Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tracking our storms

Squalls out on the gulfstream
big storm comin' soon...

Here comes Tropical Storm Noel, just as we were thinking we might actually make it through a storm season unscathed.

Noel's current track poses no real threat to us on the west coast of Florida, but our wary eyes will watch until -- hopefully -- it makes a projected right turn up the Atlantic.

Scarred by the terrifying hurricane season of 2004 that saw four major storms rip through the state, we've learned not to take these weather systems lightly. And that's where comes in. Click on the Tropical Storm Update to get updates throughout the day, including stories, the weather service tracking map and a photo gallery.

We also provide the best coverage possible in our print edition, updating the storm coordinates at 11 p.m. each night before the Herald goes to press and publishing weather guru Martin Merzer's informative and entertaining stories.

Here's hoping we can hum a few bars of Jimmy Buffett's "Trying to Reason With the Hurricane Season'' without having to contend with a serious storm this year.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

About Tiffany and her Military Mom's blog

Tiffany Tompkins-Condie has a way of bounding into my office and putting the exclamation point in front of her first sentence. But she often has good cause –- and that certainly was the case when she came in to propose a new blog.

Tiffany is an aggressive photographer, a dedicated journalist who wants to capture everything in images. And she’s a mom. On this day, she had both hats on as she outlined her plan.

She wanted to make sure it was OK to “embed” herself with her son’s squadron. And I admit I did have a moment of hesitation. Photographers, more than anyone in a newsroom, lose their trepidation in dangerous situations. Something about that lens, between them and the scene unfolding in front of them, gives them a strange sense of protection. But there really wasn’t any danger in this, just strict oversight from her son’s superiors.

I remember the day Tiffany told me Daniel had joined the Marines. We both had tears in our eyes –- hers of pride, mine probably a mix of respect and fear. Now, he’s ready to take on his first overseas assignment. Tiffany has captured the moments in this awe-inspiring gallery: Here's a link:

And she has launched that blog: Manatee’s Military Moms

Just as Tiffany’s lens brings us the images of dedication and patriotism, her blog will offer a way for family and friends to connect. And it offers the rest of us a link to that world, regardless of our beliefs.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The magic of space and my Dad

As the seven astronauts blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center today, I had a huge lump in my throat. My dad worked on some of the earliest space missions for McDonnell Corp. in St. Louis.

The words “Cape Canaveral” were magical as I was growing up in the ‘60s, and we dreamed of traveling in space. It could happen -– my dad had models of the Mercury and Gemini at home! We kids were in awe of the possibilities, and Dad was proof that it was within our humble reach.

Now, in another century and with decades of triumph and tragedy behind it, space travel has lost much of that luster. With the world at our Internet-addicted fingertips, kids have far more to capture their fancy.

Or, maybe, just maybe…

Herald reporters Jessica Klipa and Carl Nudi went to school today, joining fourth- and fifth-graders at Kinnan and Abel where the magic was back. They are traveling in space, with their names signed on a banner that is on that shuttle headed to the International Space Station.

The kids sat watching and cheering as Discovery blasted off safely from the Kennedy Space Center. "It's pretty cool," 9-year-old Peyton Jones told Carl. "It's like a part of you is in space."

You can read their stories, and Marty Merzer’s shuttle coverage, in Wednesday’s Herald, and get updates throughout the 14-day mission here on But enough for now of blogging and the Internet and all that stuff.

At least for a little bit today, I was back with Dad, a kid who believes in that magic. And believing -– no, knowing -– that Dad’s out there watching with me. Because he never stopped believing in me or in magic and all things possible.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Reader is right on Kerr

A reader made a valid point over the weekend, criticizing our placement of two feature celebrity obituaries in Friday's Herald. The notice of actress Deborah Kerr's death appeared as a brief on 2A, while the notice for comedian Joey Bishop received a full story on 3A.

