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Well, if there's proof that her legendary censorship is no longer active, take a look at our 1A skybox and local cover.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: