Flashback: Happy Birthday, Uncle Walter

Note: This post was originally published on Nov. 6, 2016.

This weekend I had the privilege of speaking at the Walter Cronkite Conference on Media Ethics and Integrity. I was pretty nervous, as I’d never done an academic conference before – SPJ conventions, guest speaker at local universities, and of course, cons. No one at the Cronkite Conference was dressed as Pennywise the Clown, however.

Somehow I missed that the conference was scheduled to coincide with Cronkite’s 100th birthday, which was celebrated at the Walter Cronkite Memorial on Friday along with the unveiling of Phase IV of the memorial.

We were treated to an amazing three-act play developed by the memorial staff titled “And That’s the Way It Is: Cronkite’s Journey.” This show has been taken on the road and performed all the way to D.C. If it is ever in your area, you owe it to yourself to catch it. Actor Jim Korinke does a spot-on Walter Cronkite, and the gentlemen playing Harry Truman and Martin Luther King Jr. are pretty amazing themselves.

Act One focuses on Truman and Cronkite’s lives in parallel from 1945 onward. It is a little gentler on Truman than history has been, but more true than some of the biopics have been. Act Two focuses on King and Cronkite through the civil rights movement, including the ethical and practical issues faced by the CBS news team as they tried to cover the movement with dispassion. I did not know, for example, that simply covering the movement was seen as “championing the blacks” and that southern affiliates threatened to cut their affiliation with CBS – which would have bankrupted the network.

Unfortunately I missed most of Act III. Damn news. I was reporting on a story back home by remote, and got some information during the intermission. I was still updating the story from my laptop when Act III began, and once I was done, the doors were locked and I couldn’t get in until someone came along who had a key. Rats. Jim (who was verklempt throughout the performance) reports that it was a representative of Cronkite’s question-and-answer on Larry King Live on the one-year anniversary of 9/11. I would have liked to have seen that.

I only caught some of the presentations at the conference, but those I caught were fascinating. Check out the Twitter account @edonaldmedia if you want more specifics. I met a journalist named Deandre Williamson of the Bahamas, who won the award for having traveled the farthest (unless it’s farther to Chile? Maybe.). Williamson discussed the evolution of the media in the Bahamas, which does not have freedom of speech, and its recent adoption of the SPJ Code of Ethics a few months ago. It faces an uphill battle there, and I enjoyed discussing those issues with Deandre.

Pic taken by my long-suffering husband, who agreed to come to a journalism ethics conference on our anniversary.

My presentation was on the 2014 revision of the code, and it must have gone off well, since no one fell asleep, walked out, or threw rotten tomatoes. Big thanks go to ethics chairman Andrew Seaman for giving me his terrific PowerPoint, which I then adapted to my speech. The last time I used PowerPoint, I was in college. That was a while ago. Thanks to the Kansas City Press Club, which invited me to speak.

And thanks as well to former chairman Kevin Smith, who shared some of his thoughts and recollections with me as I prepared for the presentation. Kevin herded the cats through our entire process, and survived.

I’ve often said that my participation in the ethics commission and the small part I played in rewriting the code are among my proudest accomplishments, and thus it was no small thing to be asked to talk about it – here at the conference, at local universities, at SPJ conventions, at high schools, on a milk crate at a street corner. Kevin called it “spreading the Gospel”; I’ve sometimes called it “evangelizing ethics.” As I said in the speech, there are far too many people who don’t even realize the code exists, and that’s because we do a lousy job of transparency in our work. We must stop expecting that the average reader knows how a newsroom functions, how news corporations work on the inside, about the difference between news and opinion, and the presence and enforcement of ethics codes.

Sometimes I’ve felt like the lone voice crying in the wilderness. This weekend I was among My People, and it felt wonderful. It was good to know I am not the only one who is disheartened and depressed by the vitriol we face as we try to do our jobs.

I learned a lot from my fellow journalists this weekend, and about Uncle Walt, whom I thought I already knew well. Cronkite retired before I was old enough to really comprehend the news, but when I was young and would hear my newsman father refer to “Uncle Walter,” I thought at first we really had an uncle named Walter.

Dad was a big fan of Cronkite, and after you visit the memorial, you will be as well. From World War II to the Kennedy Assassination to the civil rights movement to the moon landing to facing down Spiro Agnew, the story of Cronkite is really the history of us for the last sixty years, and it’s worth your time.

