on the traditional "Letters to the Editor" page we're so used to. Chronicle executive editor Phil Bronstein tells Poynter that there's a "intensity and uniqueness" in these messages, because "you can sort-of hear how people feel" -- and because voicemails are more passionate and less thought-out than e-mails or letters.

The first installment of the series is the most entertaining thus far. Hopefully more will follow. In the meantime -- what's the strangest, oddest or just plain scariest reader (or listener) feedback you've gotten?

Posted by Veronica Marché at 6:31 AM | link | Tell us what you think [0]

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Introduction

It's inevitable. At some point during the day, you'll have call, e-mail or simply walk up to a person you've never met before. And then you'll have to convince them to talk to you. About something you want to talk about.

I call it The Introduction. Those crucial first few minutes of chatting up source can determine whether you'll have an informative conversation or a phone hung up on you. You almost have to psyche yourself up the way you would if you were calling a crush for the first time -- make sure to say their name right, don't sound too anxious, and for heaven's sake, don't say anything stupid.

Some things work better than others. And after a while, you develop your own approach. My tried-and-true technique (in most cases): smile. Just smile, smile, smile smile smile.

I like to put people at ease. To be the welcoming, understanding, nonjudgmental acquaintance you feel like you can tell anything to. So I introduce myself, the company I'm working for and the piece I'm working on with a smile and a warm voice. And it usually works. Sometimes it takes a minute for a subject to warm up, but I most often walk away with a good, informative conversation and having had a few chuckles with a new acquaintance.

It changes, of course, with the story or the source. I can't be buddy-buddy with a police officer dealing with a hostage situation. In those cases, I have to put some bass in my voice (because I have the tendency to sound like a 12-year-old) and make sure they can see that I'm about business. It's hit-or-miss in these instances -- sometimes officials can get annoyed with journalists. But at least they can respect the fact that you're focused on doing your job.

So my question to you, fellow journos -- what's your approach? Homegirl from next door? Information hound? Curious researcher? How do you introduce yourself? And how do your sources respond?

Posted by Veronica Marché at 5:19 AM | link | Tell us what you think [2]

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