Poor news judgment on Kerr? I agree with the caller. Kerr was a remarkable actress, with numerous Academy Award nominations for some very memorable roles. Her beach scene with Burt Lancaster in "From Here to Eternity'' is one of the classic scenes in cinematic history. My personal favorite was her performance opposite Cary Grant in the tear-jerking "An Affair to Remember.''

We treated Kerr and Bishop equally in 1A teasers acknowledging their passing, then dropped the ball inside. Kerr deserved a full-length obit — which she receives belatedly here

No excuses. We need to do better on these judgment calls in our print editions.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why the Herald endorses

Today, the Bradenton Herald's editorial board makes its endorsement on Sunday's opinion pages for the mayor’s race in Bradenton. (In keeping with the spirit of this blog entry –- which is not about who is endorsed, but why –- you'll need to find out who in Sunday's Herald.)

Why do newspapers endorse in elections? That question has sparked endless debate, inconclusive research and soap-box soul-searching for decades.

Political endorsements were once universally accepted –- whether respected or reviled -- as the role of the Fourth Estate. Then newspapers began trying to dispel the reputation of being an “ivory tower” of know-it-alls. Today, some endorse, some don’t…

This blog would go on way too long to weigh all those issues –- and I won’t in this space. But the Bradenton Herald believes we must weigh in on the leadership of our community, especially in local elections. We intend to ignite community conversation.

We need to care. That’s probably where I intended to start this blog. For the Bradenton Herald, our leadership role is most important in local issues, where you rely on us for coverage you can’t find elsewhere. You don’t have time to research all the issues –- that’s what our reporters and editors tackle.

It’s also important for you, our readers, to know that our news reporters are totally independent of that opinion process. Their reporting and discoveries help the editorial board form its platform, but that platform doesn’t dictate coverage.

Our editorial board uses that coverage, as well as interviews and candidate debates, to endorse the strongest candidate. Today's editorial presents the Herald’s choice so readers can compare with their own views.

Our No. 1 goal: to compel Bradenton residents to vote. That’s the foundation of this country.


Here's a link:

Friday, October 19, 2007

Warning! Coming Sunday: fright flicks

We're not above having a bit of fun here at the Herald, even if it gives us the shivers...

With Halloween approaching and horror movies everywhere on TV, we asked our newsroom staff to reveal the scariest flicks they've ever seen. The result is a frighteningly good centerpiece in Sunday's A&E.

I'm probably aging myself to note that one of my personal favorites is nowhere to be found on the staff's list. And that would be ... ''Village of the Damned,'' a 1960 English science fiction film. It only ranks No. 92 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments, but don't tell that to my older sisters. Their screams can still be heard at night in the old Pix Theatre building.

Zombie mutant children — yikes!

Check out Sunday's A&E to see if your scariest movies made the list.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The bridge hand we've been dealt

Breaking news:
THE bridge to Anna Maria Island -- the destination that's the real reason our community is on the map -- is getting shut down for more than two months. Shut down! And everyone's stunned by the incredible news.

We bannered the story in Tuesday's editions with reactions from residents and local officials. And we came back today with reaction from those entrusted with our safety -- fire and police -- as well as publishing the Herald's editorial stance.

My question: How can our local officials be surprised by this? Where's the communication, the planning, the long-term vision? The island's economy is under enough of a strain without businesses having to now build this into their 2008 expectations. And living on the island has plenty of challenges, magnified moreso there than most of Manatee County by soaring insurance rates. Now the state government is telling them that their main access is going to be severed for 10 weeks.

Why aren't those we elect and pay to "get 'er done" working together? It's only October -- so start talking now.

We plan to keep asking and keep tabs on this work.


The late, late, late show (continued)

We have a winner: Colorado Rockies over the Arizona Diamondbacks for a berth in the World Series. The result is posted at

Did you watch Game 4 of the NLCS to its conclusion? It ended after 1:30 a.m. our time, which was a far sight better than Friday night's Game 2. That one started at 10:12 p.m. and ended at 2:46 a.m.