If you do, you get to wear The Glasses.

And that’s the way it is.

Authentic social media marketing without losing your mind

I had the pleasure of visiting with the Midwest Editorial Freelancers Association this week, to hear expert Solange Deschatres of SCORCH talk about social media branding.

SCORCH is right here in St. Louis, but it has a very high-level profile among social media management. Clients include Microsoft, LinkedIn, GE, Annuitas and more. Since my social media strategy has basically been “yell at people on Facebook, retweet on my two Twitter accounts, forget that I have an Instagram, and check into LinkedIn once a month or so,” I clearly need some help.

Deschatres says the main thing is “really putting yourself out there and being authentic, being true to you.” That may sound simple, but it’s not. A lot of people, including weirdo creatives like me, will chase trends and try to do the New Thing because they think it will catapult them to immediate success. But it comes off as stiff, trying to hard, the message hidden under layers of shellac, Deschatres said.

Videos are intensely popular on social media, Deschatres said, so even if your video is just a few minutes of you talking into the camera, go on and post that video. I can personally affirm this from the last few years at the newspaper; even if my news video was thirty seconds of the police chief repeating the basic facts that are already in the story, people would click it.

It’s counter-intuitive to me, since I’m very words-focused; I am the person who scrolls past the news video in favor of text even on broadcast news sites; who can’t stand audiobooks and gets annoyed when people read the text at me. Oh, just give it here and let me read already.

But video is the thing. Wait, didn’t we just tell you not to chase trends? Yes, but instead of chasing the trend, try to find a piece of the trend that fits what you do and run with that, Deschatres said.

Another huge key is consistency. Post often, and post regularly. “You are not going to become an overnight internet sensation,” Deschatres said. “People build their audiences over years and years… It’s the consistency that matters.”

We talked for a good bit about the different kinds of social media and their focus. Writers are on LinkedIn and Twitter; Instagram trends young while Facebook trends middle-aged and older; and of course Google Plus is dead.

That’s demographics, though; think about what you’re marketing before deciding which medium to use. My photography, for example, should probably go up on Instagram rather than Facebook, where it’ll get traded around like a meme. (Naturally, much of my work is going first on the Patreon, but hey, a woman’s gotta make a living until she wins the Powerball.)

And please, give up the whole “I don’t ‘get’ Twitter” or whatever excuse you’re using for not stepping out of your comfort zone. A creative who is actively trying to sell and make money at art needs to be present online to be present at all, and that means spending time in social media that you may not prefer. Curate your feed, protect yourself, but don’t be silent. None of us can afford silence.

Some Facebook groups are still useful despite the ever-changing and annoying algorithm – that might be just my own opinion, but Facebook’s algorithm has generally made marketing on the behemoth site a nightmare and a half. But niche groups can provide connections and keep you aware of opportunities, Deschatres said.

Did you know that LinkedIn has a Facebook-like feed where you can post content and follow or unfollow other feeds? Did you know LinkedIn has its own news service posting original content? Many of us (myself included) tend to think of LinkedIn as a place to post your resume and job-hunt. But Deschatres says the content has shifted to become a little more personal, not just buttoned-up business press releases.

In part, she says, that’s because the nature of business has shifted. “People can smell BS a mile away,” she said. “Business decisions are also emotional decisions… they’re making it about choice.”

So while you can’t be everything to everyone – and if you try you’ll muddle your message to the nth degree – you can target your appeal to the right audience. Even big companies like Microsoft are looking for small, local companies like SCORCH, seeking nimble and creative workers they can work with from anywhere, she said.

While you’re figuring out where to be and how often to be there, also consider your content. How-to’s and a look inside your creative process are wildly popular, rather than sharing the content itself, Deschatres said. “There’s lots of content out there, but there’s only one you,” she said. “It’s not so much about promoting the work, it’s about promoting you and your expertise, what you bring to the table.”

A few key points:

Think about your reposts. Remember that a retweet may or may not be considered endorsement, but it can reflect that way no matter how many disclaimers you put on your profile that no one read.

