Sunday, September 30, 2007

Insuring our kids

“Our children first.”

That’s a pretty straightforward statement, and one that the Herald newsroom has tagged for a yearlong project aimed at improving public awareness of the challenges -– and opportunities -- facing Manatee County's children.

In today’s Sunday Herald, you’ll find the latest chapter on 1A, and it focuses on health insurance. How timely. The clock is running out on federal funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, known as SCHIP.

The program has become a political football between an encouragingly unified Congress and President Bush. He reiterated in his weekly address yesterday that he plans to veto pending legislation -- supported by Democrats and many of his fellow Republicans -- that expands SCHIP. The bill would more than double the $25 billion program, adding $35 billion over the next five years. It calls for raising the federal tobacco tax to $1 a pack to finance the expansion.

Herald reporter Tiffany St. Martin reports today that as many as 750,000 children are uninsured in Florida. That number is nearing 9 million throughout the country, the U.S. Census estimates.

On the Herald’s opinion pages (10-11C) today, two of Manatee County's elected representatives -– both Republicans -– joined pens to write in support of expanding SCHIP. U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan voted for the House version of the bill. State Rep. Bill Galvano chairs the Healthy Families Committee in the Florida House and sponsored the KidCare reform legislation this year. The Children’s Health program, they write, “gives kids from low-income families access to the care and medicine they need to live healthy lives.”

As some argue over the danger that this is moving toward "universal" or "socialized" medicine, thousands of our children are living without that guaranteed access to health care.

We hope the Herald's continued coverage will spark at least discussion, if not prompt more calls for action.

We need to hear from you about how we can work together to make “Our Children First” a success. Add your thoughts here in our blog’s comments, or send me an e-mail. And if you are interested in joining a Herald-sponsored focus group for “Our Children First,” raise your hand. We hope to have the first meeting within a few weeks.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Singing the Florida blues

Do you think it's time for Florida to adopt a new state song?

For the record, our "official'' song is the 1851 Stephen Foster standard "Swanee River (Old Folks at Home),'' which was adopted in 1935.

Written by a great American musical storyteller and commemorating a river (actually, the Suwannee) that flows across Florida to the Gulf of Mexico, it's a song about yearning for your beloved home. I always assumed that Foster must have known the river and its people to have captured the dreamy sentiment so well.

Apparently Foster never even visited Florida, which shouldn't disqualify "Swanee River'' as the state song. However, folks have complained for years about the southern black dialect Foster used for lyrics. Specifically, the song contains a reference to "darkeys'' which many find racially offensive.

Now a movement is under way — again — to replace "Swanee River'' with a new state song. The Florida Music Educators' Association is leading the search, and more than 100 entries have been received. (Details are available at

And, as education reporter Sylvia Lim wrote in today's Herald, our own Rowlett Elementary boys choir has submitted a version of the song with new lyrics written by music teacher Dave Walters.

There's no harm in having some musical fun. If Foster were alive he might even submit a new song himself for consideration. But no doubt there are much bigger decisions facing Florida's future, so we hope the Legislature doesn't get all hog-tied on this in the next session.

Anybody for Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville''?


Thursday, September 27, 2007

This is not a sports blog, but...

OK, this really isn't a blog about football. You don't want me writing about football, trust me! But who can resist when there's so much team spirit in the air? It's fun to embrace USF Bulls fever -- a welcome change of pace. What would you rather read today: another housing scare story, or reporter Jessica Klipa's 1A story on University of South Florida's school spirit running rampant -- on our own campus?

I know my druthers, and I'll bet you're with us on this one. For football fans, it's a no-brainer, and our sports section has been packed with stories. But we can't resist touting the revelry and local pride on the front page this week, either.

As Jessica wrote, the fever has gripped the Manatee-Sarasota campus. The mayor of Tampa may have declared Friday Green and Gold Day, but our students are already packing green in anticipation of Friday night's sold-out game against West Virginia U.

Maybe only a non-football fan like me would hope that this high stays around for a while -- win or, gasp, lose!


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Are you a pigskin picker?

So who do you like Friday night, West Virginia or South Florida?

Do you really think the Bucs can beat Carolina on the road?

The Herald's weekly Pigskin Picks contest, which appears on Page 6D in Wednesday's paper, is becoming as popular as the USF Bulls. More than 300 people tested their football acumen last week for the chance of winning cash prizes of $100, $50 and $25.

