Archive for the ‘Other’ Category

Road trips always come with musings

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Reflections from a road trip – some baseball, some media, some culture.

I recently checked off ballparks 33 and 34 on my way to seeing all the Major League venues. I love road trips, and this was a fun one, including a 24-hour drive to Dallas, and a 28-hour drive home from Houston.

Both Rangers Ballpark, opened in Dallas in 1994, and Minute Maid Park, opened in Houston in 2000, deserve to be in the top 10 of Major League ballparks.

They are among the trend in new ballparks launched by Baltimore’s Camden Yards in 1989, with great sight lines, spectator treats like giant scoreboards, and amazing food.

Minute Maid’s iconic touch is a nearly lifesize train that travels above the left field grandstands when a home run is hit.

My favorite feature in Rangers Ballpark is the variety of Texas barbecue you can buy in the centerfield food court (I had a smoked Turkey leg dripping in barbecue sauce). A side benefit is the view of the Dallas Cowboy’s amazing new stadium next door.

I prefer the Rangers’ park to the Astros’, but it’s a close call. One thing that is nice about Minute Maid Park is its downtown location. You can park for $5, walk the downtown, and eat at a sports bar across the street before entering the stadium.

Rangers Ballpark is in Arlington, a half-hour drive from downtown Dallas, sandwiched between Six Flags Texas and Cowboys Stadium. That’s cool, but not as nice as a downtown location.

Another baseball highlight – watching the Rangers’ emerging superstar, Josh Hamilton, hit two home runs during the stretch when he hit eight in 18 at-bats. I witnessed a tiny little piece of baseball history.

There’s nothing like 52 hours in the car (actually, that includes six hours each way sleeping at a rest stop) to get a feel for the state of talk radio in America.

And let me tell you, it’s a frightening experience.

I took along my ipod, loaded with lots of music and an audio book. But I like news radio (not surprising for a journalist), so I still spent hours spinning the dial listening to conservatives, liberals, preachers, sports fans and some I couldn’t even identify.

What’s so scary? Here’s a list:

• It seems that conservative and liberal talk show hosts are entirely blind out of one eye (or is it deaf out of one ear). They say the most outrageous things as if they were truth. It’s as if repeating a wrong over and over makes it right.

For example, liberals talk about the Tea Party as if it’s an evil crusade, something akin to the way conservatives talk about the Occupy Movement.

It apparently hasn’t occurred to any of them that both movements are comprised of good, honest people struggling to make their country a better place. They just see the world from different viewpoints.

Why can’t radio hosts help their audiences see that, instead of playing into the most small-minded views of reality.

• Christian radio hosts may be even worse, based on some that I heard while driving through the South. Their lack of tolerance left me alternately angry and sad.

One discussion I listened to focused on how Muslim extremists have infiltrated the Obama White House. As I pondered the on-air conversation between the host and a supposed expert, I realized they were using the terms Muslim and terrorist interchangeably.

It was as if they truly believed that if you choose to worship God as a Muslim, you are inherently evil. I was floored, dumbfounded. Who gave these people keys to the airwaves?

• Why is it sports talk show hosts think they have to yell to make a point? I know they have a lot of time to fill, and they’re often forced to do it with meaningless drivel. But yelling doesn’t make it sound better.

I’m a sports fan, for better or worse. I like to keep up on what’s going on in the wide world of sports. But it sure makes it painful when you have to listen to ranting and raving by guys who apparently think shrieking at the top of their lungs improves ratings.

• For me, National Public Radio is a refuge of sanity in the otherwise nutty world of radio news and talk.

News and commentary on NPR is easy to find – I went through Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama without failing to find an NPR station.

NPR’s news reporters and talk hosts are consistently thorough, thoughtful and balanced.

I listened to other talk radio out of curiosity. As a journalist and a media teacher, I wanted to hear what was out there on the drive from Michigan to Texas. But I kept coming back to NPR to regain my connection with reality.