• Beware of politics. No one says you can’t say what you think (unless you’re doing news, in which case you should already know the inherent ethical problems with wading into politics while reporting.) But keep in mind that clients and customers will be reading it, and it can cost you dearly. That also goes for authors fighting with reviewers; really, guys, nobody wins that fight. Have a drink and move on.

• There’s no such thing as posting too often. This flies in the face of what I’d heard before, but that was in the early days of stone knives-and-bearskins internet, and now Deschatres said you have to speak often to be heard. “The biggest detriment to your brand is not posting too much, it’s posting too little,” she said.

You can manage this in part by scheduling your posts. Set aside some time to come up with posts and schedule them at the times when people are most often online. Tweetdeck is free and fairly simple to use for managing multiple Twitter accounts (I have five, because I’m insane). I was using HootSuite to manage Facebook, but when I tried to go to the paid version they made me mad with billing problems and borked-up service. You can look into Later or buffer, which have free or low-cost options; if you’re a company willing to spend some money, Sprout Social seems to be very popular, but it’s $99 a month, so that’s pretty much out of the reach of most freelancers, I would think.

While social media can therefore become your part-time job – and don’t we all have awesome things we’d rather be doing? – you can manage it with an editorial calendar. I did this myself when I decided to go freelance. It’s separate from my usual “where do I need to be and when is that doctor’s appointment” family calendar, which is color-coded and coordinated with husband and son for our collective sanity.

My editorial calendar, however, has set deadlines for my freelance projects and research projects, as well as recurring deadlines for blog posts, newsletters and social media. Of course, sticking to those deadlines is always the challenge, which is why I know there will be two more essays written this weekend, along with two freelance news articles, a newsletter, and more literature review for the grad-school research. This is while I’m selling and signing at the Dupo Art Fair and running a charity book sale at Leclaire Parkfest, so keep your life in mind when you set up this calendar. Let it fit into your life, not the other way around.

But don’t ignore it. Whether we like it or not, social media is the future, and while it will change and evolve over the years as it has since it was bulletin boards and AOL chatrooms, it is where people are finding their business partners, clients and contractors. If you’re living the freelance life, you need to be out there.

“Think in advance about what you’re going to do, but as long as you get something out there… Social media presence is by definition about being present,” Deschatres said.

To that end, if you want to find me on social media, here are my various locales:

Facebook: Personal and journalism

Facebook: Author page

Twitter: Personal and author

Twitter: Journalism and grad school

Twitter: SPJ

LinkedIn

Instagram (But please don’t check this yet. I need to get my teenage son to help me figure out how to use it…)

And, of course… THE PATREON.

Baltimore: Here fishy fishy… and a salute to Edgar

The journalism part of my trip to Baltimore will be rightfully chronicled at stlspj.org, as I was there on behalf of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists.

But I never go anywhere without my camera in hand, and I shot in the Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium, and Westminster Cemetery, the resting place of Edgar Allan Poe.

The Aquarium was my first real attempt at shooting living things, as I’ve rarely done portrait photography and never tried shooting wild animals. I have so much to learn about photography – every time I think I’ve really got this thing down, a shark turns the corner and reminds me that I have no idea what I’m doing.

It’s frustrating as hell, but it is also exciting: new things to learn, new skills to master, and I get to see pretty things while I’m doing it.

 

Or, y’know, scary things.

Do you want more? The full photo arrays and travelogue will be on the Patreon, so subscribe here if you’d like to see the cognac on Poe’s grave, swim with the sharks and find Nemo. More and more of my writing and photography is going directly to the Patreon, so I do hope you’ll sign up.

In the meantime…. Bruce says hello.

EKD_4765

On the road again…

On Wednesday, I leave for a five-day stint in Baltimore for the Excellence in Journalism conference. I’ll be acting as president and delegate for the St. Louis Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, as well as communing with my fellow Ethics Committee members.

I also will be returning to some old stomping grounds. I lived in Baltimore for a few years as a teenager, and have a great fondness for Charm City.

I’ll be tweeting about my experience on a personal level at @edonald, and about journalism and the conference at @edonaldmedia. Feel free to follow along there, and look for travelogues and musings here and at the Patreon.

Of course, when I return, I’ll have just enough time to do laundry and repack before heading out to Louisville, Ky. for Imaginarium. Whee! The Fall Deathmarch begins…

The Madness of the King

Cross-posted to Patreon.