And to the point made earlier about nobody watching baseball that late at night: Game 2 set a television low with a 2.2 national rating -- that's less than half of the previous lowest-ever rating for a league championship series game played in prime time.

The Rockies, who have won 21 of their last 22 games, appear to be an amazing story. Unfortunately, a lot of fans haven't been paying attention. Of course TV now has eight days off to hype them -- the World Series isn't scheduled to begin until Oct. 24.

Maybe we'll all be caught up by the time the Fall Classic finally begins in either Boston or Cleveland.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The late, late, late show

An editor at the afternoon news huddle today asked a curious question. "When did the National League play Game 3?"

It would be easy to miss any number of games in these baseball playoffs. The problem, of course, is the starting times.

First pitch for Game 4 of the National League Championship Series — which could determine the NL's World Series representative — wasn't scheduled until 10:18 p.m. Monday. That's just plain crazy.

OK, Arizona-Colorado might not be a marquee matchup. That doesn't mean you should schedule it when everyone's in bed. Even if you're a big baseball fan you might not choose to hang around for the conclusion. Let's face it: If you can't make it to the closing act on Leno, you probably have no shot of seeing the final out of this game.

And these late starts prevent most newspapers on the East Coast from printing the result (but please do go to to discover the winner).

If Major League Baseball is mystified by sagging television viewership for its playoffs, it should rethink its decision — based on advertising dollars, of course — to allow games to be broadcast when people aren't going to be watching.

You can't blame it all on the D-Backs and Rockies.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Where are the parents? Right here

One of the most frequent questions that shows up in comments on our news stories about kids in trouble: Where were the parents? Well, a story that has landed on 1A Saturday has a much different twist. Parents are front and center -- and demanding to know how their kids could be in trouble for winning a basketball game.

The parents made sure that the Bradenton Herald knew they cared and wanted answers. They packed two vans full Thursday night and drove to the Herald's front door to tell their story, catching newsroom staffers Brent and Jennifer Conklin just as they were leaving for dinner.

The parents couldn't get the words out fast enough: Their sons, members of the Buffalo Creek Middle School boys basketball team, had won a huge last-minute victory a couple nights earlier, against none other than Lincoln Middle, the school where most of them had attended last year. But the parents weren’t celebrating. They were demanding to know why –- after the fact –- the victory had to be forfeited.

Their boys apparently hadn’t met a district-wide rule: They are eligible for middle school interscholastic games only if they meet a “conduct requirement.” They hadn’t met the requirement a year ago at Lincoln Middle. But they sure are trying now, their parents insist. And only to have a game thrown out after a questionable challenge.

The Herald's night metro editor Joe Saunders joined the discussion with the parents, and he got education reporter Sylvia Lim working on the story. So, for the rest of the story, read Lim’s report.

Here's a link to Saturday's story:

I’m sure there will be follow-up stories on rules, children’s sports, parents’ involvement and the like. It's a hot topic that will have tongues wagging. And there's a huge asterisk here: I’m not condoning parents getting all lathered up and overly competitive when their kids are competing. I’ve seen too many parents ruin the day by getting ugly over a game that’s supposed to be teaching team play, team spirit, character building...

But these parents told us they just want a fair shake for a group of kids pulling themselves together to have a great time and stay off the streets.

And that should be a winner.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bleeding for USF

That was quite an idea Florida Blood Services came up with to latch onto the mercurial interest in USF's football program: Donate blood this week at any of the 13 donor centers and receive an "I BLEED GREEN & GOLD T-shirt.

Grant Jefferies' photo on the front page of Thursday's Herald captured the spirit of the cause. Blood donor Jeanette Wirz was all smiles as she accepted her shirt — a great-looking one, too, in the Bulls' green and gold colors with the school's official logo — from Tracie Smith at the Lakewood Ranch Blood Center.

The promotion has been so successful that FBS is extending the T-shirt offer beyond this week.

