Thursday, October 30, 2008

Walking along the river - a story idea strikes

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - A walk out the back door (ok, the only door) of my house into the neighborhood to take a stretch, reminded me that stories don't have to be dug up, sometimes they are right in front of your face.

I walked a half-mile to the Sacramento River, which looks ever-so placid these days (at least until the rain arrives this weekend), and while watching a ski boat glide across the water, spotted a river dweller, neatly hidden right at the water's edge.

Home along the river
A blue tarp to keep out the weather, a bicycle for transportation

Whoever is living underneath the tarp is also living below the radar of most of Sacramento. From time to time, the police raid along the river, chasing out people they call 'transients.' I say call transients, because there are some folks among these river dwellers who are there by choice, living as free as is possible in the USSA, way beyond credit checks, snooping landlords, police and the ever-present TSA.

This person - or persons - chose their spot well, as it's necessary to stand up on top of a concrete abutment to even see that there is a tarp and bicycle below.

My writer-hero, American author Jack London, rode the rails of freight trains once, doing a chronicle of the lives of the men - and a handful of women - who took to the road at the turn of the 20th century. They did so mostly because of tough economic times, but some just to escape from, well, whatever haunted them.

The River People.

Hmmm.... now there's an idea for a literary journalism piece.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dan Weintraub engages column writing in a 'conversation'

CSU, SACRAMENTO, Sacramento, Calif., USA - Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Weintraub said he is bullish on journalism, less bullish on newspapers themselves when he spoke to the column-writing class at CSU, Sacramento Tuesday night.

Weintraub, a veteran newsman who has spent the last eight years with The Sacramento Bee in a columnist's dream job, said that the evolving nature of the business is exciting as a participant, but that the impacts of the new information technologies on the newspaper industry have been devastating.

One of Weintraub's newest Sacramento Bee projects, in addition to his regular column writing, has been to edit a new Bee feature called "The Conversation," a segment that is published both in print and online on Sunday, but continues through the week online with readers making comments.

Software glitches have added to the adventure. But Weintraub says that "The Conversation" is still a work in progress.

The students offered a number of suggestions for making the feature more interactive, including making it easier for readers to access the latest postings to "The Conversation." In a recent software shift, that function was somehow dropped.

Here's a brief video of a portion of the presentation.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New reporters cover high finance at forum

CSU, SACRAMENTO, Sacramento, Calif., USA - Reporters from my two sections of beginning news writing covered a forum on finances sponsored by the CSUS Economics Department Monday afternoon.

While a good deal of the economic jargon from the five expert professors went over the reporters' heads as they scribbled in their reporters' notebooks, most of the students came away with a greater understanding of what caused the most recent financial debacle and what the nation can expect in coming years.

They heard about asset-backed derivatives, credit swaps, unemployment rates and how the nation shouldn't worry about entering another Great Depression. Or about the growing unemployment rate.

Whenever someone says, "Don't Worry," I generally start to worry more - much more.

I asked a couple of questions, one about what the group thought about the sudden plummeting of oil prices and were they concerned about such wild swings in prices.

The expert panel said not to worry about that either.


The reporters will be taking their full notebooks to class Wednesday and attempting to write a 300-400 word story about the event.

Here's a brief video of some of the proceedings.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dan Weintraub to visit column-writing class Oct. 21

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Dan Weintraub, a columnist for The Sacramento Bee will be coming to the CSU, Sacramento column writing class next Tuesday to talk writing, politics and perhaps a little about the future of the newspaper industry.

He was scheduled earlier in the semester - the night of the second presidential debate - and had to cancel.

Like many Sacramento Bee staffers, Weintraub has been adjusting to the new fiscal realities of the publishing industry. Among other things, he has started a new feature in the newspaper called The Conversation which goes into depth on different issues.

The approach is interesting and Weintraub will likely talk about what it was like to launch The Conversation, as well as how it is going.

Weintraub is a veteran member of the Sacramento press corps and believes in doing a lot of reporting before he writes a word for his column.

Dan Weintraub
Dan Weintraub

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Marcos Breton on tap for column-writing class in October

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton has agreed to come in and speak with the column writing class at CSU, Sacramento Oct. 28.

Breton has been at The Bee for 18 years and is a survivor of the recent layoffs and purges that have marked The Bee for the past year.

His column draws comments - lots of comments - and in a departure from normal practice, The Bee's new editor, Melanie Sill, has at times had Breton responding to people online to the online comments they post.

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

He was the subject of a question-and-answer session in Sacramento Magazine in 2007.

Here is the link to that story:

  • Breton Q&A in Sacramento Magazine
  • Tuesday, October 07, 2008

    Column writers tackle the Obama-McCain debate

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The students in the Column Writing class at CSU, Sacramento gave out more than a few groans during the debate between presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, but dutifully pounded out their 600-word columns with all writers making their deadline - about 50 minutes after moderator Tom Brokaw declared that the debate was over.

    A few extra groans came out when technical problems nearly made several students miss their deadlines.

    But they made it. And the results can be read by clicking on the links to the right of this column.

    Barrack Obama and John McCain
    Obama and McCain

    It was the first real on-deadline assignment for the group. Other columns have been done with days of lead time, though a quick look at tonight's columns convinces me that many of these students are as good - in some cases better - when pushed with a tight deadline.

    The general consensus of the columns?

    Well, of the columns I sampled (with the balance to be read Wednesday and Thursday), more than a few writers objected to the constant finger-pointing that did seem to mar the flow of the debate. Even when confronted with a yes-no question, both candidates filled the air with speeches.

    Here's a short video of the class watching Round 2 of the presidential debates.

    Column writing students to post analysis columns at end of tonight's debate

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Tonight's column writing class at CSU, Sacramento will join the ranks of pundits across the world by watching the Obama-McCain debate live - and then posting their columns immediately after the debate is over.

    Watch out Fox News, J-131 is moving on up.

    The opportunity popped up when our guest speaker for the evening, Dan Weintraub of The Sacramento Bee, had to bow out at the last moment. He will be coming in a few weeks to talk about political reporting and how he survives in this brave new world of almost-instant analysis.

    No doubt the students will have lots of questions about how he does what I am asking them to do tonight.

    Dan Weintraub
    Dan Weintraub

    Up until now, the students in the class have been able to write much more leisurely, with days of lead time.

    Tonight, the deadline will be upon them with all columns to be filed no later than one hour after the debate is completed.

    I supposed I could start the class off like the announcers at a racetrack:

    Writers: Start your computers.

    Barrack Obama and John McCain
    Tonight's debaters