His name is Father David Boase, and he’s about to lose everything because of a simple mistake.

Father Boase is from England, but 14 years ago he received a call to serve as priest to an Episcopal church in Alton, Illinois. He moved here and found that he loved the United States. Whether we deserve that love remains to be seen.

He served his church faithfully and well for ten years, bought a home and paid his taxes. He retired, but continued to serve the church as an interim priest for other parishes, including mine. He is an amateur actor as well, and delighted audiences and congregations alike with his wry wit.

Do you know how hard it is to get a roomful of Episcopalians to laugh during services?

Father Boase made one mistake. Thirteen years ago, he was renewing his license at the DMV and the clerk asked him if he wanted to register to vote. This is after he had presented his British passport to the clerk, by the way.

Of course he should have said no. After all, only citizens can vote, right?

Wrong.

In Missouri, non-citizens in the process of becoming citizens are allowed to vote under certain circumstances. That’s also the case in Alabama, and ten cities in Maryland, and many other places. Bills to allow non-citizens to vote in certain circumstances have been introduced in many other states, including Massachusetts, Maine, Texas and more.

In New York, bills were submitted over and over, and non-citizens who had children in public schools were permitted to vote on school board elections until 2002, when school boards were no longer elected. San Francisco currently allows non-citizens to vote in certain elections. Not for nothing, but in multiple European Union countries, non-citizens can vote in local elections as well.

After all, resident immigrants may own property here, send their kids to public schools, own and operate businesses subject to taxation. “No taxation without representation” was a slogan once upon a time, wasn’t it?

Non-citizen voting is widespread throughout the world, but of course, we in the U.S. are so conditioned to think of immigrants as “other” that the very concept caused the Kansas City Star’s comment section to explode with the most horrific bigotry and vile insinuations – the worst of the internet in one spot. I’m not providing a link.

And as this piece from the L.A. Times points out, non-citizens voted from the beginning of our republic until the anti-immigrant fervor in the early 1900s caused its elimination from most states’ laws. Of course, Mr. Arellano is arguing from the standpoint of bigotry.

No one can make a case on Father Boase’s part for bigotry: he is an educated white male. And he made a mistake. So did the DMV clerk, and he refuses to point fingers and name names, because it was a long time ago and he doesn’t want to get anyone in trouble.

Because he did vote. Once. Then a parishioner told him he probably wasn’t allowed to do that, and he never voted again.

Instead, he made his second mistake: He applied for citizenship. He loves this country, loves his community and has a home with friends here. He’s part of a community and has entirely made it better.

So we’re kicking him out.

The immigration officials processing his citizenship application found out about the vote and referred him for deportation. He will not be fighting it, he says – on the advice of his attorney, who I presume knows what he or she is talking about. If Father Boase leaves voluntarily, he can reapply to return within a few years. If he fights it on the basis of sanity and common sense, he could be deported and unable to return for 10 years.

So much for due process. Even asking for common sense carries a 10-year penalty.

It will cause him devastating loss, not only personally but financially. Priests aren’t wealthy, and he is retired, living on a small pension. The legal bills will be difficult, and he will have to sell almost everything he owns to move back to England with no support system and no job – not even a place to live. Friends have created a GoFundMe to help with his expenses, while others are writing to Senator Duckworth and begging the world for a moment of common sense..

I have traditionally stayed away from political writing since becoming a journalist, because one cannot maintain neutrality when wading into the fray. I can’t criticize a policy one day and then write objectively about it the next. (Or, rather, I can, but no one would take it seriously.)

I’m not a full-time reporter anymore. I’m still working freelance, and that limits what I can say or do – to an extent.

But on this story, I am not objective, as Father Boase is a friend. I will not be covering it for any news organization. Thus, I can say that the emperor has no clothes, and dare anyone to tell me otherwise.

Father Boase does not deserve to be deported. He poses no danger to our society. He made a mistake that others have made, and face consequences just as ludicrous: a woman in Texas is serving five years in prison because she voted, not realizing that her prior fraud conviction made it illegal for her to vote. She is literally serving more time for voting than she did for inflating tax returns as a tax preparer nine years ago.

