Sunday, December 27, 2009

Here's a toast to 2010

Let's welcome the New Year with a sigh of relief -- and the hope of relief.

As the Herald took a look back at 2009, it was tough to get beyond the grim grip our economy has had on just about everything. Unemployment. Foreclosures. Bank failures. Chinese drywall. And a record year for homicides. C'mon, where's the glass half full?

I'd love to say we think 2010 is the answer to all our woes. Most seem to think our challenges will linger, to say the least. But hope lives eternal. Let's hang the new calendar on the wall, wish 2009 good riddance -- and wish each other a HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

-- Joan

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve is all about giving

On Christmas Eve, the mood in our community seems promisingly hopeful. The Herald newsroom has been deluged with callers telling us about how they are helping others. We're blessed with having more stories than we can write. But there's a great sampling in today's edition, and more on the way through the holiday weekend.

Volunteering seems to be at an all-time high -- the demand is certainly there. And just about everyone at the Herald has pitched in somewhere.

Business Editor Jennifer Rich sets a high bar for the rest of us. Every week, she teams up with senior citizens at Meals on Wheels Plus's Adult Day Center. She went this week, decked in holiday finest, bringing friendship and comfort.

She acknowledged that it's not always easy -- she gets attached to someone, only to find them gone the next visit. But there is always someone waiting for her company. If you can volunteer, call 941-748-3001.

Reporter Richard Dymond wrote today of the preparations for Christmas Day feedings for the homeless and needy. So many more are on the receiving end this year. For those of us lucky enough to have a job and loved ones, let's ante up to Jennifer's challenge.

-- Joan


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hats off to the Herald's Sports trio

My sports staff -- all of a dedicated three right now -- just pulled off a really amazing week. Sure, they had plenty of help from the rest of the newsroom. But Sports Editor Alan Bellittera and sports writers John Lembo and Ryan Boyd deserve a standing ovation.

The stars somehow aligned for the Perfect Storm of Sports. Consider all the "extras" of last week, on top of the typical local load of coverage:

-- The Lincoln Memorial High School 40th reunion, centered around the historic sports teams of its years. Ryan led the coverage.

-- The Pittsburgh Pirates picked last week to unveil the identity of our town's new minor league team: the Bradenton Marauders. Ryan led the coverage.

-- The Herald produced its annual Golf Guide, published on Friday. Alan came in before and stayed after producing the daily sports section to work on that.

-- And the Manatee 'Canes went on the Road to Orlando. Guess who? John, Ryan and Alan, with a major assist from Vin Mannix, led the coverage.

They had stories for 1A and Sports every day last week. They followed the 'Canes to Orlando, blogging through the awful first half, then the promising second half, and then turned stories after the "Oh,So Close" finish.

They got back around 2 a.m. Saturday. Yesterday afternoon, a bleary-eyed Lembo was at it again, writing this story for the wrapup. And at 7:24 p.m., he was still emailing in results from the Sarasota Wrestling Classic, with Braden River's Trevor Barnes leading his team to tie for second. And Alan was on the receiving end to make sure the results were published.

I'm glad we're on the same team.

-- Joan

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Lincoln Memorial truly taught

This week has brought something truly remarkable to the city of Palmetto and our community: the Lincoln Memorial High School Grand Reunion, marking the 40th anniversary of its last year in our community.

It officially began Wednesday, with a symbolic walk through "the Tunnel," the chute under U.S. 41 through which coach Eddie Shannon’s Lincoln Trojans charged into history, as Vin Mannix wrote in today's Bradenton Herald. At a time when racism was accepted, the black community remained united and firm in faith, with Lincoln Memorial its centrifical force.

Hundreds of alumni are joining the festivities this week, which include pep rallies, social gatherings, fish fry, banquet and dance, church service and the debut of a documentary filmed by Manatee Educational Television.

The planning and reminiscing started months ago, much of it captured in our expanded Sunday coverage led by Ryan Boyd. Although he is far too young to have first-hand knowledge of Lincoln Memorial, Ryan grew up in Palmetto and was teethed on its legends. He captured much of that in this feature and in his column , as did Vin in his Sunday column.

But I received a poignant e-mail yesterday from a Class of '61 alum, and we're taking her message to heart. A relative had sent Vanzetta Goff Evans links to our Sunday package, knowing she wasn't going to make the reunion from her home in Stone Mountain, Ga. Here is the crux of Vanzetta's e-mail:

Although sports were a major part of Lincoln, and discipline played a role in all of the schools that I attended in Manatee County, the most important and positive piece of the legacy of Lincoln Memorial High School was not mentioned (my opinion). The missing piece is the education of students at LincMeHi. It would be wonderful to read of the accomplishments of Lincoln Memorial graduates in business, education, government, etc. All was not perfect education wise; however, many graduates went on to achieve on many levels and not all as a result of higher education. I can think of a few professions of Lincoln Memorial graduates: teachers, professors, engineers, registered and practical nurses, physicians, dentists, lawyers and on and on. This is what should be celebrated!!!! AND, let's not forget about the Lincoln Memorial High School Band under the direction of Norman Middleton (during my time there)!!!!!

After I graduated from Lincoln Memorial I attended Florida A&M University for one year; segregation was still a factor. I later moved to Rochester, NY and now have a Bachelor of Science degree, nursing as major from the University of Rochester and a Master of Management degree from Brandeis University in Massachusetts; both well-respected educational institutions. My major career positions were in public health and home health where I progressed to a management level. I was also a nursing faculty member at several colleges in the Rochester area and in Massachusetts. That is a long way for a young black woman from Rubonia, whose aunt (R.C. Washington) drove her to kindergarten at Memorial Elementary School because Rubonia Elementary did not have kindergarten. Rubonia Elementary and Lincoln Memorial teachers taught academics as well as social graces, diplomacy, and other areas not normally learned at educational institutions; Florida A&M taught the same as well.

So please, speak with graduates of Lincoln Memorial to find out what they are doing today and how they have made positive contributions to the county, country and the world; and of course, write about them.

We will.

-- Joan

Lincoln High School alumni walked through the tunnel Wednesday, singing the school alma mater.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Manatee 'Canes bring it home

Manatee Hurricanes ARE No. 1 today where it matters -- here at home. And what a fantastic victory. Everyone either is talking about being at the best game they've ever seen, or wishing they had been there (darn it, I'm the latter). As Vin Mannix captures in today's story, it was a stirring triumph Friday night over St. Thomas Aquinas.

And it was here at home that the Canes beat the former top high school team in the nation. As John Lembo wrote Friday night after the big game, Manatee shocks nation's No. 1 team. What better way to put us on the map!

You'll find more coverage here at and throughout the week as our team prepares for the trip to Orlando next Friday, where we hope they'll claim the state championship over Tampa Plant at the Citrus Bowl.

Everyone is talking about the Canes -- even Six String Sanctuary, a fantastic music blog by our former ME (and former co-author of this blog) Jim Smith, weighing in from Milwaukee). His headline? Manatee magic is music to my ears.

That's a tune we love.

-- Joan

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pennies for Peachey is doggone touching

This one's too precious to resist -- and we need a bit more disclosure as well. A story last week by Vin Mannix on Peachey, a dog viciously attacked by a coyote, might have been the most talked-about for days. It was viewed more than 8,000 times the first day online.

But the most touching reaction came from All God's Children Preschool, where Aubrey Sherrill is a student. And Peachey is her puppy.

Crystal Shreve, the preschool's assistant director, wrote Vin the next day:

"We here at All God's Children Preschool were so heartfelt to do something for this wonderful family and have put together "Pennies for Peachey" to help with the vet bills and help the family recover monetarily with just weeks before Christmas...
We would be happy to be the collection address or collection drop off if people in the community would like to help Peachy too."

Attached was this photo of Aubrey, which we published Sunday. (The disclosure: Aubrey's mom, Danica, works for the Herald, which Vin noted. But we failed to note that in Sunday's copy.)

I talked with Crystal this morning, and she said people are dropping off donations every day. They've even got donations by mail. "The kids know they're doing something really wonderful," she said. "And they are so excited -- Peachey is coming in Friday for a visit."

As Danica said in her email, "Thank you so much I just cannot believe how many angels there out there that care."

'Tis the season.

