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.