Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Take a ride with "King of the Road"

What gets your dander up more than the SR70 road project that's taking years? Or the lights that never synchronize on Manatee Avenue? Or the roundabout on 53rd that goes nowhere?

The traffic discussions get pretty salty some mornings in our office. So, we figured, why not try answering some of those nagging questions?

Enter Josh Robinson, who sent us a proposal for a weekly column at just the right time. He’s a traffic engineer and president of RGI Traffic Engineering in Tampa. In his introduction to us, he noted that his firm has done more than 100 traffic studies in the Manatee/Sarasota area. He’s a licensed traffic engineer in Florida since 1989, and he was offering his technical expertise and knowledge of transportation issues to help educate readers about local traffic issues.

So we hit the road today with “King of the Road.” Robinson’s column will appear every Tuesday on the Herald’s Local cover, as well as on Bradenton.com. Here’s his thinking, as he says in his column today:

“A nifty idea occurred to me one day during a long wait at a traffic light at State Road 70. What if there was a traffic column in the local newspaper where people could talk about their driving experiences? A column written by an actual traffic engineer whose readers could e-mail questions and the engineer, in this case me, could address them. Questions such as why there isn't a traffic signal at a dangerous intersection. Of if a congested roadway is due for improvements anytime soon. This, in turn, would help planners focus on key issues - those faced by the actual drivers. In other words, you the readers would be part of the design.”

So add some ideas to the Comments here, or send an email or letter.

(Now about that column title, "King of the Road." True, Robinson probably won’t be writing much about box cars and cigars. But what a great tune -– and vintage lyrics!)


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Today's Letter from the Editor

Letter from the Editor

Good morning, it's Sunday, April 27. And how are you feeling today about your planet?

Another Earth Day has come and gone, and with it a chance to reflect on what we're doing -- or not -- to preserve God's green earth.

There are encouraging signs that suggest we're taking this seriously. We've been recycling for years, we're now using more energy-efficient lighting and we're beginning to eschew plastic bags at the supermarket for re-useable cloth totes. Manufacturers are making products that are more energy and water efficient. We're waiting in line to buy fuel-efficient hybrid cars.

The Herald published an Earth Day story about Village of the Arts gallery owners Kevin Webb and Diane Montrose, who are transforming trash and found objects into their art. They've recycled everything from suitcases, birdcages and roller-skates to plastic and small toys for their work.

All these efforts count toward the preservation of our planet and are worth celebrating. But are we just scratching the surface? Will it be enough?

Satirical novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who passed away a year ago, once suggested the following message be carved into the walls of the Grand Canyon for the aliens who'll be arriving in flying saucers to survey our demise:

"We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard . . . and too damn cheap."

It is difficult to fathom why it has taken us so long to embrace the green concept. It was 38 years ago when Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, dismayed by government's ignorance of environmental issues, fostered the notion of a day to focus on the plight of our planet.

America is one of the world's worst polluters, yet our government has been dragging its heels for years over the environment. We managed to enact the Clean Air Act in 1970 and the Clean Water Act in 1977, and we continue to tinker with fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles. The dossier is not that impressive, and nothing has come easy.

I'm not sure Al Gore deserved a Nobel Peace Prize for "An Inconvenient Truth" but if the Oscar-winning documentary helped raise world awareness about global warming, he deserves more than a pat on the back. We've spent far too much time arguing over the very existence of global warning, and not enough time seeking solutions to repair or allay environmental damage.

We've been warned by a U.N. panel that global carbon emissions must begin to drop by 2015 or we risk catastrophic climate change. Yet President Bush, who balked at the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases after he took office, recently gave the U.S. a deadline of 2025. You've probably already figured out I'm no scientist, but I'm pretty sure those extra 10 years without mandated limits would not be kind ones to Mother Earth.

Our three leading presidential candidates all appear to be more supportive of the environment than the current administration. (It is, after all, an election year). It will be interesting to see who among them might raise the topic above the level of campaign rhetoric.

Meanwhile, we can keep plugging away. It's all right to feel good about the efforts we're making, but it's a long haul until Earth Day 2009. We shouldn't wait 365 more revolutions around the sun for our next move.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Time for a parade, Bradenton

The chairs say it all.

There they are, lining our main drag, both sides of Manatee Avenue decorated with lawn chairs, plastic chairs, metal chairs, wooden chairs – you name it. They are ready for The Parade.

As Vin Mannix notes in his story today, it's been a pre-parade drill since 1978. The 69th annual DeSoto Heritage Festival Grand Parade begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday – and don’t try using that stretch of Manatee Avenue for anything but parade activities from 5 o’clock on into the evening. They literally shut it down for the parade route from 39th Street to 9th Street West.

And instead of seeing that colorful assortment of chairs, you'll find rows and rows of onlookers vying for beads and candy being tossed from the floats. It’s a great time to put aside differences and enjoy. We hope all goes smoothly, that the sun – and moon – shine through it all, and that folks take home a little more faith in community.

We’ll have plenty of photos, video and stories to add to our festival special section online. Send us yours, too, by clicking here.