As immigration lawyer Marleen Suarez said, Father Boase is an educated, English-speaking man. Imagine how hard this is for an immigrant who isn’t fluent in the language yet, and doesn’t understand the labyrinthine requirements placed on him – but faces terrible penalties for the slightest mistake and may be returning to a dangerous, life-threatening situation.

It’s madness. We have a hard enough time getting our natural-born citizens to get off their couches and vote, with turnout of barely 61 percent in the last and most contentious election, and yet we will tell the immigrant residents who live here, pay taxes and are subject to our laws that they have no voice in making them.

Except, of course, when you’re told you can vote, and do, and then we say, “Oops, never mind.”

If we are to rethink immigration in the United States, let us rethink it in terms of common sense and not some backward reactionary ‘Merica nonsense that aims to exclude all “others” by knee-jerk response. America is still a good place – at least, it can be. We should be honored and proud that so many people want to come be a part of it, and are willing to undergo the endless nonsense we place in their way. Being born here is a happy accident of fate. Moving here is a choice, and one we should celebrate, not deny.

Let it begin with allowing a good man and faithful priest to remain here, in the land he loves, and become a citizen as well. Put an end to the madness of the king.

Flashback: The Murder of Stephen King, or Why We Write

Note: This essay was originally published on Oct. 12, 2016
How terrible for his ghostwriter.

In case you missed it a few weeks ago, James Patterson called off his novel The Murder of Stephen King. It was actually a concept with potential, though not terribly unique: a serial killer is reenacting the deaths in a famous writer’s books. Too bad Patterson decided to base it on a real-life writer, one who has already done this story a couple of ways, who has actually been stalked and terrorized by crazy people, and who isn’t much of a Patterson fan.

Okay, it was maybe a little unkind (or at least impolite) for King to call Patterson a terrible but very successful writer. Largely because it’s public knowledge Patterson doesn’t write his own books anymore. If his books are terrible, then he should probably hire better ghostwriters.

Still, this was a tacky novel concept, so I’m glad he pulled it. I name characters after real people all the time, but only with their permission. And while my friends are largely delighted to die in horrible ways – which tells you something about my friends – I am sure any who have actually been stalked would not appreciate it immortalized without their consent.

I still boggle that Patterson doesn’t write his own books.

At times, usually in frustration when sales are low or when struggling to carry a box back to the car (books are heavy) we will complain, “Why are we doing this again?”

And there is always a fellow author to say, “Because we have no choice.”

Because you love books.
Because you have stories inside you that won’t shut up.
Because it’s therapy.
Because it is the only thing you’re truly good at doing.
Because no one is writing the stories you want to read.
Because you love making worlds.
Because there isn’t enough of [your subgenre here] in the world yet.
Because you only get better by doing more of it.
Because if you stopped the voices would take over.
Because just like the readers, you gotta know how it ends.

Writer Mia Silverton told me she began her writing career this year, hearing this advice from Quinn Loftis in three parts: We write because we have to. We write because we are inspired. We write to impact and influence lives.

“I do,” Mia says. “I write because I simply have to tell these characters’ stories and see the truth unfold. ‘We write because we are inspired.’ I am exactly that. Inspired by all the books, authors and lightbringers that have touched my heart and soul during every single year and phase of my life. ‘We write to impact and influence lives’ – I write because I want to help change lives, through not only the characters and worlds I create, but the messages that are spoken within those pages of love and healing. A well-spoken word in the past created a shift in me when the time was needed and I feel called to pay it forward.”

Nowhere in that do you read, “So that I can make a couple million bucks.” And if you did, there would be this sad, sick swell of laughter from the dealer’s room.

Sure, if you’ve reached that lovely, privileged spot where you’re making a living at writing, you write to pay the rent and put food on the table. I was on a panel at some point during the Fall Deathmarch Tour about writer’s block, and all of us opined that one sure-fire cure to writer’s block is a big paycheck held over a deadline. Filmmaker Jack Snyder listed his St. Louis house, apartment in Los Angeles, office rent and two kids in private school as his cures for writer’s block. Money is a terrific motivator.

But… the money is a motivator because we want what Patterson has achieved. We want to reach that point where you can write whatever you want, get it published, and still pay the rent. So if you reach that point… why would you hand off the good part to somebody else? What do you do with all your time, roll around in the dollars cackling like Scrooge McDuck? If you’re so busy managing the money that you don’t have time to do the writing part, maybe the priorities have gotten a little out of whack?

