Thursday, November 29, 2007

A new entertaining Herald blog

Our Editors’ Blog is getting some entertaining company on

A trio of Bradenton Herald features department staffers –- editor Jana Morreale, and reporters Bobbie Nelson and January Holmes -- launched our “Buzz Worthy” blog this week.

They promise to entertain and inform all of us with tidbits and pithy insights on everything from the local arts and entertainment world, to the national stage when it’s abuzz.

Here's how you find it from our home page. Click on this link or Entertainment from the home page's left rail, and you'll find the prominent blog logo.

Or bookmark this, and you'll be there whenever you need.

You’ll learn more about their interests -- and, well, their quirks as they get more comfortable writing to you. So please, let them know what you’re thinking.

Today, Jana challenges us to dump any Scrooge vibes as the holidays consume us, and instead celebrate our blessings. What better way than to highlight the best lights in town -– Christmas, that is. Send your favorites to

The Herald Features crew plans to blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Be there. Check out the blog -- and while you're at it, send Jana and the rest of us your thoughts.

We’ll keep updating you as we add more blogs and interactive features to A reminder that sports writer/columnist Roger Mooney has two blogs on our Sports page:

The Strike Zone on baseball,


The End Zone on football,

OK, Roger, this executive editor wants to know: When are you going to blog on that miracle No. 1 team, the Missouri Tigers?! No pressure from this Mizzou journalism alum…

Go Tigers!


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

'In Memoriam' stirs war debate

We recently began running the daily list of U.S. deaths in Iraq on Page 2A under the headline "In Memoriam: Casualties in Iraq.''

The decision to publish the Iraq deaths came after requests from readers who feel it is important to acknowledge the sacrifice our military men and women are making in the war. We agreed.

So did letter writer Dolores Sauer of Palmetto, who wrote:

Whether one agrees with the current administration's policies, or the lack of them, it is good to focus on the young men and women who currently serve and have given so much in this questionable war.

And Thomas Hannon, a Herald subscriber, thanked the paper for publishing the feature “on behalf of all of those whom have given their lives in the war in Iraq.”

But a caller over the weekend said it is "depressing'' to see the deaths each day. He didn't ask that we stop publishing the list, but suggested we use smaller type and give it less prominence.

War is never an easy subject for readers. Some feel we give Iraq too much coverage; others say the war should be on the front page more often. (A caller chastized me one day after Iraq failed to make 1A, asking, "Where is your conscience?'')

Too little? Too much? There's no happy middle ground when it comes to coverage of a war, including how we acknowledge the dead.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

An "add-at-end" you can't cut

“Add-at-end” used to be a common newsroom term, back when national and international stories moved in “takes” over the wires. For whatever reason, the story had developed further, or additional information had been requested. So that last take, the “add-at-end,” would be sent.

Technology and ever-tighter newsholes have made that an almost archaic phrase. You’re far more likely to see “opt-trim” and “end-opt-trim” throughout a longer story, helping copy editors fit a story into whatever space has been allotted without cutting essential information.

Well, this blog is an “add-at-end” for last week’s blog about "Gallery" that shouldn’t be an optional trim. In today's Sunday Herald, reporter Donna Wright examines how the new face of homeless in Manatee County -– those workers suddenly jobless, in large part, because of the housing industry downturn –- is draining resources available for those in need. Photographer Brian Blanco actually shot the family in "Gallery" while on assignment at Our Daily Bread for Donna’s story. Efrain, Beatriz and their 7-month-old child are one of a growing number of families seeking help for the first time.

"We are going to see more homeless and more children in the street as foreclosures increase,” Maj. Robert Pfeiffer, the Salvation Army's director of social services, told Donna. "We are reaching a critical melting point in the social structure in this country. Social-service agencies that provide assistance are being inundated."

