Saturday, February 28, 2009

A video obituary of the Rocky Mountain News

This takes a while to load and it's long, but it's a moving tribute to the Rocky Mountain News of Denver by the folks there who are now out of work.

It's a scenario likely to play out in newsrooms, newspapers and cities around the country this year.

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

Friday, February 27, 2009

She was my first, but I'm starting to see the light

We've been together a long time. We've covered a lot of ground together. I wasn't sure our relationship would last this long. Family and friends tell me I need to move on. But it's not that easy.

When we met, I'd only been in California a few months. She helped me get through my first long hot summer in the Mojave. We've been together ever since that July day in 1995. I was only 29 then. And, well, she was my first.

She was the first, and only, car I've ever bought new.

Well, actually she's a truck. A 1995 Dodge Dakota.

I traded in a car I loved, a 1988 Honda Prelude, for her. But the Honda didn't adapt too well to life in Southern California. Someone punched the lock and stole some stuff out of it. But that wasn't enough to jilt her. The real reason for the breakup was that she didn't come equipped with air conditioning. That hadn't been an issue when I was in college in Corvallis. It wasn't even much of a problem during summers in Eastern Oregon. It certainly was not a problem on the Oregon Coast. But in the Mojave, where, if memory serves, every day in July that summer was hotter than 110 degrees, it was a different story. No air conditioning was definitely a problem.

So I traded her in. I decided to get a pickup, because I was a long way from home, family and friends and didn't know many people in town yet. My dad always had pickups I could borrow. I had a Toyota pickup part of the time through college. I might need a truck in California.

As it turned out in the nearly 14 years since, I haven't really needed a truck all that often. But I still have her, and she's taken good care of me over the years. There have been a few bangs and scrapes with inanimate objects. And one little fender bender when I couldn't quite manage the clutch and brake fast enough at a stoplight. Not bad for nearly a decade and a half.

When I moved back to Oregon in 2005 I thought maybe that might be our last summer together. But there was really no room in the budget for a car payment, so we've stayed together. The relationship was strained when gas got up in the $4 a gallon territory. When I first bought her I could fill her up for about $15. At one point last year it cost about $75. That kept both of us close to home on weekends.

The truth is, she doesn't get all the attention she deserves because money has been tight. The new tires she got late last year weren't really in the budget either. But she and I were both glad she had them when she we needed to navigate snowy roads in December in and around Portland and Salem. The guy at Les Schwab warned me that the brakes were showing wear too, but I knew I couldn't afford that bill with Christmas coming.

But we may not be able to wait any longer. A couple of warning lights popped up on the dash yesterday. The ABS and brake lights are on, glowing steady, and I can feel the mushiness in the brakes. I am nursing them all I can, but I know there is a trip to the brake shop in my immediate future.

Tires, brakes. That's stuff that need to be replaced from time to time. But that's not the only trouble she's seen lately. Last year after watching my daughter play in the state golf tournament she refused to start. Her battery cracked and the acid damaged the cables and some parts in the engine compartment. She had to be towed to a repair shop. It was the second time she'd been in for repairs since we got to Oregon. She needs other work too. She needs shocks. The windshield has a nasty crack. She leaks oil.

And the odometer reads more than 130,000 miles. Not bad, given her age. But I'm not certain how many miles she really has left.

I never thought she'd carry me this far. Or this long. She's been a loyal and trusted companion. I'll miss her when she's gone. And I'll miss not having car payments. But I won't miss the repair bills. I guess I know where my tax refund is going this year.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Too tired to sleep

I'm going through one of the periodic bouts of insomnia that visit me from time to time. I'm not sure what causes it. Maybe I need to keep an insomnia journal or something to see if I can find a pattern to the phenomenon.

After a fairly dry and sunny winter, the rains have returned this week. Maybe that's a factor. But I don't think that's it, or at least not all of it, because the really late nights started late last week before the weather really turned.

Unfortunately, I am not experiencing a period where I can exploit the long hours creatively. It would be nice to make some posts or read or do something with these hours.

Ironically, I'm very tired, but can't bring myself to go to bed. I can sleep for a few minute in the evening on the couch, but to get that long full night's sleep, particularly on a weeknight, well, it just doesn't happen.