-- Joan

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Herald offers 'Gift of Hope' series

Need a little hope this morning? I know I sure do. Well, we're finding that it's pretty easy to find a lot of people in our community who are giving that gift of hope.

So we've started a series of stories in this holiday season to share some of these amazing efforts with our readers. Our hope: that it will stir others to give.

Reporter Timothy Wolfrum has had several stories already, including today's 1A feature on a Palmetto couple with an unusual twist on hunting. Gary Plum and his 14-year-old son are avid hunters. So Missy Plum, mom-wife-accountant, came up with their Gift of Hope: a local chapter of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, a national outreach program that seeks donations of venison and other big-game meat for food banks and other charitable organizations.

We've started a collection of our Gift of Hope stories at

If you have a story to share, please leave a comment or email me at

Here's hoping...

-- Joan

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Traveling Twins pay an in-person visit

I had a pleasant surprise this morning -- the Traveling Twins paid me a visit at the Herald. And they are just as energetic and engaging as they sound in their blog.

We realized that even though we've been in almost constant touch since they started blogging for us months ago, we had never actually met. But as I said in introducing them to you back in March, Mary Bender and Martha Jansen are definitely 70 years young.

When they started blogging for the Herald, they were traveling through Europe for their birthday. Since then, Martha has journaled in her Armchair Travel blog about other fantastic trips enjoyed by friends and family.

In the 20 minutes they spent here today, I heard about past and future travel plans that made me want to pack my bag to join them. The next adventure: Martha's journals from Ireland. And she also plans some whirlwind trips through Spain and Italy in 2010. Stay tuned in the weeks ahead.

-- Joan

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Finding the 'thanks' in Thanksgiving

Whether you checked today's news here on, or from the huge treat of a newspaper bundle holding all of Black Friday's countless sales, Tiffany Tompkins-Condie helped define the true meaning of Thanksgiving with her story about Danielle.

Tiffany spent several weeks with Danielle Zanyk, a girl who has amazing survival skills and resolve for her young years. I felt quite lucky to spend some time working on the story with Tiffany, who managed to squeeze in the research, photography and writing along with her full load of photography assignments.

Set aside a little bit of time today to read this story. If getting to know Danielle through Tiffany's words and images has the same effect as it did on me, you'll resolve to do something with a bit more passion, a bit more care, a bit more humility. And I bet you can make a difference today for someone you love.

Happy Thanksgiving -- and Go, Pack, Go!

-- Joan

Friday, November 20, 2009

We moved local blogs to our home page

Regular visitors to may have noticed most of our staff blogs are now on the bottom right of the home page. And all of the columnists now are posted at

You still can find the blogs grouped at, but we're hoping to turn up their profiles. And, frankly, we're blogging more often than columnizing.

We plan to add a law enforcement blog and rev up our business blog again. Have a blog you'd like to see? Let us know. Have a favorite? We'd like to hear from you.

-- Joan

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Typo led to balloon boy's grandmother

The most popular story online in the past 24 hours, by far, has been the report about the balloon boy's grandmother who lives -- where else! -- in Bradenton.

And we have the story thanks to our TV partner, Bay News 9. The station had been airing the news on Friday that Richard Heene had pleaded guilty to staging the now-infamous balloon chase, leading authorities to believe that his son Falcon was inside. People worldwide had followed the chase, only to learn that the boy was found safe at the Heenes’ home.

One glitch in the report: Bay News 9 had misspelled Heene's name. His mother -- Falcon's grandmother -- happened to be watching and called to tell them. And an alert program manager quickly called Jim Jones on our metro desk to let us know.

Jim soon had Rae Sprow on the phone, and the conversation was neighborly. Sprow even sent us photos from the family's visit to Bradenton early last year.

She's standing by her son. He's lucky -- imagine her terror when she thought her grandson was trapped, then fallen from a likely death trap.

Here's hoping Mrs. Sprow gets to hug her grandkids soon.

-- Joan

Rae Sprow with Falcon and another grandson, fishing on Anna Maria Island pier.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A salute to all our veterans

Veterans Day -- such a somber recognition that so many of our country's men and women have given their lives to serving their country. Our community always has a tremendous outpouring of recognition for veterans, young and old. In fact, the Herald's list of events continues to be one of the most-viewed stories online this morning.

The parade this morning rapped around the Herald, a solemn tribute despite the marching band, motorcycle blasts and honking horns. As in Tiffany Tompkins-Condie's Military Moms blog this morning, and Vin Mannix's story from Sarasota National Cemetery, we will continue to pay heed in print and online.

Joseph Galloway, military columnist for McClatchy Newspapers, gave us a good snapshot of the changing face of today's veterans in his column today. The last living British veteran of World War I died this year. The last American combat veteran of The Great War died in 2007 at age 108. The last of the Greatest Generation veterans of World War II, who once numbered some 15 million and changed the face of this nation, are slipping away fast now. The veterans of Korea and the ranks of more than 3 million who served in the Vietnam War are thinning.

Still, he wrote, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are contributing a steady stream of new veterans joining the ranks. But military service is filled with volunteers, not draftees.

Today in this nation of 300 million, fewer than 1 percent wear the uniform, and, with their families, bear all the burdens and sacrifice of protecting and defending the rest of us who give little thought to those who pay the price for our freedom.

I so wish we were in a time of worldwide peace and could salute our veterans with relief.

-- Joan

The American Flag flies at half mast over Monument Park in Bradenton today during Veterans Day services. Staff photo by Paul Videla

President Barack Obama places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. AP

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Head downtown for 'Taste of Manatee'

Consider this a shameless tout for downtown Bradenton's festive weekend -- today's the second day of the annual Taste of Manatee.

And, as Beth Burger reported in today's Herald, the free event brings plenty of offerings. For the 23rd year, 23 food vendors -- and almost as many craft vendors.

On the musical stage today:
11 to 11:45 a.m. Tom and Dave Band
Noon to 2 p.m. The Gumbo Boogie Band
2 to 4 p.m. Jennifer & The New Digs
4 to 6 p.m. KoKo Ray & the Soul Providers.

You have plenty of time to sample, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. And the weather couldn't be more cooperative. See you there.

-- Joan

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Local elections go smoothly

The Nov. 3 local elections came and went without a hitch, with incumbents winning easily in Bradenton. And with less than 15 percent of voters turning out at the polls, they certainly must be complacent -- or disconnected.

Not so on Anna Maria Island, where two incumbents were ousted, as Carl Nudi reported in his companion election story. And the turnout was impressive: 60 percent of the registered voters turned out in the city of Anna Maria.

In all the races, candidates took the high road and campaigned on the issues, rather than slinging the proverbial mud. That was a welcome change.

For results around the nation, we've provided linked coverage out of our local election stories. One-stop shopping!

-- Joan

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Once a baseball fan, always a fan

Rain in Philadelphia beat out our print deadlines this morning, with Game 3 of the World Series lasting well past midnight -- and the dang clocks didn't technically fall back until 2 a.m.

But that didn't stop the Yankees from claiming another win, and our sports desk made sure it was posted to immediately at 12:42 a.m.

And it didn't keep baseball out of the Bradenton Herald, either, as columnist Vin Mannix heralded the news that the Pittsburgh Pirates plan to buy Sarasota’s Florida State League affiliate. That will mean glorious nights all summer long under the lights at Bradenton's own McKechnie Field. Vin summed it up in his column: Outstanding.

The FSL makes the final decision Nov. 10, and you'll find the news first on

Meanwhile, Vin is rooting for his Phillies -- a lonely stance, it turns out, in the Herald's newsroom. There are far more Yankees fans (three??), but they can't be missed -- except when one of them takes a whirlwind trip to Yankees Stadium for a game. Page One Editor Jason Bartolone talked a Red Sox fan, Jennifer Rich, and a Mets fan, Brent Conklin, into covering for him so he could catch Game 2. After a lot of pronounced anguish, they relinquished -- and Jason flew into La Guardia Thursday morning and was back in the newsroom Friday night, a win under his belt.

Ya gotta love this game.

-- Joan

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Obama's visit brings out well-wishers

I'm getting back into the groove of things after a fabulous week off to visit friends and family throughout the Midwest. With predictions of a steamy 90 degrees here in Tampa Bay today, I'm treasuring snapshots of golden autumn leaves, crisp mornings and warm hugs.

