The Bedford Talk: Journey from Bedford, Indiana to ‘Bold They Rise’

I had the opportunity to give a Bold They Rise talk recently in the community where I spent the bulk of my print journalism career. It was important to me to go back there and offer a book talk because my time there was very instrumental in me ending up working on Bold They Rise and I wanted to go back and tell them that.

So I titled my talk “From Here to There” and filled in the missing 11-year timeline from the time I left the community and the newspaper in 2003 until now.

The highlight was bringing with me their hometown astronaut Charlie Walker. His missions are included in Bold They Rise, so it was a privilege and an honor to do this talk with him.

So my talk started with this picture of Charlie Walker on the space shuttle in 1984.

charlie walker 84

I told the people that while Charlie was doing this, I was doing this.

heather 84

In 1984 I was 4 years old and more into Minnie Mouse than I was astronauts and space.

It was important that people “get” that yes, I grew up in Huntsville, Ala., the Rocket City and home to Space Camp and Wernher von Braun and NASA, but I didn’t learn to appreciate space exploration because of that upbringing. If anything that upbringing caused me to take astronauts and space travel for granted.

It wasn’t until I moved to southern Indiana, to Lawrence County Indiana specifically, that I saw how the rest of the world viewed space. Three astronauts hail from this little southern Indiana community — more than any other county in the U.S. — and the people there are very proud of that. Their pride made its way into the newsroom where I worked as the paper covered space-related news and kept up with the comings and going of these space heroes and their legacies.

Writing about space-related things gave me a hearty set of clippings with which, upon my return to Huntsville,  I used to apply for a writing position at NASA.

I think those clips made a difference in my getting the job. My Bold They Rise co-author says they didn’t — he should know, he made the hiring recommendation — however I might not have even applied had I not felt that I had dappled enough in space writing to be able to do the job.

So in my talk, I told the audience that I went from here, my old Times-mail mug shot

tm mug

to here

nasa mug

my semi-official NASA mug shot; this photo accompanied a blog I wrote for NASA during my time there.

I briefly told stories of getting to do this, a reduced gravity flight

heather flying

and this, attending Space Camp,

heather space camp

and then writing Bold They Rise.

It was important to me that the people of Bedford, Mitchell and Lawrence County know that their community played a role in this book, and I wanted to bring it to them and share the book and its story as it relates to them.

After that I introduced Charlie who told his own “from here to there” stories about growing up in Bedford with his fellow “rocket boys” friends and his journey from Bedford to Purdue to McDonnell Douglas and to space as NASA’s first payload specialist astronaut.

walker rocket boys

We’re all travelers, traveling from here to there, we just don’t know always know where “there” is until we get there.

This is a story of what it’s like for something to come full circle, because that’s exactly what happened. Extremely grateful I got to go back and finish the loop.

Empty Newsstand


I’ve seen an empty newsstand like this many a time, but never because The Times didn’t produce a paper to put in it, as is the case now.

It would be hypocritical of me to complain too much since I’ve been an on-again off-again subscriber for years, and am currently off-again. If the reason they went from seven days a week to three days a week is dropped subscriptions, I helped contribute to their problem.

But it’s more than just declining print subscriptions, and it’s not exclusive to Huntsville. It’s the current state of print journalism.

When the change was announced earlier this year, I didn’t know I felt about it (see my post from back then, The Latest News). I still don’t, not completely. But a few thoughts I do have:

On the one hand it’s sad, especially for those who love print. A lot of my feelings toward printed newspapers has to do with nostalgia — things like memories of ink-stained hands after a Sunday afternoon of flipping through the entire volume and being enthralled with the content I had found. I fell in love with newspapers at a very young age and even though I no longer partake of them the way I used to, the memories are fond.

Times have changed. Technology has changed. People and industry have both been drivers of that change, as well as victims of it.

Personally, I’m just not convinced that papers have to respond by making themselves less relevant. Instead of printing less often and forcing people to go online or to other news sources, papers should make themselves more relevant by doing what only newspapers can do, especially what only a local paper can do. Being relevant in the digital realm is important too. I just don’t see why it has to be one or the other.

But, hey, they didn’t ask me, and what’s done is done. Guess we’ll just wait and see how it plays out.

The Latest News


I was just 16 years old when the Huntsville News printed its last edition, pictured above. But I already had a healthy appreciation of newspapers and a small inkling to want to write for one someday.

The Huntsville News was the morning paper, and The Huntsville Times was the afternoon paper.

It’s hard to believe that this city used to support two newspapers.

But that was before the Internet. Everyone likes to blame the Internet for the downfall of newspapers right?

I don’t know what I think about the Times (and other major newspapers in Alabama) downsizing to three days a week and the huge swathe of layoffs. I’m kinda shocked. The slow demise of newspapers as we know it isn’t anything new, but I never thought I’d see the largest papers in my state make such a move. I’m tempted to call it a stupid move because I don’t think it will work, but then I’m not sure what they’re trying to accomplish. If they’re trying to slowly kill the print edition and shift to online only, then it just might work. If they’re trying to salvage the print edition, making it less relevant by publishing less often and forcing people to go online for news — that doesn’t seem like a good strategy.

