In the meantime, we’re doing fine here at Donald Media HQ. The university around which our family life is centered is closed through next week, and then will begin online-only instruction for the foreseeable future. Never before have I been so glad to have my lovely big iMac in my home office… except that now people will see the rest of the office, and Jimmy Hoffa is probably buried under some of that crap. I was going to clean it this summer, I swear!
We’re also catching up on our Netflix – why did no one warn me that Season 3 of Daredevil was hot garbage? – and I think Amazon has just delivered our DVDs of Outbreak and The Stand. Has no one made a movie of Mira Grant’s Feed yet?
In all seriousness, much of the world is shut down. My son’s job at a local restaurant continues for now, though customers are few. My husband’s job as a university janitor also continues, and more vital than ever as they disinfect flat surfaces everywhere.
As for me, I’m going through a crash course in “how to teach online courses” that will honestly be a helpful work skill, though not one I’d ordinarily undertake while finishing the bloody thesis. I’m staying isolated as much as possible, given my compromised immune system, and we are well-stocked for the siege. We have food, coffee and bourbon, and yes, even toilet paper. We’ll be fine.
I hope all of you are safe and well and that you stay that way. For those who must venture out, be as careful as you can.
How can you tell that we are in a fever pitch in ThesisLand? We’re almost a week late with February’s linkspam.
Also: It’s March, which is my birthday month, and thus every March I give a free bonus to my lovely Patrons. The kind folks who subscribe to me at Patreon make it possible for us to cover some of our bills while I’m wending my way through grad school, and that means everything.
The River Bluff Review release event took place March 3 at the Cougar Bookstore on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. This year’s edition includes two original short stories from me: “Sergeant Curious” and “Dear Katrina.” Here’s the post about it.
March and April are going to be thin months, folks, thanks to Ye Olde Thesis and a bunch of late-semester gotta-graduate stuff. Jim and I both graduate in May, and we are going on VACATION right after. But there’s some fun stuff on the horizon, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you as soon as the T’s are crossed and the I’s dotted. Thank you for your patience.
One of the major issues being discussed in my little corner of the world is a horrific sewer problem in Centreville, Illinois: a low-income town largely populated by black residents. It is literally the poorest town in the United States, and it has problems. Flooding isn’t just a wet basement for these folks; it’s open sewage pumping into a front yard, water literally spewing up from manholes.
It’s being investigated by local newspapers – you know, those “dying” institutions that the Facebook commentators love to mock and refuse to pay. Insert rant here.
Reporter Michele Munz with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has taken an interesting approach: she wrote a first-person narrative of her efforts to get information from the Centreville leaders.
A month of phone calls and emails.
Ducked by council members.
A mayor who would only take questions in writing and then never answered them.
Contradictory information given out at town halls.
Munz’s column, “Crickets and unanswered questions from metro-east government,” is an unusual choice in that it is a first-person account of shoe-leather journalism. It is, of course, a common – almost mundane – tale for those of us who have worked in local journalism. Nobody wants to answer the questions when the answers aren’t pretty, so they hide.
But it’s not so uncommon anymore. Munz writes “On the Beat” regularly, detailing what goes into her reporting. More and more local journalism is pulling back the curtain, following up major stories with detailed “how we investigated this” and “why we did that” pieces.
It’s part of the push for transparency in reporting, intended to create a greater trust in news media among the readers. Of course, if you just read the Facebook commentators, it doesn’t matter how many lengthy hours we put in trying to find people and get your public officials to explain why they let sewage flow into people’s homes. They just complain about the paywall.
This new trend goes beyond the traditional role of the ombudsman, to examine and sometimes criticize the newspaper’s decisions, independent of editorial control. This is news literacy, explaining what we do in the hopes that they will understand how very hard it is. This gets even harder as newspaper after newspaper cuts staff and retasks their few remaining employees to run after car crashes and murders because that’s what you click and they’re desperate to pay the bills.
And no one else is doing it, folks. Unless someone has accused the mayor of burning down City Hall, I don’t see television cameras in city council meetings. Nobody is watching your local school board or library trustees… or sewer district. Nobody except newspaper reporters, the ones you’re not paying when you growl at the paywall.
Munz is keeping after the Centreville officials. Who’s keeping after the officials in your town?
I’m delighted to announce that River Bluff Review will premiere on Tuesday, March 3 with a celebration and reading at the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
This year’s edition of River Bluff Review will include two of my short stories: “Dear Katrina” and “Sergeant Curious.” The event is open to the public, and will include authors reading excerpts from the book.
I will be late in the program, because I am teaching at that time, but I will skedaddle across the quad as soon as my class is done. How does an author skedaddle? Come to SIUE and find out!