The entry form lists 10 matchups each from the colleges and NFL, and you'd better get in the neighborhood of 16-18 correct if you expect to be in the running for a prize. Believe me, that's not easy. I'm going to play myself this week — just for fun, I'm not allowed to win — to see how I do against some formidable competition.

Now about that USF game ... you gotta coin?


Monday, September 24, 2007

Herald story connects myositis sufferers

Donna Wright, our health/social services reporter, has written countless stories that have reached out to people in need. Her recent story about victims of myositis, a group of autoimmune diseases characterized by profound and extreme muscle weakness, is a good example.

Donna wrote about Marianne Moyer, a 59-year-old Bradenton retiree with an adult form of the disease known as polymyositis. Moyer recently organized the Southwest Florida Myositis Support Group to offer support and find treatment options from others suffering with the incurable diseases.

Since the story ran in the Herald, Moyer has heard from several people in both Manatee and Sarasota who have symptoms and welcomed a place to turn. One of the more gratifying calls she received was from a mom whose 8-year old daughter was diagnosed in July and who is struggling with doctors, prognosis and fears. She now has been looped into the support group.

Says Moyer: “We made a difference in these people's lives! Thank you again. I don't think we've heard the last of people reaching out to us.”

In case you missed the story,here’s a link:


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Police blotter adds "Featured Fugitives"

A long-time popular feature in the Bradenton Herald every Sunday has been the “Police Blotter.” Anchored on Page 4 in the Local section, the blotter lists crimes committed during one week in Manatee County -- zone by zone. It’s a labor-intensive feature, because we gather the information from stacks of paper police reports, then input the data into our own computer system. But I know I check out my zone in the paper every Sunday morning to see if there’s any crime trend that should concern my neighborhood.

This month, in a partnership with Manatee County’s Crime Stoppers, we launched a new twist: “Manatee’s Featured Fugitives.” Every Sunday, the Herald will publish information on some of the most-sought suspects in local crimes -– their mugs, basic information and the crimes.

And, the sheriff’s office reports, the word is out and the calls are coming in. In the first four weeks, a half-dozen suspects have been caught. Last week, we noted two suspects -– Billy Thompson and Chauncey McDuffie -– who were apprehended. This Sunday, on Page 4C in the Herald, you’ll find two new suspects along with the others, sent to us by Det. Dan Hutto, Special Investigations Division of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and Crime Stoppers coordinator.

We list the anonymous tips line and how to contact investigators with information, which can lead to rewards up to $1,000. More importantly, it provides a way for citizens to help make our streets safer.

-- Joan

Thursday, September 20, 2007

This morning's paper, updated online

Well, our 1A centerpiece in today’s newspaper got hit with a rain delay. But it provides a good example of how complements the Bradenton Herald.

The story heralds the return of “Get Down Downtown” after the event's hiatus during hot summer months. Reporter Melanie Marquez captured the anticipation of every Old Main Street merchant awaiting the crowds bringing in good business tonight. She updated how the local business owners have taken over the monthly event, working together in a partnership to give residents more reasons to come to downtown Bradenton.

But outdoor events in Florida always have that weather asterisk, and the storm clouds have gathered. So when organizers canceled the event just a little while ago, we didn’t have to wait until tomorrow’s editions to let you know. We posted the cancellation notice online just a few minutes after it was announced at noon.

The good news: The “Get Down Downtown” crew will try again next Thursday evening (Sept. 27). From your comments online, you are ready to get back downtown. Don’t let a little rain stop you!


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The real Dick Vitale

Dick Vitale showed us again why he's really a very easy guy to like.

As reported by Vin Mannix in today's Herald, Vitale spoke to students Tuesday at The Horizons Academy about getting their lives straightened out.

"Here you've got kids who have very little guidance and direction at an early age, and you're hoping and praying they don't allow that to bring them all the way down,'' Vitale told Mannix after the talk. "But they still have two things going for them — they're young and they're healthy, and if they really want to make it, they can.''

If you only hear the basketball commentator's bombastic courtside schtick, it might be easy to pass him off as just another talking head. But Vitale, a Lakewood Ranch resident whom we've spotlighted on occasion for his charity work, is trying to make a difference in our community.

Way to go, Dickie V.

-- Jim

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Posting your comments on

The Web is seemingly endless in opportunities, and we want you to tap into that world via every day. With that, we hope, comes some pride of shared ownership on your end as the user.