But the local news was a good welcome home, as President Obama landed in our back yard yesterday. And, politics aside, there was a real thrill in the air as controversies were pushed aside, and kids of all ages lined up for a glimpse of the nation's leader.

I ran into reporter Robert Napper as he returned from SRQ, about an hour after Air Force One had departed. Robert typically sports a great poker face, which always comes in quite handy for a cops reporter. But he was more relaxed, animated and, well, impressed. He had just been within five feet of Obama and witnessed a humbling moment of graciousness as the President thanked three decorated airmen for their service to their country. And he knew this memory would stay with him forever.

As Robert shared in this report today, the members of the Air Force also relished the moment. What a simple joy to hear their responses, like this one from Airman First Class Edward Walker: "I am going to call my mom. It is sure a pleasure to serve this great country.”

Here's to all things good about this country.

-- Joan

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No clear answer yet on getting swine flu vaccine

Some Manatee County physicians will receive their allotment of the swine flu vaccine today -- although there are only 600 of the nasal spray doses to go around in this first batch, as reported in today's story.

That seems unfairly low,especially since the county requested 1,700 doses, but no one outside of Tallahassee seems to know exactly how they're being doled out.

(AFTERNOON UPDATE: In addition to the 600 vaccines, the county learned today that the state has shipped 2,200 directly to private health providers throughout Manatee County who requested more than 100 doses and had their request approved by the health department. And they hope for more as soon as Friday.)

The medical jury is still out on the vaccine's effectiveness. Heck, sitting in my own doctors' waiting room the other day, the doctors in that office are divided on whether to get a vaccine, or wait for more research. And the nurse who took my blood insisted she wasn't going to take the risk -- she'd rather wear a mask.

But the threat is real, and the flu season is just starting. Ronald Cox, Manatee County Health Department’s director of epidemiology, is keeping us updated on any developments here. And you can check the Center for Disease Control's website for weekly national and international updates.

-- Joan

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The soul of Bradenton? Read on

My column today focuses on the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's three-year community research project, Soul of the Community.

The links above will allow you to explore more about the project and the Knight Foundation, whose mission statement explains its soul:
Our Mission
We are a national foundation with local roots. We choose, as the Knight brothers chose, to seek opportunities that can transform both communities and journalism, and help them reach their highest potential. We want to ensure that each community's citizens get the information they need to thrive in a democracy.

And we ask, as we evaluate opportunities and grants, "Is this truly transformational?"

Because grant making requires a sound financial base, we preserve the Knight brothers' gift through prudent investment and careful management.

And here is a link to the specific findings on Bradenton, one of 26 metropolitan areas that define the focus of this grant's research.

It's worth exploring.

-- Joan

Friday, October 9, 2009

Intense coverage of federal DNA backlog

Reporter Robert Napper got the e-mail from the FBI after 3 p.m. Tuesday -- not much time to dig for a story, but dig he did. With the help of reporter Duane Marsteller, an expert at research and database reporting, Napper turned a story with national implications: The FBI's DNA database backlog could have contributed to the serial home invasion attacks that gripped Manatee and Sarasota in fear this year.

The headline: Feds had suspect's DNA during home invasions

For months, investigators have been digging into 11 cases that may have been by the same invader/rapist/murderer. When they finally got a match to Delmer Smith III's DNA in four of those cases, there was renewed energy and hope that they might have the "monster," an apt description.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight and Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube held a press conference this morning, acknowledging the community's concerns on the database backlog and trying to offer assurances on the investigation.

Buchanan's web site states: "Buchanan has contacted the FBI about the backlog, which was blamed for a delay in the processing of home invasion and sexual assault suspect Delmar Smith’s DNA."

We'll continue to cover this developing story, and welcome your input.

-- Joan

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Coupon nirvana in today's Herald

If you need to convince someone on the value of the Sunday newspaper -- and news, entertainment, puzzles, comics, local investigative reporting, editorials, sports and advertisements aren't enough -- throw in $500 in coupons.

For just a buck (at least in our local Bradenton market) or less if you're a home subscriber, you get coupons worth chances to save at least $500 today. That includes national ads for everything from dog food to vitamins to shampoo; the Walgreens and Publix ads; the Herald's Money Saver with car care, dry cleaning and restaurant coupons; and plenty more to keep your scissors busy.

Each week, Shauna Horn in the Herald's finance department tallies the inserts for this add-on value. We often tease you with the grand total in the Herald's "skyboxes" on Page 1A, hoping to grab that passerby into spending just $1 to save plenty more.

Sorry, gotta go. My coupons await surgery.

-- Joan

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Teen violence online -- how to cover?

Law enforcement reporter Robert Napper got a tip early Wednesday that a teenage brawl last week in Lakewood Ranch had turned really ugly -- and landed on YouTube. And that started some intense conversations in the newsroom on our ethical responsibilities, and how to report the news.

The incident involved middle-schoolers -- juveniles, so the laws on accessibility immediately become limited. We finally found the video on YouTube, and some faces were clearly identifiable.

I called the news editor at Bay News 9, our TV partner. His advice: Try getting the family's permission first, and then, if that fails, protect their identity. But the video is out there, and it's an enormous part of the story.

Hours later, after Robert had found out as many details as possible about this story, Bay News 9 helped us with their video expertise to make sure the teens -- particularly the victim -- were not identifiable. We posted the video with today's story.

Late this afternoon, the victim's mother called us for the first time, asking us to remove the video because prolonged exposure prolonged her son's pain. Her request was reasonable and we honored the family's wishes.

About the same time, however, another mother called about another fight today on a middle school campus that sent her daughter to the hospital. "I saw your story today, and I can't believe my daughter is going through this now," she said. "You have to report how these bullies feel they can get away with anything. They can't!"

Did the kids plan last week's fight just to get their video out there for attention? Maybe. How much exposure should we give such actions in the Herald and on How to punish such violations? I don't think our justice system has the answers yet.

-- Joan

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Departing editor closes with –30– style

Saturday was night metro editor Gary Taylor's last day at the Herald, and he closed it out in true style.

One of the duties for the night editor is to leave a "nitenote" for the incoming crew each morning. At 12:06 a.m. today, Gary left some good thoughts for following up on several stories, left tips to check that he and the police reporter couldn't confirm, then signed out:


–30– has long been the standard used by journalists to indicate the end of a story. According to Wikipedia, there are many theories about how the usage came into being,[1]e.g. It was telegraphic shorthand to signify the end of a story in the Civil War era.[2] Other theories include that the "-30-" originated when stories were written in longhand; X marked the end of a sentence, XX the end of a paragraph, and XXX meant the end of a story. The Roman numerals XXX translate to 30.

All I know is, Gary was a UPI guy years ago in Texas, and his career is full of rich journalistic traditions. A five-gallon tip of the hat to you, Gary. This –30– opens a whole new chapter for you.

-- Joan

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Leading Off -- hey, what about baseball?

Who can resist the following tease?

"Roger Mooney and John Lembo revisit the Manatee-Southeast football game, look ahead to the USF-FSU game, chat about the Bucs struggles and wonder about some of the dumb things coaches say these days on Leadingoff, their widely popular weekly podcast."

Yep, that's in their own words. Bragging rights, I guess. But check it out, if you're not a baseball fan (Go, Cards -- the magic number is 2!!).
Click on this link, click on the arrow, and enjoy.

-- Joan

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Teen's last words are a rallying cry

“Not every battle you are in is made to be won, but it can make you stronger.”

Those were the last thoughts written by Jasmine Thompson, buried Saturday amid the prayers, tributes and soul-searching of friends, family and community members. Such wise words for a teenager, and words to live by.

Reporter Beth Burger gave us a quiet, thoughtful account of the funeral, closing a long week of mourning for this family. A friend called me after the tribute, still in the grips of all that emotion. She was unexpectedly impressed with ESPN sports broadcaster Dick Vitale's inspirational words to the throng of teenagers gathered there. "He was really getting through to them," she said. "They needed to try making sense of all this, and he threw some tough love at them."

And, she said, it may have struck a chord. At least 30 of Jasmine's friends and classmates came forward at the end of the almost three-hour service, wanting to express their faith and to find guidance.

