The Junk Drawer: “Wiry Women” and “pole workers” edition

JunkDrawer

I swear that there used to be hand sanitizer in this thing…

Welcome to this edition of the junk drawer. As we have outlined in previous junk drawer posts, this is a random collection of stuff that is important but didn’t fit anywhere else, much like that drawer in the kitchen of most of our homes. Hope you find value in it:

 

A “Wiry” Winner
A few months ago, we talked about gender bias in writing when Judge Jill Karofsky, a candidate for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, was described in a profile as “a wiry marathon runner who has completed two Iron Man competitions” and was also a state doubles champion in 1982.

Just as a follow up to this story, she ended up winning the election, despite the fact it was the source of about 812 lawsuits and intervening attempts to move it around due to the COVID situation.

Speaking of the elections…

 

Editing matters, politics edition.

Given how hotly contested things were out here, we had a lot of local writers banging away on their “hot takes” on the topic. We also had national attention on us. One of the frequent mistakes I saw was involving an unfortunate homophone.

This is an example of “people working the polls.”

Pollworkers

This is an example of “people working the poles.”
PoleworkersPlural

Know the difference before a friend asks you to be a worker of one of these things. Coincidentally, one of our good friends was a “poll worker” who was sent a kit to help run her polling place. It contained a bottle of vodka, with the word “hand sanitizer” written on a label that had been pasted over the vodka brand. Apparently, that was the best they could do to deal with the coronavirus out here…

Speaking of the coronavirus situation…

 

Editing matters, coronavirus edition:

A former student of mine sent this to me. It was posted on the door of her apartment complex. Her note? “I’m glad you taught me to read things carefully.”

CovidNoticeFAIL

 

Speaking of “that’s not quite what I meant…”

A student turned in her writing assignment on the coronavirus with the following quote:

“We were nervous in the sense that we were very cautious and did not want to touch anything or expose ourselves to others unnecessarily,” she said.

I know what she meant, but I really needed a laugh at that point, especially in terms of the “expose ourselves to other unnecessarily” element.

And, finally, speaking of needing a laugh…

 

Are we just not doing “phrasing” anymore?

I told this story for years and it bordered on the apocryphal, because it seemed too ridiculous to believe.

We got a call over the scanner of an armed robbery at the Olde Un Theater, our local porn store. Jeff Barnes was one of the best reporters I ever had in terms of jumping all over a story and he was on it. (He convinced the local county fire protection folks to give him a volunteer pager so he could be out to the scene faster than other reporters. He also once covered a forest fire and the tires on his truck almost melted when the path of the fire switched.)

As he was running out the door, I half-teasing yelled, “Don’t forget. If you want a byline story on this, you need two sources…” I knew full well he’d get the cops and that was it, given that a) we rarely got a second source on breaking news like this and b) who the hell was he going to interview at a porn store?

Sure enough, Jeff came back with a story that had two sources. He manged to find a guy who admitted he was in the porn palace, was willing to give his name and gave us a line about the guy yelling at him that he needed to hit the floor or the guy was “going to blow your (expletive) head off.”

Jeff then asked the cop about this and got the cops to repeat for him a sanitized version of the “blow their heads off” line, which we then used in the story and the headline.

After a while, nobody really believed that story, except me and my buddy Steve, who was on the copy desk that night. However, I mentioned it on Facebook about a year or so ago, someone found Jeff Barnes and Barnes confirmed it. Better yet, he found the clip in his old portfolio and sent it to me.

Take that, doubters:

OldeUnTheater

 

“Well, unfortunately, we’re not landing on the moon, are we?” How “Apollo 13” thinking can get students and educators through this coronavirus disaster.

Fifty years ago, the crew of Apollo 13 headed toward the heavens aboard a technological marvel of engineering and chemistry, with the expectation it would explore the Fra Mauro crater. What appeared to be a routine mission took a potentially deadly turn on April 14, 1970, when command module pilot Jack Swigert stirred the oxygen tanks, as per NASA command, and an explosion rocked the ship.

The following three days were a series of unforeseen dangers and calculated risks, as the astronauts and mission control navigated a high-wire act unlike anything anyone had ever imagined. For a space program steeped in by-the-numbers calculations, it was a harrowing set of best guesses and duct-tape solutions. For the crew, frustrations grew as each solution seemed to create an opportunity to just fail in some other way.

By the time Swigert, Fred Haise and Jim Lovell splashed down in the South Pacific on April 17, 1970, the act of getting three men home alive from what was supposed to be a routine mission had likely become one of the most memorable feats of modern history.

I fell in love with this story during my college years, when a good friend lent me Lovell’s book “Lost Moon.” It became even more a part of my life (and I’m sure many other folks’ as well) when Ron Howard and Tom Hanks turned the event into a blockbuster film. If anything typified my love of the underdog and the sense that when stuff goes wrong, you figure it out, “Apollo 13” was it.

The value of the lessons from this space epic are particularly salient in today’s educational environment, where we start to see how the coronavirus pandemic has led to some uncharted waters for students and teachers alike. I thought a lot about this, after a friend posted this story about students complaining about their current educational situation. One line in particular got to me:

“Sitting in my own home, and not in a gorgeous classroom paid for by rich donors and students’ tuition — that’s not what I was promised,” Warren said.

