Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Handcuffed at the polls

Did you vote yet today? I did, and I need to vent a bit. I have No Party Affiliation -- a "lower-case independent." I make no declaration to either the Republican Party or the Democrats. I vote for the candidate, for their platforms, and on individual issues.

And it concerns me that I can’t have a voice in the Florida presidential primary. Multiply that by all the other NPA independents, registered Independents and -– because of an early calendar date -– every Democratic vote in Florida.

As our lead story says today, Florida is the most diverse, largest swing state about to declare its residents’ verdict on the presidency and politics.

Well, make that the Republicans are about to render a verdict. Sure, the Democratic outcome will provide huge momentum to the victor. But those votes should count.

When I went into my polling place this morning, a couple who moved to Florida last year were there to vote for the first time. They were taken by surprise that they could vote only on the property tax amendment.

"Seems to me that I just lost a bit of my American rights," the gentleman politely told the polling volunteer. "But we'll still weigh in where we can."

The turnout has been steady this morning, according to our reporters canvassing polling places throughout Manatee and Sarasota. We'll provide updates and color throughout the day in BREAKING NEWS here on Bradenton.com.

And you can find interactive content and results later today on our Florida Primary presidential election page.

Who knows what those results would be if every voter could have that constitutionally guaranteed voice.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Opening up about Vietnam

I hope you read reporter Tiffany St. Martin's story in today's Herald recounting local veterans' memories of the Tet Offensive. (In case you missed the story, here’s a link:)

This was a traumatic time in America's military history, and only those who served in Vietnam can describe what the experience was like.

One of those is East Manatee Editor Jim Jones, who assigned and edited the Tet story. Jim was stationed in Germany on Jan. 31, 1968, when the Viet Cong launched their massive assault against the South Vietnamese and American military. But he had volunteered for a tour of Vietnam, and soon after Tet he found himself there.

A column Jim wrote Jan. 20 soliciting feedback for the Tet story triggered a touching response from Jim Price of Wimauma, who served in the 156th Aviation Company in Can Tho from October 1966 until May 1968.

Wrote Price: "I troubled some days before deciding that this was the time to look at my past. I finally decided to share with you something I should have shared with my family long ago. My children are adults (shucks, we even have grandchildren) and have never heard what I am sharing with you. The period has been just too dark for decent people to contemplate.''

We have always respected the fact that many Vietnam vets have been either unwilling or unable to talk about their experiences in Southeast Asia. But time seems to be easing the burden for some, allowing us to learn things we couldn't possibly have known — and, more importantly, creating healing opportunities for those who served there.


(To read Price's entire letter, here’s another link.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Readers question story play

We had several readers challenge us today on how we played the news of Joan Perry's death. The community lost a tireless champion of the environment and a longtime activist for Anna Maria Island.

Reporter Carl Nudi captured that in a feature story obituary, which we published today on Page 1C, the Local cover, in our Bradenton edition. In the Lakewood Ranch edition, the story and photograph were printed on Page 3C. Mrs. Perry, 68, had been married to Jerry Perry for 43 years. He told Carl: "She loved a good fight and loved a good cause. One of those good causes was fighting for the planet."

What troubled some readers, however, was how that compared to another recent story. Just a week ago, another woman died in a traffic accident in Lakewood Ranch. Ann Hopp, 64, was killed in a car crash at the intersection of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and The Masters Avenue. The crash shut down the major intersection for hours.

Reporter Richard Dymond worked the story all day. He met with George Hopp, the victim’s husband of nearly 30 years, at their home that evening. Mr. Hopp, recalling his wife’s smile and British accent, told Richard she was "vibrant, funny and wonderful… She could meet someone on an airplane and be friends in a second.”

This story and photograph were published on 1A last Saturday in the Lakewood Ranch Herald, because the tragedy was the local news of the day there. But we also published it on 1A in the Bradenton Herald, where it probably should have been in the local section. That’s why we have two editions of the newspaper -– to emphasize local news better for each.