Besides going to baseball games, my second reason for visiting Texas was a family reunion. I spent a week at Lake Conroe, about an hour north of Houston, with my mother, brothers and sister and their spouses.

A week in Texas was much nicer than I expected. I’ve always had a bit of a bad attitude about Texans – based only on the small sample I’ve known (several have been good friends).

As I drove across the Texas-Louisiana line on the way home, I had two thoughts:

One, the Texans I met were genuinely friendly and helpful. Even more than Midwesterners, they’re quick with a “How ya’all doing” and a wide smile. They answered my questions – I ask a lot of questions wherever I go – with good humor and wanted to know about me, too.

On either of the coasts, you’re more likely to get a quiet smile and maybe a nod. In some cities – Philadelphia comes to mind – it may be more of a snarl.

In Texas, as in Michigan, folks were much more willing to initiate a conversation with a stranger, along with an honest offer to help.

Two, the commercialization/homogenization of America has made it tough to find real, regional differences. The same stores line the same strip malls, whether it’s in Louisville, Memphis, Little Rock, Dallas or Houston.

We asked a local for a tip on the best authentic Texas barbecue, and he sent us to a franchise restaurant.

We went to the Woodlands, a famous upscale Houston shopping area, and I thought I was at Easton Town Center, the mall outside Columbus, Ohio. I don’t know which came first, but I suspect Woodlands Mall was built first, but then expanded to copy the Easton “Main Street” concept.

The result, though, is cultural confusion. Where am I, anyway?

I only have two cities left to complete the tour of Major League ballparks – Tampa Bay and Phoenix.

But don’t worry about me running out of destinations. When I finish the first round, I’m starting over, visiting the ballparks built since my first visits. There must be a dozen.

I sense many more road trips in my future.

Occupy Wall Street movement hard to figure

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

I’ve been struggling to get my head around the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In some ways, it reminds me of how I struggled with the Tea Party a couple years ago.

I can relate with the overriding message – our system for earning and sharing wealth is out of whack.

We bailed out the bankers and investors, and a couple years later they’re back to million-dollar salaries while most Americans still are struggling.

There’s no bailout in sight for workers.

I felt the same way about the Tea Party’s central theme – get government off our backs. Smaller government and lower taxes are both concepts I can get behind.

But the devil’s in the details. When it got down to exactly what the Tea Party wanted, I realized it was way more radical than I could support. I’m somewhere in the middle of American thought, and the Tea Party was just too far off-base.

Lots of other people who stayed with the Teapers a lot longer than I did are falling off the bandwagon, too, as they see the direction it’s headed. We need to cut spending. That’s obvious. But not at the expense of everything else.

Now I’m trying to figure out where this Occupy Wall Street tidal wave is rolling, and I’m hard-pressed to find answers.

I start with the basic premise that capitalism works. The next basic premise is that some limits are needed, or capitalists will get out of hand. Given a free rein, the ruthless tycoons of the world will be, well, ruthless tycoons.

Forty years ago, when I started my working career, the average CEO made about 40 times the average American worker.

Now, statistics are hard to confirm, but the average CEO wage is likely between 100 and 500 times the average worker’s wage. One reliable group puts it at about 325-to-one.

And it’s not just the top guy. Banks and big corporations pad the pockets of a herd of vice presidents and department heads. Half-million-dollar-plus salaries go far down the flow chart.

And making it more absurd, they pad those big salaries by using the economy as an excuse for lowering the pay of workers, or laying them off altogether.

Wall Street applauds when a corporation improves its bottom line by cutting the workforce. The guys at the top get raises and ataboys.

That’s a society with a problem. It’s a distorted socio/political/economic system. It’s capitalism run amuk.

The Occupy Wall Street crowd gets that. I think the average American is sympathetic to the complaint.

But the problem is easier to identify than the solution. You can’t legislate corporate pay. You can’t pass a law against greed. You can’t require CEOs to be good citizens.