To be fair, it’s not just the students who are apparently tone deaf in this time of crisis. A note was floating around a few Facebook groups that support professors during the pandemic, in which a professor railed against his students for not showing up on time for a synchronous lecture. Another note was about “proper attire” for students showing up to class, explaining that sweats and PJs were just not acceptable on a Zoom call.

(Side note: I try to find something as obnoxious as possible to wear in each call, in hopes it will dissuade my colleagues from having them. Next stop, 1970s Hawaiian shirt!)

Also, and maybe it’s just my observation, but a lot of folks seem to want to hold a hell of a lot of meetings via Zoom or Ultra or whatever, in which we all kind of look at each other and talk things we can’t actually do now because we have no idea what’s coming next. The extroverts who are scheduling these things seem to be bouncing around like my dog when she sees a squirrel through our living room window.

(Side note: My response is the same to both: “Stop it. You’re not getting out there and even if you do, you’re not going to get the damned thing…”)

In hopes of saving my own sanity, and possibly rebooting the reality of people who are in full, “This isn’t what _I_ signed up for!” mode, consider these Apollo 13 tidbits that might put things in perspective. In kind of a “cheat-mode effort,” I grabbed the quotes and bits from the movie, which was tweaked and enhanced for dramatic purposes, obviously:

 

“Well, unfortunately, we’re not landing on the moon, are we?”

It boggles my mind that we have to say this at this point, but NOBODY signed up for this. Some students were planning for a beautiful final semester before graduation. Others were planning for a spring break trip with their friends to an exotic location. Hell, I was planning on being in Arizona to see my grandfather and celebrate his 97th birthday.

Instead, we’re all stuck at home, probably getting enough screen time to give us radiation poisoning.

One student in the IHE story noted: “We understand you still have to pay the professors, but that shouldn’t come out of our pockets,” Oganesian said. “If I wanted to go to an online school, I could go to an online school. I paid to go to class and sit in a lecture.”

And if I wanted to do nothing but record podcasts in my basement, I’d probably be exactly the loser my students already think I am. Clearly, neither of us is getting what we want, but we’re making the best of a bad situation.

Occasionally, frustration can build, but it merits remembering that we’re not landing on the moon now, are we? So let’s do what we need to do to make this thing work the best it can and worry less about what we planned for when the semester started three months ago.

 

“Let’s work the problem, people.”
“What do we got on the spacecraft that’s good?”

In every decent disaster or alien movie, the good guys come in fully stocked with all the guns, food, toys or whatever, ready to take on the the bad guys. Inevitably, something goes terribly wrong and suddenly the good guys are in deep sheep dip.

That’s when you see the scene of the remaining members of the team tossing a bunch of random crap on the table, explaining how much ammo or food or whatever they have left, and it’s never enough. That’s kind of where we all are right now.

It’s always easiest to see what’s wrong and when what’s wrong seems completely overwhelming, it’s always easiest to give up hope. Instead of thinking that way, it is imperative for professors and students to think, “OK, what do we have left here that works?”

Would it be easier if you could stop by my office and get some one-on-one editing? Sure, but now you’re working at the grocery story 12 hours a day, I’m on 26 frickin’ Zoom meetings that should have been emails and the frustration over why we can’t get some together time is really burning holes in our souls.

OK, what can we do that works? Let’s edit online in an asynchronous environment. I’ll move the deadline back a day for the draft, if you promise to respond to the edits with questions before then. First one to hit an epic disaster emails the other.

It’s like the other part of this clip notes: “Let’s work the problem, people.”

 

“There’s a thousand things that have to happen in order. We are on number 8. You’re talking about number 692.”
“We’re not going to do this. We’re not going to go bouncing off the walls for 10 minutes if we’re just going to end up back here with the same problems. Trying to figure out how to stay alive.”

 

We used to have to do this “crashed on the moon” exercise almost every year when I was in school. Maybe it was because space travel was seemingly more awesome then, or we had fewer CGI dragons or Kardashians to watch on TV. I don’t know, but when I mention it to my students now, they have no idea what I’m talking about.

The principle is simple: You somehow crashed on the moon or landed in the wrong spot and you have 15 items that survived. You need to prioritize them and determine which ones you definitely need to stay alive until help shows up or you can get to the right spot.

The idea was to teach critical thinking and problem solving through prioritization. It was also useful to help identify the psychos in your class, as they were the people who picked the guns first and shot the other people in the lunar party to keep the resources for themselves.

Priorities become crucial at a time like this, which is why it would behoove all of us to keep that in mind. Professors online who have taking this approach have listed a series of questions we should be asking students right now, such as “Do you have a safe place to hole up?” “Do you have enough food?” “Are you physically and mentally healthy enough to continue?”

At this point, showing up for a chem lecture at exactly 1:30 p.m. or whatever should be somewhere in the neighborhood of number 692 in terms of priorities.