One longtime reader said in her message today, “I’ve lived in this area my whole entire life. It doesn’t make sense to me that this lady who has done so much in this county got so much less coverage in the Bradenton newspaper than the woman who lived in Lakewood Ranch. Was that why -– because she lived in Lakewood Ranch?”

Our unequivocal answer: Of course not. So much of our story play is determined by what else is going on that day. But the challenge is a fair one. Both Ann Hopp and Joan Perry will be missed by many. But each was better known in their own community, and the Herald should have reflected that better in how the stories were played.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Suffering from electyle dysfunction?

Take nothing away from the Republican presidential candidates who have been criss-crossing Florida all week drumming up support for Tuesday's primary. There's plenty of intrigue in the GOP race, with no clear frontrunner in sight.

We'll be covering local appearances by Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani this weekend, just as we caught up with Mitt Romney Wednesday in Lakewood Ranch. We'll also be keeping tabs on John McCain, who appears to be the biggest challenger to Romney in the Sunshine State.

But we suspect there's more interest in a fundraising event for Hillary Clinton on Sunday at a private home in Sarasota. Although the Dems promised to sidestep Florida this week, Clinton is here to drum up more financial support for her campaign.

And, frankly, the feuding going on between Clinton and Barrack Obama — and Bill Clinton's growing involvement in his wife's campaign — is generating more intrigue and headlines than all the posturing being done in the Republican camps. In that respect, South Carolina's Democratic primary Saturday has more appeal than the stumping in Florida.

As one of our posters to Bradenton.com lamented: "I'm suffering from electyle disfunction (sic) ... I can't get a rise over any of the candidates.''

Maybe things will change here by Tuesday, after the dust has settled in South Carolina. All we know for sure: It's a long way to November...


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Some online extras to check out

If you’re browsing around for extras online, check out these today on Bradenton.com, courtesy of our VP/Interactive Jackie Luper:

We have an extremely cool blog set up with Sarasota Film Festival executive director Jody Kielbasa and director of programming Tom Hall. They’re live from the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. Today, Jody blogged about his escapades trying to get into the movies The Deal, The Guitar, The Wackness – and then the exclusive IndieVest party.

Listen to the speeches of three winners of the Martin Luther King Jr. Essay/Speech Contest: Dyrren Barber, Marena Taylor and Michael Shekari.

And hear reporter January Holmes' interview with Tracy Morgan, an actor/comedian who will be performing Friday and Saturday at McCurdy's Comedy Theatre and Humor Institute. The former "Saturday Night Live" star says he's a family man at heart.

If you have ideas for similar "extras" with our stories, please post your comments.

Happy Sunday!


Thursday, January 17, 2008

The greatest show in Manatee County

I’ll show them – I’m going to run away with the circus…

Do kids still dream this stuff? I found myself wondering as I listened last night to Gordon Dole welcome Manatee County’s VIPs during the official launch of our 2008 County Fair.

He was recalling the buildup, in his childhood growing up here, to Ringling’s Barnum & Bailey extravaganza each year in Sarasota. He used it in a great recognition of the fairgrounds right outside our tent:

Who needs the circus? We have the Greatest Show in Manatee County, in the heart of Palmetto, for the next two weeks, he reminded us.

Fairs and circuses aren’t all warm and fuzzy, mind you. Plunging roller coasters, skyscraper ferris wheels, eery clowns, crazy divers jumping 90 feet into a tub of water... Well, make sure you get your heart ready, whether it’s your regular medication or your buddy’s dare.

The weather? Well, this morning sure felt like Fair time. Anyone who has been in Manatee County for a bit knows that The Fair has a reputation of bringing a northerly round of winter madness into town – rain, cold, blustery kind of stuff.

But our reporters and photographers will be out there every day, sharing the fun with readers and letting you know what’s coming up. We also will highlight, as in many years past, the Blue Ribbon winners. Their photos will appear in the Bradenton Herald’s local section, and here online on Bradenton.com's Manatee County Fair page.

OK, back to last night. Each year, a citizen of Manatee County is selected as the year’s Distinguished Citizen. And each year, it’s amazing how the winner exposes the deep roots so many of our citizens have here. Manatee has a proud, proud history.