Our local content is our pride and joy –- stories, photos, graphics, slide shows, audio and more. And we want to hear your comments about those local stories, events and issues -– that’s the premise of this blog, for instance. And that’s the premise of “Post-a-Comment” on the Herald’s local stories. It’s a great place to have a community conversation.

But why do some of our Web users seem to take every anonymous chance they get to go off on a sometimes-ugly tangent about a subject or even a person -– especially when it has no relevance to the story? Some of our high school football stories have been a sad example of that. Team rivalry and competitive spirit aside, we’re disappointed by some of the really negative bents they have taken. In some cases, the kids and the game aren’t even part of the discussions any more.

In most cases, the obnoxious comments are moderated by the next person’s entry -– and that’s encouraging. We aren’t asking you to censor your beliefs, but we are asking you to be fair and focused. Here are some guidelines from, a site about commenting:

Post intelligently and calmly.
Stay on topic, and be original.
Read it before you post -– is that really what you want to say?

We’ll keep you posted on new and improved methods of moderating as we continue to develop In the meantime, here are the rules attached to all of our commenting lists:

Although we do not have any obligation to monitor this board, we reserve the right at all times to check this board and to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable to us in our sole discretion and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy the law, regulation, or government request. We also reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions. All threats to systems or site infrastructure shall be assumed genuine in nature and will be reported to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Our next generation of journalists

We're happy to be participating with our county high schools in a project we call Journalism Next. In today's Herald, Bayshore senior Kara Rush shared her feelings about being in her final year of school. Look for submissions from other high school journalists each Monday and Thursday on the front page of the Local section.

It's encouraging to see students show an interest in journalism. Understanding the role of the Fourth Estate and learning the importance of protecting our First Amendment freedoms are as essential today as they've ever been.

I recently flipped over a page on my Freedom Forum calendar and was greeted with this quote from Emilio Castelar, a Spanish political figure:

"When I take in my hands a newspaper, when I survey its columns, when I consider the variety of its matter and the richness of its news, I cannot help feeling a rapture of joy for my age and pity for those ages which did not know this prodigy of human intelligence.''

Those are comforting words for newspaper veterans -- never mind that they were written more than 100 years ago -- and inspiring words for young journalists who might help us perpetuate the important role newspapers play in our changing society.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday Morning Coming Down #2

Good morning, it's Sunday, September 16. And how are you spending your day?

In Monday's Herald we run a short feature called "7-for-7'' in which we look at the week ahead and point out events and things of interest for readers. I mention this today because one of the features of 7-for-7 is a category called "Summer of Love flashback,'' and I happen to be having one right now, a SOLF that is. There's this song in my head and I ... well, you know what that's like.

Now, while it's true you have to be nearly as old as me to have an official SOLF, anybody can Google a few key words and you're almost there -- in bellbottoms.

I just found the video and audio of the song on YouTube -- I'm listening to and watching Spanky & Our Gang perform "Sunday Will Never Be the Same''. Another click and you have the lyrics (which don't agree from site to site), the chart position (Billboard No. 9), even the guitar chords. Just about everything you'd want to know about the song is available (including: Terry Cashman of "Talkin' Baseball'' fame co-wrote the lyrics).

But nowhere did I find a warning that the catchy "la-la-la-la-da'' intro melody will be impossible to get out of my head.

Even so, not a bad way to start the day.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

We're tired of O.J., too

There he is again in the news. He even made the front page of the Herald (and we invite your feedback on our news decision).

This time the dateline is Las Vegas -- yes, the tired act known as O.J. Simpson has now become a Vegas punchline -- and the latest questionable deed involves stolen memorabilia.

Who would want O.J.'s memorabilia anyway? Sure, it would be cool to own the jersey of a Heisman Trophy winner, but wouldn't it be almost freakish to have a jersey once worn by Simpson? Would you really want to be anywhere near that DNA?

It's easy to believe that collectors and fans might be interested in divesting themselves of his memorabilia. I just can't imagine there would be any takers. Except for O.J., of course.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday Night Lights

Be sure to read high school reporter John Lembo's column today on the Southeast-Manatee football game. It's really the only setup you need for this classic rivalry.

John disdains cliches, but recognizes it's nearly impossible to write about the matchup without resorting to, well, cliches. So his ending (and I won't spoil it for you here) is perfect.

