July linkspam, new outlets and more!

It’s been a crazy busy month, though one of the weirdnesses of freelance magazine writing in particular is that you’ll do a pile of work in July, but it doesn’t appear until September or November. Still, by my standards, July was a bear of a month.

This month I celebrated my one-year anniversary of full-time freelancing, and we haven’t been evicted yet! I go into greater detail in “One Year Later” as listed below, but suffice to say it’s been an interesting, rewarding and ultimately positive experience, and I have a lot more to learn.

Also, this month I launched on Medium, which allows me to share essays and get paid by the click. I’m still figuring out exactly how it works, but a lot of good writers seem to be making money there, and what I’ve read so far is good quality. Please feel free to check out my page, and if you are so moved to click and “clap” for my work, it is deeply appreciated.

Here’s what went public this month:

Endgame checkmate (CultureGeek)

Today we celebrate our Independence Day (CultureGeek)

Behind the lens: Work featured in photography exhibit (Donald Media)

9-year-old serves as ‘mayor for the day’ (Belleville News-Democrat)

Highland to upgrade water plant (Highland News-Leader)

I don’t know if it’s art, but I know what I like (Patreon)

Roundtable: Spider-man: Far From Home (CultureGeek)

Highland Street Art Festival goes forward despite city opposition (Highland News-Leader)

Another roar at Pride Rock (CultureGeek)

Highland votes in favor of fewer construction inspections – with a twist (Highland News-Leader)

Cyberattack causes major outages on campus (The Alestle)

The National Aquarium (Patreon)

Here comes the sun: Sgt. Pepper’s is a big hit (The Alestle – my first restaurant review!)

Highland High School graduate gets perfect ACT score (Highland News-Leader)

One year later (Donald Media)

“Alleged victim” (Medium, a rewrite of a previous essay.)

“What do you like to read?” (Medium, see above)

In addition, you may have heard about a recent incident in which a high-ranking political operative admitted impersonating a student journalist in order to get into a conference call with a candidate from the opposing party and lob accusations at her. As president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists, I wrote a statement condemning the action that was endorsed by a majority of the St. Louis SPJ board, and our statement has since been picked up by other news outlets, including the Telegraph and the Intelligencer.

Here’s the statement.

As it discloses, I am personally affiliated with The Alestle at SIUE, having served on its board for years and worked with the students this summer in an editing and advisory capacity; and my SPJ vice president is the Alestle program director. However, I believe this gives our opinions greater weight, not lesser: we know for a fact that this “student journalist” does not exist, and our responsibility to call out unethical behavior per the SPJ Code of Ethics is not lessened by our connections to the student newspaper.

Finally… I didn’t write this one. But the local newsmagazine, Edge of the Weekend, featured my family in an in-depth profile for their back-to-school edition. The weirdness of three family members all going to college together finally made print. The photos used are mine, because my menfolk are my favorite photographic subject. Many thanks to Jill Moon, magazine editor for Hearst Illinois, for thinking of us.

We’ve gotten a lot of attention on this story, and it’s been really sweet to see how many people are cheering us on and supporting us as we enter our second year of family-wide higher education and abject poverty. Six jobs, three tuition bills, two impending graduations and one car. It’s been… interesting.

And in three weeks…. here comes the fall semester!

One year later

It’s been a year, and coincidentally I was back in the newsroom for a few minutes.

One year ago today was my last day at the newspaper, capping 18 years in one newsroom and 21 years in daily news. It was chaos, of course: the paper in the middle of another round of layoffs, and the president was in town, which meant a number of our people were out of the office being jeered by the public so they could cover his speech.

It was bittersweet and strange, a bit like that dream when you’re falling slowly down a flight of stairs and you wake up before you land.

It was nostalgic, with a lot of memories from nearly half my life bound up in the place and in the people, enough that I needed to encapsulate those memories in a photo essay and, eventually, in writing. 

There’s a better analogy than the falling dream. It’s like jumping off the high dive without being able to tell if the pool below you is full of water, and you’ve got your family handcuffed to you. It might be easier to make that jump when you’re only responsible for yourself and maybe a cat, but when you have other humans depending on you, it’s frankly terrifying.

Could I manage to earn a masters degree in two years while freelancing? Could I gain enough skills and academic credentials to land a full-time teaching position and continue to be of service to my profession? Could I juggle all of these responsibilities while not starving to death or starving my family?

