Sunday, March 29, 2009

Our new blogsters, 70 years young

My column today certainly has a split personality. The first half is duty-bound, explaining some changes that start Tuesday in the packaging of the print edition of the Herald. We’re saving some newsprint (and some trees, I suppose) with these changes.

I enjoyed the second half far more. Meet our newest bloggers, Mary & Martha, The Traveling Twins. Mary Bender, a Bradenton Herald subscriber and Palmetto resident, and her twin sister, Martha Jansen, are celebrating their 70th birthday together by traveling through Europe for three months.

Throughout their travels, they're blogging, posting photos and sharing videos. Martha is also writing longer journals in her own blog, Armchair Travel With Martha.

I sent them links to their blogs on, and got this email on Saturday:

Thanks so much for posting our blogs.... we were both so excited to get your email this morning with the link to your web page. Will be interesting to see if you get any feedback on it. We forwarded your link to our blogspot readers so am sure that your site will get lots of hits today. We will both have lots to post from Rome when we get to our next town where we are suppose to have internet.
Mary & Martha
The Traveling Twins

And this morning, they warned:
Still no wi fi but we have gone to the internet shop and posted our blogs, no pictures, for the past couple
of days....

Think we can keep up with these two? Let's hope so!

-- Joan

Mary and Martha in the town of Goult, Provence, with the 15th-century windmill they discovered.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Today's readers sound a bit happier

Today certainly started out better with our readers than yesterday did.

Yesterday, several of you took us to task for negative headlines. One criticized stripping a headline on a downtown shooting, saying it would hurt tourism. Another chastised us for focusing on the local home sales going down while the rest of the state improved. Another complaint was lodged about being cute on the very serious news of Boaters' World shutting down.

We look for the bright spots to report on every day. But we also don't want to sugar-coat reality when it needs exposing. We chose the downtown shooting story because it happened in the middle of the day in a well-traveled area. And there was an unexpected outcome, when sheriff's detectives took over the investigation and determined the wound was self-inflicted. In the housing story, we interviewed Realtors who were perplexed as to why Bradenton-Sarasota numbers are down. Our headline could have reflected more hope that the increased traffic seen in Lakewood Ranch would help our numbers soon, too. But rest assured, everyone is looking for solutions -- especially the Herald's reporting staff.

So turn to today. Cowboy Jason McKendree sent a hearty thanks to East Manatee Editor Jim Jones for his story on the Cattlemen’s Rodeo last weekend.

"It is amazing what an article in our counties' leading newspaper will do for something or someone," Mr. McKendree wrote. They had expected 50 or so people to turn out for their comrade's fund-raiser. A hearty 500-plus turned out instead on Saturday.

And Business Editor Jennifer Rich fielded a call on reporter Donna Wright's story this morning about churches struggling to survive. When members of one church in Donna's article, Congregational United Church of Christ, learned that their church's existence was threatened, they banded together and opened a thrift store.

One woman from the church took the time to call in and thank us for the story, and complimented Donna and photographer Grant Jefferies for their professionalism.

We'll strive to be more sensitive in our front-page headlines. And we'll continue to look for stories that can make a difference.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why bring the Cubs here? Think Cards' red

So we’re in the thick of spring training, and I’m blogging about the Cubs. That is probably the worst case of spring fever I’ve ever had.

This diehard Cardinals fan would never root for the Cubs, right? After all, I do have a T-shirt that says “I root for the Cards and anyone who beats the Cubs.”

But for the past few days, rumors have been swirling about whether the Chicago Cubs will come to their senses and come back to Florida for spring training, leaving the barren turf of Arizona. In today’s story, night metro editor Gary Taylor gets local reaction to the wild possibility that the Cubbies' new owners are looking at Sarasota for the best spring-training deal. Afer all, the Cincinnati Reds are leaving after this season. Both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times have raised the possibility.

I donned my Cardinals jersey last Thursday for a fabulous vacation day -– the Cards were playing the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte. Another great stadium! And I do believe there were more Cardinal fans than Rays in those stands -– God bless that sea of red.

That was one of the only times the Cards were playing near Bradenton this season. But just think, if the Cubs were in neighboring Sarasota...

-- Joan

(Don't forget to monitor our live spring training blogs: Roger Mooney on everything Rays, and John Lembo on everything Pirates and McKechnie Field.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Novelist or journalist -- how about both?

“When are you going to write a book?”

That’s how Vin Mannix, our prolific columnist, launched his introduction yesterday of author Tim Dorsey. Vin had been invited by Manatee County’s Library Foundation to introduce Dorsey, the keynote speaker of its 22nd annual fund-raising Book and Author Luncheon.

I doubt there’s any true-blue newsroom employee, past or present, who doesn’t believe that a novel lurks inside. That’s not a symptom of bad times, although Vin noted Dorsey’s apparent wisdom in choosing his career as a successful novelist in these troubled economic times. Dorsey used to be a reporter and editor at the Tampa Tribune, and he used a lot of that experience to launch his main character, Serge Storms.

Dorsey worked the crowd at the Bradenton auditorium yesterday with a loopy sense of humor, introducing Serge to those who haven’t read any of his novels. Serge is criminally insane, but loves all things Florida. And he’s provided the spine for Dorsey’s 11 novels.

So back to Vin’s question. I’m thinking a lot more novels will be written as newsrooms get a lot smaller. But here’s hoping the rest of us will keep at that daily grind of newspapering -– online or in print. After all, without that reporting, Serge will run out of material for that next novel.

