Show Your Work: Sesame Street News

• Two freelance journalists have won the American Mosaic Journalism Prize, which honors work about underrepresented groups. Dara Mathis wrote “A Blueprint for Black Liberation” for the Atlantic about growing up in a radical Black commune, and Tamir Kalifa won for his photographs of the aftermath of the 2022 mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Kalifa is currently stationed in Israel covering the Israel-Hamas war. It’s not immediately clear how often freelancers have won the award, which is the largest dollar prize – $100,000 – given to journalists in the U.S.

• Cook County Ill. has dropped charges against the students who placed a parody wrap around the student newspaper at Northwestern University. The newspaper had condemned the act as vandalism, but its leaders intervened to stop prosecution. Of course, “parody” is kind of a stretch, since it was a serious protest regarding Gaza. However, at least 80 Daily Northwestern alums wrote a letter arguing that charges should be dropped on the altar of free speech.

• Speaking of which… this one takes some real gall. The Los Angeles Police Department released photos of officers after they were sued over a public records request. The officers then sued the department over it alleging violation of their privacy, and the LAPD retaliated with legal action against a journalist and a watchdog group for publishing the photos. The photos that the LAPD itself released. A public statement condemning this action has been co-signed by the Society of Professional Journalists (national and the L.A. chapter); the Asian Americans Journalists Association; Latino Journalists of California; Los Angeles Press Club; Media Guild of the West; National Association of Hispanic Journalists; Radio Television Digital News Association and the Freelancer Journalist Union.

• A reporter has finally sued over last year’s police raid on a small newspaper office. If you’ll recall, police raided the office and the owner’s home because a local restaurant owner was mad at the paper. Literally. That’s all they had. “Identity theft” was the official statement, from publishing public records.

• On a lighter note, Grover of Sesame Street has apparently joined the profession. His announcement on the Artist-Formerly-Known-as-Twitter that he is now a journalist was greeted by fellow journalists with predictable cynicism.

“I regret to report a hedge fund has since purchased Grover’s paper and laid him off,” wrote S.P. Sullivan, a reporter with “Unfortunately, Grover was fired for not hitting his three story a day quota,” said Scott Nover, a contributing writer for Slate.

Ouch. But Grover’s not the first Muppet to join the Fourth Estate. Old people like me will remember Kermit’s many years in a trenchcoat reporting for Sesame Street News. And who could forget Cookie Monster’s tough negotiations?

And now, this week in total bullshit:

• The NOAA is not “cooking the books” on climate change. Once again, TB originates with a Fox News host who alleged that NOAA was basing its temperature collection on thermometers left on urban concrete and asphalt. Politifact dealt with this.

Former President Trump alleged that Wisconsin’s 20-week limit on abortion access is “way outside international bounds.” However, the majority of European countries range from 10 weeks (Portugal) to 24 weeks (U.K.). Wisconsin is currently considering narrowing it to 14 weeks.

• Nope, Texas can’t secede from the U.S. There was kind of a little war about that, you might recall, if you live in a state that still lets you learn about it.

• No, radiation poisoning is not the cause of COVID-19. Also, Mr. DeSantis, the boosters do not make it more likely you’ll get COVID. Is it unconstitutional to require all voters to take a remedial science class?

And what was not (completely) bullshit? The U.S. homicide rate has declined significantly, with preliminary data showing about a 10-12 percent drop in homicide. However, PolitiFact research indicates some politicians are a little too quick to credit the crime reduction bill with the drop and there may be multiple factors behind it.

Show Your Work: Snow truth to it (sorry)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger did a background run on the drone company user who decided he was going to solve St. Louis crime with drones, never mind laws or the wishes of the actual residents of this city. Funny enough: the drone guy has two corporate addresses, neither of which has an office from him.

• ProPublica found that Walmart financial services have been used by scammers to bilk consumers out of more than $1 billion by exploiting Walmart’s lax security. Apparently as people were being scammed, Walmart has resisted enforcement, broken promises to regulators and avoided tougher training. Apparently it makes more money with the scammer transactions than it would by enforcing only legitimate transactions. The FTC has sued Walmart over this practice.