This year’s winner is no exception. Oscar Marvin "Buster" Griffith, founder of the Griffith Cline Funeral Home, was named Manatee County's 53rd annual Distinguished Citizen of the Year. Columnist/reporter Vin Mannix and photographer Brian Blanco shared the moment with all of you in this front-page story.

So the 2008 Manatee County Fair is officially open. Whaddya say? Let’s all run away to the fair…


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Did you notice the new look?

Whether you picked up a copy of the Bradenton Herald or the Lakewood Ranch Herald this Sunday morning, you probably noticed a new look. (And if you didn't notice, that's OK. Grab a paper from earlier in the week and compare them.)

Both Heralds have shed their solid blue mastheads. Before this change, the masthead type -- either "Bradenton Herald''or ''Lakewood Ranch Herald'' -- was printed inside the blue block in white letters.

In today's Bradenton edition, the masthead type returns to the more traditional black, in capital letters. Meanwhile, the Lakewood Ranch Herald changes to a green type, in upper-lower case.

Another subtle change worth mentioning: The thick red rule that anchored both masts has been changed, to blue in Bradenton and tan in LWR. And all our inside section masts changed from red to blue.

Why the change between the papers? While both are editions of the Bradenton Herald, we think it is important to make a stronger distinction between Bradenton and LWR. After all, the identities of each paper are becoming more distinct each day as we strengthen our zoning effort between editions and better tailor the news to each audience. Having a different "look'' merely supports that distinction.

We hope you approve of the changes. Either way, let us know.


Friday, January 11, 2008

MLK speeches are all winners

Palmetto Youth Center was filled with nervous energy last night. Friends, family and 17 finalists came piling in just after sunset, juggling copies of speeches, cameras, cell phones and tape recorders. It was the best place to be in Manatee County right then.

I’ve been so lucky to be included each year as a judge in the Martin Luther King Jr. Essay and Speech Contest. This was the seventh annual contest, and it just gets better every year. We received 97 entries -- a record! And each year, the kids seem to write with more sincerity, more passion –- more understanding of each other and their life’s challenges.

The judges narrowed the 97 entries down to these 17 finalists -- a tough task. Each essayist wrote a usually very personal message -- and most offered solutions to racial inequities and challenges they live and see every day. And what an eye-opener to read the reality of what these young people –- all but five of them still in middle school -- already face in this troubled world.

So as the finalists got ready to present their speeches, the pressure was on. I think I was as nervous for them as they were -– that fear of public speaking is a well-known personality trait. As Patricia Johnson, the amazing chairwoman of this event every year, had the contestants draw a number for their turn, the boy behind me was bouncing in his seat.

“I really hope I’m first, I really hope I’m first,” he kept saying. His mom chuckled and hastened to tell me that he wasn’t even talking about winning the contest. Michael Shekari, a sixth-grader from Harllee Middle School, wanted to get up on that stage and get it over with.

He drew the very last number.

So by the time Michael hit the stage, we had listened to many powerful statements. Here’s a sampling:

“We need to collect the scattered energies that have been lost, the dreams. How? We must learn to forgive, communicate, and love.” – Dyrren Barber, 11th-grader at Manatee High.

“Someday when I become a leader, speaker or teacher in the world, I would not change the message … but try to find a way to … maintain our freedom of speech and equality, which is what Dr. King died for.” -- Marena Taylor, 8th-grader at Johnson Middle

“But just remember that no matter what your skin color is, we’re all in this together.” – Hannah Fossum, a classmate of Michael’s.

But Michael more than held his own. His essay and speech came from his life -– and he almost dared us not to care. His dad is Persian; his mom is white. When they made their first trip to Florida, they set out for a great adventure. Instead, they were attacked in Georgia by the KKK.

“And I am not talking about the Koolest Kids from Kentucky,” Michael quipped, then soberly added, “It means the Klu Klux Klan.”

He took us back to the '60s and segregated schools -- “How wrong is THAT?!” he demanded. And he didn’t waste time getting riled up about today: “The next thing I am going to say makes me plain mad. That is, that people are being slaughtered over color, race and religion.”

