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It was a long 2012, onward!

I was not very good about writing here and was moderately more successful updating my twitter account. Facebook, that was an everyday thing. 

Unless I was in labor. Or nursing my new baby back to health. Then all social media was off the table. 

We welcomed a new little one to our family in November and that threw life into flux, of course. But what about the other 10 months? All I can say is I was busy and happily so.

My freelance writing kicked into gear with education, business and feature stories. I got to cover the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Del., and the swearing-in of Delaware’s new Secretary of Education. I wrote about nutrition and kids for The News Journal and drove the length of the First State. Plus I still got to visit with friends, hit the beach and see family. All while gestating our beautiful baby girl.

I had to take a break when my midwife said they would have to induce me before my due date. After our little girl was born we were getting settled at home when she came down with a respiratory virus just before she turned a month old. 

Camping out in her hospital room at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (a friend called it “the best place you never want to be”) postponed getting back to my freelance work. But she is strong and was released after four days in Pediatric Intensive Care. An overnight in a regular room and we were home in time to get a Christmas tree and put orders in with Amazon, er, I mean Santa just in time for the holiday.

So, in short, reporting, writing, gestating, laboring, loving. That was my 2012.

I don’t know what 2013 will hold, but I’m ready to get back to writing - on the days she’s sleeping.

Let Stephen Glass be a lawyer, not guys convicted of violent crime

Stephen Glass was an unethical journalist. Thirteen years ago he fabricated stories for national magazines and made a lot of people, including himself, look stupid. He was 25.

Now, approaching 40, Glass is working as a paralegal and applying to the California Bar. He rescinded his New York Bar application and moved across the country when he believed he would be denied.

Since California won’t let Glass play their reindeer games either, he petitioned the State Supreme Court to hear his case.

I agree with Adam Penenberg, the writer who outed Glass’ deceit, here:

"When I first learned of Glass’ quest to join the legal profession, I thought, Christ, it’s been 13 years. And, since when does lying disqualify someone from being a lawyer? Let the guy earn a living," he wrote for “Leave it to Glass to disgrace himself in one mistrusted profession only to apply to another.”

He wasn’t convicted of any crime. He was 25 years old for crying out loud and blackballed from the industry. I think he paid his dues.

On the East Coast, however, we have a lawyer serving time for involuntary manslaughter. David Manilla, while hunting on his property in Bucks County with A RIFLE (not allowed), killed another hunter. Then he waited two hours before calling for help.

That’s not even the worst of it, in my mind. Manilla was convicted of aggravated assault in the ’80s, so it’s illegal for him to own ANY guns. Still cops turned up 90 of them. And this guy is a defense attorney. Even in prison.

How about this, disbar Manilla and maybe take the stand that felons can’t be admitted to the Bar. Then admit Glass who was never charged with a crime.

News is my religion

And I’ve got to have faith.

Newspapers are in a bad way. Layoffs, furloughs, a shrinking newshole driven by shrinking ad revenue. Toll the bells? Turn off the lights?

I have to believe it’s not the end, but a recalibration. I can’t imagine a world without newspapers. Maybe it won’t be the five sections laid out on the dining room table on a Sunday, but there’s going to be something — even if it’s on an e-reader.

Even if it’s a website driving a small print edition for “the old folks.” You know the ones, they’re why newspapers still run TV listings. In the future, they may be the reason why there is a print edition at all. (Note: In that scenario, “they” will probably be “us.” I love flipping through newsprint. Just sayin’.)

The Internet bubble burst, didn’t it? Does that mean there’s no Internet? Does that mean noone makes money from online work? Isn’t that a laughable thought? Of course there are still billionaires in the realm of online start-ups. Of course there will continue to be the need for the Fourth Estate. It’s a necessary informal addition to checks and balances, not only at the highest level, but at local school board meetings and on the scene at house fires.

The media has to change. Most people recognize that. And change is hard. The most frustrating part is not knowing what the result is. So people think journalism is an awful, money-losing, dead-end world. I get frustrated and worried, too, but I have to keep the faith.

Whatever the newspapers evolve into, there will be a need for communication professionals who are good at what they do. Like me, like my husband, like a lot of our friends. Maybe we all need to be more active in that evolution.

