Earth Day 2012


In the background, my Earth Day tree from five years ago. In the foreground, the one I planted last year.

I like to celebrate Earth Day and take the opportunity to remind myself to take better care of God’s creation and do what I can to help.

The last 5 years I’ve gotten a free tree, either from the NASA Earth Day celebration or my city’s celebration. This year I missed both, one because I’m no longer a NASA employee and the other because I didn’t know about it time to go. Each year I want to get the free Target tote but I never make it before they’re all given out (although special circumstances allowed me to get one last year). So I wasn’t really sure how to “celebrate” Earth Day this year. I contemplated taking “green” steps like starting a simple compost pile or making a rain barrel, but for now both of those ideas are on hold.

So in lieu of my usual traditions, the boys and I planted flowers. I let them each pick a few packets of seeds at the local home improvement store and we used some old clay pots that were recycled/rescued from the side of the road. It wasn’t much but felt good to at least play with dirt. We also stepped up some of our recycling efforts as I’ve gotten a little lazy lately and not been as diligent with a few items.

How did you celebrate Earth Day?

A new “day in infamy”

Today is one of those days where everyone remembers where they were — where they were when the first plane hit, where they were when the second plane hit, where they were when the towers fell.

I was at work, still in the newspaper industry back then. We had just broke from our morning meeting, going over the details of what would be in that day’s paper, other things we were working on, etc. Our education reporter, who sat caddy-corner behind me, was doing an interview for a “where are they now” valedictorian story. The woman she was interviewing lived in New York City. Reporters across the room were working on the overnight police news. I believe I was writing about the night before’s city council meeting.

News of the first plane crash came over the wire and word spread around the newsroom. There was talk — oh my, what happened, how could that happen, where do we put it in the paper, etc. — and one of the sports guys turned on the TV in the sports department to get the latest. Hearing the commotion and curious, I stood around the TV, with several others, watching the news coverage when wham! the second plane hit. I, like so many who watched that second plane hit on live TV, was shocked at what I saw. What?!? I couldn’t make sense of it. What was actually happening — terrorists attacking America — never entered my mind.

I was naive.

“Terrorism” was not a word I encountered all that much back then. That was something that happened somewhere else, in other countries, not at home.

The seasoned writer who sat on the desk next to me said very matter-of-fact that this was obviously a terrorist attack.

A “terrorist attack”? What is that even? I remember looking at him all confused like and asking, “terrorists? really? how do you know?”

I feel so ignorant having been so naive then, but I had never been exposed to anything like that. I had heard, of course, about the Oklahoma City bombings and recalled an earlier attack on the World Trade Center and a bomb at the USS Cole. But those were car bombs (or boat bombs), not airlines full of people being used as bombs. Who would fathom such a thing possible?

The rest of the morning and day gets a bit blurry. After the second plane hit and everyone realized this was no longer a random accident but now the story of the day, the editor called us all together to come up with a new plan for that day’s paper. Assignments were made — call the mayor, call the local military base, go to the corner coffee shop and get local reaction. And remember that education reporter on the phone with the valedictorian in New York? That became our lead story because now our “where are they now” hometown hero was on the front lines of a major terrorist attack on America. All of this unfolded between 8 and 9 a.m. at a paper that was to be printed and on racks by lunchtime. Our staff bustled to get as much local reaction as we could round up, and by lunch our readers had the latest from New York but also the initial reactions from our city. We came out with a second edition a few hours later and worked the rest of the day on 9/11 related stories. It would be several days and weeks before we would return to any of the stories we had been working on that morning.

There was a run on gas that day and that was one of the stories passed along to me — go to the gas station and talk to people about their reactions to the day and about the run on gas and the apparent price gouging.

Even as young and naive as I was, I quickly figured out that Sept. 11 was my generation’s Dec. 7, another “day in infamy,” the kind of day that when it comes around every year you remember where you were “when.”

Newspaper front pages from Sept. 12, 2001

Originally published Sept. 11, 2010.

Writing for a Decade

On the @USATODAY Twitter feed this morning was the headline “Dale Earnhardt: 10 years after crash killed NASCAR star.”

Really? I thought. That was 10 years ago already? I remember, I had just started at The Times-Mail and ….

I did the math and realized it was 10 years ago this month, Feb. 5, 2001, that I took my first full-time writing job. I’ve been writing “professionally,” that is being paid to write, for an entire decade, for one-third of my life.


