Monday, June 16, 2008

Some more random thoughts and unsolicited endorsements

While I wait for my Palm Pilot to soft-reset so I can try to reinstall my screwed-up password-storing software:
  • Spray-on suntan lotion may be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Especially for a person like me who burns easily.
  • Firefox might be even better than sliced bread. Can't wait for Version 3 to come out. The many add-ons for Firefox are awesome, and I can even install them on my work computer without having administrator privileges on my machine. I'm running the add-on, 1-click Weather, Abduction, Copy Link Text, FireShot, GMail Space, Scrapbook, ScribeFire, and as of today, TwitterFox. Why did I wait so long to switch from Internet Explorer?
  • Google Reader is up there with Firefox. Almost as good as Google Reader is Google Notebook. I am just now starting to make use of Google Documents and Google Sites.
  • Apple needs to stop trying to sneak its Safari browser onto my PC when I update my iPod software. No fair. I thought better of you, Apple.
  • I would be willing to make more use of iGoogle if it loaded faster. What gives?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Some random thoughts for no reason

+ FedEx is doing away with the Kinko's brand name. I'm not happy about that. Kinko's is an American icon. You tell someone, "I have to go to Kinko's today," and they know you're going there to make copies or get something printed. You say, "I'm going to FedEx" -- what, to pick up a package?
+ Why did Bath and Body Works recently stop selling the Cotton Blossom line? Now they sell Sea Island Cotton. It's good, and it's almost as nice, but it's not Cotton Blossom, which was my favorite. I know they have to change out their inventory every now and then to keep things fresh, but I hate it when things I like go away. Maybe it will come back.
+ I'm really enjoying Firefox lately. I've become a committed Firefox user.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Trying again with the palm tree video

It's good to be home

The Miami airport is a zoo. The seat-belt fabric barriers must go on for miles and miles and miles.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Live from the ocean

The sky is not as cloudy here now as it was a while ago. Hope this short video works. This is my first time trying to send video to the blog remotely. If not, I'm also enclosing a still pic.
NOTE, AS OF SUNDAY AFTERNOON: No, the video didn't make it onto the blog. I'll have to try to upload it the old-fashioned way.

UPDATE AS OF SUNDAY NIGHT: Got it fixed. The fixed, working palm tree video is now at this link.

This is NOT a transcript

I'm sitting in on the Q&A at the end of a panel on public documents. Once you get a record, I think someone asked, what do you do then?

Well, the first guy said, you have to verify that it's real (think CBS and Bush's National Guard records). But, the other panelist said, if you have a legit record, the interview subject will rarely try to say it's not real.

True, but it does happen. I remember an instance from a few years ago in which a reporter gleaned from a government agency (via FOIA) a document that suggested that a public official had done something they shouldn't have done. The record clearly was a transcript of a telephone conversation including that official, with the official quoted in it as saying that the agency involved should do the thing they shouldn't have done -- and the document had a header up at the top that said TRANSCRIPT (actually it was something like "TRANSCRIPT OF SO-AND-SO CONVERSATION"). When the reporter tried to talk directly to that official, they wouldn't talk, and referred the reporter to the agency spokesman, who, when asked about it, said basically, "That's not a transcript."

I don't think the PIO could ever explain what that document was supposed to be if it were not a transcript, but that was the official line.

We used it in the story, along with the PIO's response. I think the reader could make the judgment for themselves.

Some other random observations as the conference winds down:

* The sky is clouding up outside and it looks like it will soon rain.

* I see more and more need for journalists to have computer skills -- and I don't mean being able to sort in Excel. There is so much of a use for, and need for, people who can do real computer programming, such as designing ways for databases to be hooked to Websites to be publicly searchable, do mashup maps, create dynamic presentations of social networking analysis diagrams and other ways to present raw data -- databases with thousands and thousands of records -- online. I feel so behind-the-curve. The problem is, so many people in journalism like me can't do the computer stuff, and the real computer experts often come from outside-of-journalism worlds and can't make the two mesh. Reporter 2.0 may be blogging, posting their own live audio and video a la Al Franken as SNL's one-man mobile uplink unit, but Reporter 3.0 needs to be truly cross-trained in IT. Information technology -- we journalists are all about the information, but we have to keep up with the technology, too, if we want to continue to reach the public and not just be over in a corner talking to ourselves.
* I'm in the membership meeting right now, and one of the board candidates just said how much she's gotten out of IRE. I second that. IRE is a great organization, and I have gotten so much from the hands-on computer training, conferences and other programs it puts on, along with its repository for stories done by other IRE members and tipsheets, its guidebooks on reporting topics, its listservs, I could go on and on.
* I got through the conference and bought only two books from the book sale. This may be an all-time best for me at an IRE/SPJ conference. I have a hard time saying no to the book sale tables and then a harder time having to lug my new library home. I got held up at the ticket counter at LaGuardia three years ago for having overweight luggage on my way back from the SPJ convention in New York, and a substantial part of my belongings had to travel back to Nashville in Frank Gibson's suitcase. The only ones I bought this year were the two for sale by David Cay Johnston, formerly of The New York Times, who authored a great quote that is somewhere else on this blog. I wanted to hear him speak yesterday, but I stopped off at the ladies' room first and found I had a run in my stocking so big that I basically had more hole than stocking. I wound up back in my room, changing into my khaki slacks. Darn.
* I have put in my order for the audio of the conference sessions. I have done this in the past and it's very helpful. If you're an IRE member and didn't attend the conference, you can order it for $15 plus shipping from IRE.
* Blog readers: Fender says hi.
* You are supposed to be able to read more about the conference at, I think, It's supposed to be a conference blog. Haven't had a chance to check it out yet. (ADDENDUM: Yes, that is the correct URL, and it's a very good blog.)
NOTE: I went back into this post on Sunday, post-conference, and fixed some typos and added some links. So it's changed a little since I first posted it.