"Be the change you want to see in the world." Ghandi 

You don’t have the First Family’s gardening staff — pace yourself

Christine S. Lucas is a freelance writer, a photographer and a mother. She worked at a garden center in Savannah, Ga., for nearly eight years and noticed that folks were eager to start farming in their backyards, whether or not they had ever grown more than mold in their refrigerator. She hopes to stop the madness and encourage new gardeners to walk before they run:
It was a little over a year ago that I left my position at a family-owned garden center to have my son. Back then, everyone was going to be a farmer, and I can’t help but wonder how many have stuck with it.
    People with tar-black thumbs began scrutinizing our Ferry-Morse seed rack, and flats of vegetable transplants flew off our shelves. It was late February when customers began laying out their plans for ambitious organic gardens that would feed whole families. We’re just being thrifty, they told us. The prices in the produce section and lust for a flavorful ‘Better Boy’ drew the most manicured hands into the dirt.    It all went fine for a while. Yellow zucchini flowers came and went–the start of a mighty good crop. ‘Ichiban’ eggplant blossoms dazzled bumblebees and preceded fruit which made passersby blush.  The talk at the store wasn’t about lawn weeds anymore. Large green rectangles of St. Augustine and Centipede were torn out in favor of expansion. A garden needs room to grow, and what about all of that rain?
     It didn’t stop with plants. Sustainability became the new shabby-chic. Rain barrels, compost piles and chicken coops were must-haves. The problem is that it isn’t easy to grow vegetables, especially in the south where heat and humidity conspire against you. Nor is it possible to know your garden from a weekly stroll in it.
    Blossom-end rot showed up on just about everything. Fungus blotched gorgeous leaves, and the bugs! Good heavens. Clouds of whitefly coming from gardens needed to be stopped, and that forced people to come to terms with who they were as gardeners. It wasn’t always organic. People felt the sting of losing crops that they’d babied for months. The balked at the price of pesticides and began to look, with nostalgic tenderness, at spotless fruits and vegetables at the Piggly Wiggly. Purse strings loosened and warmth for a property’s insect-dependent ecosystems chilled.
    With the gardening season around the corner, you might want to try your hand at a vegetable garden one more time. Don’t make it all or nothing. Rather than planting and tending everything, pick something you love and plant a lot of it. Be the best at growing that one thing. Learn its secrets. Study the pests that would vandalize it, and be better for it.
    Fewer plants means the gardener has more time to inspect them carefully. Aphids on the undersides of leaves and buds can be sprayed with benign treatments, like soap, before they get out of hand. At the same time, you can identify the bugs that help you out. Most people are shocked to learn that wasps are a gardener’s best friend. They get in there and prey on nasties. Don’t worry; wasps couldn’t care less about you (just don’t swat them).
    Challenge yourself not with watering quantities but with quality watering methods. Most plants prefer to be irrigated thoroughly but less often. A drip system and timer take effort to install, but are well worth the patience. As you become familiar with the various parts included in drip kits, you can use them in other areas of your yard. Rain Bird makes one that is affordable, especially when you consider the price of plants lost in times of drought or inadequate care.
    Soil nutrition is another vital area of focus. Soil test kits from stores and those done at county extension offices tell you where to put your money as far as fertilizer and soil amendments are concerned. Many novice gardeners only think about soil when they plant, and that sure ain’t enough. Think of garden soil like shoes. Now imagine those shoes having no soles or laces. You’d be like, what the heck? That’s what plants in poor soil are thinking. To continue this analogy, shoes don’t last forever. You need to buy new ones, or at least polish those that have begun falling apart. Top dress your soil with mushroom compost or cow manure every one to two months–depending on the amount of rain you get.
    Ambition is good, but it can cloud judgment. True farmers are paying their dues. Their livelihoods depend on research in addition to trial and error. Take inspiration from them and borrow their determination. Longer days call us outdoors to our plots. Soil temperatures will rise soon. Sewn seeds will sprout. Will you, once more, take up arms to protect them?

I blame the 24-hour news cycle

Racism had a lot to do with the Shirley Sherrod ridiculousness this week, sure. But I don’t think it was a white person trying to ruin a black person’s life. It was more about a faction of the Tea Party trying to smack Liberals in the face with “everyone’s racist.” Truth is, no one political party or interest has the corner on the market of isms. In any group, there is someone who doesn’t like someone else because of stereotypes.