The frustration of professors is probably misplaced anger and anxiety as well. Getting booted out of my office so they could disinfect the whole building kind of threw me for a loop. I’m also trying to remember that students are now in a completely new environment, so it’s not just laziness or a bad hangover that might lead to a missed deadline. It can be hard working in a new environment, as I can attest to, given the make-shift office I have in the basement of my house.

Frustration can lead to anger and people boiling over at each other. Professors are often control freaks, um… sorry… “Type-A personalities.” When we suddenly lose control of our environment, we can get really into enforcing rules or cracking down on something. We can also feel hemmed in by all those other folks who seem to be on either the side of “The world is ending and we’re all going to die” or those who are like “Dude, watch me cough on this produce and freak everyone out!

Guess what? Ten minutes after we send back that snarky email to a student or we start screaming about a deadline, we’re right back where we started.

With the same problems.

Possibly blogging in a basement.

It’s not what we wanted or what we planned on, but it is what we have. It’s like the other great line in here:

“This piece of shit is going to get you home. Because that’s all we have left, Jack.”

 

“With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”

According to Lovell, the Apollo 13 mission was dubbed “a successful failure,” in that the mission failed, but they managed to successfully dig themselves out of the disaster without having anyone die.

If you watch the final scene of the film in which Gene Kranz (the flight director played by Ed Harris) finally realizes that the ship is back on Earth and the crew is safe, you’ll notice he doesn’t celebrate. He slumps into a chair and presses his finger and thumb onto the bridge of his nose.

The guys were home. They were safe. The job was done.

We often imagine that success is an area in which we do something incredible. We provide the best class or get the best grades or create the best work anyone has ever seen. It’s even more amazing than whatever was the most amazing thing we ever saw.

The truth is that our finest hour is often the one in which the odds are long, the pain is real and success is about avoiding failure. Its when what “I” wanted or what “you” expected becomes what did “we” manage to do together when nothing good seems possible.

Throwback Thursday: 3 reasons why it’s stupid to complain about the cost of journalism

During the coronavirus outbreak, a number of local and national media outlets chose to lower their paywalls and give readers free and unfettered access to content on the topic. The argument these publications make is that the pandemic is too important of a topic to have people getting information from lousy sources just because those sources are free.

(Side note: I give this blog away for free to everyone and I don’t get paid to do it, so I’m kind of pondering what that makes me in all this…)

Experts from Poynter have debated the ethical obligations of publications to lower paywalls, coming at this from a variety of perspectives, as they debate the economic realities of media outlets and the importance of quality journalism. An interesting post from Howard Saltz, the Knight Innovator-in-Residence in the journalism faculty at Florida International University, makes the case that giving away content in this case is counterproductive. 

As the former publisher and editor-in-chief of the South Florida Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Saltz frames the argument well in terms of how “essential” doesn’t mean “it should be free” for most things we are desperate to get in this pandemic:

The newspaper industry seems to think that public service can’t coexist with revenue. That’s a mistake — at a time when the beleaguered industry can’t afford to make one. We do provide an important public service, but why can’t a public service business be, well, in business?

Food is essential, but grocery stores aren’t giving it away.

Clothing? Not free. Not even at Goodwill.

Police are being paid during the crisis. So are garbage collectors. There are no freebies at the pharmacy.

These are all essential to the community at a time of crisis, yet no one expects these goods and services to be free. What are newspapers afraid of? Our products have value. People pay for things of value.

I made a similar argument for the value of journalism about a year ago here on the blog. Today’s Throwback Thursday revisits that post, which provides some key reasons why journalism does, and should, cost money:

 

You get what you pay for: Three reasons why it’s stupid to complain about the cost of journalism

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Jim Stingl wrote a nice local column that took a look at how people consistently run red lights the corner of 60th and Capitol. The piece ran in the wake of a car wreck that killed an off-duty Milwaukee police officer, and was the kind of thing more papers would have done back in the days when staffs were robust and smoking was allowed in the newsroom.

I’ve linked to the article here, but most of you won’t be able to see it because it’s only accessible to the paper’s subscribers. When venerable journalist Crocker Stephenson, who used to work for the Journal-Sentinel, posted the piece to his Facebook wall, a number of people groused about their inability to access Stingl’s work.

Stephenson was not sympathetic:

Stephenson

In response, several people broke out the traditional diatribes against such larceny:

  • Print is dead!
  • You don’t cover the right stuff!
  • Paywalls are a tool of the man!
  • It’s stupid to pay for stuff like this because the internet is free!

 

Following the trail of breadcrumbs that led newspapers from being important local sources of information to disemboweled corporate shells would take far too long for a post like this. It would also take way too long to debate the merits of various profitability models that could return news organizations to prominence. However, in defense of the field itself, I’ll simply give you three reasons why complaining about having to spend your hard-earned couch-cushion cash on news is just plain dumb:

WORK COSTS MONEY: As dumb as that statement sounds, it seems necessary to make it up front. When your dishwasher decides to start flooding the house on a random Tuesday night, you call a plumber and beg someone to come over and stop the hydro-destructive force in your kitchen. When that guy or gal comes over and fixes the problem, you wouldn’t think to just say, “Thank you. I’m going on Facebook right now and putting a “like” on you today! Goodbye!”