I spent the first few weeks of grad school convinced I had made the second-worst mistake of my life. I didn’t fit in, I was too old, my writing style was entirely contrary to academic expectations, the theoretical and philosophical aspects of research and analysis were… daunting. We’ll go with that. 

But somehow I passed, re-learned academic style (still a work in progress), and began research projects that reflect my passions and aspirations. 

I am officially halfway through my masters degree in media studies, and no one has yet chased me off the campus shouting, “Heretic!”

And I love teaching.

I’m not good at it yet. I’m capable, and I’m learning. My students seem to appreciate me, though I don’t think they appreciate the unannounced news quizzes that pepper the semester’s fun. (Too bad, kids. That’s what you get for drawing me as a professor.) More importantly, their writing seems to improve from the beginning of the semester to the end. 

It’s quite clear to me how much I have to learn in this new profession, but I really love it. I don’t know if I’ve yet converted any students to leap into news reporting as a profession, but they seem to gain a greater appreciation for journalism, at any rate. If I can train them to evaluate good, balanced, smart reporting, to follow the news from multiple outlets and figure out the real from the fake, if I can open their eyes just a bit to the importance of journalism, then I’ve succeeded in my mission, whether or not I get them to become reporters.

The freelancing has been a slower launch, partly because I had no idea what I was doing. If there is a craft to cold-pitching stories to editors, I have yet to master it. But thanks to a number of contacts in the industry, I’ve started to develop some regular recurring gigs, working with local news organizations and some magazines, as well as my fiction editing work. 

The photography has mostly been going to the Patreon, which has been an utter delight. It launched shortly before I left Ye Olde Newspaper, and I’ve experimented with a lot of different content. I’ve tried fiction excerpts, nonfiction essays/rants, photo essays, travelogues, even a recipe or two. The Patreon has become an absolutely essential part of my family’s income, but I have also found it wonderfully stimulating in a creative sense. I’m always thinking of new ideas to share with the Patrons, of places I can go and photos to shoot that might interest them. 

All through the spring semester, I ran the Door Project: I covered my office door at the campus with Magnetic Poetry words, and photographed the fascinating (and occasionally silly) poems left by anonymous passers-by. All of it was chronicled on the Patreon, with a summary on Donald Media.

The last few weeks have been consumed with compiling a promised ebook for the Patrons, for those who joined the Patreon during my birthday week and my original audience members. We’re minutes away, she said as she took a hammer to the algorithm that keeps deleting her footnotes. Another thing I’d never done before: Self-publishing. I’m not sure if it counts, since it won’t be available to the wider public. But it’s definitely on my horizon.

Today was the anniversary, and it was actually a quiet day. The Boy was off to a ballgame with his father, who is in town for the weekend. The Man had to work. So I decided on a whim to drive down to Eckert’s Farm in southern Illinois, because they had created a maze of giant sunflowers. It’s like a corn maze, but all sunflowers, and those things get crazy tall. I thought it would make for some fun pictures for the Patreon, and I was able to pick up some fresh peaches and other tasty items.

And on my way back, I stopped by Ye Olde Newspaper.

It wasn’t actually out of nostalgia. My former work twin* messaged me earlier in the week that a package had arrived for me. I was not sure who had missed the memo after a year that I was no longer employed there, but after she ascertained that the package wasn’t ticking, I promised I’d drop by the next time I was in town. It so happened that the newspaper is only a few minutes away from the farm.

Fortunately there were folks I knew on duty, and we chatted for a few minutes as I collected my package (a book for review). It was good to see the newsroom again, so familiar it might as well be an old apartment where I once lived. It helps that newsrooms never change; they switch out the posters or the computer screens once in a while, but fundamentally, they never change. I promised not to steal anything on my way out the door. 

It felt like full circle. I left a year ago not knowing if there was anything else I could do in this world that would be worth anything to anyone, much less could feed my family. I left in a bittersweet tang that I once described as eerily similar to the emotions of my divorce: regret, sadness, firm resolve that it was the right choice while coated in fear that it might be a terrible mistake. 

It’s a frightening thing to imagine that you can have a different life, but it’s also a freeing moment, what my good friend Frank Fradella might call the Possibility Sense. (You should totally check out Frank’s new book.)