Sure, there are current political issues involved. The president’s proposed tax on high incomes would level the playing field a little – very little.

What’s needed is a massive cultural shift that would knock the tops off some of those peaks and fill in the valleys, at least a little.

That’s not likely to come from Congress or the White House.

Maybe it can start with the Occupy Wall Street movement? Stranger things have happened.

WikiLeaks: a tale of two thoughts

Friday, December 17th, 2010
I’ve been struggling since the WikiLeaks episode began nearly two weeks ago to come to terms with where I stand.For most of my life, I’ve defended the concept of open government and the public’s right to access to government records and meetings.

Yet, partly because of the many hours I’ve spent – and lawsuits I’ve championed – fighting for open government, I understand that some government information should be kept secret.

I’ve never fought on the national stage over a subject as important as national security.

My battles were more likely to be with a school board over the location of a new elementary school, or a hospital over access to its financial records.

A few decades ago, the daily newspaper in Salem, Ore., printed a photo of me standing outside a closed school board meeting where they were discussing potential locations for schools. As the reporter covering the board, I thought the meeting should have been public; the board chairman didn’t.

I argued that locating elementary schools was an important community decision. Growth and development tended to follow school siting. Build a school, and subdivisons will follow. The public had a right to participate in the decision.

The school board chairman argued that the price of land would skyrocket if speculators knew where they were thinking of purchasing land for a school. The process of searching for land and negotiating a price had to be done in private.

The board won, and it was a surprise to the public when the new school locations were named.

A few years later a lawsuit I initiated reached the Ohio Supreme Court.  I wanted to open up the local hospital’s meetings and records – make their management decisions more transparent. They argued that they were a private – although non-profit – business and could operate in secret if they wanted to.

The problem with their argument was that the county gave them the land for their building, and continued to subsidize their operation in small ways. That made their business public, in my mind.

My newspaper –  in Newark, Ohio – won that fight. The hospital gave in before the Supreme Court could render a decision. 

There is a huge difference, however, in the kind of fighting for transparency in government that is done by responsible journalists and the indiscriminate leaking of secret documents by WikiLeaks.

Legitimate news organizations, when they receive leaked documents, pour over them to decide what is appropriate to make public, what needs more reporting to give it context and perspective, and what simply doesn’t belong in the public domain.

During my three decades as an editor, I’ve received leaked government documents many times. And I’ve decided against printing information obtained by my reporters on numerous occasions.

A good example is a confession by a murder suspect. It may be true that the suspect confessed, but under what conditions. Can that person still get a fair trial after we report the confession? What if they change their mind and plead innocent, and it turns out the confession was forced or faked?

When you move this kind of decision to the national stage, the stakes go up immeasurably. It’s not one person’s right to a fair trial, but perhaps many hundreds or thousands of lives.

If the New York Times or the Washington Post received leaked material, they would study the documents, check the facts, analyze the consequences and eventually make tough decisions about what’s in society’s best interests. They’re not perfect; their decisions can be argued. But at least someone is trying to do the right thing.

When WikiLeaks posts thousands of cables from diplomats around the globe on the Internet, there is no context, no fact-checking, no perspective.

It’s not journalism, and it clearly can be damaging to the efforts of our nation to do business in a world that is chaotic enough.

So, that’s one side.

But at the same time, I can’t come up with an argument that what Wikileaks has done is illegal.

Irresponsible, yes. But illegal?

The First Amendment is pretty clear. “Government shall make no law abridging…the freedom of the press.” Once it has the information, any media outlet has the right to print it.

The Supreme Court, when it allowed the Pentagon Papers to be published, noted that as long as the subject is a matter of public interest, there should be no limits on what the media can print.

The diplomatic cables obviously pass the “public interest” test.  

I think it’s clear that the Justice Department can prosecute the person who leaked the cables. That person probably broke the law.

But WikiLeaks? Some in the federal govenrment are trying to make an argument for using treason laws to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

I suppose that’s something like the argument – which the Supreme Court has upheld – that you can’t cry fire in a crowded theater. That kind of speech isn’t protected by the First Amendment.