Another nostalgic symbol from newsrooms of old is “-30-", the tag that was used to signify a story's end. Well, before you end this one, here’s the invaluable add-at-end for Donna’s report:

To help, call (all are 941 area codes):
• Project Heart, Manatee County school district: 708-4971, ext. 222
• Salvation Army of Bradenton: 748-5110
• United Way 211 of Manasota: Dial 211 for social-services referral or 308-4357 for information
• Community Coalition on Homelessness: 747-1509
• Manatee Community Action Agency: 827-0188
• Our Daily Bread: 746-4088 during business hours or 745-2992
• Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness: 955-8987


Here's a link to Donna Wright's story:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanks for giving, readers

The response to Herald photographer Brian Blanco’s “Gallery” photo centerpiece has been the perfect antidote to some of the vicious news this week.

We publish “Gallery” every Monday –- a single image by one of our photographers that captures some poignant local scene or moment. This week, Brian chose a scene from a visit to Our Daily Bread, Bradenton’s soup kitchen for the needy. He knew as soon as he saw this couple and their baby that
their story should be told.

Watching Efrain and Beatriz walk into Our Daily Bread on Thursday morning with their 7-month-old son Manuel, I get the sense that they're not a family accustomed to accepting handouts.

A victim of the struggling real estate market, Efrain, a skilled drywall worker, was in high demand a year ago. Today, he says he's lucky to find work a couple of days a week, and two weeks ago he was forced to resort to bringing his family to the Bradenton soup kitchen for the homeless.

Brian told readers how humble they were, how respectful -– and how thankful that they had a meal to share. And when he explained that Efrain and Beatriz were too proud to share their last names, we knew that had to be respected.

Readers began calling and writing Monday morning, wanting to know how they could help. A Palmetto woman’s note was typical of their reaction:

I read the story on Efrain and Beatriz and their son, Manuel. It brought me to tears. I would like to help them, or others like them, especially over the holiday season. If you could provide me with some way to donate items to them I would be very grateful. I am a mother of 2 children, so this story especially touched my heart.

We directed them to Our Daily Bread (941-745-2992) and thanked them for caring. I talked with director Mary DeLazzer at the kitchen this morning as they were preparing for their big meal today. She was overjoyed by the kind responses -– but Efrain and Beatriz haven’t been back again.

“They are hard-working, very private people,” Mary said. “That photograph showed so many what really, really wonderful people they are. I had one lady come in crying, with the newspaper in her hand… Another family wants to adopt them for Christmas.

“They’ve come into Our Daily Bread before, but when he finds work, they don’t come. They won’t ask for anything.”

So Mary is keeping the envelopes she has received for the family, hoping they do come back to receive the gifts so selflessly given. She couldn’t talk much longer this morning as they were preparing for their lunch -– Our Daily Bread takes care of Thanksgiving Eve, and then the traditional Thanksgiving feast is served Thursday by all the volunteers at The Salvation Army and local churches.

On this Thanksgiving, we thank our readers for showing a little kindness. We thank Mary and the countless other selfless people like her who give so much of their time to help others. And I’m reminded to take a moment along with friends and family, as Brian did in his Gallery, to remember the true meaning of Thanksgiving:


The Salvation Army serves a traditional holiday meal from noon until 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The dinner will take place at the new Salvation Army Center for Worship and Service, 5328 24th St. E (corner of State Road 70 and 24th Street East).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Global warming is no festival

It was encouraging to see another healthy turnout Saturday for Efest, the festival at Lakewood Ranch that serves to inform and enlighten us about environmental issues that threaten the future of Mother Earth, and to offer alternatives for greener living.

We hope the message means more to people than enjoying a glorious November in Florida with balloons, juggling and free entertainment. Because our planet, to steal an old expression from my mother, "is going to hell in a handbasket.''

Our Sunday coverage of Efest included a story by correspondent Wendy Dahle, photos by Tiffany Tompkins-Condie and a column by East Manatee Editor Jim Jones, who spoke to vendors setting up for the event. Jim's takeaway:

Until Efest arrived, I couldn't have told you what a "double flush toilet'' is. Or that a skylight can be installed that conveys light around a 90-degree bend.

Well, that's a good start. Jim applied the prediction from a fortune cookie to the mess we're all in with the environment: "A crisis is coming your way. Get ready for it.''

Meanwhile, a loud warning was sounded in our lead World story of the day, out of Valencia, Spain. According to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, representing the world's top climate experts, the effects of global warming are "so severe and so sweeping that only urgent action will do. We are all in this together. We must work together.''