There was no way I could have managed this far without my terrific fans who keep buying my work, clicking the links and supporting me, particularly my wonderful Patrons. Special thanks and a round of applause should go to my beloved menfolk. My husband Jim is carrying more than his fair share of keeping the roof on while I go through this crazy balancing act, and has never wavered in his support. My son Ian has been wonderfully supportive, as well as quite sanguine about going to college with BOTH parents. We’re a team, helping each other through one of the hardest times in our family life, and I couldn’t be more blessed with their love and support as I wade into the final rounds.

We’re still waiting to see if the landing is a splash or a thud. Ask me in another year.

* Her name is Elizabeth O’Donnell. When she was hired, I introduced myself as “Elizabeth Donald, and we are so going to be getting each other’s phone calls.” I was not wrong. 

Behind the lens

I’m pleased (if belated) to announce that two of my photos have been on display in the Behind the Lens photography exhibit in Ellisville, Mo. for the last few days.

I’m not sure how much longer the exhibit continues, so if you’re in the area, you might check before stopping by. (No, I didn’t win the contest.)

Selected were:

Gator Stare was taken toward the end of the shoot at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Smiley here was waiting for me and perfectly reflected in the stillness of the water around him. I thought this one turned out remarkably well considering I had to adjust for shooting through glass, a task at which I am not always successful.

(What, actually get that close to an alligator, no matter how small? I love y’all, but no. I like my hands more.)

Pigeon of New York: Empire State Building

I’m not sure why I was in an animal mood when I submitted to Behind the Lens, but somehow I ended up picking my few animal shots. This pigeon accompanied me to the top of the Empire State Building in 2013, when I was on a whirlwind tour of New York City with my dear friend Keith DeCandido and his wife Wrenn. This is the view from the top of the Empire State looking toward Central Park, and for some reason, it really wanted to be in black and white.

My friend the pigeon seemed to follow me around, as if showing off his city. Yes, tourist, this is my town. I only had 24 hours in New York on the Furlough Tour for my one signing, but I’ve always meant to go back when I could spend some more time.

For more of my photography, please visit elizabethdonaldphotography.com. Most images can be custom-ordered in any print size or style, except some of the images shot for news photography. Also: I will have a selection of prints available at the Melting Pot festival in Granite City, Ill. this Saturday.

June bylines

Colleges help students with autism reach higher education (Diversity IS Magazine) – this actually published in May, but I missed it for last month’s roundup.

Inspection debate in Highland still simmering (Highland News-Leader)

Highland Council mulls over allowing food trucks (Highland News-Leader)

The Spindler Building: If Walls Could Talk (Patreon)

Dark Phoenix rises, and it’s not so bad after all (CultureGeek)

“Alleged victim” (Donald Media)

The Alestle asks: What’s your favorite MRF memory? (The Alestle, just compiling quotes this time with photography in the gallery)

The historical marker sits close to the road, while the site itself is somewhere back in the trees. The land that once housed the Mississippi River Festival’s music acts has since been used as a radio-controlled airplane field, an outdoor astronomy lab and the current

Highland city leaders decide against granting funds for Chamber’s art festival (Highland News-Leader)

Highland weighs number of inspections required for new housing (Highland News-Leader)

Fiction: Prologue to Yellow Roses (Patreon)

Note: I have finally remembered to update my Contently site with more samples of my work. I try to keep it at no more than 100 clips, a sampling of my various nonfiction works. Click the link to see more.

Door Poetry

It was an experiment, and I think it was profoundly successful.

In January, I covered my office door in Magnetic Poetry. These are the little word magnets you’ve seen many times online and never bought. I received a few for Christmas – “Coffee,” “Book Lover,” “Photographer” and “Nasty Woman.” One of my fellow grad students said it looked like a shotgun blast of words.

And then I left them there.

My office door is on the lower level of the building, which houses mass communications, music and theater students. Many of them walk past my door to leave the building, especially those escaping the music practice rooms and the radio station.

All semester, random poems would appear on my door. The students (and teachers and staff, most likely) would rearrange the words on my door to create the most interesting, bizarre and unusual conglomerations of language.

I was warned it would backfire, that immature idiots would put up dirty limericks and someone would make me take it down. I put my faith in the kids, and for the most part, I was right. (I did remove a couple of words from the “Nasty Woman” set to avoid temptation.)

Each week, I collected the best samples and shared them with my Patreon. (See, I keep telling you the best stuff is on the Patreon. You should subscribe!) But here are a few highlights from this semester, as we move into the quiet of summer.