The logic is that there is a limit to free speech. If “crying fire” causes people to be trampled to death fleeing the theater, that’s not free speech, it’s manslaughter.

So following that logic, printing national secrets – ones that truly are going to put someone in “clear and present danger” – isn’t free speech, either.

Okay. I buy that. But it seems to me the bar should be very high – something like the “fire in a theater” level. The Justice Department would have to prove that the cables posted by Wikileaks are not just a nuisance, but a “clear and present danger” to our nation or another nation.

And from what I’ve seen so far, nothing in the cables reaches that level.

Not that President Obama or U.S. Attorney Eric Holder are likely to listen to me.

But if they did, my advice would go something like this: Be very careful before you take on anything that could water down the First Amendment. If you’re worried at all about your legacy, stay away from this one.

Do you want to be remembered as the administration that destroyed freedom of speech in America?

Shakespeare or Web Design?

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Part of my job is to advise journalism students on what courses they should take at MCCC.

Intro to Shakespeare, or Web Design?

Often, the choices are obvious. Students should take the general education courses that transfer easily and will fill the basic requirements at any university where they decide to enroll.

And they should take the journalism courses and related subjects that will enhance their career options.

But there usually is room in their schedules for an extra course or two, and that’s where it gets interesting.

I was engaged yesterday in a conversation with two students, each with one opening in her Winter Semester schedule and lots of choices.

MCCC offers many courses that would provide great background knowledge for journalists. One of the trends in journalism is more specialization – Web sites, magazines, newsletters, etc., serving a particular industry or niche market.

A student interested in working as an environmental journalist ought to take an extra science course, like biology or geology.

Interested in financial journalism? Look at economics or business courses.

And then there’s the overall trend toward digital journalism. MCCC is offering a new course next semester, Web Design for Non-designers – a perfect chance for journalists to learn a little about designing for the Internet, without taking multiple Web courses.

As I explained all this to the two students, I could see they weren’t satisfied. It slowly came out that they wanted to use that extra spot in their schedule for a course that was more interesting, more challenging, more exciting … more something.

That’s when Intro to Shakespeare came up.

“Okay, I get it,” I finally said.

“You’re looking for something to feed your soul, not your career.”

Heads nodded.

I couldn’t argue. Feeding your soul is part of the college experience.

Long hours, low pay – I’m jealous

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

I’m jealous.

There’s a side of me that would trade places in a heartbeat with the young woman who recently took a job advertised as, “Long hours, low pay…”

Joe Grimm, in his blog at the Poynter Institute, told about Darcy Wallace, a new graduate of the University of Oregon journalism school, who began work recently for a small weekly newspaper in the mountains of southern Oregon.

The job pays about $25,000 a year and includes covering “just about everything” in the town of Cave Junction, Ore. – including frequent night and weekend shifts.

Daniel J. Mancuso, the newspaper’s publisher, emphasized that he was looking for someone with enough dedication to journalism to “want” to be wherever news was happening, even if it meant working Saturday night.

I remember being that person.

Not in Cave Junction, Ore., but in Salem, Ore., Bellingham, Wash., Rockford, Ill., Richmond, Ind., Steubenville, Newark and Zanesville, Ohio, and Monroe, Mich.

Actually, I was only a reporter in Salem. That’s where I got my first job, right out of college. I was a reporter for three years, before being promoted to an editing position – which I did for most of the next 30 years.

But I never lost the desire to report the news, and many times, when no one else was available, I grabbed a notebook and ran off to cover a news event.

It’s still hard for me to resist the temptation. There’s something about news reporting that gets in your blood.

So, I say, “Good for you, Darcy Wallace. Have a great time. Learn to tell the stories of the folks who live in Cave Junction. Learn to give them the news and information they need to survive and thrive in the mountains of Oregon.

