And now, a word from our sponsor…

There’s a wry variation on Martin Niemoller’s famous poem circulating: “First they came for the journalists, and I did not speak up, because I was not a journalist. We don’t know what happened after that.”

It’s not a fair analogy, of course. But it underscores the point: the only reason anyone knows what really happened today is because someone covered it. Without acts of journalism, you have only to rely on government press releases to know what’s happening and why. That goes for big things like “going to war,” and little things like, “my water rates are going up.”

If you’re reading this, I hope I don’t have to convince you of the importance of journalism. If, however, you still have doubts, I hope you will look just at the list of Pulitzer finalists released earlier this week, and click the links through to see some of the amazing and powerful work being done by journalists today.

So today is the SPJ Day of Giving, and I have personally donated. Usually I direct my donation to the Terry Harper Scholarship Fund, which funded my attendance at the 2010 Excellence in Journalism Conference. By the end of that conference, I had been nominated to the national Ethics Committee, and I continue to serve today. It is one of the greatest privileges of my career to serve the committee and SPJ, and it would not have been possible without the Harper Fellowship.

Today, however, I directed my donation to be used for whatever the Society’s most crucial need might be. The folks working at national are coping with staggering issues in our profession, from vast changes in infrastructure and methods that continually create new challenges for working journalists, to mass layoffs that erode confidence among the survivors and a shrinking membership, to an increasingly hostile public that seems to believe we are its enemy. I can’t imagine which of its many missions is most in need of support right now, so I hope they use my meager donation for the best cause.

Things that make me #SPJProud:

  • The sheer number of scholarships, fellowships, internships and other financial support offered to students and members.
  • The Legal Defense Fund provides direct assistance to small news organizations, freelancers and others in their efforts to fight government encroachment on the First Amendment and for open records and transparency.
  • The training and webinars provide much-needed skills development and reinforcement for members who are increasingly being left without training by their newsrooms.
  • The support, practical and otherwise, for journalists who have been laid off and must now find work and/or retraining.
  • The advocacy in Washington and elsewhere to defend the profession against increasingly virulent threats, whether that is in discourse, in the courtroom, or in danger of physical harm.
  • The accountability for our own profession, for advocating diversity in the newsroom and combating sexual harassment and unethical behavior, even when pointing out those transgressions could damage the rest of us.

And so, so much more. SPJ has given me so many opportunities for my career, far beyond that which I could have achieved alone. I have met some of the finest journalists in the country through SPJ, and I am proud to call them colleagues. I am proud to serve as president of St. Louis Pro, and to help my local colleagues through all the crises they face covering our fine city and region. I am proud to be a journalist, and to stand up for what it represents: voice to the voiceless, a challenge to the powerful.

I hope that if you are a journalist, you will consider joining SPJ, if you have not already done so. Give us a year to figure out if our resources are of use to you, and tell us what we aren’t offering so we can address it.

And I hope that if you support the First Amendment and want to see independent news informing you of what’s happening in your community and the nation and the world, you will consider donating to SPJ, either for the defense fund or the SDX advocacy funds such as Legal Defense.

Note: This column was cross-posted to STLSPJ.org.

Community service journalism

It’s awards season in journalism-land, and I’m delighted to announce that one of the last major pieces I wrote at the Belleville News-Democrat has won a significant award.

Co-written with Alexis Cortes, the story was a year-long examination of mental health and suicide prevention among teenagers. It actually began life as a rumor that teen suicide had skyrocketed at a local school district, and after close examination, it turned out that wasn’t statistically true. But it sparked our interest in a subject often swept under the rug because of the massive misconceptions and stigma attached to mental illness, particularly among young people.

Around that time the TV series 13 Reasons Why came out, with a great deal of controversy about how the subject was handled. As we spoke to experts, it seems the people creating that series asked mental health professionals and advocates how to carefully and sensibly handle the issue of teen suicide… and basically did exactly the opposite of what psychologists recommend.

So we decided to look at the issue itself, and do it right, though I don’t think we realized it would take until the second season’s premiere to publish.

I think it’s fair to say that Alexis and I spent nearly as much time figuring out how to report this subject as we did actually reporting it. We interviewed survivors, family members, teachers, psychologists, social workers, school officials… and at the end of every interview, we asked them, “How do you recommend we cover this subject without causing harm?” We studied the language choices recommended by psychologists to be respectful and responsible without engaging in hyperbole or romanticizing the subject.

Suicide contagion is a real thing, and both Alexis and I were committed that we would rather not cover the story at all than do it wrong and tip someone over the edge.