Michael certainly had one of my votes.

Herald reporter Beth Burger was there to capture the highlights and winners for today’s 1A story in the Herald. She told me later that she asked Dyrren Barber, the first-place winner for high-schoolers, whether he planned to be a politician or a preacher. He was that good.

The winners will present their speeches at the MLK Annual Banquet next Friday night in Palmetto. We will publish their essays on the editorial pages Jan. 20, and we’ll have them online next week.

One of the contestant’s moms came up to me afterward and threw her arms around me. “I just had to hug you,” she said. “Every year, you just cry you’re so happy!”

Well, I’m glad my tears won’t make headlines. But as I looked around the center at supportive parents, proud friends and beaming winners, I knew why I choked up. These kids are really our hope that Dr. King’s dream lives on.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

TVPlus -- can you see the change?

TVPlus, our weekly television guide distributed with every Sunday newspaper, has a new look. We went back to a larger format -- what the industry refers to as a “tab.” It’s now the same size as our Weekend entertainment section, for example.

I, along with Copy Editor Mary K. Means and Managing Editor Jim Smith, spent much of Monday on the phone with readers, returning their calls about the change. Our readers are observant and loyal. But change can be tough -– especially when it involves something as habitual as our television guide.

We’re being upfront about the key reason we have made this change: It’s more economical to produce. We can print this format on our own press, and we couldn’t do that with the small book. So we have no plans to return to a smaller format without an enormous change in our press's ability.

But we want TVPlus to include the information you need. The new format has allowed some positive changes, including having each day’s morning and evening grids grouped together.

And we are going to make other changes to this book, starting on Jan. 20. (It takes the outside company that sets up the grids that long to change!)

• The channel grids will be grouped better – they won’t break in the middle of prime time anymore. Instead, they will run from 4 p.m.-midnight, midnight- 8 a.m., and 8 a.m.-4 p.m each day.

• All the schedules will appear as full pages, without any squeeze. Instead of some of the pages being shortened for movie capsules, the movies will be moved to make room for the listings.

• You will find more movie summaries, and they will appear together – about five pages’ worth.

We set up a special phone line for Sunday's publication, 745-7034, to give readers a place to give us feedback. Several dozen of you had called by close of Monday. We are glad you care enough. Thanks, and we hope your feedback continues.


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Staring down a Nut Goodie

How are you doing with your New Year's resolutions?

I made no firm resolutions for 2008, but I do try to stay healthy by maintaining a good diet and getting regular exercise -- things that top most resolution lists.

And that made for a challenging week, what with the homemade cookies from the boss, other leftover Christmas goodies -- and the boxes of Nut Goodies and Salted Nut Rolls staring at me from the table in my office. These delicious confections came back with me from the Twin Cities after Christmas. I don't hand the candy bars out, I just leave them on the table and wait for my colleagues to succumb to their own temptations. Now how evil is that?

Be sure to check out reporter Stacey Eidson's cover story in Saturday's WellBeing, the Herald's weekly health section. If you care about your health, you've probably seen some of this information before, but it's still a good idea to remind yourself of ways to stay on track with your resolutions and health.

There are several good tips on doing just that in Stacey's story. One of the key points made by Bradenton nutrition consultant LuAnne Howard is to not consider your favorite food the enemy.

"My motto is: There are no bad foods, there are just bad portions,''Howard told Stacey. That's something my sister, who is also a nutritionist, always reminds me. If you really want some of those delicious buttery mashed potatoes, don't totally deny yourself. But limit yourself to one fist-sized helping or smaller.

Another piece of advice from Howard is to consider a long-term approach to weight loss. By not putting pressure on yourself to immediately lose weight after Jan. 1, you have a better chance to succeed with your goals.

Now back to the candy bars on my desk. I somehow managed to stare down the Nut Goodies all week and won. But I slipped up Friday and grabbed a Salted Nut Roll, no doubt lured by the "Good source of protein" promise on the wrapper.

Good luck with your resolutions in '08.