Archive for the ‘2008 Iowa floods’ Category

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

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The Gazette’s double-truck front page from June 13, 2008

Wow, I didn’t think this date would sneak past me, but it did. Not until Chuck Offenburger tweeted did I realize that this was the fourth anniversary of the Cedar Rapids flood:

I’m not sure whether I’m amazed that it’s already been four years or that it’s only been four years. But it doesn’t seem like four years ago.

Maybe next year I’ll anticipate the anniversary and write something more thoughtful. But here are some quick reflections: (more…)

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This decade is ending with much less fanfare than the past one, which was the turn of both a century and a millennium.

This decade passed without really getting a name — the Oughts didn’t quite stick, like I guess they did a century earlier (they so didn’t stick that I don’t even know or care whether Oughts or Aughts would be the preferred spelling).

If you don’t have much patience for self-indulgent reflections, this might be a good time to go read something else, because I’m going to look back on the past decade of my career. (more…)

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Here is a draft of a story I wrote for this Sunday’s Gazette, based on some reporting I did when I was in Biloxi last month and some follow-up reporting by telephone after returning to Cedar Rapids. For more on the recovery on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, check the coverage in the Sun Herald.

Biloxi, Miss. – Billboards along Interstate 10 tell the mixed story of a resort town fighting its way back. Most signs invite visitors to the casino shows of yesteryear’s stars (Johnny Mathis, Gladys Knight, Engelbert Humperdinck). But one billboard targets local residents, hundreds of whom still live in FEMA trailers. The sign informs the locals that new flood insurance maps are ready.

The communities of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast have spent nearly four years learning how difficult, demanding and slow disaster recovery can be. (more…)

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This will be my column for Monday’s Gazette.

The Fifth Season Is Progress” proclaims a billboard as you approach the Cedar River on Interstate 380.

Almost a year ago, the I-380 bridge was the only way to cross the river in downtown, as the river surged for blocks beyond its banks in both directions, swallowing bridges and buildings in its path.

As you may recall, I moved to town that week. As Mimi and I we drove toward Cedar Rapids on Monday of that week, we noted how high the Iowa River was south of town and wondered if it might close I-380 soon (it did, later that week). 

By Thursday, the city was inundated. You remember the rest of the story. If you weren’t here to experience it, you can read and watch our anniversary coverage in the coming week.

As a newcomer, I was puzzled by the “City of Five Seasons” nickname. I remembered from my time in Des Moines people mocking Cedar Rapids as the “City of Five Smells.” I could remember why the reference to smells (and got quick reminders, if I forgot), but could not recall why it was called the “City of Five Seasons” and what the fifth one was.

Before moving here, I began asking people I met around the country what they knew about Cedar Rapids. No one knew about the alleged five seasons and if I asked, they showed no recognition. So I could see that if the nickname was intended to promote the city to outsiders, it wasn’t working.

People had enough trouble remembering our real name. I had people congratulate me on moving to Cedar Springs and Cedar Bluffs (and once since moving here, a colleague wrote about me being from Grand Rapids).

So I asked locals after I moved here, thinking maybe the nickname had some value in helping define the city to its residents. No, most people I asked couldn’t identify the fifth season and if they could (“Time to Enjoy”) they explained it sheepishly.

So a couple months after the flood, I suggested we needed a new nickname, something reflecting the fact that enjoyment had been curtailed during a struggle for recovery. While a few people who had invested time in promoting the Five Seasons nickname criticized me, most of the response I received was support (or derision for the whole notion of city slogans and nicknames).

Still, I had to admit that the city had more pressing needs than launching a new branding campaign, so I let it drop. But I still shook my head frequently when I saw signs and logos promoting the outdated Five Seasons theme.

So I’ll have to give qualified support to “The Fifth Season Is Progress.”

It answers the question that the original nickname raised. It doesn’t need a new campaign to launch or promote it (or change all the city signs and logos, perhaps the best reason I heard for not changing the slogan). It addresses the disaster that has come to define our city to most people who know who we are. And it says we’re coming back.

The Gazette’s editorial board met last week with Mayor Kay Halloran, City Manager Jim Prosser, City Council member Brian Fagan and other city officials. They gave us a four-page brochure touting progress since the flood and you have to agree that much has been done. They explained the need to take the time to make the right decisions for the long term, even if that means we have to wait a while for action, and again, you have to agree with the principle, even if you want a faster recovery pace.

I’ve enjoyed every bit of the progress — playing basketball at the downtown YMCA and eating dinner at the Chrome Horse and Blend, lunch at Maid-Rite and Victor’s and kolaches from Sykora.

I wonder, though, why “Progress” is a temporary slogan. The need for progress will linger (and they promise the progress will continue) long beyond the 30-day run planned for this slogan.

Here’s why I qualify my support: We’ve made a lot of progress, but not enough. 

Drive down 3rd Street SE in the New Bohemia area, then cross the river and drive 19th Avenue SW, just a few blocks south of the reviving Czech Village businesses. Wander the streets of Time Check that aren’t blocked off. You might want to erect — or possibly spray-paint — a sign saying, “The Fifth Season Is Plywood.”

If it’s a boast, “The Fifth Season Is Progress” falls short. As a challenge, as encouragement, as a promise that we’re just getting started, it works. 

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I savor every uplifting story about journalism in these difficult times.

