The blanket Patricia Maris gave me this week.

The blanket Patricia Maris gave me this week.

Patricia Maris, the widow of Roger Maris, sent me a blanket as a gift this week. I am overwhelmed.

I’ll explain, but it will take a while: This story starts more than 55 years ago.

I don’t remember being at all aware of baseball from 1957 to 1960, when my father was stationed in England in the U.S. Air Force. My strongest childhood memories of England are of Mrs. Shaw, the retired school teacher next door who tutored me and taught me to read, using Janet and John books.

We moved to Utah when I was 5, and I was reading at the fourth-grade level, already launched on a lifetime as a nerd who loved to read and pursued passions single-mindedly. One of my first such passions was geography. My parents bought me some flash cards of the states to amuse me on that long drive west from New Jersey, where we landed in the United States, to our new home in Utah. I memorized the shapes and capitals of the states. I asked Mom or Dad which state I was born in. Dad was stationed then at Sampson Air Force Base in the Finger Lakes region of New York. So that became my favorite card and my favorite state.

Soon baseball became another passion for this intent, focused nerd. We didn’t have a television yet (my parents didn’t cave in on that indulgence until after the JFK assassination in 1963). But Mom listened to the 1960 World Series on the radio. A lifelong Cubs fan (yeah, more on that later), Mom rooted for the National League team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. But New York was my state and New York became my team.

So my early baseball heroes were Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson and Whitey Ford, who had historically great performances in that World Series. And the season’s Most Valuable Player, Roger Maris, played pretty well, too, and I started liking him as well. But Bill Mazeroski broke my young heart. Continue Reading »

If you asked me when is the best time for me to post on my blog, I’d say about 8 or 9 a.m. That’s when journalists in the Eastern and Central time zones are starting their workdays and most likely to read my posts, comment, share them in social media and so on.

I came to work yesterday intending to blog about Jack Shafer’s post and Iris Chyi’s research on newspapers’ digital strategy. But a class and other matters demanded my attention in the morning and I couldn’t start writing the post until mid-afternoon. By the time I’d finished, it was after 4 p.m. The normal workday (not that journalism has such a thing) was ending on the East Coast. I briefly pondered waiting until the morning to post. But I was already late in joining the conversation (the last half of my post curated some of the social media conversation Jack’s post had already generated).

I knew I should jump into the conversation right away. I was already late, and if it didn’t get much attention, that was too bad. So I posted at about 4:20 p.m.

And people noticed. Forty-three people retweeted me and at least that many more tweeted new links to the post. Still more shared, liked or commented on it on Facebook. By almost 8:30 a.m. this morning, when I might have been publishing if I had waited till morning, 2,300 people had read the post, with Twitter accounting for more than 1,000 hits on my blog yesterday and Facebook 500, even though we were just barely entering the primary workday in the Eastern and Central time zones.

That’s not a ton of traffic, but my blog usually runs a little under 1,000 views a day (I haven’t been blogging as much the past few months).

The overnight attention underscored a lesson I’ve learned and relearned many times: The perfect time to join a digital conversation is right now.


shafer-columnI hesitate to give more attention to a study and Politico Magazine column that comforted newspaper nostalgists, but I must: Both are BS.

“What If the Newspaper Industry Made a Colossal Mistake?” asks the Politico headline, echoed in Jack Shafer‘s breathless lead: “What if almost the entire newspaper industry got it wrong?”

Well, the industry did get it wrong and did make a colossal mistake, but not the one that Shafer and University of Texas scholars Hsiang Iris Chyi and Ori Tenenboim think it made.

Summarizing Chyi’s and Tenenboim’s Reality Check research article in Journalism Practice, Shafer asks:

What if, in the mad dash two decades ago to repurpose and extend editorial content onto the Web, editors and publishers made a colossal business blunder that wasted hundreds of millions of dollars? What if the industry should have stuck with its strengths—the print editions where the vast majority of their readers still reside and where the overwhelming majority of advertising and subscription revenue come from—instead of chasing the online chimera?

In their research, which prompted Shafer’s column, Chyi and Tenenboim wrote that in the past 20 years “US newspapers, especially national and metro dailies, became more determined than ever to complete their transition from print to online. … ‘Digital first’ has become a mantra, a trend, and a strategy leading to the future.”

Shafer, Chyi and Tenenboim correctly chronicle the weak performance of American metro newspapers in the digital marketplace. But they wrongly conclude, as Shafer wrote, that “The key to the newspaper future might reside in its past and not in smartphones, iPads and VR. ‘Digital first,’ the authors claim, has been a losing proposition for most newspapers.”