"Everybody wants one,'' said Amy Lee, FBS community relations manager for Manatee and Hillsborough counties. Lee told me this morning that another 6,000 shirts have been ordered, and FBS hopes to have the shirts available in its mobile units next week.

It's one thing to fork out $10-$20 for a T-shirt. It's another to receive a free shirt of the area's hottest team for donating blood that might be used to save lives.

"We've done shirts before with USF,'' said Lee, ''but it's never been like this.''

Having the fifth-ranked team in the nation changes a lot of things.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Story stirs emotions -- good ones

At a time when everything is under intense budget scrutiny and tightening resources (including yours truly), it was heartwarming to publish a story about a $50,000 grant that is bringing families together.

Reporter Donna Wright’s 1A piece this Monday explored how the grant from the Manatee County Children's Services Tax Fund is helping the Grandparents As Parents Support group. This group helps relative caregivers who are raising children not their own --anyone who has become mom or dad to children not their own, whether they be grandchildren, nieces and nephews or other relatives.

Donna focused on Diana and Jerry Brown’s extended family: son, Jason, 7, four nieces -- Kayla, 12, Cheyene, 10, Ashley, 7, Hannah, 3 -- and nephew Danny, 5. With the help of Grandparents As Parents Support, the Browns are planning to adopt all five siblings. After our story ran, Kayla took a copy of the Herald to school to show her friends. As the oldest, she has had the toughest time adjusting to her new home. “What a burden for those kids to bear,” Donna said to me in recounting their hardships.

The Browns are trying to make a difference for others, too. As an advocate for relative caregivers, Diana has met with lawmakers in Tallahassee to lobby for changes in Florida law that will give relative caregivers more authority to speak in court on behalf of the children in their care.

There are so many families like this right here. Just look at the online comments with Donna's story -– so many of you are working so hard to give a child a brighter future. This story, we hope, will help others find the guidance and support they need.


Monday, October 8, 2007

Service is a wonderful thing

I'm off the journalism path a bit today -- forced to wait at home for a service call. And it has been some wait...

It started seven weeks ago when I learned I would need an upgrade (it doesn't really matter what upgrade, or whom would be providing it). Although I've been a good paying customer to this company for more than eight years, I was told it would be six weeks before a service crew could come out. Six weeks!!!

What can you do? I waited six weeks. Finally, last Wednesday, the day arrived. As I waited for the service provider, my phone rang. Sorry, there's no merchandise in the warehouse. We'll have to reschedule.

The new service window is today, between 8 a.m. and noon. But instead of holding my breath while I'm being held hostage, I thought I'd do something productive and blog.

I'm sure you've all had similar experiences. It makes you wonder how companies can stay in business -- or how much better their businesses might be if they could just provide reliable service to customers.

A friend was promised satellite television service before the NFL games kicked off two Sundays ago. He invited friends over and planned a football-watching party. The workers never showed up. They did arrive the following Sunday morning, but forgot to bring a tall ladder that was needed to install the dish. He's still waiting, too.

I wish the Herald was delivering so many newspapers every day that we couldn't keep up with our customers. I say this knowing that we're not perfect -- it's possible you've had missed or wet papers, or your Herald hasn't been delivered on time. But I can assure you that service is important to us. Circulation Director Terry Tramell and his staff work hard each day, seven days a week, to make sure that the sort of frustration I'm feeling right now isn't experienced by our good customers.

Oh, uh. My phone just rang. The service crew is running late...


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Kudos to our newsroom

On this Sunday, we pause to enjoy some work well done over the past year.

The Florida Press Club has honored outstanding journalism for 56 years, and we're proud of some 29 recognitions given to Bradenton Herald journalists this year.

No, it's not about winning awards. But it's nice to have our staffers recognized among their peers and now our readers for journalism that makes a difference. We think that's worth a headline, and so it is on the Herald's Sunday Local cover -- and here on

A round of applause for each of these winners.

