Thursday, November 10, 2011

Column writers chewing up local restaurants

SACRAMENTO, Calif. USA - The columnistas from Journalism 131 are pumping out restaurant reviews this week, after last week's television program reviews.

Pretty obvious from reading both which the writers were more enthusiastic about.

Mexican restaurants, burger joints, Vietnamese places - and even a couple of 'hole-in-the-wall' establishments were reviewed by the class.

The review of Dad's by Ben Dewey is a keeper.

Twelve more reviews are due Friday by noon.

And all of them can be accessed via the links to the right.

Buen provecho.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

CSUS Writers hitting journalistic home runs left and write

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The columnistas in the column writing class and the magazine writers in magazine writing at CSU, Sacramento are doing a great job this semester, with several getting promises of publication and/or contacts in the industry.

Alysha Garrett
But in column writing this past week, there was a special event, kind of a journalistic convergence, involving a writer (pictured to the left) who has twin career aspirations: to be a professional writer and a professional model.

And so in the course of writing an excellent column for the class, she ran across a female model (whose photo she used as an illustration in her column this week) with whom she seemed to share a lot of values and ideas.

Why not, she thought?

So Alysha Garrett submitted her modeling portfolio to the model's company. One email later and voila: she is now connected to the modeling agency of Natural Model Management of Los Angeles.

Serendipity is a wonderful thing to witness.

Here is a link to the writer's blog which fills in all the details and has a very cool illustration that helps explain why Barbie and Ken never have food in the Barbie house or camper: The Young Adult

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Newswriting students swarm the CSUS Blood Drive, looking for news

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Nearly 50 students from basic newswriting courses at CSU, Sacramento headed out of the classroom Wednesday to do a live newswriting exercise - covering the blood drive on campus at the University Union.

Most had never done an interview or headed out on a real news story. For some, it was very intimidating. Others took it in stride and dove in.

The staff of the blood drive, including Blood Source's Ashley Rebholtz, were very helpful and so most of the student reporters found this first attempt at live writing a good experience.

How the experience will translate into actual stories will be revealed Monday when they are turned in, completed, in class.
Ashley Rebholtz of Blood Source being interviewed by Sally Buckley

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

And more photos from the reporters at the blood drive

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Second J30 class arrives at blood drive to write story

The first J30 class has headed off to their computers to write a story about the blood drive, with the next class trickling in to start interviews.

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J students cover blood drive at CSUs

Fifty students from two Journalism 30 classes descended on the blood drive today in the university union to get information for a story...

Here are some fotos.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

CSU, Sacramento column writers take a whack at Occupy Wall Street

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The 25 or so columnistas of the Column Writing class at CSU, Sacramento have been busy penning columns about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Like most columnists around the nation trying to figure this out, they have had varying levels of success.

One writer though the entire movement was about to dry and blow away:
Arronicals' take on OWS

While this writer wants to rename it American Spring:
Put It In Writing

All of the posted columns are listed to the right of this posting... Check out some - and comment, please.

Occupy Sacramento in Cesar Chavez Park

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How those 'ah-ha' moments can be so satisfying

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Two days and two major 'ah-ha' moments. Some kind of record, I suppose.

The most recent was a few hours ago, while stumped on how to explain the Occupy Wall Street movement in my Finger Lakes Times column. I'm in good company because just about everybody is stumped.

But I realized - as I donned my shoes to take a walk to clear my caffeinated brain - that media and everyone else is having trouble because we haven't seen anything exactly like this before. It's almost alien (as in not-of-this world, not the immigration type) in what we see.

And if what you see doesn't look like what you have seen before, well, you end up babbling like the airheads on Fox & Friends.

So my best shot in my column, and damn tricky to work in, is that the Occupy movement is a unicorn. It just can't be there, so we try to say it's a horse or a zebra or anything but what we can see right in front of us.

That's the way denial works.

And the other 'ah-ha' moment?

While having breakfast Sunday with an amigo, we chatted about our new iPads and how we needed some photographic equipment to go with them.

I'd say more, but a prototype is being put together and maybe coming to an near you sometime after a patent gets issued.

Quite the ah-ha moment because I told him I would buy one on the spot for a lot of money if he actually had started manufacturing.

In the meantime, I need to get back to writing about unicorns.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Almost putting my foot right in it - why double-checking is soooo important

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - There is never a good excuse for being inaccurate, but sometimes columnists, like all journalists, can walk right up to the cliff.

If they are lucky, they catch themselves before they fall over and break their necks.

This week in New York I was precipitously close to the edge, but caught myself - with the help of a friend - before catapulting into the darkness.

The near fall was in a column about a state-sponsored public hearing. At the outset of it, the administrative law judge running the show made a big pronouncement that no local public officials would be testifying. Unfortunately, that bit of info got translated by most of the audience into that there were no public officials present.

And, if true, that would have been a big deal. The public hearing was to get public testimony about a very controversial proposal to store liquid propane gas in salt caverns near a populated area and a beautiful lake.

So if local government types took a pass, well, that would be too good to be true for a columnist looking for an angle.

It was too good to be true, as such things almost always are.

As I sat starting my column, the good angel on my right shoulder said 'check out if there were any public officials there.' The bad angel, resting on my left shoulder, said 'No, no, no... it's too good to pass up.'

Luckily, the good angel won out, and I asked the mayor of Watkins Glen via email if there were any public officials there (him included). There were, he said - lots of folks, actually. He even sent me a list of who he saw. And so instead of lambasting uncaring public servants, I was able to simply comment on the proceeding and include their quiet participation among my other thoughts on the lengthy meeting and what it means for the area.

Had I laid into the same public officials with a snarky 'Why weren't you there?' kind of piece, it would have been just short of disaster.

Actually no, it would have been a disaster, for me.

As it was, the incident and my exchange with my mayoral amigo has given me a couple of good ideas for future columns about public participation, decorum at public meetings, and the role of public hearings in making decisions.

And, because I checked before I published, I can write them without having to withdraw a metaphorical foot from my mouth.

Another lesson re-learned, and lesson now passed on.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Speciality columns on the way, magazine writers do 'how-to' stories

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The first set of columns based on the special areas of interest (chosen by the writers) are coming in by Wednesday noon. A second set will show up by Friday noon.

The specialities are all over the place: music, the arts, sports, cooking and a dozen others that I can't remember.

The first efforts are always interesting while the writers try to find their voices. Monday in class the writers got pretty animated about these columns. The hardest part is the research.

In magazine writing, the writers are starting on how-to stories. We have people writing about travel, tiling a countertop, selling and buying used clothes and even how to make tamales, menudo and a Thai soup. Quite the eclectic group.

One student has steadfastly insisted that he be able to write his how-to story on 'how to get through college with the least amount of work.' And the work he is talking about is college-work and studying. That one should be fascinating, but might require a few rewrites before it passes professional level muster - the class standard.

After the how-to stories, it's on to writing full length features and personality profiles for the magaziners. The column writers are now on task for one column per week for the balance of the semester - about 12 more columns by my count.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Columns come from reading, thinking, and, well, more reading

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Every Friday, right after I read my column in the Finger Lakes Times (Geneva, NY), I experience a sense of satisfaction for a few hours, while I glow over the words that my editor Mike Cutillo chose to print.

Then I start to sweat: What the hell will I write about for next week?

It's not that there is a lack of topics, of course. There's an entire world for me to write about. But exactly what? And for me, exactly how?

My aim is not to write a news column. It would be easy to grab a screaming headline, do a 600-word riff on whatever noodle-headed thing the federal, state, or local government is up to and call it a column. Slam bam. Good God,  newspapers and the internet are full of items that push my blood pressure into the stratosphere.

But I want to offer something a little more on the upscale side of column writing, something that I had to chew on for awhile before I put it up. Something that has not only research, substance, but a definite element that is uniquely mine.

Last week, I wrote about how a Taylor Swift concert affected me - and my sense of time passing. It's already drawn some good comments. I could have written about the glitter of her concert or her music. But that doesn't add anything to the conversation.

So this week what's up to write about? Well, the column is still very much in the thinking-researchr-reading stage. My tornado outline is a mess and barely readable with scribblings all over a page, in the margins and now on the backside of my legal notepad, too.

I read a half-dozen pieces about my possible theme by noon, though even that shifts the focus from article to article.

But the idea is forming like a hurricane in the south Atlantic. And with luck it will hit me squarely by Tuesday a.m. when I have to start the first draft to make my deadline.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Column writers heading toward the noon deadline

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - A handful of column writers in J-131 at CSU, Sacramento are finishing up their second columns as I write this.

The majority turned their columns in way before the deadline.

And, for the most part, they were very interesting reading. I commented on almost all of them. A few had glitches that didn't allow columns.

That will get fixed soon.

Next week these columns will be the focus of in-class discussions and critiques Monday and Wednesday - at least for those columnistas who made the noon deadline.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Column writers take on 2nd piece, mag writers work on 'how to'

SACRAMENTO, Calif. USA - The columnistas in the column writing class are scrambling to get their second columns in by a noon Friday deadline. You can find their latest efforts listed with links to the right.

And feel free to comment, by the way. They need to know that it's not just me scanning their efforts.

The topic for this week was either a college-related piece, or if they so chose, they could write about the GOP debate Wednesday night.

Newt Gingrich
Kee-rist it was awful. I fell asleep when Newt Gingrich started foaming at the mouth about the media.

I like Golden Oldies, but in music, not in politics.

The magazine writers are working on How-To stories. We have some how-to-make pizza kind of stories, of course, but a few people are getting daring.

I turned down a couple of sex-related story ideas. I don't care if it is my last semester of teaching.

In the basic newswriting classes, the students next week will start writing in the lab, most getting the shock of their lives when they have to be (to them) unnaturally accurate and clear.

I just love reading those first news stories.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

7 a.m. writing deadlines are just plain cruel

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The deadline for the review of Saturday night's Taylor Swift concert was 7 a.m., which would have been fine, had the concert been over, at, oh, say 9 p.m?

Taylor Swift
But by the time I rolled in from Power Balance Pavilion it was midnight. And that late, writing anything except for snarky emails and bombastic political screeds is out of the question.

Except when that's what the deadline is when you accept the assignment.

Que lastima!

So after pounding out 600 words by 1 a.m., I slept on the review, then checked it at 6 a.m., more than a little groggy after only 5 hours of relatively restless sleep. (Taylor Swift dreams most of the night, go figure that.)

But the review is in, just waiting for the editor's workover and blessing before it goes up on The Sacramento Bee's website.

The review is a web-only piece, thus the early morning deadline. Have to catch people before they head out to Sunday breakfast.

Me? A nap is probably in order before launching the rest of the day.

Here is the link to The Bee review: Review of Taylor Swift's concert

And here is the cover from The Bee's home page Sunday:

Thursday, September 01, 2011

And they are off! 100 student writers begin the semester at CSUS

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - With more whimper than bang, this week 100 journalism students at CSU, Sacramento were launched in my four classes, a flood of stories and columns and story ideas about to engulf everyone and everything.

The first group reporting in, with missives about the first week of school, will be the 25 students in Column Writing, an upper-division elective class in the major. A few have a little writing experience. Some already have their own web pages. The majority are realizing that they have been thrown into the deep end of the pool with precious little instruction on how to swim.

I reminded them on the first day of school that they have all volunteered for the class. And in coming weeks, I will likely remind them again,

The weekly column deadlines are not horrific - provided the students do some prep work and push their way through early enough.

But if history is any indicator, the majority of the class will wait until Friday morning to start any part of the project, with a noon drop-dead deadline facing them.

Such deadlines are the exception around most of the academic classes at my university, but not in my classrooms.

As soon as the columns trickle in, I will post them on this page (to the right) as I have in past semesters.

And as it is the last semester I will be teaching - at least at California State University, Sacramento - it should be a real sleigh ride.

Here's a brief video about deadlines that pretty amusing:

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

First draft, second draft, third draft - and voila - we have a column

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - My third column for the Finger Lakes Times is off to the editor (12 hours early, thank you very much) but not without some writing angst.