The person did work, and you’re going to pay for it.

Truth be told, journalism ALWAYS cost money, but the readers didn’t notice because they weren’t footing the bill. It’s like picking up a prescription when you have insurance: You pay your $10 or $20 that is your part of the deal and the insurance company picks up the rest of the tab. It’s when your insurance is gone that you notice, “Holy crap! That’s some expensive stuff!”

For years, advertisers accounted for most of the costs of the work. Newspapers and magazines were chock full of large advertisements for everything from clothing stores to car dealerships. The money flowed freely, as newspapers could deliver eyeballs to the advertisers and thus demonstrate value to them. The ad money covered the big costs of doing journalism while your subscription or copy price was simply a token of good will.

The one benefit the audience had to the newspaper was in its sum total of eyeballs. The higher the circulation, the more newspapers could charge for ads. The system worked until it didn’t. (How and why it didn’t could take up a dozen books, but it’s not Craigslist’s fault, despite what publishers and hedge-fund managers who own newspaper stocks will tell you.)

Now you’re being asked to pay full price for the cost of journalism and it suddenly looks exorbitant.

In addition, the reason it’s easier to short journalists is because it never seems like we are saving you from a disaster like the tow-truck driver who gets your broken car off the freeway or the tree surgeon who pulls the giant oak that fell during a storm off your house. We don’t have a special set of tools that leave you in awe or a product that you can show other people to say, “Check out what I bought!”

However, journalism is work. It costs money to do the work. You need to pay for it if you want or need it.

YOU’RE NOT PAYING FOR WHAT YOU THINK YOU’RE PAYING FOR: People often assume that becoming a journalist has been a life-long ambition for anyone who entered the field after seeing “All The President’s Men” or “The Paper.” Truth be told, I never wanted to be a journalist or a journalism professor growing up. My freshman year of college, my life-long goal of becoming a lawyer was crushed after one bad Poli Sci course, so I went hunting for another major.

I knew I could write, so I figured on a degree in English, a subject I had dominated throughout high school and even in college. When I went home for Christmas break that year, I told my father that I wasn’t going to be a lawyer and that I was looking around at my options. Dad spent his entire career in a factory, so he was always practical in his advice: “Just make sure you can get a job. Don’t do something stupid like majoring in English or something like that.”

OK, that shot that.

I found journalism shortly after that and realized that with a few tweaks and overhauls, the writing I did in English could translate to this new field. The reason I stuck with it was because there WAS a job at the end of the rainbow for this major and it was one my father could easily see. He read the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel cover to cover every day. He saw the newspaper as a tangible representation of careers in journalism.

When I got my first reporting gig, Mom bought a subscription to the State Journal and had the paper mailed to her. She would cut out and keep my articles. Again, it was that dead-tree-and-ink element that showcased my livelihood.

The problem now is that those rolled-up wads of tree pulp are landing on fewer and fewer doorsteps, thus giving people the idea that “Print is dead.” Furthermore, the users always assumed that what their money paid for was that physical publication. Thus, as those things became smaller and less frequent, and people found their information in ways that didn’t involve deforestation, they figured there was no point in paying money for journalism.

The truth is, we were actually paying for information, but we never saw it that way. It was far easier for us to understand that simple goods-for-cash exchange that took place on street corners, through subscriptions or via news stands. Because we never really saw it as a knowledge-for-cash exchange, when the “good” went away, we didn’t see why money should be involved. As newspapers revenues shrunk, we saw losses of people and pages. The people? We didn’t notice that so much from the outside, but the pages? Yeah, we saw those cutbacks in newspapers and magazines.

To complain about paying for newspaper content is to say the content itself lacks value. That can be a perfectly legitimate statement, depending on the quality of the content or the cost of the access. However, when you WANT something, it demonstrates that the “something” has some level of value to you. Paying for it showcases the way you value it.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR: When I was a grad student, I ended up at a conference in Washington, D.C. and a bunch of us decided to go out for a meal. What was supposed to be a run for cheap Chinese food somehow landed us at a restaurant where we were the worst-dressed people in there and most of us were clad in reasonably decent garb. We didn’t know how pricey the meal was going to be until one of the people in our party reached for a piece of bread and dropped some crumbs on the linen table cloth.

Out of nowhere, a guy in a white button-down jacket appeared with a little metal device. He scraped the crumbs into a white-gloved hand and then disappeared just as quickly.

Yeah, we were in for an expensive night.

Contrast that with what I usually see when I’m heading out for a meal: A disgruntled employee behind the counter at a local fast food joint takes someone’s order, screws it up twice and then can’t make change without an iPhone app. The customer gets the wrong meal, but usually just shakes his or her head and mutters something about “kids these days,” even if the employee is 35.

The point is, you get what you pay for. That’s true even in journalism.

When you’re getting stuff for free, it’s usually of a lower quality. What you’re paying for when you buy a subscription to the Times or the Post or the Journal-Sentinel is quality work. You’re paying to have someone who went to school to learn a trade present you with quality content that has value to you. You’re paying for expertise and experience. It’s the same way with the plumber scenario above: You could call your buddy to come over and “give it a shot” when it comes to getting the dishwasher under control, but you figure it’s worth the money to get someone in there who knows how to fix the thing properly.

