Category Archives: journalism

Rangers fans are passionate, but…

they suck at Photoshop. Yes, there’s an entire gallery of equally fine graphic design available for viewing at the Dallas Morning News website. And yes, I realize most of these probably weren’t done on “Photoshop” per se, but these Ranger fans are still terrible on MS Paint or whatever they can get their hands on.

But at least this awful piece of sports fandom reinforces the idea that money can’t buy “everthing.” Yes. “EVERTHING.” Rangers fans apparently suck at spell check too.

And I’m saying this as a Ranger fan who watched every pitch of a masterful performance by Cliff Lee – perhaps one of the greatest post-season pitching efforts ever.

I can understand being inspired by this team, antlers, claws and all. I can’t understand why the Dallas Morning News chose to publish this big batch of terrible to begin with. Do you think they actually rejected some submissions? Those are the ones I really want to see. What would a fan poster that didn’t meet the high quality standards of Big Red (above) look like?

I used to work for the sports department of a small daily newspaper in Arkansas. When Dale Earnhardt died in 2001, we received several letters and e-mails featuring poetic tributes to the Intimidator from members of the community, who expected us to publish their verse in our newspaper pages. I’m not even sure the poetry devoted to #3 was all that bad, but still, we declined to publish it. Because we were the sports section of a daily newspaper, not a literary magazine.

Just saying.

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The best piece of 9/11 writing I’ve ever read

The Falling Man

"The Falling Man" by Richard Drew// Image via Wikipedia

Just wanted to share a quick link since the 9/11 anniversary is tomorrow.

Esquire Magazine selected Tom Junod’s “The Falling Man” as one of the seven greatest stories in the magazine’s history, along with the likes of Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer.

In the essay, Junod talks about the circumstances surrounding this tragic but iconic photo from the WTC atttacks, and also addresses why the image speaks to us, and why it and other images of “the jumpers” were kept hidden from public view in the days following the attacks.

But most interestingly, Junod goes on a search to discover the identity of the Falling Man, while even questioning the decency of the search itself:

Of course, the only way to find out the identity of the Falling Man is to call the families of anyone who might be the Falling Man and ask what they know about their son’s or husband’s or father’s last day on earth. Ask if he went to work wearing an orange shirt.

But should those calls be made? Should those questions be asked? Would they only heap pain upon the already anguished? Would they be regarded as an insult to the memory of the dead, the way the Hernandez family regarded the imputation that Norberto Hernandez was the Falling Man? Or would they be regarded as steps to some act of redemptive witness?

Junod ends his story without a definitive answer. One lead seems stronger than the others, but the author closes by focusing on what is “certain.”

At fifteen seconds after 9:41 a.m., on September 11, 2001, a photographer named Richard Drew took a picture of a man falling through the sky — falling through time as well as through space. The picture went all around the world, and then disappeared, as if we willed it away. One of the most famous photographs in human history became an unmarked grave, and the man buried inside its frame — the Falling Man — became the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen. Richard Drew’s photograph is all we know of him, and yet all we know of him becomes a measure of what we know of ourselves. The picture is his cenotaph, and like the monuments dedicated to the memory of unknown soldiers everywhere, it asks that we look at it, and make one simple acknowledgment.

That we have known who the Falling Man is all along.

If you’d like to see more by Tom Junod, I recommend checking out his classic profile of Mr. Rogers.

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Door Decor

So… every year our school holds a Holiday door/hallway decorating contest. My class has only participated once because we’re usually busy trying to get  a newspaper out. But I pitched the idea of using old papers to the class this year and we had a few kids without deadlines who jumped on the idea. When the paper was finished, the rest of the class got into the act too.

We didn’t win first place (a pizza party), but we did get honorable mention which is probably worth a packet of crushed red pepper. Enjoy the photos. Merry Christmas.

This was the full shot of Room 2000 after the kids finished. We went green this year, almost all recyclable materials.

This was the full shot of Room 2000 after the kids finished. We went green this year, almost all recyclable materials.

I'm not sure why I figured so prominently in our decorations. We call that my "werewolf face."

I'm not sure why I figured so prominently in our decorations. We call that my "werewolf face."

Here is our sign. Merry Pressmas and Happy News Year. Note the newspaper mistletoe at the top.

Here is our sign. Merry Pressmas and Happy News Year. Note the newspaper mistletoe at the top.

No deadlines and easy access to Photoshop equals Halezilla. If there's a connection to the Holidays, I'm missing it.

No deadlines and easy access to Photoshop equals Halezilla. If there's a connection to the Holidays, I'm missing it.