We hope to follow these youth. We hope to find that Jasmine's death helped bring them to choose a path without violence.

Some readers have questioned why we would keep this story on our front pages. I'm taken aback by that. The kids in the congregation of Happy Gospel Church are why. One death is too many. Two in a month -- ridiculous. A record homicide rate? Your community's newspaper owes it to you to ask why and rally for solutions.

Reporter Robert Napper spent some long hours last week after writing his daily coverage, looking in this report at the growing trend of how stolen guns are ending up on the street, and in the hands of violent criminals. The report isn't an argument against gun ownership. It raises questions about lax gun ownership laws, and highlights a vicious cycle that appears to be gripping Manatee County.

It's a wakeup call for everyone to take responsibility in making our community safe.

-- Joan

Friday, September 11, 2009

9-11 tributes take on broader meanings

Manatee County was awash today with 9-11 tributes, with the same strong theme of "Never Forget." But eight years later, the wounds of grieving aren't as raw, and the images and recognitions have broadened to include far more about the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.

The Herald's reporters, editors and photographers covered events throughout the day, from the morning's remembrance service at Rossi Park, with its symbolic release of 40 white doves, patriotic song, and firefighters, police officers and soldiers standing shoulder-to-shoulder, through this evening's motorcycle parade.

At lunch, we were honored to again gather in Bradenton City Centre for the Tribute to Heroes. Henry Sheffield, from Florida State Fire College, framed the day well: It's all about "keeping the honor of sacrifice alive." And keynote speaker Brigadier General Xavier Lobeto, in an examination of sacrifice throughout U.S. history, saluted "selfless service" and "dedication to duty." Look for Vin Mannix's full story in Saturday's editions.

We also should never forget how many civilians, how many citizens of the world, were killed that day. I know I will never get used to seeing the stark image of the second plane hitting the second tower in New York at 9:03 a.m. But there's a stronger sense of moving forward, of a multitude of ways to make the world safer. Laurie Feagans, chief of Manatee Emergency Management, used the occasion to urge family and business preparedness in the face of crises -- including disaster plans for hurricanes.

"We are bound together by integrity and trust," Lobeto said. We should remember this far beyond today's ceremonies.

-- Joan

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Murder claims colleague's granddaughter

Today, we grieve for a colleague's loss. We grieve again at a teen's slaying, again at the hands of another teen with a gun. The record number of murders in Manatee County climbed one more this weekend, and a grandmother who shares her stories with us at the Bradenton Herald every day mourns.

Aretha James has worked at the Herald for years. Though she's not technically in the newsroom, I have worked with her almost every day since I arrived. She builds the framework for our print pages, dummying the ads on every page before they're sent to the newsroom.

And she has always shared her commitment to this community, calling the Metro Desk with news tips, people stories and providing institutional knowledge. So, without hesitation, she called the desk Friday night -- and shared her worst fears.

Her dear grandbaby had been slain.

Investigators had called Aretha, on the road to vacation, with the nightmare that Jasmine Thompson, 17, a Bayshore cheerleader and senior, was dead. Reporter Beth Burger was already on the scene, but Aretha wanted us to get it right.

She poured her heart out Saturday afternoon to Beth, who shared those innermost thoughts in this story today.

I hope I can always love my family and friends as deeply as Aretha does hers. I wish we had the words to make the pain stop for her family, and all the other families who have lost loved ones to violence here this year.

-- Joan

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Online traffic finally veers from sordid

The top six stories online yesterday included three stories off the police beat. It was almost a relief to us that our online audience cares about more than crime, corruption and sordid tales. The stories weren"t exactly upbeat, but they offered a glimpse into our community's concerns.

The three headlines:
Foreclosed homes provide business to local firms

Business reporter Grace Gagliano's story focused on a father-son business, N.A.R. Property Management, that has sprung up because of foreclosures. Their focus? Cleaning up foreclosed homes.

Deadline passes as hundreds jam Manatee tax offices

Correspondent Lee Logan's story captured how hundreds of people crammed Manatee County’s four tax collector offices Monday, the last day to renew driver licenses and vehicle registrations before much higher increased fees took effect Tuesday.

Parents: School denied LWR students due process with reassignment

East Manatee Editor Jim Jones wrote about four teens from Lakewood Ranch High School who tossed small explosive devices into several River Club yards early this summer and found themselves banned from LRHS when school started.

Online, the commenters started immediately on the school story -– 12:48 a.m. Tuesday marked first one, minutes after the story appeared online. Comments ranged from "This is a prank that should be forgiven. I would have been kicked out of school many times over if todays rules existed 40 years ago." to "The School Board has the authority to protect the other kids and when the police comes to them with names, they must take action. Case closed."

And everything in-between. The debate sometimes went off-mark, with a rude comment typical on too many stories. But you did a decent job policing those, marking them as “abuse” and notifying us to delete them.

The story that bumped one of those headlines late last night was one with what we hope is a happy ending: Missing Sarasota boy found OK. Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight thanked local media for quick response when they announced a 3-year-old boy was missing, prompting an Amber Alert.

Alexander Lakhno, the boyfriend of the boy's mother, became aware of the missing status due to extensive news coverage and called the sheriff’s office.

Let's pray the story has a healthy ending.

-- Joan

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thank a newspaper carrier today

What happened to sleeping in on the weekend?

Here's a small tribute to all our newspaper carriers, who somehow work a miracle seven days a week to get the Bradenton Herald onto my driveway. They don't get to sleep in.

I was reminded of this as I was restless far too early today. And there on my driveway, just after 5 a.m., was my newspaper. No fanfare, just a double-bagged package of information and Sunday entertainment.

A friend had just shared an admirable experience with his carrier. He ran into her just as early one morning last week. Actually, he saw her on the other side of the front entrance to his condo, a privacy gate separating them. The carrier was taking careful aim for his door, lobbing the Herald expertly to land on his Welcome mat.

We expect our Herald to be on the driveway 365 days a year -- and it's a rare day that it has missed. Thank a carrier today -- they deserve it.

-- Joan

(9:30 a.m. update: The newspaper is a major bonus today, as Bright House seems to be on the fritz and ... no cable. So coffee and the front page make an even better mix.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tributes to the Kennedy dynasty

The passing of Ted Kennedy came with little surprise this morning, but it brought at least one surprising revelation to me: The news blended generations in the newsroom.

Those of us who grew up in the '60s still have vivid memories of the Kennedy dynasty, the trio of brothers we thought would change the world. And those in our newsroom who hadn't been born yet still voiced reverence in discussing how to help capture this last page in that dynasty's amazing story.

Do we ignore the painful, questionable moments in Ted Kennedy's life? We can't in looking at every page. Mary Jo Kopechne's death was a searing debate for years, regardless of party affiliation. But today, it serves little purpose to highlight that when looking at the total picture. Hats off to President Obama, for his words this morning:

"For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well-being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts. ... An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States senator of our time." - President Barack Obama.

We are looking for local residents who have stories to share about the Kennedy dynasty. Please e-mail me at jkrauter@bradenton.comor give us a call at 941-745-7000.

-- Joan

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Baseball fan tries to grasp fantasy football

As if pre-football season wasn't rude enough to encroach on the heat of the baseball season in August, here comes fantasy football draft. And guess which one has my newsroom in a lather? It ain't the St. Louis Cardinals (hence, you can tell they ain't brown-nosers)...

Check out Universal Desk Editor Jason Bartolone's spectacular package today on that fantasy world. For the past couple years, he has posted a blog on fantasy sports . For this fantasy football season, he proposed a preseason story and an explainer of sorts on his addiction. He composed the blog, wrote the story, designed the sports centerpiece, laid out the package and organized the online-only podcast. That's the definitive multi-tasking -- oh, it makes us old-timers weary...

Here's the lede-in to the sports team's podcast:

Still agonizing over who to take with your first pick in your fantasy football draft? Allow us to help.

Six Herald staffers and self-professed fantasy geeks took part in a special mock draft this week, running through their top 12 picks for 2009 and spurring plenty of debate along the way. Hear Jason Bartolone, Alan Bellittera, Ryan T. Boyd, Grace Gagliano, John Lembo and Timothy R. Wolfrum discuss their selections and ponder some of this year’s biggest fantasy quandaries in our special podcast.

I remember losing my best buddies for hours to fantasy baseball in the early '80s at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, long before computers hastened the addiction. It's another layer of newspaper characters who must be preserved, cherished, promoted, relished. They have every stat known to humankind in their heads. Let's not lose that.

-- Joan

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sunday TV book will become optional

Starting this Sunday, home-delivery subscribers need to sign up to keep getting TVPlus, the Herald's Sunday TV book. We've advertised the change on the TVPlus cover for a few weeks, and in "house ads" throughout the Herald each day.

Just in case you've missed those, you can keep the TV book coming by signing up through this link, or you can call 1-800-748-6666 and press option 6.

Based on the calls we get when the TV book changes, a lot of our readers still love having a weekly TV schedule in print. But many of us have lost that habit over time, as cable added hundreds of channels and the scrolling guide provided on the screen became far more convenient. I was one of those diehard TV book users, swearing I'd never give it up. Well, I humbly admit, I only look at our book now to answer readers' queries.

TVPlus will still be included in single-copy editions in the racks and stores. Let us know if you want it at home on Sundays.

-- Joan

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hazy, crazy memories of Woodstock

People have a fascination with landmark anniversaries, especially those falling on the decade mark. Trust me, if the Herald fails to heed a memorable military milestone on the 10-, 20-, 30- or so year mark -- above the fold on 1A, mind you -- we hear about it.

Woodstock seems like an entirely different arena, yet it really isn't that far removed. The headlines of war in 1969 stoked many of the songs and dreams and, well, hallucinations that generated from those fields in upper-state New York.

As today marks the 40th anniversary of that mudfest of a generation's coming out, you probably have been overwhelmed with reminisces. But I hope you take some time to read Jim Jones' story today with some of our local voices, and reflect back as some of our columnists and letter writers have.

Jim decided to look for locals who were there after he and I talked about where we were that summer. I probably had no clue Woodstock was happening, other than some wild songs hitting K-SHE FM in St. Louis, and my parents yelling at me for tuning in. I had just graduated from grade school in '69, and was terrified/thrilled/paralyzed that high school was on the horizon. Jim? He was getting ready for a second tour of duty in Vietnam.

Humbling perspective.

Jim's story gives a wakeup call to what our generation hoped for, and what some perceive as a letdown.

“It was the feeling like we could change the world — and then we grew up and didn’t do it,” Nancy Hartman, an artist from Sarasota, told Jim.

I'd like to put my money with Brian Finelli of Bradenton Beach, who wrote in his letter to the editor today:

"But, if I learned one lesson back then, it’s to live in the present, be there now. It’s funny how today I feel like I’m returning to the spirit of that glorious event.

"Peace on Earth."

I think I'll challenge Nancy Hartman that there's still plenty of time. And I'll also bank on Universal Desk Editor Jason Bartolone's front-page layout today, which incorporated that timeless peace sign that was a Woodstock logo:

Manatee remembers a time of peace, love and change
Peace rules.

-- Joan

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Check out's sports podcast

Our sports reporters square off every week in "Leading Off," a podcast that takes on just about every sport. As I write this, I'm listening to Roger Mooney and John Lembo debate high school football in Manatee County -- and I have to smile.

This podcast lets all of you eavesdrop on the lively banter that goes on every day in newsrooms' sports departments across the country. These guys certainly don't hesitate to challenge each other's prowess over knowing the local stats. Mooney has been here longer, but Lembo doesn't back down.

Tune in and get prepped for the upcoming season. From Mooney's and Lembo's vantage point, Manatee's in for a great season -- competitive, all the way into the playoffs.

Let the Friday night fun begin.

-- Joan

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Changing newspaper's sections, not the content

"More changes... we know you're looking for savings. Thanks for telling us where to find our favorites.

"And don't kill my Faith!"

Now that's a tall order from a loyal Herald reader! Actually, it was the only direct response I received to some reconfigurations in the Bradenton Herald's Saturday print edition. We began anchoring the popular local "Faith & Values" feature on the Local cover, with Billy Graham, the church directory and the "Faith Matters" column by local clergy leaders inside. And those addictive comics & puzzles pages moved back into Sports on Saturdays.

The changes save several pages of newsprint without losing any features. Similar changes will be introduced on Monday, when we package the Herald into two sections:

The A section will still feature Nation/World coverage, and will now include all the Local and Investing in Business pages.

The B section will offer Sports, Classified, Comics and puzzles. Mix in the advice column, movie times and the TV schedule, and we think that's still a bargain for a couple quarters.

-- Joan

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

New small-biz blog on

We launched another blog yesterday: Taking Care of Business, focusing on local small businesses in particular.

Here's Business Reporter Grace Gagliano's intro:

Welcome to the Bradenton Herald’s new blog for Manatee County’s small business community.

These are tough times, and we need to take care of small businesses and entrepreneurs to get the local economy back on track. After all, small businesses are job creators and make up 85 percent of all businesses in the United States.

The goal of this blog is to post topics impacting small businesses and entrepreneurs, and allow those of you from the business community to discuss such issues. We want this blog to be a forum where you can share your knowledge, experience or advice. We also hope this blog will be a forum for conversation and networking.

We want business owners, local organizations and the county’s workforce to share their thoughts, advice and ideas with one another. Through this blog, we hope those in the business community will find the support or ideas they need to tackle issues or improve their company.

Grace, a USF grad, joined the Herald in 2005. She and Business Editor Jennifer Rich welcome your ideas.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Take a break from budget consternations

My column this morning praises the work of Charles Clapsaddle, METV station manager, and gives him credit for the non-profit's success. Education reporter Natalie Alund wrote a short feature in Saturday's editions on the station's move last week into its new facilities in school district property.

There are some commenters on her story (and probably soon on my column) chastising us for not examining the station's costs. As the county examines its budget, Clapsaddle fears cuts just like the rest of us in this tough economic climate. The Herald's reporters will examine METV's allocations along with the rest of county expenditures.

As to whether documenting community affairs, covering local government meetings, making documentaries for Bradenton and Manatee County and so on is wise use of our taxpayers' dollars -- we believe so, and work alongside METV. That doesn't mean we won't ask questions.

-- Joan

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On-time is not in a doctor's vocabulary

Grr. This is a selfish rant, but one that I'm sure most of you can identify with: My doctor was more than an hour late for my appointment this morning. He's a great doctor, but how do they get away with it??

If our newsroom's Universal Desk misses the first edition's 11:30 p.m. news close, or worse, goes past the 11:55 p.m. final edition deadline, there's heck to pay. And if we deliver the newspaper more than an hour late, subscribers light up the proverbial switchboard.

OK, enough ranting. We've got a noon deadline for changing out the display stories on

-- Joan

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Snakes on our front page -- oh, my!

Snakes alive.

That's one gargantuan python featured in today's Bradenton Herald. And to think -- at least legend has it -- that some former Herald publisher, years ago, handed down a mandate that photos of snakes were not allowed in the newspaper. Apparently his wife had a strong aversion to slimy reptiles, or so the story goes.

Well, if there's proof that her legendary censorship is no longer active, take a look at our 1A skybox and local cover. Photographer Tiffany Tompkins-Condie did her best to capture the critter they caught yesterday in this account.

I'm just glad that wasn't my assignment.

-- Joan

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Covering record pace of Manatee murders

Early yesterday morning, Metro Editor Marc Masferrer and reporter Robert Napper posted the gruesome news: Manatee County had its 22nd homicide of the year. And, as if any murder isn’t disturbing, this one was particularly so: The body had been dismembered and torched.

Napper updated the story online throughout the day on, and followed with this report today on Page 1A in the Herald.

Sad to say, the comments online have been predictably filled with trash talk. We despise commenters who react almost with glee that there has been so much violence in Manatee County. But rather than react to them, we choose to pursue this coverage despite them.

A 19-year-old and her unborn child were slain; a body is torched within view of one of our main thoroughfares. And that’s just in the past week. Regardless of who is to blame, these are victims whose lives went wrong somehow. In coming days, our reporters will continue to probe why these crimes are escalating.

If drugs are to blame, then we’d better declare a stronger war on drugs. If it's random violence with no common thread, then we still need to rally for safety and justice. This is our home –- and thugs cannot own it.