I remember the Dale Earnhardt story distinctly because it was my first exposure to community journalism. I had been taught how to do community journalism and how to localize a national story like that in journalism classes, but I had never seen it done in real time. I was a such a novice back then, roughly two weeks on the job when Earnhardt was killed. But I recall the other seasoned writers leaving the newsroom and going to places where people hang out, particularly places were people who are into NASCAR hang out, and asking them their reaction. I remember the photographer and a staff reporter covering a memorial tribute that was held in the community.

Earnhardt’s death was the first time I witnessed localization, and The Times-Mail did an excellent job at that. Over the years there, I would contribute to many a story where something happened on the national or state level, and the front page story we produced wasn’t that Earnhardt had died or that the towers had fallen but the reactions and responses of the people in Bedford, Ind. The Times-Mail taught me how to do that, amongst other things. It’s The Times-Mail that gave me a handful of space-related assignments about its hometown astronauts Gus Grissom, Ken Bowersox and Charlie Walker and about students going to Space Camp that resulted in the clips I used to land my current job writing for NASA. The paper gave me a great start in my career as writer, believing in a fresh college graduate and shepherding her into becoming a bona fide writer.

It’s really hard to believe I’ve been doing this ten years. I felt so inadequate when I began, and often still do. But there must be something there or people wouldn’t continue to pay me to do it, right?

I wouldn’t trade it for any other career in the world. I am extremely grateful for the writing talents God gave me, the honing of those talents by my college professors, co-writers, and editors, and the opportunity to do this thing that I love.

Not here

Last Friday we had a shooting at a middle school. Yesterday, there was a shooting at the university. When things like this happen the first thing always said is “Things like this don’t happen here,” not because the location itself is immune to such tragedies but because there’s a perceived immunity in one’s hometown.

That’s exactly what I said yesterday afternoon upon hearing of this second shooting. I’m sure that’s what the people at Columbine and Virginia Tech said when similar things happened in their towns. But it doesn’t matter where we live, there are people out there who are hurting and frustrated and who need some way to deal with that. Some deal with it be becoming withdrawn and depressed. Others laugh it off or put up a front. And some resort to violence and hurting others.

I’m sad for the parents who lost sons, the children who lost parents, and men and women who lost spouses and friends in these shootings. I’m sad for our schools and sad for my city.

Out of Context

I pulled Wednesday’s mail out of the mailbox Thursday morning on my way to work, and upon seeing the Newsweek cover of Sarah Palin I shook my head. What part of journalism ethics did they miss?

Palin posed for that photo for Runner’s World, a fitness magazine, for an article about running, and under the pretense that the photo was going to be used in that context. What Newsweek did was take a good, harmless, appropriate photo out of context.

Newsweek’s cover headline “How do you solve a problem like Sarah” paired with that photo misrepresents Palin. The fact that she wore running shorts and other workout attire for an article about fitness has nothing to do with whether or not she is a problem for the GOP. The two are totally separate things. Now sure, once you choose to be in the public’s eye any photo of you can be used for any purpose. However, that’s stooping to the level of the supermarket tabloids not reporting news. I expect a publication with the word “news” in their title to be more responsible than that.

In a Yahoo news article about the cover, Newsweek defended the photo saying, “We chose the most interesting image available to us to illustrate the theme of the cover” and that their test for using images is “does the image convey what we are saying?” Well, that gets to the heart of the matter. It seems to me that if that image illustrates their theme then their theme must have been to make Sarah Palin look ridiculous which is irresponsible journalism. That is not their job. A news magazine’s job is to do in-depth coverage of items in the news, not to make the news into something it is not. That photo alone does not make Palin look ridiculous. That photo in Runners World does not make Palin look ridiculous. That photo on the cover of a news magazine with a headline about her role in politics does, and that is not their call to make.

She does not go to work dressed like that. She does not stand in her office in a beauty queen pose. But yet their use of that photo in this way implies that and does not tell the truth.

On top of all that, Newsweek didn’t have permission to use the photo. According to Runner’s World,

“The photos from that shoot are still under a one-year embargo, and Runner’s World did not provide Newsweek with its cover image. It was provided to Newsweek by the photographer’s stock agency, without Runner’s World’s knowledge or permission.”

And on top of even that, the cover article with it’s “Republicans’ worst nightmare” teaser doesn’t even talk all that much about Palin. It has more to say about Obama’s inability to bring the two parties together and actually get anything done and how that may be the Democrats‘ worst nightmare come 2012.

Pretty in Pink

Today is the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness month and lots of “pink” happenings.

I got a pink cover for my iPhone. Not intentional for the cause but still timely.

They had a program at work today (that I didn’t go to) but they encouraged us all to wear pink, so it gave me an excuse to wear my new pink school spirit shirt from the elementary school.

The newspaper went pink today too.