Our snowman had old SLR lens and body caps for his buttons and smile. Rubber viewfinder cups made the eyes. He has his reporter's notebook and pen ready to go.

Our snowman had old SLR lens and body caps for his buttons and smile. Rubber viewfinder cups made the eyes. He has his reporter's notebook and pen ready to go.

Our tree was decorated with a star, photograms, pictures of our newspaper covers from this year, and more pictures of me.

Our tree was decorated with a star, photograms, pictures of our newspaper covers from this year, and more pictures of me.

Here's my awesome staff who created this masterpiece! Crushed Red Pepper for everyone!

Here's my awesome staff who created this masterpiece! Crushed Red Pepper for everyone!


My newspaper staff uses a special web-based software to write their stories, get edits and just communicate in general. One of the features is a board where we can post topics for discussion.

So for our last class before the break yesterday, I posted the following thread.

Giving Thanks

Take a little time and share some of the things for which you are thankful.


We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Then I posted my thankful list.

Mr. Hale is thankful for the following: Fantasy football, Strawberry Bliss Smoothies from Bahama Buck’s, the amazing Cuban album he found at Goodwill for $1.99, the Sunday Homestyle Chicken Dinner at Cracker Barrell, the barebones deliciousness of an Icedream cone from Chick-Fil-A, the generosity of his family, the kisses he’ll get from his 1-year-old niece on Wednesday night, the health of his parents and grandmother, the drop in gas prices, the literary genius of Flannery O’Connor, the musical genius of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the fact that his DVR will not let him miss the series finale of The Shield on Tuesday night, his new friends in Texas and old friends scattered across the country and around the world, the technology that allows him to keep in touch with them, his faith, his church, future grace, the return of Tony Romo, his brother’s sarcasm, his sister’s laugh, his sister-in-law’s smile, a home to go home to, a new haircut, a great job; and a staff that works hard, gets along, cares, laughs, makes him laugh, makes him proud, and makes the job so great in the first place.
Oh yeah, and Grub Rub from Dickey’s Old Town Meat Market. That stuff is off the hook/chain/charts and whatever else you got.

I asked the students to post their own comments. I heard them talking and giggling about it throughout the rest of the class period. I figured it just turned into a string of inside jokes and silly back-and-forth comments. I totally misjudged my kids. I forgot how smart, funny and profound they really are. Here’s a sample of the things for which they were thankful:

    • for Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson.
    • for Snapple and Chicken Fried Chicken. Cheeseburgers, Fratelli’s pizza and the Godfather.
    • for having awesome parents
    • to have more than what i need, people to love and to be loved from
    • for surviving cancer and catching it early
    • for the male gender..because if the world was all would suck
    • for creepy vampire books
    • for overcoming shyness
    • for silly animals..they make me laugh
    • I’m also thankful my parents didn’t name me an insane name like Bronx Mowgli.
    • for being able to work and make my own money
    • for having a roof over my head and clothes on my back
    • that me and my brother aren’t on the verge of killing each other any more (sounds familiar)
    • for soccer, even if i cant play for a while 😡
    • for the newspaper and having more stuff to do that takes me away from my house
    • for Harrison and his crazy jackets and singing
    • for my mother who has given the world for me
    • Also music. and the concept of love. that’s some pretty great stuff right there.
    • for a staff that works hard, loves the newspaper and each other, and is also arguably one of the best looking staffs out there.
    • for football – paticularly the Dallas Cowboys. TO AND ROMO REPRESENT!
    •  for the random phtoshop creations on the wall only a few of us understand.
    • for my job, even though at times they screw me over more than anyone should. The people there are some of the coolest people ever.
    • for the beauty that is cinema and the way I can look at it so throughly to the point people think I’m a freak.
    • for living life and being around amazing people throughout high school, and throughout my life in general. Leaving this place in May is going to suck, but the memories will last forever.
    • for good music *radiofire* , these super awesome laptops, my new house, my good friends, life, the cold weather, forgiveness, the wonderful memories i have of my brother, my cell phone :D, vans brand shoes, sunny D, food, my cats and dog, my family, twilight the movie, hair extentions from hot topic, LHS, Choir, all you wonderful newspaper people, and of course, the way i feel when i walk in this room. all my worries are left at the door and i feel welcome, needed, and even better, wanted.
    • for my small but sweet family of two.
    • for coming to Texas.
    • for Mr. Hale and his interesting taste in music.
    • for The Sooners kicking Texas Techs butt on saturday, for the bears beating the rams, my amazing family, my amazing friends, very thankful for my sister moving out and me getting my own room finally, thankful for my grandpa letting us stay in the house for atleast Christmas.
    • for my nasty disgusting tooth finally getting pulled even though it hurt reallly bad
    • for a fabulous newspaper staff and the wonderful people who make it up, my family, the freedom that comes with living in our country, Jason Mraz, my health, John Mayer, DANCING, Maroon 5, cranberry sauce on thanksgiving day, my Gotta Dance posse, dark chocolate, my dog Sophie, my nasty green 1998 Nissan Altama, gushy romantic movies, the gifts God has given me, Jimmy John’s Beach Club with no tomatoes, my parents who love me, my 11-year-old brother, having teachers who care for my future, my education, my church.
    • for all the memories I have created during my lifetime. For all my amazing friends. For my family that has always supported me and given me everything I have ever known. For the stars. For the rain. For the weather that brings back many more memories and allows for creating more. For how easy it is to make me happy.
      I’m thankful for all the simple things in life.
      Life would be so much better for everyone if we all just took the time to enjoy the simple things.
    • for mr hale putting on free bird!
    • everyone’s little quirks because without that the world would be boring, guitar solos, air guitar, football, LOST, tv, the internets, the sun, the ocean, schlotzkeys, the farhar staff, creativity, photoshop
    • white chocolate covered pretzels..The seasonal limited aditions to the starbucks menu..the many smiles i have during this time of cellular device..the break coming awsome grandparents love and doggy..the good times in newspaper..the diversity of great music
    • to live in AMERICA so i can be free
    • for the following: The outdoors, forests, tractors, fires, electric blankets, computers, his 360, modest mouse, all other music, people, candy, chicken fried steak
    • my sisters cello playing ability
    • staying up all night with a voice recorder
    • Also all of newspaper staff. Especially Hale. Wouldn’t want to do this without any of you guys.