I don’t think it’s racism that got Shirley Sherrod fired. It’s the 24-hour news cycle. As soon as the offending clip was posted by Andrew Breibart, the clock was running. As cable news channels picked up “the story,” the NAACP and the federal government scrambled to make a statement and take a stand.

There was no time for “fact checking”! Fox News was calling it a cover-up! That the Obama Administration was turning the other way! Quick, fix it! Fixit fixit fixit!!!!

There was a time when there was a cooling off period on stories and maybe there should still be. A story like Shirley Sherrod’s is like a loaded gun. And it backfired on everyone.

Why writing on the web could run amuk

I don’t consider myself a writing or a journalism snob. I think the web has opened the flood gates to more information than ever before and that’s a good thing. However, I worry about reliability and credibility.

To be a journalist and write for newspapers has always been a source of great pride for me and while I learned more from doing than I ever did in the classroom, there was a foundation I picked up from more experienced writers and editors in the industry. And “sourcing” stories was an important lesson. There is a huge difference between finding an expert and writing solely from your own anecdotal experience. There’s a huge difference between getting information yourself and “aggregating” it from other outlets.

One person is a journalist, the other is a typist — in my opinion. And the typists get web hits, so more and more companies are willing to pay typist prices and label their web sites as “news.”

I’ve written for Demand Studios and and I’ve loved it because it’s given me the freedom to write on topics I’m passionate about — particularly food. I’ve gotten positive feedback from readers and built up a collection of clips, but the economy of it caught up with me.

From Advertising Age:

"Examiners" are paid anywhere from $1 to $7.50 for every thousand page views, based on a black-box formula. Writers associated with a sponsored area are paid only slightly more, but Mr. Blair declined to elaborate. "I tell our examiners not to quit their day jobs," he said. "No one’s doing it for the money. They want credibility. Also, press passes. Most of the major sports teams, we have access to their field and locker rooms. A lot of news organizations dropped their sports reporters."

For very localized topics, as uses, it’s difficult to build those types of numbers. So it can take a couple of months to earn a buck — literally. If I can write about other things to earn money, even if the topics aren’t as engaging for me as the topics I can write for “free,” I have to do it.

It comes down to “you get what you pay for.” In this case I agree with Peter Kaplan, the former editor of the New York Observer:

 ”One of the things that the Jeff Jarvises of the world undermine is the importance of the editorial structure. The relationship between the reporter and the editor is the one safeguard when it comes to the business of truth telling.” In assessing the recent rise of so many content farms, Mr. Kaplan referenced Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” and perhaps minted a new quote for future observers: “What these sites are producing,” he started before a long pause: “You know what it is? It’s like sending unchecked meats out to the public.”

"Spellcheck is a false god!"

I used to have an editor who was famous for screaming this. He all but banned us from using the computer’s dictionary for our stories.

However, I think most people need to take an extra second or two proofing stories, tweets and other sundry internet posts (captions, links, etc.), even if that means using the spell-check. On a daily basis I see no less than six errors in the “professional” media.

I know I’m opening myself up for a whack on my own errors, grammatical, spelling and otherwise, but seeing “Lotita” instead of “Lolita” or “framed” instead of “famed,” (two off-the-top-of-my-head examples) is starting to drive me a little crazy.

Admittedly, spell-check is a false god and wouldn’t catch the above mistakes, but there are still copy editors, right? Are they used only for full-length stories? Why does it seem so acceptable to print errors? And am I the only one who’s noticing?

Facebook troubles

I don’t see Facebook really sinking over its recent privacy issues. Millions and millions of users are not likely to logout for good. Bottom line, and maybe I’m an internet cynic at this point, but I don’t expect anyone else to protect my information. As a result, I don’t put up any contact information on my profile that I don’t mind the world having.

How do you use Facebook now? How much information is in your profile?

All a-twitter

I started a twitter account the same day I started this blog. The goal here is to force myself to write on a regular basis and to learn how to express myself in short and long form because the more I do it, the easier it’ll be, right? I know it’s critical to know the ins and outs of all of these platforms in the communications/marketing/public relations industry and I have begun my education here.

How are you using Twitter? What’s your favorite tip so far?

The focus of this blog and my Twitter account will be communications with a focus on the media. Of course, we’ll have some fun thrown in, too, like my totally “gleeky” twitter shout-out to Neil Patrick Harris. *hangs head in giggling shame*

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