-- Joan

Sunday, March 15, 2009

My picks in March mean madness

What a relief -- March justifies madness.

And my personal brackets usually define the worst of March Madness. As college hoops near the Final Four, I pick my teams every year with my heart, not with my sports department's wisdom. In fact, education reporter Sylvia Lim and I typically compete for last place -- with glee. She usually nudges me out, but she tries to lose by playing the odds.

Me, I favor the teams in the state where I live, or where my best friends hail from (Texas, Wisconsin, California).

And I always pick my Tigers.

Ah, look out, No. 1! This could be the year of upsets, if yesterday's games were a harbinger. Mizzou trounced Baylor to win their first postseason conference title in 16 years! My years at Mizzou were dominated by Norm Stewart, the legendary coach who led the Tigers to all 11 of their previous conference titles, according to our story this morning. So I can imagine the celebrations on campus this weekend as the dry spell ends.

What about those Florida teams? I'd love to keep them in my brackets right up to the end against Mizzou. Florida State stole a nail-biter from North Carolina on Saturday for the Seminoles' first Atlantic Coast Conference (I had to look that up, trust me) final in school history.

So get your lineup online here sometime after the bewitching hour of 6 p.m. today, and the paper copy in Monday's Bradenton Herald sports section.

Go, Tigers!

-- Joan

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bringing you the latest on the Legislature

The Florida Legislature is in full session, and the Bradenton Herald and are keeping tabs on our local representatives. We'll also bring you comprehensive coverage throughout the session from our shared bureau with the combined forces of the Miami Herald and St. Pete Times.

In our front-page story today, reporter Alex Leary opened the door on the property tax debate, and how the muted response "may foretell the fate of an array of property tax bills during the 60-day session dominated by the more than $5 billion state budget shortfall." The most popular story online yesterday was on Sen. Mike Bennett's bill that would require anyone applying for unemployment to take a drug test.

Here at home, reporters Sara Kennedy and Carl Mario Nudi will lead our coverage, with help from the rest of the staff as warranted. In today's story, Carl examines a bill introduced by Bennett that would prevent local governments from seeking reimbursement for the expense of public safety departments responding to accidents. That's become a hot topic for the city of Bradenton, which is considering a proposal by Cost Recovery Corp. of Dayton, Ohio, to charge such service fees for public safety departments to direct traffic, clean up and write reports in accidents. The Herald has opined against this -- our position is that the plan is nothing more than double taxation.

In the coming days, we'll capture these stories and more in our online legislative page. Let us know which issues concern you the most.

-- Joan

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Good morning, your clocks have changed

The sun came up later, but morning came earlier...

Despite all the reminders -- including Page 1A teasers in the Bradenton Herald -- I forgot to change my clocks for Daylight Saving Time. No matter. Thanks to Bright House, Verizon and other techno wizards, my cell phone, Blackberry, TV and computers all sprang forward without me.

We closed out the newspaper a half-hour early last night to split the difference of that lost hour with delivery time. So you might need to find some late scores here online.

Our newsroom tends to gravitate toward night owls, so longer days that start later are welcome. For me, it means a chance to actually catch a sunset off Bean Point sometime soon.

Right now, though, I'd gladly barter with someone for that lost hour of sleep...


Friday, March 6, 2009

Join our economic stimulus panel

What’s your Plan B?

If anyone reading this blog says they haven’t been asked that question, your nose would make Pinocchio proud.

On the other hand, the choices are anorexic for most people. Business reporter Brian Neill touches on one of the more visible signs of that in his story today. As I drive down Manatee Avenue every morning, some brave soul is out there, dressed in an inverted wedgie, trying to lure us into getting our taxes done before the world collapses, buying the latest greatest sub so we don’t starve, putting our hard-earned cash into a safe haven so we don’t lose it all in the financial collapse…

I don’t mean to discredit entrepreneurism or instant gratification. The sign boards probably satisfy both. But maybe we need to work harder to stem the panic, to find long-term solutions, to get behind much-needed change in this community.

Along with Business Editor Jennifer Rich, I’m going to be calling business leaders in the coming days to form an economic stimulus panel led by the Herald. Let’s figure out how best to capture this opportunity and emerge from this crisis as a better community.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

My staff is twittering. But Dan Schorr?

My staff is twittering.

I can’t say “we” yet, and I’m not sure when I will. Here’s hoping it’s just a passing fad… Heck, I’m the one who, when they introduced the CD, swore I’d never buy anything other than the vinyl albums (which, by the way, I still have. They’re in boxes, but…)

One of my Universal Desk editors was trying to encourage me to get with it, showing me a twitter thread that included a lot of folks we both know. I balked -– why in the world would I care about what kind of granola someone ate for breakfast? Or that they had breakfast at all? If that granola was the source of a biological breakthrough, OK. But otherwise…

But then I heard Daniel Schorr on NPR’s Saturday morning show tell listeners to sign on for his twitter, and my heart sank. We may be in this for the long haul. Here’s the video of his introduction to the world of tweet.

According to, “Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”

Well, the Bradenton Herald plans to twitter on Bradenton’s own in “America’s Next Top Model.” It’s CW’s hit reality TV show, and Jessica Santiago is one of the final 13 contestants. Herald features writer January Holmes takes a look at Tyra Banks’ show in today’s story. The big event is 8 p.m. Wednesday, and January will be twittering at

Welcome to the new water cooler, they say. As NPR’s Scott Simon assured Mr. Schorr on the learning curve: “Don’t worry. They’ll be gentle, I’m sure.”

Oy vey.

-- Joan