This life is a blessing. It’s just a shame that it takes so much effort just to see that.

BLOG ACTION DAY: The Legacy of Poverty

Note: This blog is participating in Blog Action Day 2008 in which bloggers across the world try to turn their spotlights and soapboxes to one issue. This year’s issue is poverty.

I pass the book around the room.

My students study the photos. The challenge for them is to determine a five-year period in which these photos were taken.

They look closer. In the black and white photos, they see black faces, weathered by age and hardship. Worn-out shoes. Ancient cars. Tar-paper shacks with bare light bulbs. Rooms filled with scraps of lives spent picking cotton or cleaning homes. Children with grim faces, already robbed of a childhood and perhaps a future.

I write their guesses on the white board. Some guess as early as the 1910s and 20s. Most guesses are between the 1940s and 1960s. One savvy student proposes 1970-1975. He’s the closest and he’s not that close.

Some are shocked when I tell them that all the photos in Ken Light’s collection, Delta Time, were taken in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Some are indifferent. For me, when I first bought this book in 1997 after seeing Light’s photos in the Oxford American magazine, I was shocked, saddened and angered, all at once. Then most of these photos from the poorest spots in West Mississippi were just a few years old, most of them taken when I was in high school.

For my students, some of these are close to 20 years old. I ask them if we travelled to these areas today if things would look different. Most, in pessimistic but realistic frankness, answer “No.”

I think of the great blues guitarist Robert Johnson. The legend is that he died at the age of 27 of poisoning (by the husband of a woman he had been seeing) in 1938, near the Delta community of Greenwood, Miss. The whole truth of the matter is that Johnson didn’t die until days after the incident. The poison contributed to his death, but Johnson’s contemporary and friend, blues singer Honeyboy Edwards, implied that the lack of a doctor being available in these poor, minority-inhabited Delta areas was also a factor.

I wonder how much has changed since 1938.

The synopsis for Light’s book says

…in a land where times have brought little change. The legacy of sharecropping, racism and poverty in the Deep South are captured in more than 100 duotone images.

The word legacy is troubling to me. It’s partly because I typically think of legacies in a positive light. But also partly because legacy seems to permanent. What can be done to turn the tide of generational poverty?

I wish I had answers. I don’t. The best I can do right now is to continue to raise the question.

“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.”

The above is a quote from Dorothy Parker, one of my favorite writers and poets. She’s having some fun with Shakespeare here: “Brevity is the soul of wit.” But Dot walks the talk. She’s one of the first writers I think of who does a lot with a just a bit.

I’ve been reading Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools, and it’s been the most enjoyable read for any book of it’s kind.

Today’s tool: No. 10 – Cut big, then small. Prune the big limbs then shake out the dead leaves. My favorite part of the lesson? The example of Tom Wolfe’s editor condensing four pages of what I would only guess was (were? Need a ruling here) masterful prose about his uncle to just six words: “Henry, the oldest, was now thirty.”