-- Joan

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Newspapering -- that's the way it is.

The news late Friday that Walter Cronkite had died brought a wave of nostalgia over us. We grew up with Mr. Cronkite, Mr. Brinkley, Mr. Huntley. And they’re all gone now.

Their legacies live far beyond the printed and broadcast words they etched into history over the decades. And, thanks to the Internet, tens of thousands of links are available to that history with just a couple of keystrokes.

In searching for some newspapering wisdom from Walter Cronkite, my hunt included this blog. This capsule of Cronkite’s nostalgic memories -– quickly followed with the reality check of the cringe brought on by the bark of a gruff old editor -– captures some of his soul of newspapering.

Cronkite began his storied career in newspaper journalism in Texas, first in Austin and then his hometown of Houston, where he was a cub reporter at the Houston Press. This was in the 1930s.
“And oh, God, how I loved it. How I loved it,” Cronkite told his audience of awed and nostalgic newspaper editors. “In those days, of course, before the quiet and the rugs on the floors and the computers, the city room was a pretty darn noisy place. It was a wonderfully noisy place: the clatter of all the typewriters in the city room and the pounding beat of the press service machines over in the corner. The filth, if you please, added to the atmosphere quite a lot, you know, all those rolled-up balls of copy paper on the floor where the disgusted writer had missed the wastebasket with his copy that would never see light of day. The swinging doors out into the makeup room. The loud roar of the Linotype machines. The smell of hot lead. The smell of printer’s ink. Even the smell of fresh newspaper roll. It was exciting.”

Fast-forward to today, with twitters, kindles, facebook, IM, blogs and whatnots. No matter the means, journalists still have all the wonderful noise of breaking THE story in their hearts –- and we want to do it in the style of Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America. In my column today, three of my editors reflect on what makes -– or breaks -– good solid journalism.

And that’s the way it is.

-- Joan

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reporting on Lockheed's actions in Tallevast

Herald reporter Carl Mario Nudi has taken over the coverage of the toxic beryllium plume plaguing the Tallevast community in Manatee County, and he reports in today's story on the long-awaited submission of revisions to Lockheed Martin's cleanup plan.

The Bradenton Herald has diligently covered this issue for years, investigating the potentially deadly pollution and questioning what is being done to mitigate the dangers to this community. Our reporting has helped lead to significant changes in local and state policies on toxic contaminations, how former beryllium industry workers are treated, and how Lockheed Martin and government officials are working with Tallevast residents.

Just hours before the latest addendum was filed Tuesday with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Gary Cambre came to meet me at the Herald. He has just moved to Bradenton from Baton Rouge, where he was employed for 23 years as a communications director for Dow. He now is working for Lockheed Martin in a new position: the company's manager of communications for Energy, Environment, Safety & Health. And Tallevast is his key focus.

He met Tuesday with editors, talking for more than an hour about his hopes to open communications with us and with Tallevast residents. He promised to be as accessible as possible, and to work at breaking down walls for more understandable answers. He has plans to help document the history of Tallevast, and is intrigued by the 100-year anniversary of Mount Tabor Missionary Baptist Church, which Carl eloquently profiled in this story on Sunday.

I'm encouraged that Mr. Cambre is actually moving here, immersing himself in the daily goings-on of the community for which he now has responsibility. With millions of dollars at stake, peoples' homes and health at stake, and the resultant lawsuits and corporate red tape, he has his work cut out for him. But it seems to be a committed step in the right direction.

-- Joan

Mount Tabor Missionary Baptist Church


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Celebrating journalism in the Sunshine State

"A day without sunshine is like, you know, night."
— Steve Martin

"Information is the currency of democracy."
— probably Ralph Nader, though Thomas Jefferson often gets the credit.

Those are the quotes that Diane Roberts, an author and St. Pete Times columnist, used to frame her comments as keynote at the Florida Society of News Editors' awards luncheon Friday.

A healthy number of journalists turned out in West Palm Beach to celebrate the best efforts during a tough economic year. The crowd was a bit smaller than in years past, but there was a more determined sense to continue the purpose stated in FSNE's bylaws: to advance the cause of responsible journalism.

The Bradenton Herald had a diverse selection of our journalists honored, including First Place for the Staff in Daily Deadline, Division C, for our coverage of the fiery tanker crash that shut down Interstate 75 a year ago.

Judges wrote:
“Specific, graphic details of a horrific crash, almost minute-by-minute. It puts the reader on the scene. The witnesses’ tales, broken out as individuals, were a great touch.”

Other Herald winners included Brent Conklin for Page One Design, including this cover from the I-75 crash.

This online slideshow, "MMA Comes of Age in Florida" by Tiffany Tompkins-Condie.

Roger Mooney for his columns on Rays baseball.

And last year's blog Taking Stock by Brian Neill.

Their hard work deserves this recognition and more. Here, here!

-- Joan

(A footnote to a few anonymous critics who questioned my convention expenses in tight budget times: Not a company dime was spent. It was my treat.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

We welcome readers' contributions

We are always hungry for our readers' contributions and feedback. Almost all of it helps make the Herald and better publications throughout the day.

Here's a great example from today's print edition. On Page 7D (and below on this blog entry), you'll find two fun photos from Lin Oakerson, promotions coordinator for Village of the Arts. She sent me a quick note over the weekend:
Hi Joan -
I was out enjoying the sites yesterday and came upon these gals in Palma Sola Bay exercising their beautiful horses. All were keeping cool on this hot July 4th weekend.

Hope you can use somewhere in The Bradenton Herald.

Another example was a reader's catch on an error Tuesday in Brian Neill's story on a surprising poll about the mood of the unemployed. John Predgen e-mailed me after noticing that we wrote that Katherine Robinson, a Bradenton resident, is writing a book on overcoming "diversity." Nope -- that would be adversity.

We corrected online here, and will publish a correction on Page 2A tomorrow.

-- Joan

Left to right: Rikki Besnier, Janine Saddler, Patti Long
Photo by: Lin Oakerson

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Faith in tradition on the Fourth

The Fourth of July was always my Dad's favorite holiday. I never asked him why, but I don't regret that. His patriotic pride was a quiet honor, and it transcended politics. He'd wake us up every July 4th morning with the stereo blaring John Philip Sousa marches -- and the neighbors would grin, and even more flags would go out on the front porches.

I held those memories close last night as we stood out on Anna Maria Island, watching an amazing show of fireworks up and down the coast. Forget economic hard times -- this was a night to celebrate (as was the prelude, caught here by photographer Tiffany Tompkins-Condie). With the Gulf waves reflecting every skyrocket's starburst, it was at least as beautiful as I remember from our home in Florissant, Mo., where the Johnson farm bordering our backyard took a beating from Dad's pinwheels -- at least those that worked. Then again, I wonder if Dad made sure that, every year, at least one dud refused to ignite on that wooden telephone post. He must have known how crushed we'd have been if everything had been in order. No, that was tradition -- and that's what the Fourth of July embraces.

That, and the freedom this country embraces. Our friend Peter celebrated his first Fourth of July as an American citizen last night. He was proudly decked out in his Uncle Sam top hat, and he had sparklers for everyone. And while he blasted the bloody economy (he can't shed that Brit blood, despite his oaths), he led the toast to whatever tomorrow brings. And as the fireworks framed hopeful faces, it seemed like a good omen.

-- Joan

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Columnist/reporter Wright retires -- wanna bet?

Ah, the grass is always greener…

Longtime reporter/columnist Donna Wright officially starts her retirement today: July 1, 2009. We published her farewell column yesterday, in the section she cherished most: Health & Fitness, formerly the WellBeing section. She wrote:

By the time this column appears in print, I shall be contemplating where to plant a crab apple tree at our cottage on an island in Indian Lake, Ohio. Then I will move on to the flower beds, where an invasion of wild violets has choked the Jack-in-the-pulpits and laid waste to the lilies of the valley.

In between chores, I will sit on the seawall chaise, drinking my morning coffee as I watch the giant blue herons soar over Orchard Island.

I shall be retired from the Bradenton Herald, starting a new adventure in the next phase of my life, but a piece of my heart remains behind, for I love my job which makes my decision bittersweet.