“Whether you stay in Cave Junction for the rest of your life, or use this job as a springboard to bigger places, I hope you never forget how much you learned about telling stories and helping people.”

Some of the best journalism in America goes on in small towns, where important stories – to the readers of the local newspaper – are told every day by reporters like Darcy.

As I’ve been saying, people still want news

Monday, September 27th, 2010

A new study from the Pew Research Center reinforces the point I’ve been making for years – the public’s appetite for news isn’t shrinking, it’s growing.

New technology is just helping people consume news in faster and more portable ways.

About 100 years ago – actually, I think it was 1996 – I was a member of a committee tasked with figuring out the future of newspapers. I was an editorial consultant for Thomson Newspapers and was asked to join a team brainstorming the company’s response to this new threat, the Internet.

Our conclusion wasn’t that prescient – any similar group would have come up with the same outcome.

Consumers, we decided, would gradually migrate from traditional media to the Internet and other new media platforms, over a period of many years – probably 10 to 20 or more.

That was 1996. Today, 14 years later, we’re in the midst of that migration.

The good news for journalists is that having more choices has only increased the amount of time most people spend reading news. And as long as people are interested in news, there will have to be journalists to do the reporting and writing.

The new Pew study notes that 44% of Americans say they went online, either on a computer or a mobile device, to get news “yesterday.” As the same time, the percent who used traditional media to access news “yesterday” is only slightly smaller than 10 years ago – about a third for radio and television and 58% for television.

And this is the key point: Only 9% of people surveyed say they get their news only from the Internet.

What has happened is that most people have integrated the Internet and mobile devices into their arsenal of news choices. There are lots of ways to find out what’s going on in the world, and people are using all of them, both the newest and the most traditional.

From the standpoint of a news company, what we decided in that meeting 14 years ago still holds true today. The key is to maintain the quality of your traditional news organization, while positioning yourself to be a leader in new media, too.

That’s the same thing we talked about during my three years at the Monroe Evening News.

The audience is gradually shifting from the paper and ink edition of The Evening News to the Web and mobile versions. To stay viable as a company, Monroe Publishing Co. needs to maintain the quality of its traditional products, while being a leader in its market in new media.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. But so far, it appears to be working. The print circulation has dipped only slightly over the last 10 years – staying around 20,000 subscribers. Meanwhile, roughly 8,000 unique visitors a day are checking out their Web site.

There’s undoubtedly some duplication – as the Pew study points out, many people integrate both new and old into their daily habits. But it’s likely the actual number of people who get their news from The Evening News has grown.

The Pew study goes into much more detail, but the message throughout is pretty much the same:

People are more interested than ever in news, and they’re integrating many sources of news into their daily habits.

NY Times plagiarism case tip of iceberg

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Plagiarism in the age of the Internet is a much tougher challenge for journalists.

The rules used to be simple and clear – don’t steal content from another source and put it in your story.

It wasn’t easy to get confused. News releases came printed on paper, your notes were scribbled in a notebook and other reports and documents were on paper, too.

When a reporter sat down to compose a story, all those pieces of paper were spread out on a desk. The writing process involved choosing the right words to best tell the story, pulling from all those sources.

It almost took a conscious effort to copy word-for-word. Plagiarism couldn’t be an accident.

The digital world has dramatically changed the writing process, as dramatized by the New York Times’ most recent plagiarism scandal.
Clark Hoyt, The Times’ public editor, explained what happened to reporter Zachery Kouwe in a clear and readable blog post.

I feel sorry for Kouwe – if it’s possible to feel sorry for another Times reporter tarnishing the industry with his indiscretions.

Frankly, I think what happened to Kouwe happens a lot these days in both traditional newsrooms and on new media blogs and Web sites.

It’s so easy to cut and paste from multiple sources. You don’t clip an article out of a competing newspaper – you copy and paste it from the Web site. You don’t get printed press releases – they’re e-mailed to you. You can cut and paste any part of the information you want and paste it in a digital file.