Have fun.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Want to critique our stories? Here's how

We get some of our best ideas from our Herald readers and Bradenton.com users. And your feedback is critical in helping us improve our coverage and presentation.

Sure, sometimes that criticism is not well-intentioned. But for the most part, it comes from people who care about their newspaper.

So we’ve created an online form (as promised in my "Letter from the Editor” on Sunday).

There are eight questions, as you’ll see, but the only mandatory line you must fill in before sending is the title of the story you’re critiquing. You can also choose to send your name and e-mail.

Article feedback
1. What do you think of the premise of this story?
2. Did the story satisfy that premise?
3. What did you find most interesting about this story?
4. What could have made the package stronger?
5. What did you want to know that this story did not contain?
6. What do you think would make the best follow up to this story?
7. What do you think of the series so far?
8. What do you think is the best next step?

This is your chance to be the editor! Here’s the form’s link on the Local page:



Sunday, April 20, 2008

School district needs to open the books

When reporter Sylvia Lim was assigned to examine how the Manatee school district’s budget-cutting would affect each school, she requested the relevant documents from the school administration. Those included:

• Documents, proposals and/or suggestions submitted by each Manatee County public school on how they will or would cut their budgets for the 2008-09 school year;
• Documents, proposals and/or suggestions submitted by each Manatee County school district department on how they will or would cut their budgets for the 2008-09 school year;
• Summaries, notes and other paperwork generated after April 7, 2008 that are related to the proposals and documents mentioned above.

Sylvia requested those documents as a reporter, under rights guaranteed by Florida’s Sunshine law. She didn’t have to give a reason or her position -- those rights are guaranteed for every citizen, regardless of occupation or intent. So the school district’s standoff against supplying the documents was indefensible at any level -– and the arguments perplexing, at the least.

Sylvia originally requested them verbally -– again, within the letter of the law. When she was told it was a work in progress, she documented her request in writing. Days later, when she still hadn’t received any documentation, she filed the request a third time.

This time, Sylvia received a call Thursday afternoon that Superintendent Roger Dearing, school board attorney John Bowen and others would meet with her at 9 a.m. Friday to “clarify” her request. The reason: The request was too vague and sweeping, the district stated -– in fact, the estimate was that the Herald needed to provide a $1,000 deposit for the district to begin the paperwork because it would be so costly.

Nonsense. Sylvia’s request was crystal clear. Just to be sure, I asked Sylvia to run it by the First Amendment Foundation. “This is certainly clear to me -– a request for any and all proposal submitted pertaining to the 2008-09 budget,” responded FAF Director Adria Harper.

We placed another round of calls to the superintendent, saying we needed access to the documents, not a meeting. When Dr. Dearing called back, he was clearly upset by the request, accusing us of wanting to “pick through the bones.” Again, our reason for asking for the documents should never have been the issue. That said, Sylvia needed those documents to critically examine what’s at stake, how cuts are being decided, and to help our readers -– teachers, principals, students, local business owners, parents, anyone -- see what their students would sacrifice, how their tax dollars would be spent, how their elected officials are responding, and what impact to expect.

Dr. Dearing relented, but not before he and the school board had countered the proposed cuts with a salary-cut alternative. Our reporters were allowed access to the documents Friday morning, just as Dearing’s new proposals were on the table. Even if that’s coincidental, we think the Manatee school board and superintendent violated the spirit of the Sunshine Law.

Here are links to the reports last week:

Friday's report on salary cut requests.

Saturday's report on the documents.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Trailer Estates stories are about the law

We’ve published several stories in the past month about Trailer Estates, including this one today. The coverage was sparked by some residents after they read the Bradenton Herald's story about Florida’s open records law on Sunshine Sunday.

We've written on the efforts throughout Florida and the United States to hold government accountable. The First Amendment Foundation has one of the best compilations here to guide you through your public records rights.

Trailer Estates' board oversees an annual budget of almost $1 million, and these residents want to know how the board is deciding to spend their money. It’s difficult for us to imagine why anyone would question us checking into this, but not everyone agrees that this is a story worth covering. We’ve had reporters threatened, subscription cancellations threatened, and threats of picketers here at the Herald realized.

Two encouraging developments, as reporter Nick Azzara wrote today: A Sunshine seminar has been scheduled to give elected officials and residents in Trailer Estates a brushup course on the law; and the board is looking for a program to make its records more accessible.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Make way for Holy Molé

When Rick Hotton started scribbling on the paper place setting, I admit I had the urge to grab it away from him -- after having him autograph it. You never know when you might be having lunch with the world's next great cartoonist.

You probably don't know Hotton unless he taught you karate or, more recently, helped you solve math problems at Manatee Community College. The Sarasota native only recently began doodling figures and assembling ideas that somehow melded into the thoughtful strip, Holy Molé, which features a character far too adorable to be a mole.

It's even less likely that you're familiar with Holy Molé and a few of his charming buddies, including a Zen turtle named Kool Kat. The strip currently appears in exactly zero daily newspapers. (A panel does run in the Sarasota-based monthly health magazine "Positive Change.'') That didn't stop us from inviting Hotton to be a guest contributor to our daily Comics page. (I tell you more in today's "Letter from the Editor" in Sunday's Herald.)