Harlan Ellison once disparaged the phrase, ‘I like having written but I don’t like to write, it’s hard work.’ “Well, fuck you, hard work!” Ellison said with his usual delicacy. “You don’t like it, go out and sail sailboats. Of course it’s hard work. If it wasn’t hard work, everybody would be doing it. And the better you do it, the harder the work is. It’s supposed to be hard. Art is not supposed to be easy…. Art is supposed to be hard. Art is supposed to be demanding. That’s the way I feel about it.”

So I don’t pretend to understand what’s going on in James Patterson Inc., and while I might envy receiving one-tenth of his (or Stephen King’s) paychecks, I’ll still keep writing my hopefully-not-terrible books.

Because I have to. For more than one reason.

Fall Deathmarch and Stalking Guide

I do this to myself every year. Every year I say I am not going to schedule myself like a chicken sans head in the fall, and every year I do it anyway.

Really, there’s no other way. If you’re a horror writer and you’re not working in the fall, you’re not working. With our current circumstances, we’re going to have to start declining cons in the new year, so this is our last chance for a long time to do the cons, see our friends and readers and readers-who-are-friends, and P.S. make a little cash.

Just a little. Sadly, the cons simply do not pay off for authors as they once did. So. Hint. Buy some books from those poor starving authors if you want to see them the following year. Yes, AT the show. We love ebooks as much as you do, but that 17 cents per copy six months from now won’t pay the hotel bill.

Anyway, here’s where you can find me and mine this fall, and I hope you’ll come by and say hello! If you bought a book or a print, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings any, but seriously, it’s always good to see humans.

Just be aware, I’ll also be disappearing into the hotel room to study and write up endless essays and other grad-school-type-stuff and I might or might not burst into a random string of polysyllabic metaphors if you get a few drinks into me.

Sept. 15 – St. Louis SPJ Boot Camp (journalism). I’ll be speaking about ethics and serving pizza, no sales. If you’re a journo student, you still have a day or two to sign up! It’s FREE.

Sept. 26-Oct. 1 – Excellence in Journalism, Baltimore. Just attending this time, as well as serving as delegate for St. Louis SPJ. I’ll be tweeting journo stuff at @edonaldmedia and personal observations at @edonald, as usual. I used to live in Baltimore as a teenager, and am looking forward to finding myself some Berger cookies! I’m not vending, but if anyone is interested in picking up a book from me, please contact me before Sept. 24 and I’ll stash a few in the suitcase. Also looking forward to seeing family and old friends, so let me know if we can grab drinks at the Harbor!

Oct. 5-7 – Imaginarium, Louisville, Ky. Attending, giving a seminar in “The Business of Writing,” vending as Literary Underworld and hosting the Literary Underworld Traveling Bar both nights. I’ll be accompanied by the Menfolk (read: husband Jim, son Ian) and my good friend Sela Carsen, who is definitely an author you should consider if you like romance. Or even if you don’t – she is queen of the fairytales! Imaginarium is one of my top-recommended cons for writers, beginning or established, and you should definitely consider it.

Oct. 12-14 – Archon, Collinsville, Ill. Attending, speaking, vending as Literary Underworld, and as of now we plan to open the Traveling Bar both nights. Sela is joining us again, and I’m not sure how many of the Lit Underlords will also be in attendance, but we’ll be looking for you!

Oct. 20 – Dupo Art Festival, Dupo, Ill. Vending as myself, both books and art. This is part of a chili cookoff that should not be missed!

Oct. 21 – Leclaire Parkfest, Edwardsville, Ill. Just selling this time, and not my own books – I run the charity used book sale for Parkfest that raises money for the American Cancer Society. (Psst. Volunteers welcome.)

Nov. 3 – St. Louis Indie Book Fair, St. Louis, Mo. Selling only and as myself, books only (no art permitted).

Nov. 9-11 – ContraKC, Kansas City, Mo. A 21-and-up “relaxacon,” selling as Literary Underworld with books and art, and the Traveling Bar will be open both nights.