The nice thing is that a lot of people who commented on Stephenson’s post saw things this way as well. Long-term subscribers saw the value in the content and noted they had willingly paid for it for years. My folks still get the paper delivered every day and on more than a few occasions, my mother has told me she worries that the paper might cease to be at some point. Thus, she pays for a subscription to help support the cause.

In looking at the costs associated with the paper, we aren’t talking about a critical spending decision, either. One offer let you pay something like a buck a month for three months of digital access. My print subscription to the Oshkosh Northwestern was something like $14 a month and that came with unlimited digital access. As Stephenson’s post points out, 33 cents gets you access to the whole paper.

(Conversely, it costs $2.99 to buy three lollipop hammers in Candy Crush and rarely do those things help as much as you think they will.)

Sure, I could argue that these publications aren’t what they once were, but I also know that candy bars used to be a nickel, but grousing about that doesn’t make them any cheaper now.

Besides, as my father and I like to say about buying random stuff at yard sales, I’ve wasted far more money on far dumber things.

The best use of the First Amendment ever

Frank LoMonte, one of our favorite legal eagles and frequent contributor to the “Dynamics” franchise, came up with the best extra credit assignment for his media law class during this pandemic:

Here’s what I told them. You’re going to learn to recite the 45 words of the First Amendment, by heart. If you do it right, it takes about 20 seconds. Just the right length for a respectable hand-wash. Film yourself doing it while washing your hands, and you get 10 extra-credit points. Make me laugh and it’s 15.

If this kid doesn’t earn the full 15 points, something is really wrong:

 

Souffle’d: How Twitter outrage helped kill part of a student media contest and why that makes no sense

The photography portion of a college journalism contest got 86’ed this week after the National Press Photographers Association pulled out, due in large part to Twitter outrage.

The contest was the brainchild of Michael Koretzky, who worked with NPPA, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Collegiate Press and the Society for News Design to launch the College Coronavirus Coverage awards. The goal of the contest was to reward college journalists who were doing quality reporting, writing and photography on the coronavirus epidemic.

Anthony Souffle, a photojournalist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, tweeted his displeasure regarding this:

SouffeTweet

As with most things that happen on Twitter, others decided to hop on the bandwagon:

HobbyTweetCohenTweetSafeCoverageTweet

Shortly after this, NPPA announced it would be withdrawing its support for the contest. Souffle then tweeted his pleasure regarding the success he had in engaging in cancel culture:

NPPATweet

For its part, the CCC killed the category after one week in operation, with Koretzky explaining why it was doing so and noting that the Twitter-gasm had no impact on the move.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve known Koretzky for almost two decades now and he’s guest blogged here. He has come up with some real hum-dingers when it comes to college journalism, ranging from the First Amendment Free Food Festival to the Interviewing the Undead event. He’s also had a few moments that left me shaking my head. I’d liken him to Reggie Jackson: He hits a lot of homers and those go a long, long way. He also strikes out more than a bit, but he gets his money’s worth out of the swing.)

I reached out to Souffle via Twitter to ask him about all this and he never got back to me. I figured if I asked, Koretzky would probably tell me a ton of stuff, as he’s always has before. However, instead of turning this into a point-counterpoint between these guys, I figured I’d take a different look at this.

First, based on his pinned tweet, it’s clear Anthony Souffle hates contests of all stripes:

ContestSouffleTweet

I definitely agree with him on the point of doing the work for your audience and not for contests. I know I’ve said that at least a couple times on this blog. If you’re doing journalism for the awards, it’s like buying an airline because you like the little bags of snacks they give out during flights.

Second, I agree that putting yourself in harm’s way is never a great idea. The two rules I push when I lecture or present on crime and disaster coverage are simple: Stay calm and stay safe. Taking really stupid risks for the glory and the gold is, well… really stupid. (I live in a state where we’re having in-person voting today and I think THAT is really stupid, too…)

That said, I’m not a huge fan of Twitter’s ability to get a bandwagon of people together to rage at something and I’m even less of a fan of cancel culture. Instead of debating those points, however, here are the three underlying premises that seem present in Souffle’s argument that are extremely problematic:

COLLEGE JOURNALISTS ARE DUMBER THAN OTHER JOURNALISTS: The coronavirus is pretty much all every journalist is covering these days, so to call it newsworthy would be a massive understatement. It is the job of journalists to cover newsworthy stories and convey them to their audiences in ways that are relevant, useful and interesting. College journalists are journalists and thus are not immune to this concept.

I often tell students that when they graduate, they don’t get the “grownup brain” at commencement. In other words, the university doesn’t flip a switch and suddenly you somehow become someone better, smart, faster and cooler once you graduate. Some college journalists are less-equipped to handle certain things than some professionals. They also are less experienced than people who have worked in the field for decades.

However, they’re not idiots.