The first line, “We always know coffee and art,” was from my son as he helped me put all the words on my door. The rest was added in the coming days by unknown passers-by.
This is the most impressive effort of the semester. Actual stanzas. I can’t imagine how long the poet stood at my door working this out, but I am impressed.

It was the highlight of my day each time I came to my office and saw a new poem left for me by the Door Poets. I intend to keep adding to my word-shotgun and exploring what else they might have for me.

River Bluff Review

I am happy to report that the annual edition of the River Bluff Review has been published, which includes one of my photographs.

My photography has been sold many times to individual people, won minor awards, licensed as book covers, and provides the context of essays and travelogues for my Patreon. But this is the first time it’s been chosen for publication by a literary journal. The program is managed by students at SIUE, and is very selective; the short story I submitted was not selected, even though my photograph was.

The photo they chose is titled “Silent Cell,” and I shot it while visiting the Missouri State Penitentiary in Missouri. Somehow I seem to have forgotten to write up this visit, and I could have sworn I did so, but cannot find a sign of it in any of my various blogs. It was an interesting experience, full of history and more than a little darkness – the penitentiary was one of the few places where executions were carried out, and the gas chamber is part of the tour. It is also the place where James Earl Ray was incarcerated before he escaped, and while on the lam, he assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King.

I took a great number of photos, trying to compensate for very difficult lighting. This is the one River Bluff Review chose:

This photo is available for purchase on ElizabethDonaldPhotography.com.

I am honored to be in fine company, and hope the annual edition does well. The River Bluff Review is not available online as far as I know, but I think it can be purchased through the English Department of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

A poetical experiment

They already warned me it won’t work. I hope they’re wrong.

I’ve always wanted to play with Magnetic Poetry, those funky word-magnets that have remained popular long past the deaths of similar fads. I’m a words person by trade, and the idea of jumbling up random words to form beauty appeals to me.

Problem: My fridge is taken. It’s been our family tradition since before we were a family to buy a magnet whenever we go somewhere or do something fun, and thus the vast majority of the fridge surface is covered with magnets ranging from St. Louis to Jamaica to Disney World to San Francisco to Baltimore to … you get the picture. And there’s really no other surface in the house with enough metal to do Magnetic Poetry.

Surprise. My office door at the university is METAL.

I received two packs of Magnetic Poetry for Christmas: “Photography” and “Nasty Woman.” (Both from my darling husband, who knows me much too well.) I had won a “Coffee” pack a year or two ago, still in the box as I hunted for metal surfaces.

So the menfolk and I trooped over to the campus this week, and now my office door has WORDS. (Along with my shiny new kettle and French press, because COFFEE.) On both sides of the door!

First guest poet. 

They already warned me. Someone’s tried to do this before, and the students put awful stuff all over the door and they made the professor take it down. I did remove the word “pussy” from the “Nasty Woman” kit, if only because some will consider it offensive and others will use it as an excuse to put up nastiness. We have enough of that on the internet, don’t we?

A little negative, but I couldn’t help it… geddit? NEGATIVE? ….sigh.

My hallway is in the lower basement, adjacent to the radio station and the music department with a few IT techs. They seem like friendly, nice kids, and tend to wave and say hi as they pass my open door. (At first, it was a series of double-takes, since no one knew that there was actually an office in there. “I thought this was storage,” said one building service worker.)

I’m interested to see what poetical arrangements might appear on my door. I have mixtures on both sides, and if I can scrounge together a few more bucks, I might add the “College” and “Book Lover” kits, which will probably succeed in covering both sides of the door completely.

I still need to leave my drop box… 

I’m sure someone might put something nasty on it, and I’ll break that up as I need to. Someone might even steal my words. Jim was unhappy with that idea. He bought them as a gift, after all.

But this is a school with a tradition of friendly self-expression. The Rock stands in the center of the quad, and has been painted over time and time again as someone has something they want to declare. (An actual rock, not Duane Johnson, though he’s welcome to drop by anytime.) Fraternity symbols are popular, along with organizations and causes and the occasional sad RIP. And yes, they’ve had a moment or two of unpleasantness on the Rock, which is quickly painted over and excoriated by the campus community.

What will the passers-by leave on my door? What funky phrases might I find in a moment of meditation? Beauty or meanness? Juvenile humor or moments of clarity?

We shall see.

This one is from the Boy. Did I mention I’m really proud of him?

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

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

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!