• Who broke the story of former Harvard president Claudine Gay’s battle? The student journalists of the Harvard Crimson, who had a series of exclusives on that particular mess and scooped the national press several times. Go kids.

• The Chronicle of Higher Education found that Liberty University has systematically failed to adhere to federal crime disclosure laws and is now on notice with the U.S. Department of Education. There were at least 12 violations of the Jeanne Clery Act, which requires colleges to publicize campus crime statistics and notify students and employees of threats to their safety. Violations included destroying records of sexual assault investigations, forbidding police from issuing timely crime alerts, punishing survivors of sexual assault for reporting, and more.

• In 2022, a Texas school superintendent called a meeting with the school librarians. He told them that the city was very conservative and anyone who had different political beliefs “better hide it.” This was his preamble for ordering them to remove any books he considered explicitly sexual, which included any mention of LGBTQ people, even if those books did not include sex. He also stated that “there are two genders. There’s male and there’s female… I don’t have issues with what people want to believe, but there’s no place for it in our libraries.” When someone asked if books on racism were acceptable, he said books on different cultures were great but anything about trans or LGBTQ people was out. This was investigated by the Texas Tribune via a recording obtained by the Tribune, ProPublica and NBC News, and on the basis of that analysis, the ACLU filed suit. What’s new: now the U.S. Department of Education is opening its own investigation under the office for civil rights.

• WABE and ProPublica found that in more than 700 cases over five years, the state of Georgia took children from their unhoused parents even though it would be cheaper to help the families get housing than put the children in foster care.

• Last week we talked about the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s investigation on the FDA’s failure to issue warnings about Philips breathing machines; this week the GAO will launch an inquiry under the direction of U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)

This Week in Total Bullshit:

• I’m a tad concerned that there were a grand total of two journalists attending Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ town hall in New Hampshire, and both were Politifact fact-checkers. I know it’s snowy and the last debate was canceled, but where was the rest of the road crew? Anyway, they fact-checked all of DeSantis’ claims.

• Somehow 25 percent of U.S. adults still believe the FBI organized the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. This week the House committee investigating it detailed yet again that it’s TB, and yet. If you need details, here they are. Oh, one of those U.S. adults is U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), who made the claim during a committee hearing.

• Birther claims have a new target: GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley. Allegations are circulating on social media that Haley’s parents weren’t citizens when she was born, which has absolutely no basis in fact, not that that ever stops social media. She was born in South Carolina. It’s been circulated in a couple of conservative news websites and former President Trump shared it on Truth Social. So Haley joins the Birther Target Club whose members include former President Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and the late U.S. Sen. John McCain.

• German highways did not get blocked by electric cars running out of charge in the cold. The picture in that viral post was Chicago, not Germany; 2011, not this week; and there’s no evidence that the vehicles are electric. The 2011 snowfall was two feet of snow and the vehicles were abandoned after collisions between a city bus and other vehicles blocked the lanes.

• The Times Square billboard reading “Ceasefires are anti-semitic” is not only misspelled, but never appeared in Times Square as alleged. The Israeli-American Council paid for billboards that read “Be human. Stand for Israel.”

• No, Tom Hanks did not flee to Israel after the release of the Epstein documents. Seriously? HANKS? You have to be kidding, liars. He’s one of the few saintly humans we have left. Also, he hasn’t converted to Judaism that we know of, not that that would matter.

• As referenced in this piece about A.I. girlfriends, it is NOT true that Elon Musk is creating Stepford-type robot wives for lonely incels. The image of Musk kissing a robot woman were digital AI creations by the same guy that created an image of Pope Francis wearing a Balenciaga coat. (The reason for such creations is an exercise left for the reader.) A.I. girlfriends, however, do exist…

• Lil Nas X was not accepted into Liberty University’s Biblical studies program. Seriously?

