Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How to cover swine flu outbreak

Our health reporter Donna Wright asked me our policy yesterday in covering the swine flu outbreak, and sent me this link for discussion from the Poynter Institute's Al Tompkins. He posted his morning newsletter under the headline, "Prepare Newsrooms to Cover Swine Flu as Pandemic, Local Story."

I think this thought from Associated Press reporter Margie Mason, a medical reporter in Asia, captures it best:

Even for a disaster like Hurricane Katrina or the Asian tsunami, no one on the ground knew how to respond until they knew what they were up against and, even then, there were major problems, especially in the beginning. I don't think anybody in the news business, regardless of how much planning we do, will be following a step-by-step manual on how to work. I think that if it's the size of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, we will all be winging it to try to do our jobs.
My thoughts quickly went to the months following 9-11 at the Herald. We were wearing masks and gloves to do the mail after the anthrax scare spread to newsrooms across the country. We triple-checked security. When we prepare as journalists for hurricanes, we try to go through every "what-if" scenario. But we plan to be there, with every precaution possible. In this new threat, the resources available for guiding coverage are impressive, including this resource page from the Association of Health Care Journalists.

In every case, we hope all that planning is for naught.

-- Joan

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Manatee County loves this parade

I'd almost forgotten how much our community loves a parade. Sure, the chairs were claiming their positions all week along Manatee Avenue. But not until I drove away from the Herald yesterday afternoon did it come home -- folks were already staked out in those chairs, and it was still three hours until the floats would start rolling.

This weekend certainly cooperated for the 70th annual DeSoto Heritage Festival Parade. Reporter Beth Burger trooped along Manatee Avenue last night for today's story, watching 200 floats glide by in the area’s moving celebration of its historical roots.

Someone must have Googled on the parade yesterday and came across my pre-parade blog from last year. They posted this comment:

"...Going home with plenty of beads and candy for the kids whom are now 7 yrs old and 5 yrs old and they have been talking about going to this parade all week so they are excited if that dont let you know its fun from their point of view then I dont know what fun is. I cant wait to see everyone in town there tonite god bless and have loads of fun..."

From the photographs captured by Tiffany Tompkins-Condie in this photo gallery, it looks like folks did. (Tiffany sent me a warning today of repair bills because one of her cameras had conked out while shooting the parade. I still recall our photo editor convincing me several years ago that photographers always need backup, for that very reason. It's tough to leave the scene for another camera without missing "the" shot...)

There may be some footnotes to the parade this year. Night metro editor Gary Taylor noted that the police scanner was full of post-parade catter:

"The dispersal of the parade crowd sounded (on the scanner) like all heck broke loose: missing child (eventually found), missing person from a float, drunks, two fights, numerous accidents, drivers yelling because of the gridlock..."

We'll check today. But this is a far better image:

-- Joan

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day brings reality check

Happy Earth Day.

AKA, Day 3 of my reality check of “back to work.” The contrast this time between work and vacation may be a new record for me. Last week in St. Lucia, I had no choice: no cell phone, no blackberry, no email, no newspaper, no TV. For six days.

I had terrible withdrawal and guilt -- for at least a half-day. Then? Well, vacation mode kicked in. I read two books, caught up on at least a half-dozen New Yorker magazines, sipped those frozen concoctions, had rambling conversations and decompressed. And, eventually, started thinking about all the stories out there that we as journalists still have to find, report, expose, track, research and share.

Ah, to escape the daily crunch of budgets, personnel crises, 1,122 emails (yep, that’s what I had upon return) and so on. But that seems so long ago….

Today’s Herald welcomes Earth Day 2009 with a special section looking at everything from where we’ve come since the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 (progress, yes, but pitifully short of where we need to be), to the top green developments and natural beauties in Manatee County.

Reporter Grace Gagliano listened in on a teleconference Tuesday with Van Jones, special adviser to the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality, who outlined some goals for the $5 billion earmarked for economic stimulus money. That's in stark contrast to the story on offshore drilling coming out of Tallahassee, where our elected House officials were convinced by the oil and gas industry to vote, 17-6, for a bill that opens our coast to exploration.

-- Joan

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Good news is fairly easy to find

Happy Easter!

In searching for good news today, you don't have to look far.

For the kids, young and young at heart, the Bradenton Herald offered our annual Egg Hunt, with H-A-P-P-Y E-A-S-T-E-R hid throughout the paper over 11 days. Hundreds of you joined in the fun again this year, and our two lucky winners were announced today.

Kingdom Life Christian Church held its farm worker outreach again on Easter weekend. Thousands had an egg hunt at G.T. Bray. And Lakewood Ranch’s Ken Quinn and 18 of the crew of the Maersk Alabama have landed safely after pirates hijacked their boat.

And wish me a happy vacation. Talk with you next week...


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Herald launches local economic roundtable

Business Editor Jennifer Rich and I held our first economic forum last night in the Bradenton Herald’s assembly room. We invited about 30 community and business leaders, and I am really encouraged by the beginning discussions.

The inaugural members of our forum include bankers, lawyers, Realtors, builders, manufacturing experts, a doctor, developers and more. The format was a roundtable discussion, with these broad questions as a starting point:

1. How do we create our own local stimulus? What areas should receive our focus first?

2. What can this group do to generate job opportunities, and also get the right people in those jobs?

3. If this group were to form a bartering pool now, what would you contribute?

One participant is David Klement, director of USF’s Institute for Public Policy and Leadership. He chuckled last night after I assured the group that the conversation was informational at this stage, and not for immediate headlines. After working with me as our former editorial page editor for years, David remarked, he never thought he’d hear me say “off the record”!

Well, just for one night, we wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable in being brutally honest, with no aftermath. And the ideas that started taking hold last night can’t stay under wraps for long.

The Bradenton Herald and provide the perfect venues to communicate them to our entire community. I plan to share more details with you as we firm up a plan of attack -– and we know we must move quickly to spark the kind of changes we believe are needed.

We’ll be seeking input from as many people as possible in coming weeks.

-- Joan

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Vin blogging? You bet

Here's a lazy blog for this Palm Sunday morn: a blog on the latest Bradenton Herald blog.

Our own Vin Mannix launched Mannix on Manatee last week, with the promise of spontaneity about all things Manatee. Check in on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he tells me.

(An update from Friday: Word is Vin was a hoot in the dunk tank, maybe even one-upping Oyster Bar owner John Horne. Sorry I missed that one!)

If you're in town, catch the last day of the DeSoto Seafood Fest at riverfront in downtown Bradenton.

-- Joan

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Top NASDAQ, telephone stocks restored

We’re three days into the Business and Features changes we launched this week “in paper,” and we've heard from several dozen readers -- for the most part with constructive criticism and suggestions. You value your newspaper.

To that end, we’ve made some changes on the Markets/Stocks agate page, which was the source of 99 percent of your calls and e-mails. We’ve restored the top 250 NASDAQ listings -– and the little box that gives the telephone stocks.

My favorite call came from an 80-year-old snowbird who has been subscribing to the Herald for 28 years. Those telephone stocks are her morning caffeine, and without them, she’s lost.

Well, a good handful of you said the same. We know this is a smaller menu, but the compilation is a good daily dose of data that you can’t find in print locally elsewhere. And for the entire spectrum of market summaries, check this link to's report.

Keep in touch. We value your feedback.