Joan & Jim

Friday, October 5, 2007

Poston/Evers merge in cyberspace

Familiar faces are squaring off again in the Bradenton mayoral race: incumbent Wayne Poston and his predecessor, Bill Evers. This campaign, though, is taking a new dimension of online shenanigans.

Reporter Melanie Marquez got a tip late Thursday that all wasn’t what it appeared online. Take your browser to, and up pops Evers’ campaign site. All parties claim ignorance of the crossed lines, but as of this posting, it still wasn’t fixed.

Poston does have a valid campaign site (Melanie missed that one in print; her online story includes that now) at –- and the gloves are off there, too. Bill Evers’ “legacy” is little more than eroding infrastructure through the incumbent’s website. And Evers’ site has a gritty side-by-side comparison of what he accomplished, vs. Poston’s efforts. (In case you missed Melanie's story,here’s a link:)

Ah, politics. But since Evers' site solicits contributions, there may be more to this story. One attorney told Melanie that while the redirection from the site to Evers' site might not fall under First Amendment rights, the solicitation portion might have commercial value. Stay tuned.

And check out this afternoon, for the latest after these candidates square off at noon at the Bradenton Country Club.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

There's no place like home

We hear more and more stories about Bradenton kids who want to stay here — or return if they left for school or early careers elsewhere.

Thursday's cover story in Weekend provides yet another example. The band "We The Kings" — whose four members attended King Middle School, hence the name — has a new CD on a New York label featuring songs with titles like "Skyway Avenue'' and "This Is Our Town.''

Hanging around Bradenton has fueled the band's energy and creative juices. As frontman Travis Clark explained in the article: "We kind of wanted to give an original point of view to the kind of music that we do, and use Bradenton as a model for what we want to say, how much it means for us to be from here.''

The band apparently has a solid fan base and is landing some good gigs. They open next Wednesday at Jannus Landing, a popular St. Petersburg rock venue.

"We couldn't find a better place to call home,'' said Clark.

Now how cool is that?


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

LWR vs. Bradenton: Neighbors or foes?

Our two print editions – the Bradenton Herald and Lakewood Ranch Herald – have almost everything in common, but allow us to tailor the news for each area.

Having those editions has created a microcosm of the debate that sometimes rages between those areas. I regularly get calls –- mostly from longtime Bradenton residents –- about why they have “all” that Lakewood Ranch news in their newspaper. When we walk through the paper, it becomes far more obvious that the rest of Manatee County has even more local coverage. But perception can be everything. So how to tackle that “us vs. them” -– from both sides?

A current poll on seems to indicate you all are trying just that. Check out some of these voices:

The poll question: If Lakewood Ranch incorporates, should the new town have its own police department or continue to rely on the sheriff’s office?

And your responses go to battle:

"It's a great idea for the community."

"Yes, they should be required to provide all their own services. All the residents there have more money than they know what to do with, so let them pay. Why should we furnish them with anything? If they want to be on their own, let them totally be on their own."

"With the arrogance or, better put, disdain that some LWR residents view the rest of Manatee County, I say 'Don't stop with incorporation. Become your own county.' With that would be all the infrastructure required and expense. Let's see, law enforcement, government, water processing facility, waste water facility, fire dept., EMS & waste pickup. Oh yes, Public Works and Road Maintenance to fund and build all those roads so that the new arrivals can get around easily. Just think, you'd be masters of your own future! … It's called 'Paying your own way.'"

"Wow, such resentment toward LWR. The taxes that LWR generates for the rest of Manatee County I guess could be put back into just LWR instead of supporting the rest of the county. That would be ideal! I say to all those resentful people out there, be careful what you wish for and remember who is paying the taxes!"