I will have to read this book again and again to squeeze all the life out of it, but I know it will make me a better teacher and my students better writers.

You can get a slightly-altered version of this book for free by checking out the “Writers’ Workbench” course on News University, a service of the Poynter Institute where Clark works. It’s free to create an account and there are several excellent online journalism courses there – all free.

BRINGING ON THE WEATHER: Around this time of year, I love to pop on The Weather Channel Web site and check the extended monthly forecast for my area. I can see the fall weather I love so much drawing near. Highs in the mid-80s by the end of September, then high-to-mid 70s around mid-October with lows around 50.

The forecast for my annual trip to the Screams haunted amusement park in Waxahachie? Average high of 83, low of 58 should make for what I affectionately call T-shirt warm, which is close to perfect.

FANTASY FINAL: If things hold course in the Dallas game tonight, I should move to 2-1 and 3-0 in my fantasy football leagues. Chris was not much of a challenge in the Lonestar League today, but Darren’s Dire Straits team, likely to be unbeaten after this week.

My fantasy forecast: A high of kicking butt with a 60 percent chance of taking names.

Blue Like Dems

Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, Searching For God Knows What, and Through Painted Deserts (which I reviewed briefly here) gave the benediction on the first night of the Democratic National Convention last Monday. In this interview with Christianity Today just before his prayer, he talks about how and why he, as an evangelical Christian, has found a place in the Democratic party as an Obama supporter. It’s interesting and worth watching to hear him verbalize his take on what a lot of people see as a union of contradictions.

A story by the Associated Press added that Miller said continued mockery of Christianity by some Democrats could eventually cause him to leave the party.

“I’d like to see Obama address that — say that voice is no longer welcome,” he said.

Don also has a new blog and I just skimmed the first post. Regardless of what you think about his political affilliations, I think you’ll get a laugh as he reveals all of the “personal e-mail correspondence” between himself and Senator Obama.

And for the record, I’m still firmly undecided.


I had to fight the urge to start an argument with a trio of 70-year-old women last night at the Cracker Barrel.
I was just going in to enjoy a Sunday Homestyle Chicken Dinner (with cream gravy, double turnip greens with pepper sauce, cornbread muffins and sweet tea no lemon), but I was seated right next to the aforementioned table of elderly women who seemed to be talking extra loud to create some kind of hearing aid happy medium.
The bit of conversation that irked me centered around their complaints about “the press”, a term which will soon join “like a broken record” on the archaic phrase pile.
After detailing how the local newspaper was apparently brainwashing the populous (funny, I thought people weren’t reading newspapers any more), one woman wondered why the government can’t just monitor and regulate the press just like they do so many other things.
This really got the journalist in me bristling.
“A government-regulated press? Just like the ones they have in China and Cuba and North Korea and Iran. Sounds great.” This is what I wanted to say. But I wasn’t privy to the entire conversation so I decided to just let it go and enjoy my Southern-fried feast.
But their conversation stuck with me. And I know it’s not just an isolated opinion and that makes me sad.
Because I think those people would probably find a government-regulated press preferable to no press (which would be a result of government regulation as well). But they would probably prefer both to the free press we experience right now. In fact, that makes me worse than sad. That makes me scared.
I was talking online to a friend in China recently. In the neighborhood where she was staying, someone had recently blown up a bus. It had been more than a week, but the incident had not been reported yet. That’s terrifying to me.
The Free Press is far from the Perfect Press. But it’s far better than any other alternative I can imagine. Because contrary to the opinions of the old ladies sitting by the window with the lukewarm, half-filled coffee cups, we are in charge of the press.
Journalism is a business and requires the consent of its consumers to continue doing business. It trades on its credibility and nothing more. And any medium worth a dime offers its consumers the chance to air their opinions through letters to the editor and other channels.
And if they don’t run our letters or don’t mend their ways, we can cancel our subscription or change the channel or surf the web site of one of the competitors out there. We can share our displeasure with the advertisers who pay the bills for the media.
We can even blog our own displeasure on sites like this. We can become the journalists ourselves, for better or for worse.
But the bottom line is, we retain control. To give that up is to trade in our freedom. And for what? Our own laziness in refusing to take a stand? That’s not a price I’m willing to pay.

Asleep at the wheel

(Note: I was teaching a lesson on writing personal columns last year and had all the students write one from their experiences. I decided it might be a good idea for me to do the assignment along with them. This is the result. It still could use a little polish, but so could everything else.)

This was the 4-wheel drive shifter knob from "Joann" - my 1986 Bronco II. It's the only thing I have from the wreck itself.