Many programs have quality advisers who help the students prepare for their work and then guide the students as they craft their stories and edit their photos. These people are experienced and can provide some safety measures when the occasional student goes off the rails. In addition, college students are living, breathing adults who have the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else.

They have done amazing work covering floods, hurricanes and more. And to the folks who say, “Well, there’s a roadmap for covering those things…” well, there wasn’t a roadmap to covering mass shootings on college campuses in 2007 when the crew at Virginia Tech was pressed into service. There also wasn’t a roadmap in 2008, when the folks at Northern Illinois did it. Nor was there a roadmap for covering the “Unite the Right” rally, which the Cav Daily did amazingly well. All of these were dangerous stories and all of these could have led to serious harm.

In reviewing the entries that made the one photo contest the CCC did complete, Koretzky noted that most of the photos were similar because of the precautions students took in doing their work. In short, they knew what they were doing. Assuming that they’re going to wander out into traffic because they’re students is insulting to their work and their efforts.

COLLEGE JOURNALISTS WEREN’T ALREADY COVERING THIS: One of the key arguments against the CCC contest is that putting this out there would somehow inspire student journalists to run out and cover the COVID-19 crisis. Also, this assumes that student journalists closed up shop and gave up on being journalists when schools went to an online-only format.

Not even close.

College media folk have been exchanging messages and emails for more than a month, trying to figure out how best to do this as the crisis began to build. Even more, most student media outlets are doing what the pros are: Writing, editing, broadcasting and working from various locations while sheltering in place.

The Student Press Law Center has a list of more than 100 campus media outlets that are doing or have done coronavirus coverage during the outbreak, and that number has grown exponentially over the past few weeks. It’s also safe to assume that even more publications have done work but haven’t made the list yet.

The students are doing exactly what the Twitter-shamers are telling them to do: Serving their communities. The awards are tangential at best.

THIS WAS THE THING THAT MADE AWARD-SEEKERS GO GA-GA: Even if I were to grant the premise that awards drive students to do journalism, and in this case particularly risky journalism, I would still argue that Souffle is drastically overestimating the power of this particular contest.

Not to disparage the CCC in any way, but if students planned to put life and limb on the line for an award, it sure wouldn’t be this one. The ACP Pacemaker and the CSPA Gold Crown are pretty much the big dogs in college media, with the Hearst competition falling in there somewhere for accredited schools. In addition SPJ, NPPA and SND all have contests each year that carry some serious cache with award-seekers.

I somehow doubt students were thinking, “Man, there’s no way I’m going out to shoot photos of anything in this pandemic… wait… a contest I never heard of before is giving out CERTIFICATES? YEAH! Let’s go see if I can get a pic of an ICU patient coughing on me!”

Students who plan for awards the way my kid plans her birthday party (a year in advance and in great deal) were going after this anyway, so to get all in a lather about this one contest is spurious at best.

 

“Journalism faculty should be the most prepared for this kind of move:” Why you’re probably doing better than you think you are in teaching during the corona-pocalypse

My department had a video-conference faculty meeting on Friday, combining my two least-favorite things: buggy online video chats and meetings. This one was more productive than most because we were examining the good, the bad and the ugly we faced during our first week of online-only education in the wake of the corona-pocalypse.

The common theme seemed to be this: We’re doing better than we thought we would, and our students keep telling us we’re doing better than all of their other classes.

This seemed to be a common theme among the various educators’ social media groups I’ve been watching and joining. The more “general” groups have a ton of chaotic, the-sky-is-falling, holy-hell-we’re-all-gonna-die-doing-this posts about things like taking attendance in class or proctoring exams. The journalism groups had more of a “OK, how do I get X to work in Y environment so the kids get the best experience?” vibe to them.

Thanks to an expert in the field, I realized this wasn’t just a self-serving observation.

Maksl1_web_400x400Late last month, we had an interview with Adam Maksl on the blog, where he talked about how best to operate in this online-only, COVID-forced environment. Maksl, an associate professor of journalism and media at Indiana University Southeast, is currently serving as a Faculty fellow for eLearning Design & Innovation in IU’s Learning Technologies division (a unit within its IT organization, University Information Technology Services).

Here was his take on journalism and education in an online environment, as well as why you are probably doing better at this than you think you are:

You mentioned to me that you saw education moving to online is somewhat similar to what journalism saw in its move online a few decades back. Can you elaborate on that a little bit and explain what you think we can all learn from that previous experience as we engage in this one?

“Both journalism and education have traditionally been the gatekeepers to information. Neither industry is like that any longer. The same forces – technology and markets – affected and continues to affect both sectors. The difference is that journalism was more exposed to the market earlier. Education is where journalism was maybe a decade or so ago, so we as journalism educators should be especially willing to adapt because, frankly, “we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends.”

“If you really think about it, modern journalism, distributed through online channels, is very similar to education, especially digital/online education:

  • Teachers are to students as journalists are to audiences. Teachers/journalists create content that their students/audiences engage in and find value in.
  • We work for similar pro-social goals. We create content and opportunities for engagement to help people improve their lives and interact with the world around them.
  • The tools are often the same. Good teaching is often good storytelling, and online teaching uses the same technology tools as digital journalism.