"All those taxes LWR generates? Have you considered that LWR does not pay its way. That all those taxes are being eaten up by all the infrastructure, roads, schools, water lines and on and on. And still the rest of us have to pay more for everything we buy, more for gas and higher property taxes to add to what you pay…"

"Not sure if we are dealing with ignorance or jealousy here. Many out east, not just Lakewood Ranch, are paying a lot more in taxes for their homes than residents who have been here a lot longer. These residents out east are not getting back as much as paid in. There definitely is not much police presence and there are extra CDD fees that we pay out east for the landscaping. Many people just do not like changes. But get used to it, it is happening everywhere in our country."

And then there was this generous observation:

"Sometimes as a Bradenton / Manatee resident you could feel a little offended when talking to LWR residents. But take into consideration:
-- You are not living on what was a cow paddock 10 years ago in "neverland" area caught by traffic congestion.
-- You probably might have some subdivisions in your area which are usually connected to each other. I.E. you can even "visit" your neighbor on the property behind your house without the need to go back on LWR Boulevard.
-- They indeed do have nice shores, don't they. I mean those "sandy" shores on these little lakes and shores on tiny rivers. I for my perspective prefer having a real nice beach on the Gulf of Mexico or being in the natural part of Florida… So anytime you talk to a LWR resident who paid waterfront prices for a piece of cow paddock and you think he annoys you:
Relax, sit back and enjoy the sunsets on the Gulf...
And if you are living out in the county: Enjoy the freedom you have.
No offense meant!"


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A tail-wagging story

It began as a photograph published Sept. 10 in Gallery, the Herald's weekly showcase of favorite images taken by staff photographers. Paul Videla had snapped a shot (do photographers still ''snap'' shots in the Digital Age?) of a German shepherd holding a rubber toy.

Paul wrote that the Animal Network was seeking donations of extra-large and sturdy toys for big dogs, which often have longer waits before being adopted or placed with rescue organizations. (The German shepherd photographed was waiting to go to a shepherd rescue group.)

Well, it was as simple as that. The donations came pouring in, none more signifcant than from the Kids R Kids learning center, which collected at least $600 worth of toys and food for more than two weeks and presented them Monday to the Animal Network.

It's a great example of "Giving Back," a Herald feature that spotlights good deeds in our community. Check out Tiffany St. Martin's story, with photos by Grant Jefferies, in Tuesday's Herald and at
In case you missed the story,here’s a link:

The German shepherd, by the way, is now at Bishop Animal Shelter awaiting a new family. You can check on her status by calling 792-2863.


Monday, October 1, 2007

How to reach your elected officials

At least one blogger and several online readers have asked for e-mail addresses to reach our area representatives. Here are their addresses -- the old-fashioned way, and by e-mail (via their web sites). All have indicated they would like to hear from you on the issue of children's health insurance.

In the U.S. Senate:
• Mel Martinez, Republican
5100 W. Kennedy Blvd., Ste. 190, Tampa, FL 33609

• Bill Nelson, Democrat
Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse, 801 N. Florida Ave., 4th Floor, Tampa, FL 33602
or: U.S. Senate, 356 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510

In the U.S. House of Representatives:
• Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota/Manatee
1001 Third Ave. W., Ste. 380, Bradenton, FL 34205
235 N. Orange Ave., Ste. 201, Sarasota, FL 34236
1516 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515

• Kathy Castor, R-Tampa (includes some of Manatee)
4144 N. Armenia Ave, Suite 300, Tampa, FL 33607

In the Florida Senate:
• Mike Bennett, Republican
3653 Cortez Road W., Ste. 90, Bradenton, FL 34210

In the Florida House of Representatives:
• Frank Peterman, Democrat
710 Ninth Ave. W., Bradenton, FL 34205

• Ron Reagan, Republican
7011 15th St. E, Ste. B-1, Sarasota, FL 34243

• Bill Galvano, Republican
1023 Manatee Ave., Ste. 715, Bradenton, FL 34205

• Keith Fitzgerald, Democrat
1660 Ringling Blvd., Stes. 310-311, Sarasota, FL 34236