You take many of your own notes over the phone,  typing them into digital files as you go. And you sometimes do e-mail interviews, where the answers are sent to you electronically.

Eventually, after a few hours of gathering information, you may end up with a huge computer file including thousands of words of information from multiple sources.

The writing process now involves lots of cutting and pasting, reorganizing the material. Sure, you use your own words, but the temptation to cut corners by pasting words and phrases – even whole paragraphs, is always there.

While plagiarism is never excusable, it’s easy to see how a reporter could lose track of what paragraphs were his/her own notes or writing, and what came from press releases, government reports, competing news sources, etc.

That’s the excuse given by  Kouwe – he simply lost track of what words he had written and what came from elsewhere. He inadvertently included paragraphs from the competing Wall Street Journal in his blog posts.

It’s likely he learned his lesson. He lost his job in the process.

It’s a good lesson for all news reporters.

As easy as it is to cut and paste into one large file, be sure to use some system – any system, as long as it works – to keep every fact, every quote, every observation carefully identified. One way would be to discipline yourself to keep information from each source in a separate computer file.

I remember, in the old days, I would occasionally tear out pages from notebooks to help in organizing a story. A couple times I lost track of who said something as a result, and couldn’t use the quotes in my story.

And that dramatizes the second big change in journalism during the digital age. In those days – I learned the news business in the 1970s – accuracy and fairness were keystone principles. If you weren’t sure, you left it out. Period.

The rush to get news on the Internet first has changed the rules. Young reporters like Kouwe grew up in an era when first was more important than accurate. And the tendency toward more opinion and analysis on blogs has eroded the tireless discipline of fact-checking.  

Even traditional news organizations regularly report rumors. Just because someone else reported it – even an unheard of blog – makes it newsworthy.

I may be wrong, or just old-fashioned, but I think that’s a mistake. As we move forward into the digital age, I think the tide will at some point turn toward the most credible news sources.

And that means getting it right, first.

Tea Parties present interesting conundrums

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I’ve been watching the Tea Party movement with a mixture of admiration and alarm.
By my nature, I like both mavericks and small-government advocates.
Anyone who tilts at windmills gets a second glance from me. Throwing tea into the harbor seems like at least a distant cousin.
Anyone who favors smaller government gains some credibility, too.
So, naturally, I’ve followed the Tea Party movement with interest. I’m getting more and more disappointed, however, as time goes by.
I like groups that challenge the status quo, that find interesting new ways to solve old problems; new solutions to troubling challenges.
The opposite of that is ideologues – whether on the left, right or middle – people who pick a single approach to the world and try to shoot down anyone who disagrees.
That’s simply not the way to make the best choices – whether at the local or national level.
I’ve been curious, as I watched the Tea Parties, how they would reconcile the conflict between the desire for smaller government and lower taxes, and the big budget defense spending for two wars.
The strongest support for the war on terror comes from the right, but the two geographic wars and one global war are the biggest drivers of the absurd deficit we’re creating.
From some of the rhetoric coming from some Tea Parties, it looks like many partiers may be coming down on the side of the anti-war protesters. Now there are strange bedfellows.
It’s also interesting to watch how the Tea Party movement deals with federal efforts to restore jobs.
Scott Brown, the new Republican senator from Massachusetts, is being roundly booed by partiers for supporting the Obama jobs bill. Brown voted for jobs in his state, even though it does mean more federal borrowing.
I share the nervousness of many on the right that we’ve ballooned the federal deficit far higher than common sense can support.
But I also buy the argument that without job growth, we’re not going to get the economy back to where it needs to be to begin attacking the deficit.
I’m beginning to come around to the opinion that the Tea Party movement is good for America, because it has reminded us that big government isn’t the solution to everything – actually, not to many things.
But it’s also becoming more clear that Tea Partiers, by blindly following a single ideology, are going to marginalize their movement before it really has an impact.
When are poeple going to figure out that Democrats have good and bad ideas, that Republicans have good and bad ideas, and the same goes for Libertarians, Greenies and everyone else.
Of course, the media deserves some of the blame, for casting every issue in partisan terms.
Oh, well.