Glorifying the everyday grunt work

I can't say enough about the value of getting and going through otherwise-routine public records on a routine basis. You could glean that from any number of sessions here at the conference, but I'm inferring it again from the excellent session by Jim Neff and Ken Armstrong of The Seattle Times about their series, "Victory and Ruins." This is always vindicating to hear -- especially given the very bad memory I have from a few years ago, when our then-top boss banned us from FOIAing any records in any instance in which we did not already have a specific tip or allegation of explicit wrongdoing. That edict, many Salt Mine readers will recall, nearly made my head explode. But it's great to come to IRE and hear the word preached -- it is like going to church, in the religion of journalism -- and my head is un-exploding now. Can I get an "amen"?
NOTE: I went through this post on Sunday and updated it to fix some typos and add some links.

By the Bay

Dave Barry's speech was great. In Miami, he said, they could just inaugurate their public officials and indict them at the same time. Sounds much more efficient.

Update from IRE

Weather is nice here, conference is great. Some random thoughts:
* Great stories often involve a little bit of luck, but are more the product of hard work than anything else. That's one thing I'm picking up from all the speakers at these sessions.
* Our system of government was created with checks and balances - the ones we all learned about in civics class - but there is no greater, stronger check on our government than the press. I thought about that while listening to a reporter from the Detroit Free Press talk about his coverage of the mayor up there and the private e-mails/text message scandal there, which has led to further revelations about contract-steering and nepotism/cronyism in city government. The legislative branch of city government would never have worked to ferret out that story. The courts? Well, the courts are involved NOW, but only because the press fought so hard to run the story/stories down.
* Editors talking about editing can be really boring. Editors talking about stories is much more interesting. The process of editing, although it is my job, is not that interesting to me. Stories, and finding out new facts or making some great revelation or realization, are what interests me.
* Walt Bogdanich, NY Times reporter and Pulitzer winner, looks incredibly like my friend and former colleague Jay Hamburg.
* When trying to decide which sessions to attend at a professional conference, don't decide based on topic. Decide on the quality of the speakers doing the presentation. A session with some folks on the panel for whom you've never heard of or you've never heard of their work, there's a chance it'll be a really good session, but it also has a good chance of being a dud. A session with great speakers, it'll be a good session, no matter what the topic is.
* I really enjoyed the session last night that included an advance screening of an episode of the upcoming HBO miniseries "Generation Kill," which is based on a book by a Rolling Stone reporter who was embedded with the Marines in Iraq. I think I'll watch the miniseries now.
* I have been thinking for several weeks now about document retention and filing for journalists. Covering government, we routinely get 1,000-page document dumps in response to our FOIAs. Some of that material is immediately useful, some is more useful weeks or months down the road and some is, quiet honestly, not useful at all for our journalistic efforts. But keeping that material, keeping it organized, and keeping it findable over a long term is a challenge. Filing was one of the major issues talked about yesterday on the very good panel about "building the ongoing investigation," in which all the participants shared their personal memories of the late, great Bob Greene. And someone just asked a notes-storage/retention question in the session I was just in about coaxing great writing from reporters. A common piece of advice: Always type up your notes and write memos to yourself after interviews.
* Everyone, everywhere, seems to be being asked to do more with less. Why is it that we live in an era where, thanks to new technology, we have more and more media in the world, but there are less and less resources for the most important work the media does, which draws the greatest attention from the readers/audience and has the greatest impact (see bullet point above about Detroit)?
* The conference hotel is super-nice. I am so excited to hear Dave Barry speak at lunch!
NOTE: I went through this post Sunday afternoon, fixed some typos and added some links, so it's changed a little bit since I first posted it.

Friday, June 6, 2008

I'm here

Miami is huge. The airport is huge, huge. The conference hotel is huge and very nice. It's right on the ocean. They charge you $4 for a little teeny bottle of Coke.