Of course, aside from saving the institution as a whole is the impact to the content available. Half of the Huntsville Times newsroom was cut. Half?? What kind of content will we even have Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, or daily online?

I just never thought that someday my last edition of the News might be joined by a last edition of the Times. At least not in my lifetime or on my watch. Now, I’m not so sure.


I read Newspaper Blackout today and was inspired to create a poem like the ones in the book. The book is a quick, quick read (less than a day, start to finish) and highly enjoyable because it’s just poem after poem like this one, except the ones in the book are way better. I highly recommend it for a light, fun read.

Oh, and what do you think of my poem? Not bad I thought for my first try at it. I had fun; try it!


I’m not sure where I first heard about Mine but I’ve known about it long enough to get my third issue this week. It’s a free magazine from the Time people and it’s essentially a publication customized to you — well, as close as can one get, I think. You select five out of eight magazines, and in your magazine are 2-3 articles from each magazine. For example, my Mine has articles from Travel & Leisure, Real Simple, Time, InStyle, and Money. The other choices are Food & Wine, Sports Illustrated, and Golf.

I think it’s a unique idea and glad to see print publications trying to stay alive in a world where online pubs are eating them alive. I also like that they’re applying an online model — customizable content, like an RSS except in print — to a print publication.

No Privacy

At the newspaper we had certain justifications for printing certain news, especially news that seemingly invaded one’s privacy. For example, once you chose to be a public figure, either as an elected official or other choices that made you a prominent citizen, anything you did was up for grabs. Things that were no one’s business for a regular Joe became front page news if you were a public figure. In general, we respected someone’s privacy unless they gave us a reason not to either by choosing to be in the public’s eye or doing something publicly.

All that an introduction to the idea that in today’s world of blogs, facebooks, camera phones, etc., privacy as we know it no longer exists. On this very blog I have written about individuals without their foreknowledge or permission, and they may not have wanted me to do that. I don’t know whether they did or not because I didn’t ask. According to that logic, if you’re just in my life you should have no expectation of privacy. I may not use people’s names, or if I use names I may not use full names, but the point is that on my blog I write about personal experiences and that may sometimes including writing about the people in my life and often without their permission.

On facebook, people can upload pictures and “tag” me, and that picture can then be seen by all my friends. No one gets permission from me before tagging me – I’ve never asked permission from anyone before tagging them. You can remove tags, but that’s not part of this discussion. Recent photos  — taken with digital cameras — have been tagged of me eating at a work luncheon, opening presents at Christmas, and playing shuttle pilot at space camp. But the ones I find most relevant in terms of privacy are the pictures of me from high school. In high school, photos were taken on film and they were actual prints that might have been shown to a few people and then put into an album to rarely be seen again. In high school, we had no way of knowing anything like facebook would exist and that photos we had long forgotten about would be posted for all the world to see. When a friend took a photo back then, there were cultural norms and expectations and limitations of what could happen to the photo. Today? You have no idea or control over how a snapshot photo of you can be used. And it can be used and spread world-wide immediately.

It’s easy to say that if you don’t want potentially embarrassing photos or stories out there then don’t do anything you might be ashamed of or might not want publicized. But when I say that privacy is gone, I’m not talking exclusively about embarrassing or questionable things — just anything. Trivial things even. And for that matter, was privacy ever really there, and is it just the various Internet applications that I have chosen to be a part of that are just now making that more apparent to me. Dunno.

Like the “Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us” video I posted here last week, such things certainly do give us more to think about.

Media Coverage of the First Day of School

There are some good questions and some interesting responses posted here on CJR’s discussion about the media’s coverage of the first day at a new school for the first-daughters-to-be.

I think the media certainly had the right to be there, and if they chose not to because they thought it was better for the girls or because they had other news to report, then that’s their right too. I don’t think the Today show should be penalized for not covering it. I do think it was a little juvenile of them to say “We’re here at the school before they get here to say we’re going to leave before they get here.” The story could have been reported without the live feed from the school and been just as useful and to the point.

Some of the commenters make the point that Obama showcased his children during the campaign so that makes it OK for the media to showcase them now. And I agree. He’s chosen to be in a public position and thus made that choice for his  family too. As previously stated, the media has the right to do report on or highlight the president’s family and children. But having the right do something and being required or expected to do something aren’t the same. The media has the responsibility of providing news to its viewers/readers. Was it news that the president-elect’s daughters were starting their new school? Sure. Was it worth noting on the national news programs? Yes. But I don’t think it was worth live feeds and paparazzi-like treatment.

Overall, I think the news agencies handled it well, even if they didn’t all do the same thing. In fact, it’s great they didn’t all do the same thing! Who wants cookie-cutter news? (Not I.) I particularly thought ABC’s Charlie Gibson added a nice human side to the story with his own personal tale about his first day at the same school.

GIBSON: Today was their first day in a new school. Sidwell Friends, a private Quaker school….Don’t we all remember our first days in a new school? I am a Sidwell graduate, started in seventh grade, went through high school. My first day, many years ago, but you remember every detail of something like that. Would anybody talk to me at lunch? The teacher gave us a mountain of homework, I couldn’t finish it all. I remember the first person who did talk to me, and the girl across the aisle in home room didn’t talk to me. Hopefully the president’s daughters will have an easier transition.