• And finally, what was NOT total bullshit? Yes, Mississippi and Alabama still celebrate Robert E. Lee Day on the day the rest of us celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. President Reagan declared it a national holiday in 1983, but Mississippi held on to Lee Day as it had celebrated since 1910. Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana and Alabama also had Lee Day or Lee-King Day, but the others have finally dropped it from their official calendars. In 2018 and 2023, a Mississippi state legislator introduced bills to separate MLK and Lee. The bill died in committee. In Alabama, a bill to eliminate Lee Day was introduced and died the same day – this year. Note: As late as 1997, my first husband was attending a community college in northern Mississippi that still had “Robert E. Lee Day” listed on its calendar as a day off school.

Whew. This is just one week, folks. It’s gonna be a long election year.

Show Your Work: It’s not like they didn’t know the schools were falling down

Show Your Work is a regular feature on Donald Media highlighting stories where journalists uncovered badness, shining the light in darkness; and where we have debunked the total bullshit you see online.

• The Idaho Journal-Statesman partnered with ProPublica to investigate how restrictive school funding led to massive disrepair in hundreds of schools. The state actually stopped inspecting the schools, so it fell to the journalists and the students themselves to evaluate the state of their schools for the first time in 30 years. Bad roofs, freezing cold classrooms, lack of disability access, poor security, dilapidated bathrooms, holes in the walls with exposed wiring, flooding and more.

This week, the Idaho governor announced $2 billion in funding over the next 10 years to repair the schools, citing the journalists’ investigation as the impetus for the biggest investment in school infrastructure in the state’s history. Of course, it was pretty clear everyone involved knew the schools were falling down. But once the light shines on it, they can’t ignore it anymore.

• Also in the category of “it took a journalist to make it happen,” Illinois has closed a juvenile detention center exposed by Capital News and ProPublica for multiple violations of its own standards: leaving kids locked up for 24 hours or more, ignoring medical needs, etc. In the key incident, the undertrained and underpaid staff called in deputies when two inmates yelled at each other, and they broke one of the boys’ arms. He was then left in his cell to suffer, his arm untreated and handcuffed, for hours. Kids were denied access to medication, tased and beaten, and given little to no education despite laws requiring it. The country tried throwing money at it, but a judge has ordered closure of the facility. Note: staff was being paid $28,000 a year. No wonder they were understaffed. A lawsuit is pending from the ACLU.

The Trace and ProPublica obtained audio recordings of the NRA’s CEO discussing a plan to conceal his luxury expenses, including private jets and stays at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The New York Attorney General was unaware of the recording, though they are currently investigating the NRA for financial malfeasance.

• Technically they’re not journalists, but PEN America is a First Amendment advocacy group that has often stood with journalists and as we have often said, an act of journalism can come from anyone. PEN America found that when Florida removed 1,600 books from its schools, they also removed five variations of the dictionary as well as the World Book Encyclopedia. As soon as they posted the list, of course, Florida hastened to say that the dictionary wasn’t banned, no, of course not, and then it disappeared from the list.

And a few weeks ago, the Washington Post reviewed 1,000 book challenges and found what was blindingly obvious but people still won’t believe it until there’s a study: They’re banning mostly sexual, LGBTQ or racial content while claiming it’s not about racism or homophobia; the majority of 1,000 challenges were filed by 11 people; and LGBTQ books are not only likely to be challenged, but most likely to be banned after review. even more than books by or about people of color.

And now, for This Week in Total Bullshit:

• The Fort Worth hotel explosion was caused by a gas leak, according to the actual officials investigating it. That Facebook post circulating blaming it on “Sahil Omar” is TB. The same name has circulated blaming him the Rainbow Bridge catastrophe in Canada and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas shooting.

• I can’t believe it’s circulating again, but no, Facebook/Zuckerberg have not forbidden posting The Lord’s Prayer on the site. It’s been shared more than 500,000 times from a 2022 post of a 2020 rumor and it’s still not frigging true.