We wrote a main story that began with a survivor’s narrative, focusing on her recovery and a look insider her mind. This was a deliberate choice after talking with psychologists: focus on survivors rather than the grieving, distraught families of those who died by suicide. The former approach helps those in crisis see that there is a way back; the latter tends to push them off the edge.

We covered national and local stats, efforts by schools to help teens in crisis, the controversy around the show, social stigmas, treatment options, what makes depression different in teens and young people, warning signs for parents and educators, and more.

We also did a sidebar listing all the mental health options in our coverage counties, from counseling clinics to inpatient facilities; a list of myths debunked and symptoms for which to watch; and a narrative of a day-long seminar in addressing mental illness in the classroom for area educators. I sat with them all day, taking the same training they took.

During that time there was a reorganization at the newspaper, and I was shifted to a new beat. This was part of the long delay in publishing, as well as the general crazy of daily news that tends to shove major projects to the back burner. However, I was permitted to stay on the project, for which I remain exceedingly grateful.

We also created an internal plan for how to handle the release, which we developed in concert with the recommendations of the experts we interviewed, the SPJ Ethics Committee members and ReportingOnSuicide.org, a cooperative effort of nine journalism organizations to maintain and improve best practices in reporting and writing about mental illness.

Every story included paragraphs reminding readers that help was available and offering the national suicide prevention hotline. As per the recommendations of the experts we interviewed, the first comment on each part of the package was another post of the hotline, and the staff was instructed to carefully monitor the comments in case someone in crisis was posting.

I can’t speak for Alexis, but I think I was never so nervous about any story I’ve reported than this one, including physically-dangerous situations or controversial investigations. It’s not often that the words you choose and the approach you take could literally kill someone. We both poured over every word before we even sent it over to the editors, who also treated it with great caution. It needed to be done right, or not at all.

It was a difficult but rewarding experience, and I remain exceedingly proud of the final product. I was doing mostly crime and spot news by that point, so unless my memory fails me, it was the last major story I wrote at the BND. It ran in May 2018; I left in July.

So it was with no small delight that I received a message from my former partner last week informing me that we had won first place for community service journalism from the Illinois Press Association. In fact, the News-Democrat swept that category, winning all four awards.

Nobody does the job for awards – or, if you do, it’s time to hang it up, because you have forgotten that we are first and foremost servants of the public. And, to be honest, I was more often a toiler in the vineyard, shoveling fuel into the furnace of daily news and not often on those extensive, major projects that tend to catch the eye of the major awards.

But the real value in awards attention is to encourage this kind of in-depth reporting that is too easy to hand-wave in the era of clicks. There are ways to feed the daily beast and also do serious, intensive work, but it takes the dedication of capable staff and the commitment of responsible editors, with an eye to ethics and experts. It’s what we should be doing, and if it wins an award, maybe it will encourage others to give that kind of coverage a try.

I’m especially proud to share the award with Alexis Cortes, who is a fine journalist and great writer with a keen mind. She was a terrific partner, and has just been named one of Editor & Publisher’s 25 Under 35 for this year. Her latest project: an in-depth look at gun violence killing kids as part of the Since Parkland series.

We should all be glad to work for her one day.

Oooooooklahoma and AEJMC

I am happy to report that my sort-of first academic conference went well, in that I completed my presentation and no one threw anything at me or shouted “Heretic!” and tried to chase me from the building. My barometer for “went well” might be a little low, but remember, I work in the news business.

Technically my first academic conference was the Walter Cronkite Conference on Media Ethics and Integrity, where I spoke about the 2014 project to rewrite and update the SPJ Code of Ethics a couple of years ago. I was a bundle of nerves there as well, but I was not presenting original research; merely reporting on a process in which I was part, and with extensive assistance from then-chairman Andrew Seaman and former chairman Kevin Smith. 

The conference took place the first weekend of March at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., which is just south of Oklahoma City. I flew down on Feb. 28 and took the afternoon to look around Oklahoma City before settling in to be all academic and stuff.

This is me landing in Oklahoma. Another state checked off the life to-do list.

This is the first academic conference where I was presenting my own research, and as my friends and colleagues know, my research last semester was wrought with blood and tears, so I was more than a little uneasy about the presentation.

But no moreso than my traveling companions, both of whom are my fellow first-year masters students and at least twenty years younger than I, the younglings.

Meet Rahul Menon and Jonathan Johnson, two of my fellow grad students and Power Rangers. They call me GradMom. This picture lives in proof that Jonathan can exist without his Alienware baseball cap.