My last post dealt, as most of my work and writing today does, with the difficult times in the news industry and in our search for solutions. Sometimes we need stories of great journalism, to fuel our fight for a prosperous future.

I read two such stories this week in the New York TimesLens photojournalism blog.

First Lens recounted the stories of the four photographers who captured the moment 20 years ago when the “tank man” stopped a line of tanks attempting to quell student protests in Tiananmen Square. Their stories are filled with fascinating details about saving film from Chineese authorities, personal risk and protection and transmitting photos in the pre-Internet age.

Even more fascinating, to me, was the Lens story of Terril Jones and the photo he shot moments before the tank confrontation. The other photographs were shot from the balconies of a hotel. Jones was on the ground, fearing for his safety as the tanks approached, firing their guns. In the last shot he fired before fleeing to safety, you see a young man dashing toward the camera, his head ducked in fear. And in the distance, calm amid the uproar, you see a man with a white shirt and two bags, awaiting the oncoming tanks. It’s a compelling story, a compelling moment of premeditation and courage.

Context matters, even 20 years later.

I love hearing the stories behind great photos and these two stories remind me of some other uplifting stories about great photos or videos:

  • My April post, The heart: one of journalism’s best tools, about Allan Thompson’s story in the Toronto Star, identifying the father and daughter in Nick Hughes’ horrifying video of genocide in Rwanda.
  • I remember the evening Gazette photographers spent at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, explaining the stories behind some of the photos in the Year of the River exhibit of Gazette flood photography.
  • National Geographic’s A Life Revealed story about the successful attempt to find the Afghan girl with the haunting green eyes, photographed by Steve McCurry in 1985, who came to symbolize the hard life of Afghan refugees. 
  • One of the best stories of my career was the story of Buddy Bunker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo The Homecoming, told first in 1997 at the Omaha World-Herald and then again as a multimedia story for GazetteOnline after a home movie surfaced 65 years after the homecoming. 
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I’m glad I wrote this before The Gazette was shut out for this year’s Pulitzer Prizes: The highest honor in journalism is not the Pulitzer, but the respect of your community.

I have judged, won and lost enough contests in my career that I don’t take awards very seriously. I smile when we win and force a smile when we lose. But if you spend your career pursuing prizes, the rare rewards will not offset the fact that you’ve missed out on the true joys of journalism, which lie in the work, not the recognition.

I will say this about awards: I respect all of this year’s Pulitzer winners and enjoyed all the awards we did win (national awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Inland Press Association, regional awards from the National Press Photographers Association and state awards from the Iowa Newspaper Association and the Iowa Associated Press Managing Editors (I hope I didn’t leave one out; it’s been a good year).

I am particularly pleased that the outstanding innovative journalism of Bill Adair and Matt Waite won a Pulitzer for PolitiFact and the St. Petersburg Times. I interviewed Waite and praised his creative use of databases in PolitiFact in a report I wrote last year for the American Press Institute‘s Newspaper Next project.

I also am glad to see the Las Vegas Sun recognized for its commitment to investigative journalism. I praised the Detroit Free Press for its watchdog journalism last week and I’m delighted that the Pulitzer judges agreed.

When I was at API, I did a lot of work with Freedom Newspapers and the East Valley Tribune. I had breakfast last fall with the Tribune’s Publisher Julie Moreno and Editor Jim Ripley (since retired), discussing their plans to cut back from daily publication, stress their daily digital content and reduce their staff. I am pleased that the Tribune won a Pulitzer and pleased that a reporter who lost his job won a Pulitzer. In today’s newspaper world, that was appropriate. In fact,  if we had won, I would have made sure to salute our colleagues who lost their jobs in February for their contributions.

I’ve had my share of brushes with Pulitzer fame, though the personal result has always been the same as this year — applauding the success of others. I did a little copy editing on the project that won Jim Risser his second Pulitzer for the Des Moines Register. I was Tom Knudson‘s editor at the Register before he went on to win two Pulitzers, one in Des Moines and one at the Sacramento Bee. I was involved (long story that I won’t go into here) in a project at the Kansas City Star that won a Pulitzer for Jeff Taylor and Mike McGraw. (Jeff is senior managing editor at the Detroit Free Press and was celebrating again yesterday.) I’ve worked with several other Pulitzer winners. And none of them was a better journalist than Ken Fuson, who won lots of national awards but retired from the Register last year without a Pulitzer.

Judging journalism contests is difficult. I have judged lots of national, regional, company and state contests. Two judges can read the same batch of entries and come away with completely different lists of their top three winners. Neither is right, neither is wrong; picking the best of great journalism is just subjective and difficult. I always respect the judges’ choices, regardless of whether I like the outcome.

I proudly nominated several entries from our coverage of the flood of 2008 as well as Jennifer Hemmingsen‘s outstanding Fruit of the Poisonous Tree series. We didn’t win and we weren’t named as finalists. The Gazette still hasn’t won a Pulitzer since 1936.

I know we submitted worthy entries. I appreciated the encouragement of colleagues and people in the community who expressed optimism for our chances. (I was especially pleased to read Chuck Offenburger‘s tweet yesterday, saying that he was surprised someone from Iowa or Omaha didn’t win; Chuck, who gave me my first job in this business, is another great journalist who wrote some Pulitzer-worthy material but didn’t land the prize).

As I told a colleague who shared my disappointment yesterday, I couldn’t be any prouder of my staff if we had won the prize. Happier, sure, but not prouder.

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