This was the 4-wheel drive shifter knob from “Joann” – my 1986 Bronco II. It’s the only thing I have from the wreck itself.

I can’t remember the song on the radio.

I do remember the speck-in-your-eye-sized particles of broken glass covering my face like salt.

I can’t remember what my father and I talked about as we packed my belongings from college, loaded them into my 1986 Ford Bronco II, AKA Joann, and headed for home.

I can remember his panicked shouts as he rushed to my aid on a cold Friday night in December, 1996.

“Corey! God please… are you alright, son?”

“I’m okay Dad! I just want to get out of here.”

I never saw the mysterious stranger who stopped to help my father pry open the back gate from my overturned vehicle, the wheels still spinning.

I’ll never forget the feeling of being violently awakened by the low growl of my tires on the rumble strip left median of Highway 67.

This is my fraternity pledge pin, salvaged from the wreck in Dec. 1996.

This is my fraternity pledge pin, salvaged from the wreck in Dec. 1996.

The feeling of turning the steering wheel too sharply. The out-of-control, white-knuckled-horrible feeling of the Bronco II sliding past both lanes of traffic, tipping and rolling… rolling… rolling into the ditch on the right.

I can’t recall if my life flashed before my eyes as my vehicle, my birthday gift from three years prior, hurtled off the highway.

I can recall the rush of relief when I realized I had no broken bones, no cuts, no pain, not a scratch on me. I can recall the first words out of my mouth.

“Thank you God.”

To this day, I’m shocked I didn’t curse.

I remember other things too.

The roof of my vehicle, practically crushed into the doors all the way to the handles.

This is a replica of one of two championship football rings that were lost in the wreck. My parents gave it to me as a Christmas gift a few years ago. Some things were ruined by the mud, some things were never found. We found the needle used to pump up a basketball, but even when my Dad and I went back to look for the rings with a metal detector, we were unsuccessful.

This is a replica of one of two championship football rings that were lost in the wreck. My parents gave it to me as a Christmas gift a few years ago. Some things were ruined by the mud, some things were never found. We found the needle used to pump up a basketball, but even when my Dad and I went back to look for the rings with a metal detector, we were unsuccessful.

The long, tearful embrace from my mother at a gas station parking lot in Bald Knob, Ark., where she seemed to find it both difficult and wonderful to believe her oldest son was still alive.

The weariness in picking my belongings from that muddy ditch. Watching the remains of my Bronco hauled away on a wrecker. The warmth of the air conditioner in Mr. Salter’s truck, as he had driven two hours North to come to the aid of his friends’ son; and how I wondered if this was a sign from God as I watched the mile markers zip past on the way home, in no way sleepy anymore.

Nearly 10 years later, my mom still tells the story to practically everyone she meets, putting her own “Touched By An Angel” spin on it. It cheeses me out a bit to hear her tell it. It suits her to do so. Not me. I rarely share it and if I do, only cryptically.

But as much as I try to pretend disinterest when she’s sharing the story of my accident with someone, I’m covertly hanging on every word.

I need to hear the story.

Again and again.

It’s too easy for me to forget that yesterday, last week, the time spent writing this column – every moment – is a gift.


Big Shelby

Another fine article from the good folks at Gangrey. This time it’s Sean Daly of the venerable St. Pete Times sharing the significance of Memphis (or Big Shelby, as James Autry‘s relatives referred to it in Nights Under A Tin Roof), for good or ill, from a barstool in Earnestine and Hazel’s to the gates of Graceland to the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

And Ben is correct when he lauds the greatness of Daniel Wallace’s shots. I just wish I could’ve seen the girls’ mystery ghost/golden retriever shot from Jeff Buckley‘s old house.

I love that city and it’s time to go back. I think I may have found my spring break destination. Save me a seat, Russell. I want to sit and talk about Otis and Elvis and Albert and B.B. and Bobby “Blue” Bland all afternoon long.

In Earnestine & Hazel’s, Memphis makes beautiful, haunted sense.

This is a town where restaurants and bars pride themselves not on their DJs or their stereo systems, but on their jukeboxes. Slide a quarter in and press play for the past.

Music connects everything here – the food BBQ, fried catfish, related artery nightmares, the architecture (brick, mortar, cinder block), the people (cliche in their hospitable charm) – and almost everything is connected to Elvis, Otis, the Delta bluesmen. Memphis is hot, steamy, mosquito-ridden, but it also is soundtracked by greatness.

“We have everybody here,” George says. “The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll: Tina Turner. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll: Elvis Presley. The King of Soul: Otis Redding. And the Queen of Soul. You know who that is? Aretha Franklin. She’s from here, too.”