Well, I used to work for a company called Digital First Media and at a newspaper-industry think tank, and I’ve visited more than 100 newsrooms and spoken at more than 100 newspaper-industry conferences and seminars, and I can flatly say that the industry never, ever adopted anything close to a digital-first strategy. (Update: Kurt Greenbaum responded on Facebook: “You’re being too kind. Not only did they never adopt such a strategy, they actively resisted tolerance of digital technology, much less acceptance of it.”)

The colossal mistake that the newspaper industry made was responding to digital challenges and opportunities with defensive measures intended to protect newspapers, and timid experiments with posting print-first content online, rather than truly exploring and pursuing digital possibilities.

Continue Reading »


Poynter announces Roy Peter Clark’s retirement plans.

Roy Peter Clark is retiring from Poynter.

Part of me wants to congratulate Roy and wish him well. Part of me wants to tell him he can’t leave us. Journalism still needs him too much. I guess we’ll just have to savor and make the most of his services for the rest of this year and in his continuing projects with Poynter (I think it’s more of a semi-retirement).

I can’t remember when I started reading Roy’s work, but he has multiple books on my shelves, including a three-ring binder version of Writing Tools before it was published. I do remember the first time I saw Roy teach, at a National Writers Workshop in St. Louis, probably in 1995. As he often does, he used music to teach us about writing, teaching a writing lesson in how Aretha Franklin put her own mark on Otis Redding’s song “Respect.” By the end of his workshop, Roy had us dancing up on the stage (I apologize to anyone who saw me dancing, but I was swept up in the moment).

We’ve crossed paths again and again in the years since, at 10 or more Poynter seminars in St. Petersburg, a few more National Writers’ Workshops, a Write Your Heart Out workshop in Washington and probably a few other conferences. Twice we did email Q&A’s about Writing Tools. We’ve discussed journalism ethics on my blog and evangelicals in politics for Poynter. Inspired by Roy, I’ve used music in my own writing workshops (but, unlike Roy, I don’t actually play or sing myself). And last month, when I was in town for other business in St. Pete, we just went out for a while to talk as friends.

I can’t think of anyone who’s elevated journalism more than Roy or helped more journalists in more ways.

Enjoy retirement, Roy. But if you get bored, we still need as much coaching as you can keep giving us.

Tips on covering events

I’m teaching my Media Writing class about event coverage today. So here are some tips on event coverage:


Before the event, learn what you can about what’s going to happen. A sporting event might have a program or roster with the players’ numbers and names. A public meeting might have an agenda. A conference program will list the speakers. A more informal program will have an organizer who can provide an overview and some background.

But sometimes you need to go beyond the handouts and the organizers. Find some contrarians who can let you know about interesting turns the event might take. Continue Reading »

This week’s flood in Cedar Rapids brings a sick, familiar feeling.

I hope the current forecast of a crest at around 22 feet is right this time. That’s a bad flood. But I do know that flood forecasts can be wrong. The email below, sent late the night of June 11, 2008, warned of a crest at 24.7 feet, which would have been a record. The actual crest less than two days later was more than 31 feet.

It was a record-setting disaster for my then-community, similar to the flood my now-community experienced this summer. (This time I wasn’t involved in flood coverage.)

I don’t have much new to say about this flood, except that I’m confident Executive Editor Zack Kucharski and his staff will excel in covering this flood. Many veterans of the 2008 flood have moved on, either voluntarily or as the Gazette cut staff. But I count more than 20 veterans of the 2008 flood still on hand, including Zack and several others who played key roles. They know what to do.

I hope the waters don’t rise above expected levels again. But I’m certain the staff will perform at whatever level the community needs, whatever the obstacles.

The Gazette has some good aerial photos of this year’s flood, but they’re not showing nearly as extensive flooding, especially in areas with homes and businesses, as what we experienced in 2008. I hope it never again approaches that level.

Here are previous posts I’ve written about the 2008 flood, and the award-winning double-truck front page, designed by Rae Riebe, with a design suggestion from Michelle Wiese and a powerful photo by Liz Martin:

Our June 13, 2008, front and back pages.

Our June 13, 2008, front and back pages.

The Cedar Rapids flood: Hard to believe it was four years ago

Mississippi Gulf Coast recovering slowly

If “The Fifth Season Is Progress,” it better be a long season

No Pulitzer, but still high honor for Gazette staff

Gazette flood coverage wins Sigma Delta Chi Award

Recognition for Gazette’s outstanding journalism

Disaster coverage in the digital age

Time for Cedar Rapids to get pushy

These are blog posts that relate to my “Revenue Roundup” discussion at the Online News Association today:

A possible new business model for obituaries

Jobless journalists could find a business model in obituaries

‘A Death Notice for Obituaries?’ Or an opportunity for entrepreneurs?

Obituaries: A chance to tell a loved one’s story

Personal storytelling sometimes overlaps with journalism