The responses from her fans -- and sometimes foes -- have been endearing. At the top of the list, however, is Donna's e-mail to me yesterday morning. The highlights, especially if you know Donna, should make you smile:
Hello Joan,

Well, instead of contemplating where to plant a crab apple tree, my Dad and I just finished cleaning out the utility room to make space for a new deep well pump so we can have water... Plumber has been here six times in one week...

The pace of life is so different. I didn't realize that it would be different from being on vacation at the lake. This is now it. Must admit the first week was hard. I really missed the hustle and bustle of work, and yes, even the pressure of deadlines. For a few days I was in a panic that my mind would turn to mush without the weight of deadlines making me exercise the brain cells.

But then I got my new laptop up and running with wireless and I have been reading the Herald, and lots of other papers, even contemplating trying to write some fiction...

But I still miss work. Got an email from Carl today, who said he was heading over to the court house for the hearing to set the Tallevast trial date. I felt envious...

Many of you emailed Donna and/or me about her retirement -- wishing her the best, but not willing to let go. I know that feeling all too well! Donna's prose will eventually be back in the Herald, I'm sure -- when the rules of retirement (both hers and corporate) allow. For now, though, let me share some of your well-wishes:

It was a surprise for me to read in today's Bradenton Herald of your retirement. Over the years I have enjoyed reading your articles and appreciating your special gift of compassion and empathy, no matter what the subject matter of your articles. You will be greatly missed.

A little over a year ago I retired as pastor of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church. So, I understand your decision. Time with family is precious, and I know you will enjoy the time you will be able to spend with your father.

I want to thank you for your spirit and your professionalism as a writer for
the Bradenton Herald.

Enjoy your retirement.

Rev. William Hull

Thanks, Donna for your "Good Bye" article, just another one which touched my heart very deeply. I am grateful for all the wonderful articles you wrote about Mary Delazzer and Our Daily Bread and The One Stop Center. I loved all those pieces you wrote but I also loved all of them. I am sorry for me and for hundreds of others who always looked forward to reading what you so beautifully wrote each week in The Herald, but I am happy for you and for your Dad that you made such a monumental decision to retire. Few people plan ahead and I agree with you that this is the time to smell the roses. We don't usually get a second chance to make important decisions like this one.

I wish you happiness in Ohio. I also have a fondness for Ohio having spent many years there. Perhaps when you return, you might consider a "guest article" just to keep your fans happy! Congratulations from one of your most loyal fans,

Ellie Hogan

I, for one, would love to hear of all your experiences there! I used to love reading one magazine article written every month by a woman who had retired with her sister to a New England state. It was wonderful reading of her thoughts on each month of living there. Your joys and laughter with your Dad, your replanting and all you do on the island would be nice. You could describe the sunsets, your thoughts, your Dads comments on life there, and so on. It would be a blast to read here in Bradenton! Please do!

Hi Donna,

I know you’ve met numerous people throughout your career and it’s hard to put a name with a face. When you arrive at United Way Manatee County, I am the first person you see. I even spoke to you during Share-A-Tree with United Way at Christmas Time.

You will be missed by people like myself, that enjoyed reading your articles. You have a god-gifted talent and compassion for the community of Manatee County. I wish you all the best. Enjoy the company of your dad… you are so lucky to have him and visa versa.

And enjoy your retirement. I’m envious!

Paula Delaney
Administrative Assistant
United Way of Manatee County

But that old saying of "When one door closes..." doesn't come close to applying to Donna here in Manatee County.

Donna, you always kept the door open for anyone who needed. And our door is always open to you.

-- Joan

(You, too, can contact Donna at this e-mail address:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why the King of Pop headlines? Read on

I received only a few e-mails commenting on our Michael Jackson coverage, and all of them complimented the stellar Page 1A layout Friday morning by News Editor Brent Conklin.

Except this one last night:

You’ve got to be kidding me---Michael Jackson on the front page of The Herald for 2 days in a row? WHY? Oh, excuse me, I forgot that sensationalism sells newspapers, and you must get sales numbers up for those stockholder reports! Front page was not enough, more coverage of his life and death filled other pages; one headline stated stores were selling out of his music and memorabilia. What have we come to as a society? Sad……..

The dichotomy of our readers is part of what makes the newspaper business challenging. We design the front page to provide current readers a window into the day's best stories -- but even more so, we try to entice a potential reader to buy a copy from the news rack. That challenge has become even more daunting with the multitude of instant-information choices.

I admit, I wasn't much of a Michael Jackson fan, either, though I've been surprised at how many of his songs are stuck in my head. And I've been fascinated at the intense focus on his career and life since news broke on his death.

And the headlines? Long before there were stockholders, people craved news about their heroes. One reporter noted in a health story Friday:
The public's fascination with celebrities "may seem new because we are such a media-immersed society, but it's really not," said Stuart Fischoff, senior editor at the Journal of Media Psychology and emeritus professor of media psychology at California State University, Los Angeles.

When the composers Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt performed in the 19th century, women threw their underwear at them. And 80 years after the death of silent-film star Rudolph Valentino, fans continue to visit his grave, Fischoff noted.

Stay tuned.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sister paper has scoop on Gov. Sanford's affair

Here's a great reporting story from The State, our sister McClatchy newspaper in South Carolina.

Reporter Gina Smith has been working one of the top stories in the country: the disappearance and confessions of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. And Smith did what every good reporter does: follow the ledes, follow her hunches.

Click through here for Smith's first-person account of how she came to be the only journalist waiting for Sanford as he got off the plane from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The State also has posted an exclusive on emails the paper received last December detailing the governor's sordid affair, and their struggles to confirm the content.

Some interesting insights that are worth sharing.

-- Joan

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Looking for comfort in Father's Day memories

Waking up to Father's Day and knowing Dad isn't with us anymore just doesn't get any easier. I knew the emptiness would be there, just not so sharp still...

I went through the Sunday newspaper, looking for comfort in our coverage of Dads on their day. Reporter January Holmes found a heartwarming common thread of what Dads want today, and it's family. And Vin Mannix dedicated his column to all the Dads who make our lives whole.

But I found what my heart was trying to hear in a Paul Simon tune, Father and Daughter. (It was one of the featured tunes on WMNF's early morning show last week, prepping us for Father's Day.)

Here are the lyrics:

If you ever leap awake
In the mirror of a bad dream
And for a fraction of a second
You can't remember where you are
Just open your window
And follow your memory upstream
To the meadow in the mountain
Where we counted every falling star

I believe the light that shines on you
Will shine on you forever
And though I can't guarantee
There's nothing scary hiding under your bed
I’m gonna stand guard
Like a postcard of a Golden Retriever
And never leave till I leave you
With a sweet dream in your head

I'm gonna watch you shine
Gonna watch you grow
Gonna paint a sign
So you'll always know
As long as one and one is two
There could never be a father
Who loved his daughter more than I love you

Trust your intuition
It's just like going fishing
You cast your line
And hope you'll get a bite
But you don't need to waste your time
Worrying about the market place
Try to help the human race
Struggling to survive its harshest night

I'm gonna watch you shine
Gonna watch you grow
Gonna paint a sign
So you'll always know
As long as one and one is two
There could never be a father
Who loved his daughter more than I love you

I'm gonna watch you shine
Gonna watch you grow
Gonna paint a sign
So you'll always know
As long as one and one is two
There could never be a father
Who loved his daughter more than I love you

I'm learning to spend time cherishing memories of my Dad, and remembering he's still out there rooting for me.

-- Joan

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Series draws out trips down memory lane

The Braden River series concludes today, and it has evoked many memories of days gone by from our readers. It proved to be a welcome respite from the grittier stories of the times, with anecdotes galore of life along the lazy trickles that feed Bradenton's water supply.

We plan to run a page of your comments and reminiscing on Sunday; there's still a bit of time if you'd like to add your thoughts. Just send an email with your musings.

The photo galleries have been the most popular online, capturing thousands of viewers. They're definitely worth the journey here.

-- Joan

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Braden River series offers many 'extras'

We introduced a five-part series today on the Braden River, one of the key bodies of water lacing through Manatee County. The project was handled in our East Manatee office, with Editor Jim Jones monitoring the progress for weeks.