At last I stay home, and celebrate a rescheduled anniversary with my long-suffering husband. Then begins the holiday fairs…

August Linkspam and Future Musings

It was a quiet month here at Donald Media, largely in transition between the daily news beat and the brave new world of freelancing. I imagine bylines will be much rarer, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing.

My official last byline for the News-Democrat centered on the turbulent history of the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses of Southern Illinois University, as another president is forced to resign. I was a bit nervous writing this story right before I switched gears, but since both sides seemed to feel it was fair, I breathed easier. If both sides are happy or both sides are mad, you’ve done your job. It ran a week after I left.

On CultureGeek: a review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society  and Christopher Robin.

On the Patreon:

• A essay titled “First Rough Draft of History” musing on departure from daily news, available to subscribers $5 and up.

• Blog posts on “Freelance Folderol, Part 1,” and on grad school: “First Class” and “Paradigm Shifts,” available to all subscribers.

• A photo essay from the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Chinese Festival, available to subscribers $3 and up.

• A fiction excerpt from Banshee’s Run, the work currently in progress, available to subscribers $10 and up.

On the home front, we spent much of August in a mad frenzy of mucking out the house (which got about 75 percent done) and setting up my office again. It had devolved into a dumping ground of storage, and still is only halfway mucked out. But I have shiny new computers in the Tower now, which should greatly expand my capability to make art and words to entertain you endlessly. Now all I need is time…

Buckle in, because I imagine the movie reviews over on CultureGeek are going to largely center on journalism movies for a while, since that’s what my grad school research will focus on. I’ve had to (at least temporarily) discontinue the Linkspam posts and the Fake News Roundups here on Donald Media, because honestly, there’s only X amount of me to go around. Those are fun features, but time-consuming, and frankly the hit counts don’t justify continuing them until or unless I acquire more hours in the day.

I’ve been asked if I intend to write political essays now that I am no longer working for the newspaper. It is very tempting, and Zod above knows there’s plenty of material these days. Here’s the thing: I don’t know what form my freelancing will take. Most freelancers I know develop a niche and specialize in a particular kind of content. I haven’t done that – if anything, I’ve been a generalist my entire career, hopping from subject to subject from day to day. In short, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that I will still be called upon to write politics, and thus it would still be inappropriate to opine about the issues of the day.

But yes, it is tempting.

Coming up this month: lots and lots of school, more Patreon work as the membership grows, the Student Boot Camp for SPJ, and the annual Excellence in Journalism Conference in Baltimore, which I will be attending to represent St. Louis SPJ. Watch my @edonaldmedia Twitter for the journalism-related material, and @edonald for personal and photographic evidence. As you might know, I lived in Baltimore for a time as a teenager, and I have fond memories of Charm City. I am really looking forward to five days staying right at the Inner Harbor, and will be shooting photos of anything that will stand still. If only I ate seafood.

In the meantime, the freelance folderol continues, the photo backlog is piling up, and the Patreon is (understandably) getting a large amount of my attention. You might consider subscribing

Flashback: Workaversary

This post was originally published on June 19, 2017.

A random thought occurred to me tonight: This month marks 17 years with the News-Democrat, and simultaneously marks 20 years in journalism.

I suppose I could count my career from my occasional dabblings in junior high or high school newspapers, or from the point where I switched majors to news editorial and started working for the University of Tennessee student paper. But for my own purposes, I count from my internship at the Union City (Tenn.) Daily Messenger, which began this month in the sunny year of 1997.

It doesn’t feel like 20 years ago, and sometimes I feel like I catch glimpses of the greenest cub reporter to step into an old-fashioned newsroom. Many of the tales I could tell from those days belong over drinks in a bar, not in this blog. But I can tell this one: I learned more from the editor of the Daily Messenger in six months than I could have learned in years of study.

His name was David Critchlow, and last I heard, he’s still running the show. They had never had an intern before, and they had no desk for me, so they set up a work station in the corner of the conference room. Full of the confidence borne of two whole semesters of journalism school [insert laugh track], I dutifully typed up obituaries and weddings (loooooooong weddings; in the deep south, wedding announcements are not three lines and a picture, folks) until I started getting assignments.

After I turned in my stories, Critchlow walked into the conference room, read my lead back to me, and snored.