• Tucker Carlson interviewed a podcaster who declared that the COVID-19 vaccine has killed 17 million people. It should be blindingly obvious that this is TB, but just in case, Annenberg debunked it. Sadly, they’ve found that the Americans who believe the vaccine is deadline is now up to 34 percent, up from 22 percent two years ago.

• That video of people fleeing is not Chinese migrants fleeing Russia to avoid being forced into the war. Reuters dug into what it’s really about.

• Annenberg also went into all the claims from former President Trump’s town hall and the last GOP debate.

And, oddly, what was NOT total bullshit: The circulating meme on kids leaving bottles with drano and aluminum foil that can explode. Yes, that’s actually a thing. Snopes checked it years ago.

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Show Your Work: January is off to a banging start

A long, long time ago in a social medium far far away, I did a daily Linkspam post that covered all the major headlines of the day with my own particular snark. It eventually morphed into an annual Show Your Work post, in which I would highlight the best journalism of the year. Problem: Life gets busy, I get distracted by shiny objects, and I was always forgetting to add to my Show Your Work list, so it generally fell to the award winners.

But there’s a whole lot of journalism that flies under the national radar, the kind of serious, important work being done by the reporters right around the corner from you, and they never get the credit they deserve for shining the light on the badness. They get angry emails and they get death threats on Twitter – excuse me, X – and when bad guys are finally brought to justice, no one remembers that the scandal started when a journalist got curious.

More to the point: I am furious beyond the reaches of metaphor at the number of people from all political and socioeconomic backgrounds who whine that “the media” is a giant Borg hive-mind of automatons spitting out what corporate masters tell us to say, and other highly offensive nonsense that clearly shows the person saying it has never set foot in a newsroom. Show Your Work was intended to collect all the best of us in one place as a metaphorical shotgun blast to open people’s minds to the work being done in their local and national newsrooms, which has little to do with hairdos bloviating on cable news networks.

So I’m bringing it back, as a regular feature on this too-quiet blog.

What do I look for in Show Your Work? Basically, I’m looking at pieces where journalists step in to do the work that regulatory agencies and law enforcement should be doing, highlighting injustice and malfeasance that would not come to light without the work of the media, and especially those that made an actual difference. Accompanying that will be “This Week in Total Bullshit,” because if I see people reposting that copypaste paragraph that will totally cut off your Facebook ads and eliminate their primary revenue, my head may spin around and fly around the room.

So this will be a recurring feature, to the point that I can manage it. I want to promise a weekly post, but let’s be real: Advocating for my profession and the ethical practice thereof is my passion, but not work I get paid to do. Rent is due. So… as much as I can?

• First up we have the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Riverfront Times, both of which published photos this week taken by an attorney inside the St. Louis Jail, which has had enormous problems and allegations of misconduct and there’s a bunch else we reporters and the lawyers in this city could tell you if we were free to do so. Apparently Kevin O’Schaughnessy is being held in the jail and has developed a hernia the size of a cantaloupe, which allegedly is not being treated. The attorney took the photo as evidence, and in response they… outlawed cell phones by attorneys. O’Shaughnessy, by the way, was shot by police multiple times while having a mental breakdown, is partially paralyzed with a traumatic brain injury, and is being held in the jail without a wheelchair and little access to clean clothes or a shower.

• Former president Donald Trump did not sign an oath of loyalty promising not to overthrow the government when he filed for election in Illinois. The oath dates back to the McCarthy era and can’t be formally required because it would be unconstitutional, but Trump had no problem signing it in 2016 and 2020. This was discovered by a joint analysis of candidate petitions conducted by WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times. President Joe Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the oath with their petitions.

And this week in Total Bullshit….

No, Florida is not removing Democrats from voter rolls. Approximately 1 million people were removed, half of them were Democrats, and you get removed from the rolls if you have two election cycles of inactivity.

No, T-Mobile is not fining its customers $3,500 for text messages involving sex, hate, alcohol and tobacco. Which, by the way, the TikTokkers blame on Biden, who I guess is running T-Mobile in his spare time. The prohibition applies to commercial advertising via text messages and they are not reading your secret texts to your side piece, dudes.