The event begins at 4 p.m. in the Cougar Bookstore, located in Morris University Center. Please join us!
I’m delighted that an original story will be coming out in March in Coppice and Brake, a new anthology from Crone Girls Press. “Shiny People” was inspired by an incident at a convention, actually, and I had so much fun writing it. Find out more about the anthology and my funky little story here.
I’ve also been crazy busy with some SPJ events. In February, SPJ will host a seminar in Google Tools at St. Louis Public Radio, which is going to be fascinating if you’re a journalist, data reporter, or giant nerd. (Or all three, which is pretty common.) We’re also moving forward with a trivia night in April, and there’s the annual First Amendment Free* Food Festival… and on the fiction side, the Eville Writers are rolling again after the winter break, while Literary Underworld is preparing for the first convention of the year in February and I’ve started planning for our fundraiser author fair in May. Whew!
Meanwhile, the semester has begun at Ye Olde University, where I am once again teaching newswriting and writing for the mass media. I am taking two courses that are delightfully fun, and womanfully attempting to finish The Thesis. I have other words for the thesis, but they’re probably not appropriate for a public post.
A friend said the other day, “I don’t know where you get the energy.”
“What energy?” I replied.
“To do all the things you do,” she said.
I laughed. “It’s an act!”
As of this writing, it is 14 weeks to graduation. Oh hey, there’s today’s Daily Panic Attack! Back to work.
I did photo shoots this month for a couple of private clients, which are not currently permitted for public display. As I write this, I’m in Springfield, Illinois and will be shooting at a couple of sites here while my husband is rabble-rousing with his union.
I’m also delighted that two of my short stories will appear shortly in the River Bluff Review. By next month’s Linkspam, I should be able to share with you the details on its publication and how YOU can snag a copy.
I’m happy to announce that I will have a new short story in the upcoming Coppice and Brake anthology from Crone Girls Press.
“Shiny People” is a creepy story inspired by someone I met on the convention circuit, and original to this anthology. It’s a ghost story – or is it?? It was a lot of fun to write, and by all appearances, I will be in good company for this nifty anthology. Here, have a cover reveal:
If you live in the St. Louis area, you can choose “local pickup” for your delivery option. You will receive an email letting you know when and where to go to pick up your book. Otherwise, shipping is a flat rate no matter how many books you buy, so feel free to load up!
The ebook preorders will be going up in February, and the anthology is scheduled to release in March. I’m delighted to be part of Crone Girls Press, and look forward to seeing my fellow authors’ work in print.
It’s been a wild month to close out a wild year. The first week was consumed with finishing out the semester, writing term papers and grading my students’ projects.
Then I hopped a plane to Pennsylvania and Washington D.C., for my pilgrimage to the now-defunct Newseum and to visit my family. There are many photos and stories to be told there, and Patrons and Medium subscribers will probably see them first. You might consider subscribing! (See, I can be subtle…)
There are also shenanigans afoot. I’m not free to talk about them yet, but suffice to say “busy” doesn’t really cover it.
Toward the end of the month, I took a bit of a break and enjoyed the holiday with my family. I hope you were able to do the same. But now it is a new year, and we must roll up our sleeves and set about achieving the impossible on a daily basis.
I stood outside the Newseum once, but I didn’t go in.
It was May 2015, and my niece had just graduated from high school. My son and I road-tripped across the country to watch her walk across the stage, and for a little mother-son bonding time. We explored Baltimore, which is a city always dear to my heart after living there for a few years as a teenager. I introduced him to Berger cookies (“too chocolatey” – it’s like I barely know him) and the historic sailing ships in the Inner Harbor.
One day, we took the train into Washington D.C. We had just the one day to fit it all in, and we had prioritized. He wanted to see the real Declaration of Independence – one of his favorite movies as a child was National Treasure, and while he was maturely confident that there was no buried treasure map on the back of the Declaration…. well. He wanted to see it.
So we did the National Archives first, and the Museum of American History. We skipped Natural History because the dinosaur exhibit was shut down (and really, to a teenage boy… it’s all about the dinosaurs) and I sadly skipped Air and Space because the U.S.S. Enterprise was in refurbishment. Priorities, man.
We walked the entire length of the mall, past the Museum of African-American History that was still under construction and even then was an amazing sight. We visited the Washington Monument and spied both the Capitol Dome behind its scaffolding and, itty bitty from several blocks away, the White House. He had expressed a desire to visit, but it seems you needed to make reservations through the office of your local Congresscritter, and we had not thought to do so.
Then we walked the rest of the way to the Lincoln Memorial, which was second on his list only to the Declaration of Independence (which was much more faded than the one in the movie, he was sad to note). It was raining by then, and we ended up trapped by Abe’s big foot for a while as the storm drenched the area.