I call it insomnia, but I'm not sure if it really is or not. I don't go to bed and toss and turn sleeplessly for hours. I just don't go to bed. I think part of it is the fear of lying in bed, tossing and turning for hours. I used to do that as a kid and earlier in my life. It was shear frustration and torture. I don't want to repeat it. So, instead, during these periods, I keep myself awake until overcome by exhaustion. I want to know the sleep will come when I crawl between the sheets.

I am going to try to sleep. I think. I hope.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bloggers, be careful what you wish for

I don't think I've ever read an article in Salem Monthly before this week, but there was a copy of it sitting in the lunch room at work and the cover story caught my attention.

In typical tabloid style, the teaser on the cover was different than the headline of the article. The headline of the piece, by Kevin Hanson, is "Defining media: A question of credibility." I think the cover teaser posed the question of whether bloggers were journalists (I don't have the print copy to check).

I thought the piece was interesting. I have my own take, of course.

Most bloggers are definitely not journalists. They are more like columnists, or more precisely people who write letters to the editor, but also own their own presses. Bloggers, mostly, spout opinions, like those blowhards on cable news stations that don't actually cover the news, they just bitch about, well, seemingly everything.

And there's nothing wrong with spouting opinions.

Bloggers have a point of view and express it, something journalists in the traditional media try very hard not to do in their coverage of stories. Journalists (with the exception of opinion writers and columnist) spend most of their working time reporting other people's opinions rather than sharing their own (and opinion writers actually share the opinions of either their editor board or their publisher, which may not be their personal opinion). The job of the journalist is to cover an issue as objectively as possible, to give both sides of the issue (or as many sides as are practical given time and space constraints). Journalists attempt to be fair and balanced. Bloggers have no such limitation.

But let's be honest here. Not all journalists, or all media, are created equal. Not all have the same level of skill or training or experience. This is largely a function of staff size. Papers with small staffs often do not have the luxury of having specialists or people who can spend an entire day, let alone several days (or weeks or months) working on one story. In my earlier life, as an editor in charge of local news reporting staff's at a couple of different newspapers where I worked, I used to have a saying. That saying was repeated often to let the reporters I supervised to remind them of what was expected of them.

"Two stories a day keeps the editor at bay."

I even made up an 8-by-10 sign that hung on my desk to remind reporters of the slogan even when I wasn't at my desk or speaking the words.

Given the number of reporters we had and the general amount of space we had for local news, we needed an average of two stories a day. The New York Times may boast that it's pages contain "All the news that's fit to print," but many papers print whatever news fits. Sometimes the stories have to be whittled down to fit the space, and sometimes you have to make sure you have enough stories to fit the space that will be available.

When a reporter writes two stories a day, those stories are not going to be in-depth investigative pieces. You do what you can, talk to who you can reach quickly and you write quickly.

At the bigger (and better) of the papers where I used that mantra, having most of the reporters meeting that "quota" meant that we could afford to have a reporter every week concentrating on an in-depth story, and we could have a reporter or two a day focused on the biggest story, or stories, of the day for our front page or local section cover. A story could fall through and we wouldn't have to scramble. It gave us flexibility.

Bigger news organizations have more flexibility. They can hold a story if it isn't good enough. If it doesn't pass muster. More people get a chance to read a story it before it makes it to print. Check for typos. Ask questions if things aren't clear or don't make sense. There is someone to ask/deman someone make one more phone call, get one more source, check one more fact.

That doesn't mean a one-person blog or website can't employ journalistic principals. Heck, there are still a few newspapers in small communities out there that have newsrooms that size, or are not much larger.

In the Salem Monthly/ article, it uses as example of a blogger who wanted to cover a closed session by a government body as the crux of defining just who, or what, a journalist is in Oregon. It's ironic, even comical. I won't comment on whether Mark Buntner, aka Torrid Joe, of is a journalist. He's the reporter mentioned in the article, if you didn't follow the link. But I do know that government agencies like the Lake Oswego City Council cannot and should not define what a journalist is or a legitimate news media outlet is.