“Journalism faculty should be the most prepared for this kind of move. Also, this rapid move online can actually be an opportunity for journalism faculty to model to their students the lessons we emphasize in our classes and the adaptability students must have as they enter the workforce.”

In addition to Maksl’s points, I’d like to chip in one more:

WE IMPROVISE, ADAPT AND OVERCOME EVERY DAY: Most fields expect the best and plan for the worst. Journalism is almost the exact opposite, except we don’t really get “the best” in most cases.

Sources we need won’t return our calls. What someone told us at 9 a.m. turns out to be “not quite accurate” at 9 p.m. Art falls through, committees table things we planned for our leads, computers crash on deadline and more. This is what we are expecting on any given day. Even more, those “perfect” days in which everything falls into place are often the most stressful because we’re constantly thinking, “Yeah… This won’t hold…”

We have been trained to understand that the broadcast will start at 10 p.m., the newspaper will go to press at 1 a.m. and failure is not an option. We can’t run a blank spot on page one, throw a box of crayons in the bag and tell the readers, “Here. Draw your own damned news. We couldn’t get it done.” We don’t have anchors tell us, “Our top story fell through, so John and I are going to bullshit for three minutes until the meteorologist finds his pants and get to the set.”

Making it work is what we do, and this isn’t going to be any different.

 

Throwback Thursday: How to report and write a quality obituary

President Trump said in a recent press briefing that somewhere between 100,000 and a quarter-million people will likely die in the U.S. of COVID-19 before everything is said and done.

Given that grim prognosis, especially considering the source, today’s “Throwback Thursday” post takes a look at the issues surrounding obituary writing. These stories can be among the best and worst pieces you will write as a journalist.

The goal with an obit, as is the goal with any story, is to provide an accurate picture of the subject of the story. This can lead to some wonderful tales and some dark places.

Hope this helps in navigating both.

Obituary Writing: Telling truths, not tales, in a reverent recounting of a life

In a discussion among student media advisers, one person noted that obituaries are probably the second-hardest things journalists have to do frequently. (The hardest? Interviewing family members about dead kids.) When a person dies, media outlets often serve as both town criers and official record keepers. They tell us who this person was, what made him or her important and what kind of life this person led. This is a difficult proposition, especially given that people have many facets and the public face of an individual isn’t always how those who knew the person best see him or her. Couple these concerns with the shock and grief the person’s loved ones and friends have experienced in the wake of the death and this has all the makings of a rough journalistic experience.

The New York Times experienced this earlier in the week when it published an obituary on Thomas Monson, the president of the Mormon Church. The Times produced a news obituary that focused on multiple facets of Monson and his affect on the church. This included references to his work to expand the reach and the population of its missionary forces as well as his unwillingness to ordain women and acknowledge same-sex marriages. The obituary drew criticism from many inside the church, leading the obituary editor to defend the choices the paper made in how it covered Monson. (For a sense of comparison, here is the official obituary/notification of death that the church itself wrote for Monson.)

You will likely find yourself writing an obituary at some point in time if you go into a news-related field.  Some of my favorite stories have been obituaries, including one I did on a professor who was stricken by polio shortly after he was married in the 1950s. I interviewed his wife, who was so generous with her recollections that I was really upset when we had to cut the hell out of the piece to make it fit the space we had for it. Still, she loved it and sent me a card thanking me for my time.

Some of my most painful stories have also been obituaries. The one that comes to mind is one I wrote about a 4-year-old boy who died of complications from AIDS. His mother, his father and one of his siblings also had AIDS at a time in which the illness brought you an almost immediate death sentence and status as a societal pariah. I spoke to the mother on the phone multiple times that night, including once around my deadline when she called me sobbing. Word about the 4-year-old’s death had become public knowledge and thus she was told that her older son, who did not have AIDS, would not be allowed to return to his daycare school. Other things, including some really bad choices by my editor, made for a truly horrific overall situation in which the woman called me up after the piece I co-wrote ran and told me what a miserable human being I was. She told me the boy’s father was so distraught by what we published that he would not leave the house to mourn his own son and that she held me responsible for that. Like I said, these things can be painful.

No matter the situation, there are some things you need to keep in mind when you are writing obituaries:

  • Don’t dodge the tough stuff: Your job as a journalist is to provide an objective, fair and balanced recounting of a person’s life. The Times’ editor makes a good point in noting that the paper’s job is to recount the person’s life, not to pay tribute or to serve as a eulogist. This means that you have to tell the story, however pleasant or unpleasant that might be. One of my favorite moments of honesty came from hockey legend Gordie Howe who was recalling the tight-fisted, cheap-as-heck former owner of the Detroit Red Wings:

    “I was a pallbearer for Jack,” says Howe. “We were all in the limousine, on the way to the cemetery, and everyone was saying something nice, toasting him. Then finally one of the pallbearers said, `I played for him, and he was a miserable sonofabitch. Now he’s … a dead, miserable sonofabitch.’”