Events such as Efest and Earth Day are helpful in creating public awareness. But the United States — recognized as one of the world's worst polluters — must quit dragging its heels and become a global leader in the cause.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

The joys of Living Here

If you need a reason to remember why living here is sweet, all you had to do this morning was step outside. You were greeted by another cool, clear, bright sunshiny day in Manatee County. Simply put, grand.

That’s what my friend reminded me as we mulled the Sunday paper. There’s a bonus magazine section inside today’s Bradenton/Lakewood Ranch Herald. Today’s blog is a shameless plug for Living Here -– capitalized because it’s the title of our second annual magazine, and capitalized because it deserves to be.

At least for an hour or so today, put aside all the gritty challenges of living here, lower-cased. You know the list: crime, corruption, the high costs for gasoline, insurance and keeping the roof over your head.

There are countless joys for the young and young at heart found throughout Manatee County. That’s the theme of this year’s Living Here. As Managing Editor Jim Smith, who oversaw production of the magazine, writes in his opening column: “Old and young alike embrace the benefits of our tropical climate. Sometimes, together.”

That was the assignment as Herald reporters and photographers set out to capture the highlights of their beats for Living Here. From culture to care-giving, from outdoor sports to indoor dining delicacies, I’ll bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised by all that’s captured here.

And all that capturing came together in 80 attractive pages thanks to Presentation Editor Jennifer Conklin. This is probably the most challenging project she tackled this year, folded in with all her other duties. And, we hope you agree, she has come up with a winning package.

We plan to have all the pieces of Living Here online soon for you to enjoy and share. For that tabletop keeper, however, grab an extra copy of today's Sunday Herald. Seriously. Some good friends of mine in Chicago are trying to decide where to spend their holidays. I plan to mail them the answer.


Friday, November 16, 2007

How do you take your Barry Bonds?

The Herald is one of the few papers I viewed today that didn't run a full story about Barry Bonds on the front page. Why didn't we? Do you think it belonged there?

I'm sure you know by now that Bonds, baseball's career home run king, was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice Thursday. That's big news anywhere you play it. We chose to strip the news across the top of the Sports section, and here are a few reasons why:

First, we gave the Bonds story prominence on 1A by placing the bold headline "BARRY BONDS INDICTED'' in the skybox above the Herald masthead. That headline was nearly as big as our strip headline, which pulled readers into a strong local story by reporter Donna Wright about nonprofits that are struggling to provide resources because of gas prices.

Second, our centerpiece story on 1A was a sports story — and another strong one. Roger Mooney wrote about a former Manatee County High football star who now serves as the team chaplain for Fort Myers High. Those teams were scheduled to rekindle an old rivalry by meeting in the first round of the playoffs.

Local sports is strongly woven into the fabric of our community, and making the football playoffs is a big deal — just ask Manatee, Palmetto and Bradenton Prep, the three county teams who teed up the ball Friday night. We're not squeamish about giving big play to these kinds of stories.

Even so, we often hear complaints from readers when we run any kind of sports story on 1A. "Put the sports on the sports pages,'' we're told. And it's extremely rare that we run two sports stories out there.

In addition to the prep football centerpiece and the gas story, we had two other worthy local reads on 1A: the latest turn on the Anna Maria Island Bridge story by Duane Marsteller, and Stacey Eidson's take on the first cold snap of the season. That made for a good mix of four local stories (a fifth in the Bradenton edition was a McClatchy story about a move to ease congestion in airports for Thanksgiving), and fulfilled our daily quest to be the definitive source for local news in Manatee County.

But back to Bonds. Was the story worthy of 1A? Yes, we believe it was. Did the story itself need to be out there? It deserved a presence, certainly, and we feel we accomplished that with the bold skybox headline and photo of Bonds — without sacrificing our local coverage.

As always, we encourage your feedback.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Farmworker package didn't work

The best news presentation of related stories, photos and graphics usually occurs when everyone works together on a project. Poor presentation can plague us when we fail to communicate from editor to editor, photographer to reporter, and on through the chain.

The latter happened to one of our stories Sunday, and the impact of the story was a far cry from what the reporter wrote. Reporter Maura Possley set out to update the condition of farmworker housing in Manatee County as this year’s harvest season begins.

