Monday, December 31, 2007

A final farewell to 2007

The year is finally closing out -– and what a year 2007 has been. Sure, every year has its ups, downs, thrills and defeats. But somehow this year’s tensions seemed to set the tenor for everything.

As the newsroom prepared our yearend packages to publish this past weekend, the economy led most discussions -– except when talk turned to the war in Iraq. That stayed in a category all its own, somehow at the core of everything else happening around us. And, as always, sports, movies and TV brought out much-welcomed lively banter.

To compile our local lists, reporters, editors and photographers focused on their beats and their top stories in 2007. The compilations dominated Sunday’s newspaper and, and were definitely among the top-viewed stories online yesterday -– and they remain among the most popular today. In my own personal review, I found an encouraging thread throughout -– not just the hope for a better 2008, but efforts throughout the past year to take a painful or tragic event and use it to find a solution.

And then I came to the “Final Farewells.” Our news editors know I treasure that page each year, commemorating those who died in the past 12 months. It’s humbling to see the legacies each person left, to take time to remember. This time, though, my heart stopped as I turned to Page 9A in Sunday’s edition. Somewhere in that blur of words, I knew all over again why so much had changed for me this year. I had bid a final farewell to my Dad, who had always been my vision, my inspiration, my foundation.

I know too many friends who lost a parent this year. But in each condolence, I heard the joys shared in a lifetime. One of those friends noted in her Christmas card that she hadn’t ever really felt like an adult until she lost a parent. How oddly true…

That might be why I know I'm finally making a realistic New Year’s resolution: to never say farewell to Dad and his dreams for me.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Fore! It's the 2008 Golf Guide

Be sure to check out our 2008 Manatee/Sarasota Golf Guide, which was inserted in Sunday's Bradenton Herald and Lakewood Ranch Herald. Low handicap players and duffers alike will want to keep a copy handy.

Besides a course locator map and essentional information on where to play, the guide includes some helpful stories written by golf reporter Mike Henry on improving your game and tracking down local bargains.

Mike, a true golf historian and devotee of the sport, might also start a few arguments with his Top 20 lists of the game's best players, courses and notable moments. Would you rank seven players ahead of Tom Watson? Could there be a course better than Augusta National, where the greatest story ever unfolded in 1986?

We also included our Dream 18 holes -- showing layouts and descriptions of the spectacular holes that make Manatee/Sarasota such an inviting place to play.

Enjoy the guide, and start making some tee times!


Monday, December 24, 2007

A (very) white Christmas

Greetings from the beautiful but frigid Midwest!

I awakened this morning to the clopping sound of horses' hooves. The Amish seem to have no trouble traveling through this winter wonderland. Those of us attempting to travel in motorized vehicles, however...

The weather advisory last night called driving conditions "treacherous to impossible.'' Think about that today as you make your way around Manatee County to do some last-minute shopping.

Here in west central Wisconsin, the temperature had risen this morning to a balmy 18 degrees. About 10 inches of snow has fallen since Saturday. No need to dream about a white Christmas here. We're all set!

It's enjoyable to read and keep up with the news from afar. My sister couldn't believe the debate raging over smoking on the beach. A non-smoker, she was certain she would be able tolerate a butt or two for the opportunity to lounge on Anna Maria Island this afternoon.

We're bundling up now to head out and feed the horses. If the roads are clear we'll probably head into town for a latte at the coffee shop. Church is at 4 p.m., and the Christmas carols will again be sung in Norwegian. Yes, they do have a different perspective on things in these parts.

But one thought is universal: Holiday greetings and best wishes to all!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Reaching out for the needy

Ashley Canesse, development director of The Salvation Army Manatee, sent me an e-mail last week. We touch base regularly, so the note wouldn't have been unusual.

Except the subject line in this e-mail implored, "We need help..."

Ashley is an amazing person, if you haven't met her. Despite her line of work, she simply doesn't ask for anything. She's always giving, and closes every conversation with "God bless." Somehow, you always walk away feeling better, stronger -- you know, blessed.

This e-mail was different. It captured the tenor of struggling times throughout our community:

In the 7 years I've been with The Salvation Army, I've never seen donations and Angel Tree adoptions be such a struggle. It's too late for people to adopt and truly the community has been generous. But the financial contributions are now down and it's affecting programs and services, especially if the downward trend were to continue.

We asked columnist/reporter Vin Mannix to take a pulse throughout our non-profit support groups, and he found so much of the same. We have a very generous community. And we have a community very much in need.

Let's hope Vin's story prompts a few more donations, a few more volunteers who will make a difference in someone's life. If you are in need, our wish is that this helps you connect with that special someone who can help.