• Duh, Jimmy Kimmel was NOT on Jeffrey Epstein’s lists, and he may be suing football player Aaron Rodgers for making the claim with no evidence on an ESPN show. Then the internet was off and running with fake documents on iFunny (seriously, people, check your sources) and none of it is in the actual court documents. For what it’s worth, the “big release” turned out to be mostly a nothing burger, with names named that everyone already knew.

• Do I need to say that the social media brigade declaring that the shooting in Perry, Iowa was faked are totally full of it and their “false flag” claims are pathological and damaging? Fine then, (which is operated by the Annenberg Public Policy Center) confirmed it.

• Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo announced this week that we should stop using the COVID vaccines because *checks notes* they will alter our DNA into frogs or something. Annenberg has assembled approximately a gazillion experts saying it’s nonsense. Who you gonna believe, your doctor or a TikTok scare video? (Don’t answer that, Florida.)

And finally…. my favorite meme pile-on of the week, because it’s just that hysterical. I tried to pick just one and I couldn’t. Paging Gene Roddenberry circa 1966…

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Report from Lost Wages: Updates in Media Law

I am attending the SPJ national conference this week in Las Vegas, and one of the highlights today was a briefing on media law that was scarier than any horror novel I’ve written. While I generally do travelogues for my Patreon, I decided this was more relevant to my nonfiction blog here, so you get my summary of the annual media law roundup offered by several media lawyers at the conference.

Have you ever wondered why so many news organizations repeat phrases like “repeating the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen” or “falsely stated that COVID was caused by flying monkeys”? It’s a relatively new device, one that we usually wouldn’t do because it’s supposed to be neutral language – you get to decide who’s full of it, not us!

Well, it’s been black-letter law for decades that repeating a claim you know to be false can leave you legally liable even if your source is the one saying it, not you. Usually this doesn’t involve presidents, but here we are.

Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News was a major topic in the roundup. In short, President Trump said Dominion rigged the voting machines, Fox played it like a cheap drum for months, and Dominion sued Fox for $1.6 billion. With a B.

Fox argued that they had a responsibility to report on what Trump and other GOP leaders were saying, which – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – they had a point. People scream and yell about “why do you give these people a platform” and frankly, we’d all love it if the good people of the U.S. of A. would stop electing lying assholes so we could stop talking to them. I have a list.

However, New York Times v. Sullivan established that a news organization has to have displayed “actual malice” toward a public official in order to be liable, i.e. they had to know they were printing false information and did it anyway with the intent of hurting the subject. The key for Fox News was the release of internal memos and communications revealing that they knew it was all false information, but kept running it because it kept moron eyeballs on the screen. 

The judge in the case issued a summary judgment that no reasonable person could conclude that the statements were true, which is a rare step judges don’t often take. Fox settled for $787 million, the largest defamation settlement in history. I would have added a copy of the SPJ Code of Ethics stapled to every editor’s forehead, but I wasn’t on the jury.

So in short, Dominion didn’t sue CNN et al, because they said “Trump falsely stated” and didn’t repeat his words as if they were true, but sued Fox because they portrayed information they knew to be false as fact. So expect to see that phrase a whole lot in the coming Presidential Silly Season.

The debate within the profession is now centering on slippery slopes and the line between journalistic responsibility and fact-checking vs. arrogantly taking the voters’ place in determining who should be elected. There is concern that this will have a chilling effect on coverage. We are all stretched tight, we have all interviewed liars, and there will be a strong pull by cash-strapped publications to reduce coverage in controversial topics for fear of defamation suits.

That’s the overt level. The subtle level is that Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch indicated interest in overturning Sullivan after a vehemently anti-journalist judge insisted Sullivan makes it too hard for public figures to win defamation suits. Of course, he insisted it was because news organizations are totally controlled by cackling evil liberal cabals (paraphrase) and praised Fox for being owned by “one man and his son.” 