In 2000, Herald reporters found deplorable conditions, and their stories helped bring better inspections, better cooperation and better accountability for workers. They also found business owners who were working just as hard to get it right. Bob Spencer was one of those employers, and he has worked at both the local and state level to strive for continued improvement in farmworker housing.

As Maura walked through Spencer’s West Coast Tomato and other properties with inspector Jeri Briggs, she saw respectable living conditions -– even “cushy,” as Briggs noted. That story, however, ended up being illustrated by a negative quote, a questioning headline and a photo of a gritty bathtub -– the only exception of that day’s tour.

Not fair. When Bob Spencer called on Monday, he had every right to be upset. We had rushed to get a section out on deadline, without thinking about the impact of all those pieces together. In his letter to the editor in tomorrow’s editions, Bob writes:

West Coast Tomato has invested millions of dollars in purchasing and maintaining migrant housing. Our goal is to provide a safe and sanitary living environment for the workers who leave their families to come and work for our company…

The Bradenton Herald chose to publish only the photographs that reflected our housing in a negative manner. This violated the journalistic ethics that require a story to be reported fairly.

Being in the business of communication, we sometimes forget to do that in-house. I apologized to Bob for the poor combination Sunday, and applaud him here for the work he does in our community.


Monday, November 12, 2007

My my, hey hey...

Good morning, it's Nov. 12 -- Neil Young made it to 62!

If you were reading our print edition today you noticed that 7-for-7, a regular 1A feature in the Monday Herald, was nowhere to be found. My bad. I'm normally responsible for the pithy content in that rail, and no excuses. I took the day off.

But thanks to our news desk for running Young's photo on 2A with the daily list of birthday celebrants. (They could have chosen Tonya Harding.)

Had the rail appeared, the Monday segment almost certainly would have been devoted to Young and his incredible catalog of music. Trying to think of just one meaningful phrase to share today isn't easy -- here are hundreds and hundreds of rich songs to mine. Guess I'll take the easy way out and go with one of his most recognizable rock anthems:

My my, hey hey
Rock and roll is here to stay
It's better to burn out
Than to fade away
My my, hey hey

Having a Neil Young song in your head is not a bad way to start the week.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

A writer's best tool: listening

When I asked columnist/reporter Vin Mannix how he found Vietnam veteran Brad Smith, I knew there would be a story behind the story. He didn't disappoint.

Vin has been mulling how to share Smith’s story for months. He met the Bradenton resident on Good Friday last April, at a children’s parade in Palmetto. And, in Vin’s words: “I was immediately taken by his story-telling ability, his vivid recall and his willingness to discuss an experience that was traumatic in every aspect.”

So today, on Veterans Day, we have the honor of a window into the resilience of a Vietnam POW. Vin’s first official interview with Smith was on Memorial Day, and after two hours of coffee and listening, Vin had more than 100 inches of notes. How did he mold that into today’s story? Here’s a bit of insight into this writer:

Of all the things he told me, two things grabbed me:
One was how he overcame the hate for his captors.
The other was the brown sock and white sock he realized he was wearing before the fateful mission, his reaction, and that he still has a piece of that brown sock.

Vin knew he had his story’s lede-in, and the ending. And, he says, he simply let Brad Smith tell everything in-between.

Late last week, Vin and online editor Ed Scott captured the video here on with Brad Smith. It’s a strong exclamation point to Vin's story and Grant Jefferies' photos today.

Here’s one more glimpse of Vin’s modest dedication: He thanked us for the opportunity to give this veteran’s story –- representative of so many thousands of other veterans today -- the time and space it deserves.


Friday, November 9, 2007

Quit the mud-slinging. Please.

Tell us the truth, now: Which headline in the Herald troubled you the most this week:

"$4 per gallon in our future?'' or "It's a runoff''

Local gas prices are scary, for sure, but waiting until Nov. 27 to find out who'll be Bradenton's mayor is a tough one to swallow. Don't you wish they could Get 'R Done sooner?

We heard Friday that the incumbent, Wayne Poston, has promised to run a clean campaign the rest of the way, and let's hope that's the case for both him and former mayor Bill Evers — who said he'll respond to Poston's pledge in his own good time.