Holy Molé debuts April 21 in the Herald. We know you'll let us know what you think of it.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Golden Herald candidates are all winners

This is always one of the most incredible days at the Bradenton Herald: the judging of Golden Herald candidates. As always, these kids are amazing. Each year, we come away recharged with a restored belief in our community’s young people.

The Golden Herald Awards are in their 31st year. The purpose: to honor and recognize outstanding high school seniors for their service to school and community. To date, more than 3,600 high school seniors from Manatee County have been honored.

In a great way, these are among the hardest decisions we make all year. Many of the volunteer judges are leaders throughout the community, and we thank them for their time to honor these students. We have both been judges for the past nine years, in the categories of journalism and music.

The categories include:
Computer science
English & literature
Foreign language
General scholarship
Social science
Speech & drama

The judges must select a winner and honorable mention recipient in each category, and they are announced at the awards ceremony on May 8. But trust us, every candidate is already a winner. Their lists of volunteerism and academic accomplishments are stunning. Our community is blessed.

Jim & Joan

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Glitz, glamour, gossip -- check it out

We’re in the second week of a more “sociable” Bradenton Herald.

Check out “The Social Scene” with the latest glitz, glamour and sometimes a bit of gossip penned by Susan Wilcox -- now appearing Tuesdays through Saturdays. The column and photos are also showcased on Bradenton.com. If you missed today’s peek, here’s a link to the photo gallery and to Susan’s column.

Have a social happening that deserves some splash? Send a notice to jmorreale@bradenton.com.

You can bet Susan will be looking for you.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Join our community reporting staff

Pat Biddle says she’s the talk of the swimming pool this week in Horseshoe Cove Resort.

Helen Dault says she’s a community celebrity right now in River Isles — everybody wants her autograph.

Both were our debut stars of the Herald’s new community page: "Your Community. Your News." After we launched this feature last week, I talked with our first "community reporters" about the response to their stories being published in the Bradenton Herald.

That printed page will stand the test of time — for scrapbooks, bulletin boards, grandkids and a memorable moment of fame.

"Everybody wants my autograph! At least 50 people have told me they’re saving the article for me," Helen said incredulously. "It’s posted on the golf course and in the clubhouse — wow, it’s popular!"

And Pat giggled as she told me, "Oh, my goodness — what fun! It was fun to write . . . and it’s great fun to see everyone with the newspaper — and my story."

We want your help on all these features. Just about everyone loves to brag about their neighborhood, share the latest quirky story from their block or talk about what they want to improve. But how to put it in writing?

"Speak from your heart," advises Pat. She then confessed to a bit of writer’s envy after reading Helen’s account of River Isles: "I got a kick out of her humor — how come I didn’t think of that!"

Let us know what you think. Better yet, e-mail your community story ideas and photographs to communities@bradenton.com.

And you can submit your photos by posting them to Bradenton.com. Just go here, use the "Submit Your Media" button and give us as much information as possible, including a valid e-mail address.

We've already received stories from residents in a dozen communities. A couple common themes: They love the cohesive, intimate sense of belonging in their community. And the writers have all been women so far.

Come on, guys, don’t be intimidated by the power of the written word. We want to hear from you, too.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Looking for the rest of the stories?

Many of you are not happy today that you couldn’t read the rest of at least two front-page stories in the Bradenton edition -– our reports on the crime summit, and the burglary suspect who escaped from the courthouse. As one of you ironically noted: “He managed to jump from the window, but your story couldn’t jump!”

What happened: An updated Page 5A -- the "jump" page -- mistakenly didn't get on the press until the last 15,000 copies.

We’ll republish the crime summit story in Thursday’s editions, and we’ll have an updated story on the burglary suspect. Here they are online, too.
The crime summit

The escape effort


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Your community. Your news. Your page.

We formed 10 committees in the newsroom this year, each with a different mission. One of those is the Community Committee, headed by Metro Editor Marc Masferrer. Their mission: how to improve our community coverage and reporting on events, happenings, clubs, neighborhoods -– news we sometimes call “hyperlocal.”

They brainstormed, and drafted this mission statement: “The driving philosophy, or theme, of the pages, is that this is where readers and residents can go to tell their stories, see their photographs and share what is happening in their lives, in their neighborhoods.”

Today, we launched the committee’s first brainchild -- a daily community page in the Herald:


The page’s content represents only a smidgeon of the committee’s ideas:

• Why I Live Here: a 300-word essay, written by one of your neighbors, about his or her neighborhood.
• Community centerpiece photographs. The more faces, the better!
• Best bets for what to do today -– where else? In Manatee County.
• Today in Manatee’s History (We have a couple wonderful local historians who might help provide this content, but let us know if you’re interested).
• The Photo Puzzler: Where is this in Manatee?

Check it out on Page 6B, the back cover of the Business section, or online at Bradenton.com/community.

Hats off to Marc’s committee: reporters Grace Agostin, Ryan Boyd, Richard Dymond, Brian Neill, Tiffany St. Martin and universal desk editor Aaron Van Oosterhout.

Let us know what you think. Better yet, send your community photos and ideas to communities@bradenton.com.