The upshot is that if Sullivan was overturned, we could all be sued to oblivion by any public official who didn’t like the reporting on their race. That is… not good for journalism.

Also coming up in media law: 

The Marion County Record in Kansas was raided by police – including the home of the publisher, whose elderly mother was so distraught she died the next day. This raid was allegedly because the paper was researching DUI reports for a local restaurant owner (whose DUI would mean her liquor license was illegal), and they had been accused of illegal hacking even though they never published the damn story. It always amuses me that they are quick to accuse us of hacking, since most journos I know have trouble attaching a document to an email. Even if they had done it, the raid was a violation of a boatload of laws requiring law enforcement to subpoena records from journalists, not raid them and confiscate their equipment.

Question asked: What do we do as journalists if police show up with a warrant? First of all, in Illinois we have shield laws, but I’m honestly not sure what I could do. The lawyers say we can tell them they cannot enter, and request speaking to a lawyer before warrant is executed because federal and state laws forbid it. They also acknowledge there’s a bit of privilege there, as a white man in a suit might be listened to and a Black man runs a serious chance of getting shot. (One of the questioners later made this point: “As a Black man in America, my number one rule in any interaction with the police is don’t get shot.”

Also, this is not one isolated incident of police overreach. In multiple cities we have seen these warrants blindly approved by cranky judges (or sometimes magistrate judges who are barely lawyers) and haven’t read the federal Privacy Protection Act, then police go to town. Worse: small independent news organizations rarely have the money to fight these things, which is where organizations like SPJ and other First Amendment advocates come in to help support the legal battle.

Finally, we need better training and education of law enforcement, and even of judges. I will say that in times I’ve seen flagrantly illegal actions of public officials – I have a list – many of them could have passed a lie detector declaring that everything they did was absolutely legal and appropriate. But ignorance of the law is not an excuse, and I have little patience for “systemic antagonism against the concept of journalism” as justification for wildly illegal attacks on the press. Certainly I’d be favor of requiring some kind of education program, but let’s face it: law enforcement is not going to voluntarily seek this training unless required by court order.

Most disturbing: A Black reporter interviewing people on a public sidewalk was arrested and accused of harassing people. A bystander recorded the arrest: the reporter clearly identified himself as a journalist and they arrested him anyway (and threatened the guy doing the recording). We don’t hear about this because it’s journalists, and when we are the subject of violence, no one cares. But it’s happening a lot more than you know.

I have a list.

Two pieces go national

I was delighted to hear this week that two pieces I wrote for the St. Louis Labor Tribune were picked up for national distribution through the AFL-CIO.

The first is a piece about new legislation that mandates paid leave for all workers for any reason. Illinois is only the third state in the nation to require employers to let their employees have paid time off to deal with life. While most union contracts include at least the minimum paid leave, the law will cover everyone, represented or not.

The other story is part of several stories I’ve written about St. Louis Public Radio employees organizing. It’s the first time a public radio newsroom has formed a union in the state of Missouri.

It was always fun when my newspaper stories were picked up by the Associated Press, and it feels good to see such wide readership of my work.

If these stories interest you, please sign up for my monthly newsletter. I share links to all my work in the newsletter, including the labor work. Don’t worry, I’m far too busy to spam you.

Journalists in fiction… again

I’m delighted to report that the St. Louis Writer’s Guild has asked me to talk to them about how to portray journalists in fiction.

This is pretty much my biggest soapbox, as you know if you’ve been following me for any length of time. The Thesis That Will Not Die is focused on journalists’ representation in film, ranging from Spotlight to Die Hard, under the cultivation theory of media consumption. Like most academic theories, it uses convoluted language to explain that which is patently obvious: watching media that portrays a group negatively leads to negative impressions of that group. Representation matters.