When I moved to Bradenton in 1999 there were only five high schools with football programs in Manatee County. Now there are nearly twice that many. Other good programs are springing up and certainly some new rivalries are taking shape.

But there are no brighter lights than Southeast vs. Manatee. It's special every time these storied programs with their legendary coaches meet. And we really can't say more without, well, stepping into more cliches.

It'll be standing room only tonight around the rim of Hawkins Stadium. If you don't want to get lost in the sea of rowdy fans, you can tune in on television and radio. And by all means visit for the best online coverage available.

(add your own cliche here.)


Thursday, September 13, 2007

How is your local news zoned?

A director at a local non-profit organization asked me a common question today: Does her news release get in both editions of the Herald?

The answer: Yes, with a footnote: It might appear on different pages, with a slightly different "look" or headline.

We have two editions: the Bradenton Herald and Lakewood Ranch Herald. That allows us to tailor our local news presentation better for readers in different areas of Manatee County. Readers of the Bradenton Herald will see more front-page news about North Manatee, Bradenton, the islands, Palmetto and other areas. In Lakewood Ranch, readers will find the same stories, but they sometimes are in the Local section. Their front page will feature more about the Lakewood Ranch area.

Today’s front pages are a good example of different story play.

The Bradenton Herald has a centerpiece story following the tragic helicopter crash in the Gulf. And Vin Mannix wrote a story celebrating the 60th anniversary of Manatee High School’s Sugar Canes.

The Lakewood Ranch Herald’s centerpiece features the great fun Braden River Middle School students had when knights actually appeared on horseback. The helicopter saga is also on the page, just a bit lower. And the Sugar Canes’ story is in the local section.

The other stories appear in both editions: Reporter Sylvia Lim’s exclusive story on how a Florida Supreme Court ruling could affect how local governments can pay for development projects; Washington Reporter Lesley Clark’s story about our local representatives’ reactions to the latest developments on troops in Iraq; and Miami’s Martin Merzer weighing in on those pesky storms brewing out there.

-- Joan Krauter

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9-11 brought home

One thing that rings true six years later: Remembrances and speeches commemorating 9-11 are best conveyed by those who bore witness to the unthinkable devastation. Today's Tribute to Heroes memorial service at Bradenton City Centre featured a chilling keynote speech from Garrett Lindgren, a retired member of FDNY Rescue 3.

Lindgren, who now lives in Bradenton, had to choke back tears as he recounted in vivid detail the events of 9-11 as they unfolded and the brutal aftermath. It's impossible to imagine what he and his "brothers'' endured as they rushed to provide rescue and support after the Twin Towers collapsed.

Many of Lindgren's comrades were lost and -- as he took time to point out at the end of his talk -- many others suffered permanent injuries.

We can't possibly know what the rescue teams went through, other than it was probably more than most of us will ever be asked to do.


Where are you on 9-11?

Covering anniversaries of big events offers a challenge for newspapers -– especially as the years start rolling by. We made a big deal of the 20th anniversary of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge collapse in 2000, but toned down our coverage five years later. How much coverage should we devote as time distances us from an event? What seems fair and appropriate? What goes too far?

These questions help us determine the extent of our coverage. We keep a “tickler” in the newsroom to note such dates throughout the year, reminding us to plan ahead for local stories and photographs to publish.

Yet something was missing as the editors discussed how to mark today’s sixth anniversary of one of the worst days in American history.

9-11 wasn’t an “event.” As we revisit those images -- from the Pentagon, from the Twin Towers, from a field in Pennsylvania -- the reality of 9-11-01 should still feel raw and new. But our editors probably feel a lot like many of you – while it’s hard to imagine six years have gone by, the memories of that date are blurring a bit. Not the vivid images we watched on TV screens that day. Those were permanently burned into our minds. But each year, time takes us farther away…

In yesterday’s discussions, an editor brought it home for me – it’s not looking back that matters. It’s using the memories of that awful day to move forward in building on hope, on resilience, on belief in good.

Where were you when you learned that a plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers? I was just leaving home for the Herald newsroom when I got a phone call, telling me to go back in and turn on the TV. I watched the second plane strike, then somehow found myself in the newsroom planning a special edition to publish within a few hours.

That’s what we journalists do -- we throw ourselves into the news, almost as a shield. Somehow, if we’re working it, the news can’t hurt as much. Somehow, if we're bringing the news to you, we can make a difference.