I’m glad to report that AEJMC is a fairly low-key and welcoming conference, with three or four presentations per hour in small rooms with receptive audiences. Following the presentations, there is a respondent (who apparently was tasked with reading all the papers) who gives initial feedback, then questions and comments from the audience.

The respondent for my session could not make it, which was both a disappointment and a relief – I hope for real feedback, but I’d be just as happy not to get it in front of a live studio audience. I’m shy. 

I attended many other sessions as well, and got a sense of what kind of research is taking place on the academic side of the field. This is different than the usual trade conferences I attend (and certainly different than the pop culture cons). 

The trade conferences tend to be focused on practical applications, career advice, recounting of methods and approaches, and other how-to’s for performing and promoting journalism.

At the pop culture cons, there’s usually people in costume. This was not present at AEJMC.

The Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at OU was amazing. I wanted to steal their building and bring it back home. Their newsroom was bigger than some newspapers I’ve worked, I’m just saying.

Here are some of the research projects I heard presented:

• A game-based intervention on adults for media literacy did not yield the expected results, but showed promise for refinement in helping to promote the ability to discern fact from fiction in news content. 

Note: The more education one has, the more one interacts with text and the more time you spend on content, the more likely you are to be able to discern fact from fiction and resist manipulation. Yet another nail in the coffin of “not everyone needs an education,” in my opinion. 

As one person in the audience suggested, it is high time universities considered mothballing the old-fashioned “speech” class requirement in favor of intro to media or media literacy for all undergrads. Not every professional adult is going to give speeches in their work life, but everyone will need media literacy going forward. Food for thought. 

• Along that line of thought, West Texas A&M University developed a service learning model for media literacy. Freshman students went through a five-week training course in media literacy, then went into the area high schools and taught the principles of media literacy to high-schoolers. The high schools want to incorporate it into their curriculum, but are swamped with mandates and limited on time and resources. 

The program emphasized the importance of balance and fairness, evaluating sources, internet censorship, citizen journalism around the world, the impact of social media, and more. Then by teaching it to younger kids, the students learn better themselves.

Note: The program focused on finding a middle ground between championing journalism’s goals and successes, and dwelling endlessly on our errors and doom-and-gloom challenges. Teaching young people that all media is suspect, that journalism is dead and everyone online is awful does not help foster the next generation’s ability to navigate the media landscape or build a better one.

Or, as one speaker put it, a critical look at mass media should not turn into a conspiracy-theory cynicism that serves only to further tear down the profession and the industry.

• An examination of automated journalism in China. There have been previous studies of this, but focused only on such news in English. What is automated journalism? Apparently, news stories that are aggregated by algorithm, with no humans involved.

This is a beast heretofore unknown to me. The creation of aggregate stories alone was a bit of a shock to me a few years ago, when it tore down the age-old prohibitions on citing and linking our competitors’ work by compiling “stories” with links and citations to other news organizations. But at least those stories still have a living, trained journalist doing the compiling and evaluating the sources’ veracity. This is the closest thing I’ve seen yet to replacing journalists with robots. 

It’s safe to say I’m not a fan.

Fortunately, the study found that readability and expertise rated higher for human-written news than automated, although for some reason readers rated credibility marginally lower for humans than machines. If you want to read more about Robby the Robot Journalist, Emerj did a piece on news by A.I. in January. 

• Research on health podcasts found that doctors and people who have been personally diagnosed with an illness carried much higher credibility with podcast listeners than hearing the same information from a podcast host who did not have medical credentials. It also had a higher impact on health behaviors, and a higher interest in downloading and following the podcast in the future.

Another podcast study focused on commercials: the average is 5.1 commercials per podcast in the top 100 iTunes-distributed podcasts, up from 2.4 a decade ago. About 31 percent were sponsorships, and 87 percent directly or indirectly related to the subject of the podcast. 

• This one will not please my teenage son: While 71 percent of Americans age 18-24 are habitual Instagram users, as much as 25 percent would qualify as “problematic users.” Social media addiction is a real, trackable thing, folks. 

The addictive gratifications of compulsive Instagram use rival those obtained by food, sleep and sex, though they do not have a classification as a mental disorder (yet). They defined it as a state of unconscious activity, of compulsive use with multiple gratifications. I am probably mangling this definition, but it was an interesting study. 

• In popular culture, there were examinations of Mad Men as a paradoxical feminist text, the portrayal of bisexuality on CW shows, the representation of Asian Indians in American film over the last 10 years, and the Kardashians’ impact on awareness of the Armenian genocide.

Don’t laugh. I didn’t know either, but they’re an Armenian episode and have apparently made a significant impact in advocacy for genocide victims and awareness of Armenian culture in exile. Who knew?