Journalism is not the government, nor is it is licensed or sanctioned by the government. Oregon has some great open meetings and public records laws, which allows representatives of the news media to attend most types of executive sessions, however discussions in those meetings are not supposed to be reported. A media representative is there, ostensibly, to make sure the members of the government body doesn't do something they are not supposed to do in one of those meeting, like take a vote or discuss a topic other than what they said they were going to discuss in closed session. But one thing I learned as a journalist working for more than 10 years in California, where the laws are not so favorable to the media or the public, it is possible to report the news without having access to closed-door sessions. It makes the job harder, but not impossible. I wished I could have taken Oregon's laws to California with me, but I worked with some damn fine journalists in California who kept government bodies accountable to the public quite well, in spite of laws that made it damn hard for journalist to get some information or prove laws were broken (or at least bent) by government agencies behind closed doors.

If Buntner/Torrid Joe, or any other blogger wants to behave like a "mainstream" media member -- want to be considered a journalist (or citizen journalist) -- and have the opportunity to attend executive sessions, I have one simple suggestion.

If you want to be treated like the news media, then act like the news media. Oregon Revised Statute 192.640 says:

Public notice required; special notice for executive sessions, special or emergency meetings. The governing body of a public body shall provide for and give public notice, reasonably calculated to give actual notice to interested persons including news media which have requested notice, of the time and place for holding regular meetings.

If a blogger/website operator regularly attends a government board's meetings and requests notification of all meetings -- and if the government body complies and includes the blogger(s) on their notification list -- it will be a lot harder later for the government body to say you aren't part of the news media. If you work like the media and are treated like the media, you are the media.

I don't know if Buntner/Torrid Joe did that or not. But if a blogger uses his or her forum to let the public know when government meetings will be held so the people can participate in the public debate too, in council chambers where the actual votes are cast, that's what the media do. If the blogger provides some measure of coverage of issues out of those meetings regularly, that is part of the role journalists play. It's not the sexy part, or the glamorous part, and it is rarely a fun part. Go figure, it's a job. It's work.

Like it or not, along with the First Amendment rights many bloggers so wish to enjoy, there would/will also come some news media responsibilities.

Oh, and one more thing. There may be such a thing as a professional journalist (as in someone who gets paid to report the news), but journalism is not a profession, in the classic definition. It doesn't pay well enough for one thing. But more importantly, journalists are not licensed and journalism does not require a doctoral degree. So for those bloggers that aspire to be considered journalists, you can become one. But if you just want to spout off about your passion for your pet or your personal politics or your shitty day, go for it. People may find that stuff more interesting anyway.

Hell, I'd much rather be a professional blogger -- that is unless blogging becomes a profession. I don't want to have to take a test and get a license.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunset on Sunset Bay

A visual reminder of why it's important to stop and enjoy life once in a while.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

That's right, I'm not from Texas (but I've been there)

Facebook really is a pretty amazing thing. I think I found a guy who was an intern at the same time I was back in the late 1980s at the Corvallis Gazette-Times. He was from Texas and at the end of the internship, he invited me to drive back to Texas with him.

Perhaps it was because I had passed up any opportunity to visit Texas a couple of years earlier. I had dated a woman who was from Texas and she used to talk about taking me there. I really wasn't interested in going someplace I had never been before and where I didn't know anyone. It was outside my comfort zone. I came to regret that lack of interest and adventure.

So when the opportunity presented itself that summer, I think it was 1987, I decided to go and had a great time. It was a trip full of firsts.

Tom and I went out of our way to drive through Las Vegas, just because we could. It was the first time I had been to Vegas. It's ironic that in later years I came to love that city so much, because on that road trip, seeing Vegas in the middle of the day in late summer, it didn't impress. It was hotter than hell. The middle-age people roaming the streets in their polyester garb looked tacky as did the shiny, glittery facades of the city. I don't even know what part of the city Tom and I saw. It seemed so hellish and surreal. We didn't linger long and got the hell out of town and down the road.

We stopped at tacky souvenir shops. I wonder whatever happened to the Texas flag and set of steer horns I picked up on that trip? For years I had the University of Texas tank top I picked up in Austin. I was not a Longhorns fan, but it always reminded me of that trip and I loved that shirt.

Many of the memories of that trip have grown fuzzy with time. But some impressions of that trip have stuck with me. I remember seeing the El Paso city limit sign long before seeing El Paso, and then not seeing much of anything for hours and hours after passing the west Texas border town.