Who to contact here:
The Salvation Army, 1204 14th St. W., will serve dinner 4 p.m. Tuesday
Our Daily Bread, 1426 14th St. W., will be open Christmas from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Meals On Wheels Plus of Manatee County: Call 747-4655 to donate.
United Way: Call 746-4088 to donate.


Friday, December 21, 2007

We're not Scrooges, but no gifts, please

The Manatee County Building Department, already losing its director under challenging circumstances this year, has come under increasing scrutiny this week, as reporter Natalie Neysa Alund has extensively covered the unfolding story.

Prosecutors dropped charges against Mike Todoroff, a building inspector fired after he admittedly took materials from a building site. Todoroff claimed he had permission to take the material as a gift. The charges were dropped in large part because of testimony from another inspector, John Darley, who stated that he and other county inspectors routinely accept gifts. Darley has been suspended without pay, pending the investigation now launched into the department's practices.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker has noted that building department employees are prohibited from accepting gifts, spelled out in their ethics policy -- revised in July after Todoroff's arrest. Some readers have taken exception to enforcement of that policy, and have speculated that even Herald reporters might accept such gifts.

Herald newsroom employees cannot accept gifts of monetary value, and it's a firm chapter in our newsroom's ethics policy. At the least, any newsroom staffer accepting freebies could create a conflict of interest. And there is the potential for much worse: compromising the integrity of our news report.

Here's our guidelines, as written in our ethics policy:

Gifts, Tickets and Meals
You are required to return anything of more than token monetary value given to you by any news source. If that isn't possible, you must contribute the item to an appropriate charity. You also must send a letter or e-mail to the news source, explaining our policy.

Books, tapes, CDs and software may be accepted from publishers for review or story purposes because they are difficult to pay for or return. The items should eventually be donated to a non-profit enterprise.

If you are dining with a news source, you must make every effort to pay for your own expenses or to pick up the check for both of you. You should not dine with the news source a second time unless he or she agrees in advance that you will pay for your meal.

-- Joan

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Dan Miller Post Office

Congratulations to former Rep. Dan Miller, who's in line to have Bradenton's downtown Post Office building named after him.

The announcement was made Monday on the steps of the 71-year-old building at 824 Manatee Ave. W. by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, who occupies the seat Miller held from 1992 to 2003.

It's fairly common to have buildings and landmarks named for politicians and public servants, though not everyone agrees that it's a good practice — partly because the idea often springs up from other politicians. The Florida congressional delegation introduced the bill to honor Miller that was approved by Congress and now goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, one of Florida's most visible landmarks, was renamed in 2005 to honor former Gov. Bob Graham, who was instrumental in getting the bridge built after the original structure collapsed in a tragic 1980 freighter mishap.

At Monday's ceremony, Miller's wife, Glenda, said she was surprised that her husband would agree to have his name on a building because he has never sought recognition.

And critics — not of Miller, but of the practice to honor former officials this way — say that's exactly the point: These people were simply acting on the will of the people, and they should remain selfless out of office.

We're not taking sides here, but it is a relief that the place where many of us buy our stamps won't be renamed the Nike Post Office. On the other hand, the revenue generated by selling corporate naming rights might actually keep the price of stamps from rising again.


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

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Newsroom takes a holiday break

We're heading into the typical crunch of year-end madness in the newsroom. And it's always highlighted by trying to make ends meet as too many of us try to cram in the rest of our vacation days before we lose them.

So many, in fact, that we decided to start celebrating the holidays a bit early this year, so more of us could enjoy the festivities. Thanks to universal desk editor Mary K. Means, we have an annual potluck feast that starts at noon, and continues well into the evening as the night crew brings in the umpteenth round of courses. There was ham and turkey, of course. Everyone was asked to bring a side dish -- and they ranged from Business Editor Jennifer Rich's scrumptious casserole to the night crew's typical cuisine expertise, KFC's classic cole slaw. (Mary K reminds us every year that potato chips are not a vegetable...)

We threw in a gift exchange this year -- nothing flashy, mind you. With a $10 limit, the gift had to have that personal touch to be priceless.

Which brings me to why I'm sharing this with you. Our newsroom made time stop for just a bit last Wednesday. We stopped answering phones and emails. We stopped posting breaking news. We looked up from our computers, took a break from all those interviews -- just for an hour or so.