Normally a facil writer, this column was torture for me to put together, torture to rewrite and torture to research.


The column starts with the backdrop of the U.S. economy (ah, examining that is torture enough...), but moves into a positive mode by suggesting that the Finger Lakes economy should lean heavily on promoting the wine industry (which includes agriculture, a big deal here). Then I get into politics - selling wine in grocery stores - verboten by state law right now.

The lessons from writing this column were many: research more (and earlier), let my column voice loose (been writing news all summer) and don't be afraid of draft, redraft and draft again.

It's a good lesson to take into the classroom this fall when I will be asking column writers to do exactly the same. Most college students want to write a quick first draft and turn it is as gold. It usually does not resemble any precious metal.

But moving into column four I have an idea to write about the activist culture here - or perhaps the relentless attacks on school teachers that I seem to read daily.

I am inspired by two videos I saw today of actor Matt Damon. He was raised by a schoolteacher, as was I, and his comments resonated with me.

The column ideas come so easily. But the writing? Jaysus.

Here's two Matt Damon videos, both provocative:

Monday, August 01, 2011

Column ideas buzzing like bees - but which one, which one?

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - Two columns into the new gig with the daily Finger Lakes Times newspaper has prompted a half dozen interesting column ideas. Maybe more.

And as the Wednesday deadline starts to get closer (48 hours minus 11 minutes from this moment), the question bouncing loose is which topic to choose?

We have had carnage on local highways (we need lower speed limits, around the wineries and tourist attractions). There is an environmentally nightmarish project proposed for just up the road to store propane in salt caverns. The movement to sell wine in grocery stores is gaining momentum (and liquor store owner enemies). People are getting more and more politically active here, organizing, fundraising, connecting.

And then there is Adm. Fox's project to raise money for a spay and neuter clinic in Mexico, with local people traveling to Jalisco as part of the deal.

In the meantime, national and state politics are starting to impact things locally. A recently approved New York State cap on property taxes already has school districts and municipalities throwing fits. Can anyone say, California's Proposition 13?

So much to write about, sooooo hard to choose -  the purpose of this blog actually. When teaching column writing, I advise students to use this device, or sometimes a letter or email to a friend, as a way to get the creative juices going.

Juices? That makes me think of wine. And the Finger Lakes Times just wrapped up a long series of articles about the wine industry in New York and how important it is.

Wine it is for this week.

Unless I change my mind in the next 15 minutes.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Back at writing newspaper columns - and teaching soon, too

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - An hour ago I finished a first draft of my second column for the Finger Lakes Times, the daily newspaper in Geneva that asked me several weeks ago to pen a weekly column for their editorial page - on anything I wanted to write about.

Jaysus, a dream come true. I've said for years the only thing that could ever lure me back to work for a daily newspaper was getting to write a column.

Be careful what you wish for, right?

Oh, did I forget to mention that they are paying me for this? Not much (we are talking journalism and newspapers here) but enough to make it worthwhile to have trouble sleeping when a column idea starts crawling around in my head.

My first column, published last Friday, was an introduction of sorts, though I was able to get myself into the spotlight and add some words about why I think community journalism - what the Finger Lake Times practices - is soooooo important to democracy.

And this week's column is about some people involved in decision-making in a local government who are not all that keen on participatory democracy.

In fact, at their most recent meeting, they told the audience that one topic - a proposed major propane storage project and potential environmental nightmare - was not up for discussion, nor would questions be allowed. And that's even though the group might be voting on whether to approve it in the next few months


Imagine the fun I am having with that in my column.

It will be interesting this fall teaching column writing again at CSU, Sacramento, where I will be able to offer real-time experience. Perhaps in my Monday class, I'll have the students look over my shoulder for a column or two.

It will be good for them to see their professor sweating on deadline, too.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The 'public hearing that wasn't' story has been posted

READING CENTER, Town of Reading, New York, USA - The story I wrote about here Friday, kind of wild story to write (and chase) has already been posted by The Observer newspapers, a two-newspaper chain for which I write several stories per week.