The number of snores reflected how boring, basic and summary my leads were, and I learned how to improve them. By the end of the summer, I had my own city beat, gotten Critchlow down to one snore per lead, covered Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Downey Jr. (sort of) and had a part-time stringer job as I finished my last semester of school. I graduated in December 1997, got married (the first time) a week later in Memphis, and five days after the wedding, I reported to my first newsroom job in La Salle, Ill.

Two and a half years later, I was hired by the News-Democrat, reporting to work in June 2000. The Boy was all of 18 months old; his father left in 2003. I was a single mom while chasing stories all over the metro-east until Jim and I moved in together in 2012, and married two years later.

Now the Boy is graduated and college-bound, Jim is halfway through his own degree, my resume is up to six pages long (which is really egregious), and I’m still downing the coffee with one hand and typing with the other every day. Standoffs and fires, murder trials and city council meetings, marching union workers and political protests and school test score analyses. I’ve interviewed presidents future and past, politicians without number, young kids and visiting celebrities.

I’ve interviewed a bookstore owner who couldn’t read until he was nearly 20 years old, and seen crime photos that made a juror faint. I’ve stood beneath a glass dome representing science and religion together, in a boat with volunteers testing for illegal dumping on the river, and by the side of the road watching them pull the pieces of the bodies out of cars.

I’ve frozen my tail off in an observatory with Neil DeGrasse Tyson talking about communing with the stars through science, stood watch behind the yellow tape at a collapsed culvert that killed a child, and watched an unassuming, ordinary man who just won a gold medal in karate kick the everloving hell out of a practice dummy. I’ve played good cop and bad cop, taken verbal abuse without counting and been happy never to duck bullets. (Except that once sort of but it doesn’t count.)

I’ve met the most amazing journalists the profession has ever known, learned from them and been proud to stand with them. I’ve done the best I could for my fellow journalists here in St. Louis through SPJ, and been honored to work with some of the top ethicists in the nation to rewrite the Code of Ethics in the hopes that our “ethics evangelism” will help us all remember our calling when the heat is on.

It’s one hell of a privilege, this life.

Was the summer of 1997 really 20 years ago? I already have socks older than some of my co-workers; soon my career will be older than some of my fellow journalists. Eh, what’s that, sonny? I can’t hear ye…

I wish I had something more profound to say about this milestone than, “Holy Walter Cronkite, I’m old.” Maybe that will come, as I work on my Occasional Research Project of Doom (on the fictional portrayal of journalists) and I am asked to speak more and more often to new journalists and budding writers about the work that I do.

For now, I’m proud to be doing a job I believe in, that I know makes a difference in the world, and a job that needs doing, whatever the costs may be.

But I think Critchlow would probably make me restructure that sentence.

July Linkspam Roundup

It was my last month working full-time for the newspaper, but it sure wasn’t quiet. (As you can tell, since this roundup is about a week late.) My thoughts were much focused on the transition, as you can imagine.

On the Patreon

• An essay/travelogue from the Kansas City trip titled “Prospero’s, the magic portal” for patrons $3 and up.

• A photography array from a November shoot in Yosemite National Park for patrons $5 and up.

• “Last Week,” a series of musings on the final shifts of my daily news career, and “Goodbyes” about my farewell speech for all patrons.

• A fiction excerpt cut from an upcoming longer work titled “Banshee’s Run” that I think works as a short story by itself, for patrons $10 and up.

And other stuff, too. You might consider subscribing

In the News/Blogs

• “Should fireworks be legalized in Illinois when everyone ignores the law?

• An essay on “Annapolis,” which was cross-posted to the Patreon as a public post.

• “Our Year in Review,” a roundup for the St. Louis Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. We did more than I thought…

• A statement on “Lindenwood’s Legacy” regarding that university’s decision to shutter its print magazine after it printed stories considered damaging to the university’s reputation.

• “SIUE and SIUC had turbulent history before Dunn’s departure,” an examination of the history of the university campuses and what will be in their path going forward. Covering this controversy during my exit from the newspaper has been an interesting experience. Technically, this is my last byline from the News-Democrat as full-time staff, running about a week after my departure.

And elsewhere, I’m happy to announce that Highland Arts is now carrying my photography, both for in-stock prints and metal wall art. Stop by anytime, or go to the photography site and order directly from me. Custom orders welcome!