But a lot of the planning and execution was handled by Universal Desk Editor Brent Conklin -- and all his work on the project was done above and beyond his multitude of daily duties.

Take a look at his poster page (below) and the video linked to today's story -- both of these "extras" were learning projects for Brent. He also designed the Herald's front-page package, coming in on his days off (Friday and Saturday) to build the pages, tweak the design and then finesse some more. In describing the upcoming days, Brent asks for your stories along the Braden River. We hope he hears from many of you -- email him at

In today's opening story, reporter Sara Kennedy takes you on a trip through the river's history. She had a blast paddling the entire river, much of it accompanied by her daughter, Kate (you'll see Kate's photos throughout the series).

The rest of the series:
Monday: Life on the river
Tuesday: Jiggs Landing
Wednesday: The river's recreation
Thursday: Braden River's economic impact

I learned a lot from the team's work -- it's an invaluable documentation of a core part of our county's evolution.

-- Joan

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Print folks learn multi-track audio

The pace in our newsroom just gets faster and faster. This e-mail yesterday from our East Manatee Editor Jim Jones was a bit of a reality check for me:

With a little long-distance coaching from Mr. Richard McNeil, the east office has produced its first multi-track audio recording. We mixed two tracks of voice with two tracks of percussion instruments and incorporated fades, also for the first time.

Richard McNeil is the Herald’s web developer in Interactive Media, and this young man has patiently coached most of us through a lot of learning challenges. Both Jim and reporter Richard Dymond, who wrote today’s story and also worked on the percussion-heavy audio, have been in this business a long time. Dymond’s story focuses on the young percussionists coming from around the state to the two-day percussion camp at Lakewood Ranch High School, which continues today.

It’s pretty cool when the thrill of learning overshadows the weight of multi-layers of work that multi-media adds.

-- Joan

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Batten Award: fitting tribute to Donna Wright

The South Florida Society of Professional Journalists recently awarded the Bradenton Herald newsroom with five top honors -- including one of three awards for distinguished public service for media statewide, as noted in my column today. News of The James Batten Award came almost simultaneously with the news that Donna Wright, longtime journalist at the Bradenton Herald, plans to retire.

From the entry rules of the contest, here are the qualifications for James Batten nominations:

Named in honor of late Knight-Ridder Chairman and CEO James Batten, a champion of “civic journalism.” Entries must contribute to the public good by correcting a wrong, bringing to light an issue or adding significantly to the public debate. Entries will be judged by the significance of the contribution, initiative in overcoming opposition and evidence of courage.

That defines the decades of Donna's commitment to our field. As she heads next month to Ohio with her dad, she leaves a legacy of civic journalism with us to cherish.

Here's a recap of our winners, and a link to the full list and SPJ's coverage:

James Batten Award for Public Service, All Size Media: Third Place
Donna Wright & Staff; Surviving the Squeeze

Non-Deadline Business Reporting: First Place
Brian Neill & Duane Marsteller; Foreclosed Dreams

Gene Miller Award for Investigative Reporting: First Place
Robert Napper, Natalie Alund & Duane Marsteller; Loophole exposed in predator law

Front-Page Design: Second Place
Brent Conklin

Deadline News Reporting: Third Place
Staff; Interstate meltdown: Inferno shuts down I-75

Congratulations, all.

-- Joan

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

'Just For Girls' gives welcome reprieve

A small poster hangs low on a side wall, low enough to be in a child’s line of sight, bold enough to catch almost anyone’s eye.

“If you think nobody cares, think again!” it declares.

That says so much about Just For Girls, an alternative education program for 6th-, 7th- and 8th-grade girls in Manatee County. Its practical walls and billboards are loaded with such signs in the Palmetto center, all focused on giving girls every reason in the world to live. And to live as success stories, proud of who they are.

The annual graduation ceremony yesterday sent 13 such girls on to high school, with plenty of fanfare to celebrate their successes. As reporter Natalie Alund notes in today’s story, students like Katya Rodriguez have learned how to be proud of the young woman she’s becoming.

“Just For Girls makes me feel like somebody really needs me,” she told us as she stood proudly at the podium to deliver “My Story.”

The people responsible for helping thousands of girls like her were gathered in the room -– and you’d think they’d need far more adults to pull this off. But there’s a lot of power packed in that collection of people.

Executive Director Becky Canesse has empowered the small teaching staff -– a half-dozen underspoken educators who have won the adoration of those girls with tough love and phenomenally enduring teaching skills -- to make the school a family. And the success comes in large part because this community supports their efforts.

Much of it started 40 years ago with Jane Pratt leading the way. She saw a void, and rallied the community to fill it. The school was dedicated to her yesterday for her leadership and courage.

One of the more touching moments of yesterday's ceremony came when teacher Jim Long came forward for the commencement speech. News of his retirement brought an outcry from the girls. He had their attention for every word -– including words near and dear to my heart, encouraging them to always read. Books. Textbooks. Newspapers. They use the Bradenton Herald every day, he said, to teach real-life lessons.

He quizzed them on “contiguous” in geography -– they knew -– and reminded them with a fatherly smile that, when they started dating, to remind their boyfriends “Not too much contiguous.” The parents applauded, the girls giggled. And the outside crush of the world seemed at bay for a bit.

These girls have a hard life ahead, but they’re so much more prepared because of people like Dee Ralph, longtime program director at the school. As she introduced Jim, Dee acknowledged how much impact they had on the girls’ lives. She referred to the wise words of Henry Brooks Adams:

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

-- Joan

Here are a couple sweet images captured by Tiffany Tompkins-Condie, Herald photojournalist:

Sophia Hyatt and Katya Rodriguez share a hug before their ceremony at the Just For Girls graduation in Palmetto.

Just For Girls education director Dee Ralph pulls a string for balloons to cascade upon this year's graduates, but a glitch dropped the entire bag on the girls, which didn't appear to dampen their enthusiasm.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A standing ovation for baseball lovers

Tampa Bay finally loves baseball.

Sure, it helps coming off a winning season, and the free 3 Doors Down Postgame Concert might have put a lock on the crowd. But it was obvious at Tropicana Field yesterday that fans are here to stay.

More than 36,000 turned out to watch the Rays beat the Twins 5-2. And our section led the ovation when the announcer declared it was Bradenton Night.

But the real standing ovation went to rookie David Price as he headed to the dugout, as writer Roger Mooney notes in his cover story. The lefty struck out 11 and allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings Saturday against the Twins. (What is it with managers taking out a winning pitcher, by the way? But at least Maddon left him in long enough to get the 10Ks needed for every fan to get a free pizza, courtesy of Kane’s and PapaJohns…)

I still sported my Cardinals jersey, in honor of enjoying a game at Busch Stadium less than a week ago. But it was great to jostle through a sea of Rays jerseys -– and I came home with a free Rays cap, guilt-free.

Now about those dang cowbells…

-- Joan

Friday, May 29, 2009

Get our Hurricane Survival Guide this Sunday

I promise this isn't turning into a weather blog, but here's a quick tease after taking a few days off:

The Bradenton Herald's annual Hurricane Guide publishes Sunday, on the eve of the official 2009 hurricane season starting June 1.

Even as I blog, the National Hurricane Center says a tropical depression has formed off the mid-Atlantic coast. It's not expected to threaten land, but it is the official first of the season.

President Obama is visiting FEMA headquarters today, as outlined in our story today from our Washington bureau. With studies finding that Americans are less prepared than ever before, it seems appropriate that he designated this National Hurricane Preparedness Week.

Dig into our guide on Sunday, and bookmark this link for's Hurricane Central. As Capt. Larry Leinhauser, spokesman for the Manatee County Emergency Management Services, told reporter Carl Mario Nudi, “now is the time to put up supplies, get a plan and be ready.”

-- Joan

Thursday, May 21, 2009

'09 hurricane season predictions released

Metro Editor Marc Masferrer just posted NOAA's forecast to "Breaking News." Click through and you'll find his link to NOAA and the list of hurricane names as well.

Get ready for the ever-adjusting numbers -- as of today, it's a wide range of nine to 14 tropical storms they're predicting will strike the U.S. this season.

That's a "near normal year for hurricanes," the lead Atlantic hurricane forecaster says.

OK, so I'm wishing for the low end of abnormal.

-- Joan