I’ve done this kind of talk before, usually to pop culture convention panels where we discuss how the movies have mangled us. I haven’t done it for a group solely comprised of writers before, and I’m quite happy for the opportunity. I’ve said many times at cons and writing panels: If you’ve got a journalist in your story, for the sake of Edward R. Murrow, talk to a journalist. You wouldn’t write a brain surgeon or a police officer or a deep-sea explorer without doing research; don’t assume that you know how journalism works because you’ve read the news.

At any rate, I’m looking forward to this opportunity, and thank the Writer’s Guild for inviting me. I’m not sure if it’s open to the general public or only Guild members, but I’ll be sure to let y’all know.

Finally: The Edwardsville Author Fair

I’m delighted to finally attend the Edwardsville Author Fair in person!

They’ve been holding this festival of the written word for a few years now, and each year it has conflicted with another major event: Dragoncon, the Society of Professional Journalists, etc. Then last year the event was virtual, of course, because the Voldevirus required all such things to be in Zoomland. Thus I was actually able to participate after a fashion!

I thought I was going to have to bow out this year again, because I am president of the St. Louis chapter of SPJ and will be representing them as delegate at the annual conference next weekend…. which was supposed to be in New Orleans. Sadly, the Voldevirus strikes again and I will not be chowing down on beignets at Cafe Du Monde. The SPJ conference will be entirely virtual. (Of course, it’s likely it would have struck a landmine anyway, since Hurricane Ida is aiming at the Gulf Coast with a fury.)

But that leaves me home and free-ish to finally participate in my hometown’s book festival! I’ll be stepping in and out of the festival to participate as needed in the SPJ conference events, but my husband will be on our booth selling our books and my art throughout the day. Look for us in the author section of City Park 9am-2pm Saturday, Sept. 4.

 (Crossposted with

October Linkspam

If you’re a horror writer, October is always your busiest month of the year. If you’re not working in October, you’re not working.

That said, October is super-mega-special busy for me – in a normal year. In October 2015, I visited eleven cities in two time zones, flew on four airplanes through three airports, drove 2,017 miles, hugged and shook hands with approximately four zillion people, stayed in five hotels, rode public transportation without number, attended at least a dozen public events, visited the Magic Kingdom twice and averaged five hours’ sleep. All while working my full-time job at the newspaper (plus or minus a few vacation days).

So this was the strangest October I can remember since my first book was published, because I went nowhere. I mean, I left the house a few times. We successfully moved my stuff out of my university office, and then we moved the Literary Underworld and all its trimmings to a storage facility. Yes! LitUnd now has a warehouse! (Kinda.) It was taking over my house, which has more than enough piles of detritus that it doesn’t need the competition.

I also left the house to go to a pumpkin patch and get this year’s carveable gourds. Look, I will put up with a lot to stay safe from COVID, but some things are sacred.

If it were not for COVID, I would have flown to Washington D.C. for the SPJ conference and to Atlanta for the College Media Association conference. I would have attended Archon in Collinsville, Ill. and I’d be raring up for ContraKC in Kansas City next week and I would have been running the Leclaire Parkfest book sale for the American Cancer Society and somewhere in there I’d probably have had a stark raving mad nervous breakdown but that’s standard for October too.

Instead, I was home, teaching my class and attending what I could via Zoom, and happily celebrating the release of Yanaguana from Crone Girls Press!

Have I mentioned it enough yet?

So even though I stayed home and didn’t “see” anyone, I still feel like it was one of my busiest Octobers ever, and I can’t remember how I did my usual Octobers without losing my mind. I have no doubt, however, that I will sign right back up next year for the usual Fall Deathmarch, because really… I miss y’all.


Have I mentioned yet that Yanaguana came out last month? Okay, okay, ya heard it. Seriously, though, I had so much fun playing with the Blackfire crew again, and I’m so grateful to my fantastic editor Rachel Brune for including my little novella in Foul Womb of Night, the first in Crone Girls Press’ Midnight Bites series.

Here’s an interview I gave about Yanaguana, my writing life, the trip to San Antonio that inspired it, and other ramblings.