We gathered around the center of the newsroom, and tapped East Manatee Editor Jim Jones to be the official Santa. Draped in red ribbon, Jim started handing out the gifts: a bottle of wine, a toast of champagne, a Books-a-Million gift certificate. The hook-em horns hat for always-Texan Gary Taylor. News Editor Matt Pallister got Photo Editor Tom O'Neill some classic Tupperware so Tom would quit spilling his soup as he rushed past Matt's desk, eating on the run. Graphics artist Eric Chapman found just the right slice of Wisconsin cheese for Managing Editor Jim Smith, the newsroom's favorite cheesehead. Local news editor Kelly Lipp found the ultimate calendar for Angie Monroe, who as newsroom manager is always tending everyone else's calendars. Photographer Grant Jefferies knew when he drew my name that the perfect gift would be that stocking for Joan and Joey, my Tibetan spaniel...

Each of the 50 or so gifts brought a smile, and the realization that we care for each other. We somehow have taken the time to get to know each other. And when we turned the real world back on, we knew a bit better that we're all in this together.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Community prays for Lexi's family

We have been following the tragic story of little Lexi Antorino since we got a tip Sunday afternoon about her swing-set accident at Palmetto Pointe. As reporter Maura Possley reported in the Herald today and in an online update, the 2-year-old girl remains in a coma in the intensive care unit of All Children's Hospital, surrounded by family and friends hoping for a miracle.

I watched the online comments from readers attached to the stories Monday and today, almost dreading what I might find. Too often, it seems those anonymous message boards are mistaken as an invitation to spew gripes and ugly retorts.

Instead, we are reading notes from a community expressing its grief and hope for Lexi and her family. Messages of faith and encouragement have filled page after page. Most of all, many are praying for that miracle.

Trust God..... He is right beside your little girl every minute..My prayers are with you.

Bless her little heart, we all are hoping and praying that she fully recovers. I hope the media is going to keep the public updated on her progress so we will all know.

One comment did manage to suggest legal action, but they were quickly rebuked:

To the commenter "EMS" shame on you for suggesting legal action at this time. The poor family is dealing with a horrific tragedy and all you can tell them is to get a good attorney? Where is your heart?

All these messages should give us hope. Though we wish it didn’t take a tragedy to pull the community together, there is much goodness out there. This poignant posting, which one of my reporters interpreted for me, sums up the thoughts expressed throughout:

Que dios te quide nina

May the Lord keep you, child.

-- Joan

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Talking stocks: Our latest blog

You’re probably beginning to think I’m blogging only to send you to other Herald blogs. Hey, I figure we’re all in this together -– why not tout my fellow bloggers!

So here's the latest. We’ve launched a blog on our Business home page:
Taking Stock, by business reporter Brian Neill. Here’s Brian's introduction:

A lot of guys like to spend hours talking about sports. Not me. I'd rather talk stocks. Taking Stock is a place to do just that. I want to hear about your proudest picks and your lousiest laggards. And I'll be sharing mine with you as well, in addition to talking about the overall market in general.

Taking Stock is not investment advice and should not be construed as such. It is a forum for stock market and investing enthusiasts. Any stocks or strategies mentioned by myself or other posters are not to be considered endorsements. You can, and quite possibly will, lose money.

He has even picked a fictitious portfolio, which we’ll track each week and report how it did every Monday -– both in the Herald’s print editions and here online. (A tease: Brian had some impressive gains last week!)

Check out Taking Stock first thing Monday morning. This week, Brian blogs on locking in gains on stocks: when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em.

Among the do's: Sell any losing position if it's 8 percent below your buy point. The stock publication also recommends selling some of your shares to capture gains once you've profited 20 percent or more in a holding.

Or not. You decide. But I guarantee Taking Stock will give you something to think about.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

A voice from Afghanistan

Tiffany Tompkins-Condie, our photographer/Military Moms blogger, forwarded me an e-mail this morning that was so humbling it made both of us cry. She has it posted, too, but I hope you agree that it's worth this double exposure.

After her blog yesterday on Mr. C -- a local angel to those who are serving and their families -- Tiffany got an email from a soldier stationed in Afghanistan. SSG John King, who noted he has been in communications for six years, wanted us to know that Mr. C has been awesome for him and countless others. And John also reached out to Tiffany, thanking her for her blog. It's always an amazing feeling when we realize that some story or effort by the Bradenton Herald has touched someone and helped them.

Here's John's e-mail:


I am a soldier currently stationed in Afghanistan. I've received two care packages from Mr. C and his class. I plan on dropping in on him and his class when I return in March. I also am touched when I realize how much people back home really care. A lot of people go out of their way to make sure they let us know they are thinking about us. It's a great thing they do and you'd be surprised how much of a difference it makes for us here.