Fun watching Evening News cover storm online

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

I’ve been enjoying watching The Evening News cover the snowstorm live on its Web site, on the reporters’ blog and on MonroeTalks – simultaneously.

This is the future of journalism, and it’s good that The  Evening News staff is experimenting with methods of getting news to a live online audience.

Reporter Danielle Portteus, with help from reporter Paula Wethington, is posting every few minutes on the blog Behind the Headlines. The posts range from serious news updates to photos of her dog playing in the snow.

Meanwhile, Danielle and Doug Donnelly, city editor, also are posting regularly on on the topic, Monitoring the Storm. And, of course, there is a story and photograph on the home page.

All this is live during the first few hours of the storm.

Snow falls on a male cardinal at my birdfeeder

Chances are they have a larger than usual audience because of the storm. And if they continue to do well, chance’s are it will increase their audience share after the storm is long gone.

This is one of the great strengths of the Internet – the ability to provide information real time. And it incorporates another great strength of the Web – the ability to blend information provided by users with information from professional journalists.

The first post on MonroeTalks announcing that MCCC had closed at 12:30 came from a reader. That’s because the college’s emergency alert system sent a message to every student and staff member’s cell phone. They were able to relay the information to MonroeTalks more quickly than the MEN’s staff could receive it.

That’s not a bad thing – it’s good. It’s taking advantage of both user and professional sources to get more information.

Conversely, when users reported traffic problems on U.S. 23 and I-75, the newspaper quickly gave details on what actually was happening.

By the way, I was inspired by Danielle’s dog photos. So I posted one of my pets – a cardinal at the birdfeeder.

A tale of two Dan Shaws

Friday, February 5th, 2010

There was a new byline in the Monroe Evening News this week.

Danny Shaw, a student at Monroe County Community College, wrote his first story for the Evening News. There will be more over the coming weeks; Danny is getting class credit at the college for an internship with the newspaper.

By now, you get the irony. My name, of course, is Dan Shaw, too. Luckily, the fact that Danny uses the more informal version of the name helps us avoid some confusion.

You can imagine my surprise last spring when I saw a Daniel Shaw on the student list for my Intro to Journalism class. I assumed it was a mistake – that they put the instructor on the student list.

But when I took roll the first time, there he was, in the flesh.

You can also imagine my relief when he turned out to be a good student. He’s smart, dedicated to journalism and has the kind of personality that will help him succeed as a reporter – polite and friendly but persistent.

During the three years I was managing editor of The Evening News, my name only appeared in the paper occasionally – usually the  byline above a column on the editorial page when I felt compelled to explain something we were doing.

So not many readers of the newspaper will be confused when they see Danny’s byline.  He’ll quickly establish his own reputation and I’m sure he’ll do well.

By the way, we’re not related. When Danny’s byline first appeared in The Agora, the student newspaper at MCCC, several people asked  whether he was my son.

My father grew up in  Minnesota, and moved to Oregon, where I was raised. The only Shaws I know that I’m related to live in those states, along with Colorado and Washington, where my brother and his son live, and New York and South Carolina, where my sons live.

Danny isn’t the first Dan Shaw I’ve run into. It’s not that unusual of a name. Just for the fun of it, I searched for Dan Shaw. It said there were two in Monroe  County, and 17 in Southeast Michigan.

In high school, I played basketball against a Dan Shaw. I remember when the teams were announced, looking down the court at the “other” Dan Shaw, wondering how he dared to use my name.

Since he was 6’4″ and an all-league player (I was 5’7″ and all-nothing), he probably had more of a right to question my use of the name.

At any rate, if you run into Danny Shaw, treat him nicely. He’s a fine young journalist. But don’t confuse him with me.

It’s easy to tell the difference. He’s Danny. I’m Dan.