Also, the average CW viewer watches eight hours of TV a day. When do they work or sleep? 

My colleague Rahul Menon did the Indian film study, and found an increasing number of positive portrayals of Asian Indians as hardworking, funny and helpful, though still fewer than half are actually portrayed by Indian actors. 

Finally, there was a study on the impact that popular culture can have on people’s perceptions of mental illness. Specifically, they studied Batman and Beyonce, focusing on an article about Beyonce’s struggle with depression and Batman knocking the hell out of someone who said bad things about someone with mental illness. I’m paraphrasing, because this is already a long blog post, but it was an interesting study from the University of Missouri. 

The answer is: yes, it makes a difference – but the study itself didn’t quite bear that out. Popular culture changes opinions, which sounds like a DUH, but in academia you need research and statistics to back up the things that should seem obvious, because sometimes it’s not. The “parasocial relationship,” which is academic-speak for our ability to identify with a fictional character, is key to whether the popular culture icon can shift personal opinion in real life. In short, mental health stigma can be reduced if it is responsibly discussed in media, but the message and the media matter.

Also: More than 80 percent of the audience was familiar with Beyonce. Only 69 percent were familiar with Batman. What?

This is a quick-and-dirty rundown on two days of research discussion, and apologies if I have mangled anyone’s research. I was honored to be there with my little study on journalists’ portrayal in film, and gained some ideas and feedback for my continuing research as I proceed into … wait for it … my thesis. But more on that next year!

We did find time to hit the local bar. We’re college students, after all.

Note: I visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial while I was in town. A narration and photo array will be pending on the Patreon.

The People Have a Right to Know

I’m happy and terrified to announce that last semester’s research project has been selected for presentation at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s midwinter conference.

That’s a lot of edu-speak to say that I wrote some stuff people liked, and now I’m flying to Oklahoma City to talk about it.

Last semester’s primary project was a research paper titled “The People Have a Right to Know: Journalism and Ethics in Film.” In part it was a test run for my thesis, which will expand greatly from the initial sample to examine several tropes that affect journalists’ representation in the movies. It focused primarily on ten films featuring journalists from the last five years, but also extended into several films from previous eras that highlight some of the most common depictions of journalists.

My research poster. Not sure how I’m getting that on the plane.

I analyzed the films through the lens of the SPJ Code of Ethics. If you know me at all, you know that I am passionate about the Code. We denizens of the SPJ Ethics Committee spend a great deal of time year-round advocating ethical behavior, promoting awareness and use of the Code and assisting journalists with ethical dilemmas. My primary soapbox for all these years has been that journalism ethics is not some dry academic theoretical discussion, but a living necessity that should be part of every newsroom’s daily discussion and the only part of your J-school education guaranteed to be relevant throughout your entire career.

Many papers and research projects have focused on the representation of the news media in film, but I am not aware of any others that have used the SPJ Code of Ethics to analyze the fictional journalists’ behavior. Apparently this caught the eye of the committee at AEJMC, and I have been invited to present my research to them.

Thus the terror. I have only presented once before at an academic conference: in 2016, I spoke at the Walter Cronkite Conference on Media Ethics and Integrity about the 2014 project to rewrite the Code for the 21st century. All my other speaking engagements have been much less formal: trade conferences, universities, pop-culture conventions, book groups.

However, since my ultimate goal is to continue teaching, this is an enormous opportunity, and quite an honor.

Oklahoma, here I come…

The Beast vs. Brad Admire

Brad Admire is dead. I never met him.

Brad was 17 years old when he was injured playing high school sports. He had surgery on his shoulder, and the doctors gave him opiate-based pain pills during his recovery.

You probably know where this story is going.

Four years later, I interviewed Brad’s father, Dave Admire. I was doing a project on the heroin epidemic, and finding out more and more that it was inextricably tied to the massive use of opiate-based pain pills. There’s a lot of debate and more than a little shouting on this issue, and this is not the place for that debate. I’m here to tell you about Brad, and his father.

Within weeks of his surgery, Brad was hooked on Vicodin. When the prescriptions went away, he turned to heroin, buying tabs on the street for $10 a pill. Admire told me that the majority of addicts he worked with started that way: pain pills for dental surgery or a broken bone. “Not too many just decided to try heroin,” he said.

Three months later, Brad told his father he had a problem. Dave had him in treatment the very next day.

It didn’t take. By the time I met Dave, his son had been through five or six rounds of treatment, a six-month incarceration and at least three overdoses that he knew of. In one of those cases, Dave told me, Brad’s “friends” had stolen his wallet and dumped him in an emergency room.