You are doing a great thing as well. I read your blogs daily. They kind of help me feel closer to home. I can imagine my mother going through the same things that you articulate so well. Thank you for the service you are providing.


Thank you, sir. We owe a lot to you.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The R-A-T stuff

A friend who grew up in the Panhandle swears there was a high school whose cheerleaders led this cheer:

R-A-T, R-A-T,
We want a touchdown
RAT now!

If you've heard the native drawl from that part of the state, you can believe they not only led the cheer -- it was probably a huge hit with fans.

That's just a way of backing into this week's big water-cooler sports story. The Florida High School Activities Association just announced the state's all-time top 100 prep football players.

Included on the list are two very deserving athletes who hailed from Manatee County: Henry Lawrence and Tommie Frazier. But missing are Peter Warrick and Adrian McPherson, two terrific players who played under Paul Maechtle at Southeast High.

As Roger Mooney points out in his Wednesday column, it's a daunting task to compile a list such as this, culling players from one of the nation's richest football proving grounds -- over 100 years.

I guess you could say that, for one reason or another, some players just didn't have the RAT stuff.

If you haven't seen the list, here’s a link:

And let the arguments continue.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Are reporters safe covering crime?

Law enforcement reporter Beth Burger joined our newsroom exactly two months ago today. She “escaped” Wisconsin just before the snow set in –- and today’s 1A weather story should cement that decision. Beth was an education reporter at her last newspaper, so this is a significant change of beats for her.

When I asked Beth to jot down her observations yesterday for this blog, I was planning to tell you about the trepidations of an editor sending their reporters to a crime scene. I was planning on pointing to a story that Beth had planned for today’s editions on a community patrol, where residents are teaming with sheriff’s deputies to help a neighborhood living in fear.

Instead, Beth was sent Saturday night to Holmes Beach, where a body was found near a homeless encampment. So I’m sitting here on a Sunday morning, counting how many deadly scenes Beth has covered in just a few weeks. At least two murders, two drownings, two decomposing bodies –- all here in Manatee County. Not Miami. Not New York. Here. Our home.

Beth is a young, fearless and determined reporter. But is she safe?

That concern should grip every editor as they send their reporters into potential danger. We don’t feel uncertainty about covering breaking news, but we always need to remind reporters and photographers to be careful. We try to pair reporter and photographer, so they're not alone. We try to know exactly where they're going to be. It’s a little easier today in the world of cell phones and instant communication. Just 10 years ago, I’d send a reporter to a hostage situation or a homicide, and we might not hear back for hours -– until they found a pay phone, or an officer allowed them use of a phone or radio.

Beth’s experience last week at her second murder scene in just days is worth sharing, if only because it underlines the importance for us to be covering these stories –- not for bleeding headlines, but to keep exposure on challenges and crises that need addressing in our community.

Beth was covering the vigil for Machelle Brinson, a woman killed last month in front of her daughters in her home. Here’s what she found:

The street was lined with cars. I parked one block away. There were hundreds of people, some wearing T-shirts. There was a loud speaker system. Religious and community members spoke of the need for revival. One man spoke about reaching out to young black men so violence stops. After talking with family members I found my car and left. I could still hear singing on the speaker system as I made it to my car…

Minutes later, the night metro editor called her with reports of another shooting. It was on the same street, just outside Palmetto.

I arrived on the scene greeted by several squad cars with blue flashing lights. Those same memorial T-shirts I had seen less than an hour ago greeted me again. The woman, Velma Mooney, who lived in the home where the shooting took place was in shock. She was trying to figure out what was going on.

Was our reporter safe? As terrible as it sounds, Beth felt so.

Police were there. I already knew the people in that neighborhood from covering the vigil. Even if I didn't talk to them they had at least seen me there. I felt comfortable enough. There's something about doing your job that doesn't let you think about those things too much.

I often send my reporter stories home. One of my journalism teachers at Georgia wrote back: "There is something about walking in, doing your job, being a reporter, that forms a semi-solid shield about you. Won't stop a bullet, but it often slows a knife or blunts the blow from a baseball bat."

The most terrifying moment for me is going into these neighborhoods and talking to someone for the first time. At times, I've been cussed at and yelled at trying to get stories. They think I'm not a part of their world. They think I'm there to take a piece of them away. I'm there for their story. There has to be a moment in which we all realize we're people. Then it doesn't matter if I'm covering a shooting at a crime scene.

Wise words? I think so. And she’s just getting started. I hope she never loses the awe of what she can accomplish as a journalist. And I hope she never loses that opportunity.