Reading planning board member
I've been following a controversy over a proposal to store liquid propane gas in salt caverns. The company that wants to do it (Inergy of Kansas City, MO) says it is as safe as can be.

Opponents are terrified of potential accidents, plus, rumbling propane trucks aren't really complimentary to the tourist industry here at Seneca Lake.

Here is a link to the story, photo and video.
Public told: Go away

And the brief video can be seen below, too.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Covering local government - there's always a surprise lurking

READING CENTER, Town of Reading, New York, USA - What was supposed to be a routine, go-to-meeting, take-notes-at-meeting, write-story-of-meeting evening turned into a major imbroglio that sent me to the law books, put me in contact with a lawyer specializing in open meetings and forced me to turn up the heat on some local politicians to get some answers.

And those politicians? They don't like heat very much.

Actually, not at all.

Chairman of the board
I can't report too much about it in this space right now. I filed a story, photo and video with a local newspaper (as their on-the-spot correspondent). But the story is basically that a long-planned presentation got canceled, precisely at the moment it was supposed to start.

Not very polite to the presenters, some of whom had driven some distances to attend and hear about the dangers of storing propane in salt caverns. Politics involved? Hoo-boy, yes.

When the presentation was canceled by the planning board, many of the attendees opted to head off to a Brewfest where money was being raised for their cause - keeping the propane storage project from being built.

The Brewfest was certainly better than going home and crying in a beer, for sure.

I retreated home to start the grinding process of contacting people for the story. But while I missed out on the Brewfest, I had Dr. Reisling to keep me company.

Tuesday, I will post the story, video and photos here, along with some commentary about how I put the package together.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The one-hour rule, pared down to fit a crazy summer schedule

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - When things get too complicated (too many things to do, seemingly not enough time), I revert to what I call the one-hour rule.

For one hour, I focus entirely on whatever task/issue/job I choose. And during that time, no checking emails, (or Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin). No going outside to check on the status of the slowly growing tomato plants. No endless trips to the teapot for just a little more beverage.

It is amazing what can be accomplished in a focused hour.

But that rule does take, well, an hour to implement and so today, an experiment is underway: do the same thing, but in half-hour chunks.

That leaves me approximately 22 minutes to finish this blog. That's an endless vista, almost.

On the writing front, here in upstate New York, I have been successful in publishing a dozen pieces in two local newspapers, the Elmira Star Gazette and the Watkins Glen Review and Express. Neither would be confused with the New York Times, but then, the vast majority of people in this town do not read the NY Times.

But they do read these local papers. And they read them closely.

Other good writing news: a national magazine - Dog Fancy - has taken a piece from me about our Mexican foster dog Mia, currently living with our amiga Laura outside Guadalajara, Mexico.

Even my half-written novel (The Talking Mime) is on the to-do list, with an August finish date, a half-hour at a time.

And one new book (long in planning) has crept into a priority position: 18 Hours to Madrid.

But that's a topic for another column.

I only have 15 minutes left, and I need to throw a few graphics in this piece.

The half-hour rule, rules.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Climbing back in the saddle, the writing saddle that is

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - Within two weeks of landing here in the reaches of upstate NY, it seemed like a good idea to find out if any local media would be interested in using me to write stories, take photos, or shoot video.

Seemed like a good idea.

After a few fits and starts, I have now completed four assignments for two different newspapers and with some local controversies flaring up (a major one surrounding natural gas, so pardon the flare pun), it's likely others may follow.

Here's two of the stories:
DEC says EIS is inadequate
Emergency plans? Not yet

The pay is extraordinary. As in extraordinarily low, compared to California rates. But as a way to get to know the communities here better, you can't have more entree than to show up with a reporter's notebook in hand and a camera.
Shockingly high water

And it's fun to go chasing around with the camera.

Today, as a major flood watch looms over the entire Central New York area, I went out and shot a few photos at a local marina, where Seneca Lake water levels are already reaching historic highs. For unexplained reasons, the people in charge of the lake level aren't letting much water out...

With 2 inches of rain predicted for this afternoon, comparison shots tomorrow morning of the ones taken today are in order.

In big waves, the gasoline pumps are swamped