Highland schools face deficit budget (Highland News-Leader)

Highland approves interim police chief (Highland News-Leader)

GoFundMe set up for coach in need of kidney due to COVID (Highland News-Leader)

Highland police adopt 10 shared principles of civil rights and racial justice (Highland News-Leader)

COVID forces shutdown of after-school program (Highland News-Leader)

Highland leaders report more than 100 new cases in two weeks (Highland News-Leader)

How to survive a horror movie: 2020 edition (Medium)


Wait wait don’t tell me…. Yanaguana came out. Just so you know, your purchase of Foul Womb of Night gets you more than just me. There are two other novels of military-themed horror by Adam Stemple and Gustav Bondoni included in the collection, and all for $2.99 (or free if you’re on Kindle Unlimited).


No photo trips again this month (I am going out before the leaves turn, COVID or no COVID) so here’s a flashback shot for you.

This image is “Fields of Pennsylvania,” a picture that nearly killed me. I was on the Furlough Tour in 2013 and trying to make my way across the toll roads of Pennsylvania for an early dinner in York before heading up to New York City. I think. That whole tour is something of a blur.

I was annoyed at the tolls, but the view made it worth every penny. The scenery was simply astounding, and when I saw this field with the farm at the treeline, I swerved my little rental car over to the side of the road and got out on the highway to get this shot. I didn’t have my good camera yet, so I had to be content with the resolution of my small point-and-click. It’s one of my favorite images from the tour, and still doesn’t do half justice to the beauty of Pennsylvania in the fall.


Dark and stormy night (Patreon)

Blackfire crew rides again! (Donald Media and Patreon)

Book birthday! And thank you. (Donald Media)

How to survive a horror movie: 2020 edition with pictures! (Patreon bonus)

Happy Halloween! (Donald Media)

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August Linkspam

And we’re off to the races!

(Ouch, cliche.)

(Fine, I technically was still a student since the masters is pending…. shush with your facts.)

As I write this, the semester is one week old and I’m already behind. How does this happen? I’m developing my lesson plans as I go for my English composition and rhetoric class, so please pass the bourbon. So far my students haven’t dropped en masse and no one is driving me from the campus with pitchforks and torches shouting “heretic!” so we’ll call it a win for the first week.

I’ve had round one of the classes in advanced literary editing, where we will be focusing on producing the annual issue of Sou’wester; and my fiction workshop, where I will continue to develop short pieces (and you Patreon folk will get to see them, muahahaha.) My tutoring gig starts next week, and I will be returning to assist the good folks at the Alestle student newspaper.

I’m still mostly housebound, which has been nice and all but I would really like the virus to go away now, okay? The next two conventions for me are/were ContraKC in November and Conflation in February, and it’s still up in the air whether those events are taking place. If they do, then I need to decide if I can attend. I miss seeing you characters!

(Even you. And you. Maybe not you.)

Anyway, here’s this month’s links!


• Pay for it. That’s how people live. (Patreon and Medium)


• Highland parents overwhelmingly choose in-person learning this fall (Highland News-Leader)

• Highland mayor implores community, businesses to take COVID more seriously (Highland News-Leader)

• Highland street art festival will still take place despite COVID (Highland News-Leader)

• Highland schools forge ahead with mixed schedule (Highland News-Leader)

• Two charged with home invasion in Madison County (Highland News-Leader)


Sadly, no photo trips this month. So instead I give you this one from the archives:

This is the Baltimore memorial to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, located at the Inner Harbor. What appears to be a metal sculpture is actually a twisted remnant of the girders inside the World Trade Center, and there is an inscription of the names of the Baltimore residents who died that day.


• And heeeeere weeee go. (Patreon)

• Historical artifacts (Patreon)

• Stringbook (Patreon)

As usual, I would remind you of my delightful Patreon. Yes, I know, you hear about it every month. But I’m starting a new feature, as I begin a three-year MFA program in creative writing: I’m going to share what I learn with you, in the hopes that those of you interested in writing or the MFA experience will find it useful. So if you were thinking of joining the Patreon, now’s a great time!