We visited some war memorials, including the Wall. Then we had the long walk back to the train station through the rain, which drenched us enough that it killed his cell phone and my umbrella. It was a very long, exhausting day, but one of the all-time heights of our travels.
The only regret we had was that we didn’t have time to do more museums and historic sites. Washington is lousy with them, it’s true. You could kill a week there and not see everything. But one day was absolutely not enough.
I lingered outside the Newseum for more than a hot minute. I knew there was no way we could add it to our schedule. It was an enormous draw for me, of course, but unlike many of the other sites, it was not free. It would have added $50 to our costs to go in, and money was very tight that year. We wouldn’t have time for more than a short walk around, and really, I was prioritizing his interests.
After all, I’d been to D.C. a few times before when I lived in Baltimore, and he had never been. Also, he is smarter than I am, and has no intention of going into the news business. He wants to make movies and theater. He certainly has absorbed an appreciation for journalism – you can’t be raised by a single mom reporter and not understand the news. But it’s not his thing.
It’s okay, I told myself. We will come to D.C. another time, maybe when my husband can join us, and we’ll see the Newseum then. I’ll drag them both kicking and screaming if I have to, but I’ll see it next time.
Then came the announcement last month, breaking the hearts of thousands of newsnerds. The writing had been on the wall for some time, as the Freedom Forum has struggled to make ends meet at the Newseum’s costly location on Pennsylvania Avenue. Just like me, tourists passed on paying $25 to visit a museum of journalism when there were so many free or nearly-free options around them.
But for me, the announcement was a stab to the heart, especially since so many cretins thought it was hilarious to tie the death of the Newseum to the supposed death of newspapers. I suppose there are actual parallels – people who refuse to pay for something eventually lose it, but a museum is one thing; the loss to the American public as they lose journalists and newspapers is incalculable, and they don’t even realize it.
I kept thinking of that moment, standing outside the Newseum in the rain and wishing for more time, more money. What if I had known it was my only chance, that within a few short years it would be shut down, passed on to Johns Hopkins, and its collection shunted to some warehouse where it will be loaned out to temporary exhibits?
Is this really necessary? I thought. Can’t some billionaire buy them a building somewhere? (Paging Jeff Bezos.) It doesn’t have to be on the mall, it doesn’t have to be a stone’s throw from the White House. I wouldn’t care if it was in Scranton, Pennsylvania or Fresno, California or right here in St. Louis (which, by the way, would be fantastic).
There should be a Newseum, always. There should be a place where we go to remember how important journalism is to our democracy. If news is the first rough draft of history, then can there be anything more important to preserve for our understanding of our own national story?
I found myself moved almost to tears, and finally, I could not stand it any longer.
My semester ends next week. Thanks to the internet, I can work from anywhere with wifi.
I have family in York, Pennsylvania, which is not close to Washington D.C…. but it’s in shouting distance.
Happy to report that this month saw my first piece with a new client, Current Magazine. I’ll be following up with the ongoing controversy between NPR Illinois and the University of Illinois, which appears to have repercussions for most of public radio, so stay tuned! (so to speak)
It is ironic that today is #thankyoupatrons day, when I have been so slack the last three weeks in providing content for my loyal patrons.
It has been a trying semester – but so have they all! It is a great privilege to be where I am, to study these complex and difficult subjects, to conduct research into issues relating to journalism and my advocacy on behalf of the profession. It is also a great privilege to be requested for so many conventions and signings and speaking engagements, and while I may get very tired in the annual Fall Deathmarch, I never forget that it is a privilege.
My freelance journalism has stepped up of late, with magazine gigs beginning to supplant the local news. The local work is important, steady work, but magazines pay much better, and gaining more steady work in magazines will help support my family. (Also, I am famous for writing too long in my nonfiction. Magazines like that.)
I find it somewhat ironic that, a year into my graduate studies, I have found reinvigoration of my fiction writing as well. Two of my stories have been accepted into anthologies in the last few months, and I just received word that two more stories have been accepted by a literary magazine.
And thanks to the Medium platform, I’m starting to gain success in creative nonfiction: the personal essay. It’s small money, but it’s money, and that’s lifeblood to the freelance writer. That is another aspect of my work that grad school has opened up to me, one that I truly enjoy.
My patrons support my Patreon through thin months like this one and months where I have new content every week bolster our budget, help pay our bills, and take some of the pressure off me to kill myself chasing low-paying gigs to fill in the budget.
My family is surviving – in fact, thriving, despite our insanity of putting three (3) adults through college at the same time. The Patreon is part of that, and I cannot thank them enough.
And I hope you might consider joining them. The photo essays, travelogues, short stories, personal essays and more comprise some of the best work I’ve done, and I would love to share it with you.