I would have loved to spend more time in San Antonio or San Marcos or Austin, but was only there a few days. The people there were amazing and made me feel so welcome. Maybe it was the soft Southern drawl so many spoke with, particularly the young women Tom introduced me to on the trip. They would say y'all and I would melt. I even started to say y'all too. I remember Tom chastising me for that. I think he thought I was making fun of his friends and the way they spoke. Far from it. I was fascinated, hypnotized by it. I wanted to be a Texan too.

Years later, I would think of that whenever I would hear Lyle Lovett's song "That's Right (Your Not From Texas)." I think if I had stayed there any longer, I may never have left. But all too soon I flew out of Austin and returned to Oregon. I left Texas, but I still carry parts of that trip with me.

I have a soft spot for Texas, or perhaps more accurately, Texans. Other than those few days, I've only been back in Texas to change planes at Dallas-Fort Worth. But Texans have been pivotal figures in my life. One is a friend who stood by me at my lowest point and helped me climb out of that pit. One is a friend who has shared his home, his cooking and his martinis and conversation and is willing to call me on my careless grammar (thanks Gene). And one was a former gymnast who introduced me to seafood and taught me to look beyond the outer image a woman presents to see the person inside.

And then there was Tom, who disliked country music except for a guy named George Strait, who's music I had never heard. Tom talked me in to traveling to Texas. And now, thanks to Facebook, I may be able to connect with someone I haven't talked to in decades. And, if nothing else, it got me thinking about some great times, great places and great people.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Remembering The Day The Music Died

He died before I was born, but Buddy Holly's music has been part of the soundtrack of my life, just like it has been part of so many people's lives for generations.

When Holly, Ritchie Valens and the J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson were killed in a plane crash on Feb. 3, 1959, it became known as The Day the Music Died.

Of course music lived on, as did the music of Holly, Valens, and even The Big Bopper. But losing those talented people at the peak of their creativity and fame must have been a crushing blow to their fans.

The day the music died for me came more than 30 years later, on Aug. 27, 1990 when Stevie Ray Vaughan died under similar circumstances, in a helicopter crash following a concert. My roommate at my first newspaper job had introduced me to Vaughan's music less than a year before. His blues-infused guitar captivated me. And just after I found it, found him, he was gone. And I felt an emptiness and loss as sure as if a friend or family member had died.

I still love and listen to Vaughan's music. It still moves me. But there is no sense of sadness when I listen to the energy and power of Vaughan's distinctive sound. I feel happy. It makes me feel energized.

I can't help but wonder what more Vaughan could have done musically if he had lived. But his music lives on. As does the music of Buddy Holly, who was only 22 when he died. So much music lost.

I bought some Buddy Holly music today. It was an obvious gap in my music library. Rest easy Mr. Holly, you and your music did "Not Fade Away".

And in spite of Don McLean's iconic tribute, "American Pie," that day 50 years ago was not The Day the Music Died. It was a day a generation -- several generations -- learned to love and appreciate the music and all those who made it and left the stage far too soon.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The curse of couch cushions being so absorbent

I get these great ideas for blog post throughout the day. They are brilliant ideas and would make the best blog posts of all time. If you read these gems you would have no choice but to agree.

Sometimes a send myself an e-mail to remind me of my flash of genius. Sometimes I use my little memory trick of turning my watch around backwards, which forces me to remember throughout the day why I turned my wristwatch around. Sometimes I scribble a note on a piece of paper. And many times I just make a mental note, telling myself that I just have to write about that.

Then I get home. Fix some dinner. Deal with the dishes. Check my e-mail, catch up on a few odds and ends, get engrossed in mind-numbing television. And before you know it, the enthusiasm and energy to be brilliant is gone.

Oh, sure, I still want to be brilliant, but I find I no longer remember how.

So I watch more mindless television and then go to bed.

It's like all the genius gets absorbed by the cushions the moment my butt hits the couch. I guess that's what I get for carrying by brainpower back there.

Happy Groundhog Day

Here's to hoping that furry little varmint doesn't see his shadow and winter will soon be over.

But who am I kidding? This is the Willamette Valley and it's been unseasonably dry so far this year. There's still lots of rain left to fall and my amateur prognostication tells me that winter-like weather will last far more than 6 more weeks.

Photo J: Capturing the Moment