That’s my resolve – to keep working at it. We pause today to formally honor the heroes and victims of 9-11. And we remember all that we need to build.

-- Joan

Monday, September 10, 2007

Unbeaten and unbelievable

How about the USF Bulls?

It's surprising that Saturday night's thrilling overtime victory over Auburn wasn't enough to catapult the Bulls into the AP's Top 25. Beating a Southeastern Conference team on the road is no easy feat. Maybe the voters were already sleeping when the game ended around 1:30 a.m.

One honor did come the Bulls' way today: They were named the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week for their 26-23 victory, which leaves them undefeated at 2-0. Also, Nate Allen was named Big East defensive player of the week for anchoring a defense that forced five turnovers.

No state may boast three traditional college football powers like defending national champion Florida, Florida State and Miami. Now it's looking like Jim Leavitt's program deserves to be mentioned in that group. Florida may well be the best team in the nation; could USF be the second-best team in our football-crazy state this season?


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Goodbye, David Klement

Hello again,
Speaking of Kris Kristofferson, did you realize he toured this summer at age 71? That's amazing. Maybe there should be a new term for people with that kind of staying power. "Senior'' just doesn't seem adequate.

Which brings me to the topic I really wanted to mention today: the departure of David Klement as the Herald's editorial page editor. I hope you saw the story on him in today's paper or at

As he mentioned in the story, David refuses to acknowledge he is 67. And if you didn't know he was that age, you wouldn't believe it. He has been involved in a diet regimen and fitness program for some time and he has never looked better in the eight years I've known him.

I once knew a man in his sixties whose daily regimen included pole-vaulting in a sawdust pit beside his house. (He'd first sip a small glass of red wine to get the juices flowing.) He advised me: "Stay active. If you rest, you rust.''

What's really encouraging is that people David's age who remain active, motivated and productive can continue to create opportunities for themselves. You certainly can't accuse David's new employer, the University of South Florida's Sarasota-Manatee campus, of age discrimination. Age be damned, they made a smart hire.

This is David's last week at the Herald, so be sure to check in with him and read his final editorials and column. We'll keep you posted as we plan a community tribute for him for his 32 years of service at the Herald.


Sunday Morning Coming Down

Good morning...

I had the opportunity to interview Kris Krisofferson earlier this year and I asked him how long it had been since he had a beer for breakfast (remember that great line from his classic song "Sunday Morning Coming Down''? He chuckled, and replied: "A long, long time.''

It's worth bringing up today because, well, it's Sunday -- and another NFL season awaits. Now I know most of you abstain from liquid breakfasts, favoring instead a more traditional pregame breakfast of bacon, eggs and grits. But I'm wondering how long you think it's proper to wait before you hoist that first celebratory drink (and it doesn't have to be a beer, or even alcoholic. A virgin Bloody Mary sounds good right now, if only for the olive and pickled okra!). After church? Game time? First touchdown? Halftime?

Cheers to the first weekend of pro football...


Saturday, September 8, 2007

Our first blog

That first line originally said “Welcome.” But I quickly realized most of you are welcoming me. I’m finally blogging. We’ve been talking for months about launching the Editor’s Blog. But the executive editor -– me -– kept finding a zillion excuses to push back the start date.

So here we finally are. This blog -- as well as all the other blogs to follow from Bradenton Herald reporters, columnists and other newsroom staffers -- is a conversation with you: our online audience and our Herald readers. It's a conversation with you about the news side of the Bradenton Herald, Lakewood Ranch Herald and

I guess I’ve feared that this blog would replace your daily phone calls and conversations over coffee. Instead, I've realized, it’s simply one of the more accessible ways for the editors at the Bradenton Herald to discuss story ideas, decisions, ethics, readership – and just plain life.

Someone dubbed blogging “conversational media,” and that’s our goal. Most of this blog’s entries will be from me and our managing editor, Jim Smith. We have that daunting responsibility for every day's story choices, photo play, inclusions, omissions and more in the Herald. We hope to share insights with you on how decisions are made, and reach out to you on issues that challenge and shape our community. And, as those issues warrant, other key editors will weigh in here.

Our goal: to update the Editor’s Blog daily, usually before your lunch hour so you can check in for the day. You can still contact us the old-fashioned way: call me at 941-748-0411, ext. 2000 or email at; Jim’s at 941-745-7021 or

But let’s get on with the blogging.