These guys just don't like each other. We've known that for a long time, since well before they ran against each other the first time in 1999 (another runoff), and neither guy did a very good job of staying above the mud-slinging that characterized this contest.

Our city faces some major challenges and we'd love to hear some positive dialogue framed in the form of concrete proposals from both men before we head back to the polls to decide this thing once again.

How about it, gentlemen?


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Now, for the rest of the story

Several readers called and e-mailed this morning, wondering what happened to “the rest of the story” in the Bradenton Herald. They were referring to the well-written saga about the 76-year-old Broward deputy killed on-duty.

Readers of our Bradenton edition were engrossed in that front-page story, turned to Page 6A where the story (written by Miami Herald reporters) was supposed to jump -– and found an Associated Press version of the same story. But no jump.

Oops. That was a victim of poor zoning between our two print editions. In the Lakewood Ranch Herald, the story was contained inside and only on Page 6A. That’s our first deadline, and the Miami Herald –- our sister McClatchy newspaper -- hadn’t sent their version to us yet. So the News Desk used the AP story.

For the next edition, we brought the story out on 1A, and we now had the Miami Herald’s version. The plan was to jump that to the same news hole on Page 6A -- but the new jump page never got on the press.

That shouldn’t happen, and we apologize. I am glad you’re reading us and holding us accountable. The good news is that the entire Miami story is here online, too.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Anna Maria residents get results

Now that’s power of the people!

Within one month of learning that the Anna Maria Bridge was going to be shut down for 75 days during peak tourism season next year, the Florida Department of Transportation has recanted today.

Herald reporter Nick Azzara has been relentless in his coverage of the issue, with stories ranging from who would be most affected and what options should be considered, to how dangerous the bridge might be and what it really means to have PCBs in a bridge structure.

Nick sent an update for within minutes of the announcement this morning that FDOT will close the bridge for 45 days in October and November 2008, instead of 75 days starting in April. Because the work needs to be done, this scenario won the most support from people who responded to FDOT’s survey.

We hope our coverage helped keep the pressure on government officials to pay attention. Hats off to residents and businesses for getting involved -– from the public forum last week where hundreds of you turned out, to Barry Gould’s web site that tracked all the stories and developments, and to all who took FDOT’s survey.

What a pleasant change of pace -– residents and businesses were actually heard by a government entity, and action was taken. We’ll continue to follow developments throughout the day, and give you a complete report in Wednesday’s Herald.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

Busting gang members, Mafia style

Don't forget to set your clocks back -- and get an extra hour to read this Sunday’s Bradenton Herald.

You’ll find an examination of the affordable housing market in Manatee, stories on festivities ranging from the Snooty gala to the Taste of Manatee (which continues Sunday), Parade magazine, arts coverage, a look at the interior design business, a near-final look at Bradenton’s mayoral race, and plenty of college football.

But the story I found the most intriguing is by reporter Natalie Neysa Alund, who explores how Manatee County law enforcement officials have opened a new arsenal against illegal gangs in our community. And they’re the first in the state of Florida to try this:

Gang members are being prosecuted through state racketeering laws — modeled after the federal Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act created in 1970. In the first months used in Manatee County, 23 members of two criminal street gangs have been arrested.

As Natalie reports:
For years, the government tried tackling illegal gangs by taking gang members to court one at a time. And, just like the classic mob cases, witnesses would disappear or refuse to testify against the gang members.
Case dismissed.
So prosecutors, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement decided to try using RICO laws. With racketeering charges, cases can be prosecuted without the testimony of witnesses and victims. That solves one of the biggest problems prosecutors have in attempting to convict gang members…

Why Manatee? Because the public has never been more aware of the growing threat of gangs since the Easter gang shootings on Coquina Beach and the shooting death last May of 9-year-old Stacy Williams III.

The RICO approach is not without its critics, and Natalie talks to them, as well. It’s a compelling report.

And, for the sleuths in you, one of the area’s top fugitives was caught in the past week, thanks to CrimeStoppers. There’s also a new suspect being sought on charges of attempted murder. See our report exclusively on Page 4C.