In Illinois, an addict is lucky to get 30 days inpatient treatment, which apparently isn’t enough for a beast with as many tentacles as heroin.

I didn’t interview Brad. At the time that I met him, Dave had shipped Brad to Florida where he could get a 60-day program, followed by two months outpatient in a sober living house. “Today he’s good, but you never know what tomorrow will bring,” he said.

The doctors say one of the worst things for an addict is get distracted from their recovery with a lot of pressure about “How’s it going? When do you think you’ll be out?” In other words, everything a reporter might ask. It wasn’t my first round with this issue; in other stories, I’ve been faced with the dilemma of whether to interview someone who might be seriously damaged by it. In the case of a legislator who entered Betty Ford for addiction, I had to argue down an editor who was absolutely sure I could get him on the phone from rehab.

Maybe I could. Maybe not – Betty Ford is pretty tough on their rules. But the ethical precept of “minimize harm” as established in the Code of Ethics means that I don’t hurt people to get a story.

Dave Admire, 2016

So I interviewed Dave instead, who was brutally honest about the pain his family had gone through. Addicts leave a wake of pain in their path, not the least of it around themselves.

Dave told me one day he had to refuse Brad entry to the house. “It was snowing and he was beating on the door, and I had to tell him no,” Dave said. “I had to force him to the rock bottom.” As a parent, I could not possibly imagine doing that, but they say it’s necessary. Addicts need a reason to get clean, and they destroy every relationship around them before they reach that rock bottom, or so the experts say. How many parents and siblings have had to make that choice, to “love them from a distance,” as Dave put it?

Dave made it his mission to help other families navigate the morass of treatment options, with and without insurance. Somehow word spread and people knew he was the guy to call. He told me he had kids on eight-week waiting lists, kids who were slipped a tab at a party, and suddenly there’s a beastly hunger awake and raving through their blood. That’s perhaps hyperbole, and perhaps not, as the endless hearings and workshops and think tanks I’ve observed over the years talk about neurons and receptors and susceptibility to dependence in the human brain, stewing in its mix of chemicals.

It was Dave who came to mind a year later when my son sustained a minor injury on a camping trip. He came home from the ER with a bottle of narcotics. The doctors gave opioids to a sixteen-year-old kid with a minor muscle strain without even trying aspirin first. I couldn’t get those pills away from him fast enough, afraid of the beast. We were lucky.

Dave and Brad were featured in a documentary called “The Heroin Project,” co-produced by my now-colleague Cory Byers and then-grad student Ashley Seering. Dave was working with law enforcement to find ways to help addicts get into treatment instead of prison. He appeared on a panel with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin – which is how he came to my attention – and talked with raw honesty about the impact the epidemic is having on families.

Dave (left) with Sen. Durbin

There were a lot of politicians and officials on that panel, but then there was Dave, speaking with quiet dignity; and a local principal, Kari Karidis, who spoke about the day she got the worst possible call: her son had died of a heroin overdose.

One of the hardest things a journalist must learn, and which I try to teach my students, is the compartmentalization of emotions and opinions. Reporters cannot help but form opinions because we have working brain cells, and if we ever stop feeling our emotions entirely, we have lost our connection to humanity and need to quit the job. But we must take those emotions and opinions and set them apart from the work. There’s a story to be written, and no one will take it seriously if you’ve slipped from reporter to advocate.

But when I read yesterday that Brad Admire died of an overdose on Sunday, my heart simply broke for the father I interviewed years ago, and the family ripped apart over what seemed like innocuous pills. I never did have enough callouses to keep me from feeling the job, and maybe that made me less than the reporter I could have been.

When I wrote the story of the Admire family, Madison County, Illinois had reached a then-staggering 77 opioid overdoses in a single year. In 2009, the total was seven.

Days before Brad Admire overdosed, Madison County’s coroner Steve Nonn announced that with more than month remaining in 2018, 92 people have died of an opiate overdose. It’s a grim new record. While there have always been overdoses, take a look at the chart at the other end of this link and you’ll see why opioids stand out. More than 72,000 dead last year, and now that fentanyl is being mixed into other drugs, there seems to be no end in sight.

There’s no moral to the story, no uplifting ending. As a journalist, it isn’t my place to suggest policy or issue a call to action. It probably isn’t my place to grieve for the Admire family, to think of the stalwart father who sat across from me in a library one afternoon and shared his family’s most painful, raw tragedies with me and our readers.

But as keepers of the record, it’s beholden upon us to tell the whole story. And the whole story is that this time, the beast won.

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.

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.

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