    It’s not your fault if the person got arrested for something or treated people poorly. If these things are in the public record and they are a large part of how someone was known, you can’t just dodge them because you feel weird. Check out the Times’ obituary on Richard Nixon and you’ll notice that Watergate makes the headline and the lead. As much as that was likely unpleasant for the people who were closest to Nixon, it was a central point of his life and needed to be discussed. In short, don’t smooth off the rough edges because you are worried about how other people might feel. Tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may.

 

  • Avoid euphemisms: This goes back to the first point about being a journalist. You don’t want to soften the language or use euphemisms. People don’t “pass on” or “expire.” NFL quarterbacks pass and magazine subscriptions expire. People die. Also, unless you can prove it, don’t tell your readers that the person is “among the angels” or “resting in the arms of Jesus.” (Both of these euphemisms ended up in obituaries I edited at one point or another. They obviously didn’t make it to publication.) Say what you know for sure: The person died.

 

  • Double down on accuracy efforts: People who are reading obituaries about loved ones and friends are already on edge, so the last thing you want to do is tick them off by screwing up an obituary. I don’t know if this was just a matter of newspaper lore or if it was a real thing, but I was told more than once at a paper where I worked that there were only two things that would get us to “stop the presses:” 1) we printed the wrong lottery numbers and 2) we screwed up an obituary.
    True or not, the point was clear to me: Don’t screw up an obituary.
    Go back through your piece before you put it out for public consumption and check proper nouns for spelling and accuracy. Do the math yourself when it comes to the age (date of birth subtracted from date of death) and review each fact you possess to make sure you are sure about each one. If you need to make an extra call or something to verify information, do it. It’s better to be slightly annoying than wrong.

 

  • Accuracy cuts both ways: As much as you need to be accurate for the sake of the family, you also need to be accurate for the sake of the public record. This means verifying key information in the obituary before publishing it. The person who died might told family and friends about winning a medal during World War II or graduating at the top of her class at Harvard Law School. These could be accurate pieces of information or they could be tall tales meant to impress people. Before you publish things that could be factually inaccurate, you need to be sure you feel confident in your sourcing.
    Common sense dictates that you shouldn’t be shaking the family down for evidence on certain things (“OK, you say she liked to knit. Now, how do we KNOW she REALLY liked knitting? Do you have some sort of support for that?”) but you should try to verify fact-based elements with as many people as possible or check the information against publicly available information. Don’t get snowed by legends and myths. Publish only what you know for sure.

 

  • Don’t take things personally: Calling family, friends and colleagues of someone who just died can be really awkward and difficult for you as a reporter. Interviews with these people can be hard on them as well as hard on you. I found that when I did obituaries, I got one of three responses from people that I contacted:
    1. The source told me, “I’m sorry, but I really just can’t talk about this right now.” At that point, I apologized for intruding upon the person’s grief and left that person alone.
    2. The source is a fount of information and wanted to tell me EVERYTHING about the dead person. I found that for some of them, it was cathartic to share and eulogize and commemorate. It was like I was a new person in their circle of grief and they wanted to make sure I knew exactly why the person who died was someone worth knowing.
    3. The source was like a wounded animal and I made the mistake of sticking my hand where it didn’t belong. I have been called a vulture, a scumbag and other words I’ve been asked to avoid posting on this blog. One person even told me, “Your mother didn’t raise you right” because I had the audacity to make this phone call. I apologized profusely and once I hung up, I needed a couple minutes to shake it off. I knew it wasn’t my fault but it wasn’t easy either.

Your goal in an obituary is always to be respectful and decent while still retaining your journalistic sensibilities. It’s a fine line to walk, but if you do an obituary well, you will tell an interesting story about someone who had an impact on the world in some way. I like to think a story about this person who died should be good enough to make people wish they’d known that person while he or she was alive.

WAY too hot for teacher: How to avoid getting Zoombombed and 3 other things to think about while building your online courses

NOTE: The following video has extremely offensive language in it. It is posted here only to demonstrate the kinds of things people have had to put up with as a result of Zoombombing. Viewer discretion is advised. So are headphones.

During a discussion of how best to serve our students in this time of forced distance learning, a journalism professor in a discussion group made the following statement:

“I don’t understand why people would not be synchronous while also recording for asynchronous if they have a tool that does it easily…” 

The glorious world of the internet answered that pretty well for us this week, as instructors everywhere were introduced to the concept of “Zoombombing”:

Like many professors across the country who’ve been displaced from college campuses because of the coronavirus pandemic, Lance Gharavi suddenly found himself teaching his spring semester courses at Arizona State University online using the Zoom meeting platform. His first Zoom session for an approximately 150-student Introduction to Storytelling course went terribly wrong.

Right off the bat, he said, one of the participants used a Zoom feature that lets a user display an image or a video in the background in order to show a pornographic video.

“I didn’t notice it until a student on chat said something about it,” said Gharavi, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theater. Participants were using fake screen names, some of which he said were very offensive. “The chat window became incredibly active. Most of the comments were not on topic. They were vulgar, racist, misogynistic toilet humor. I would barely even call it humor.”

Instructors aren’t alone in this issue, as a friend of mine noted regarding a Society for Professional Journalists digital meeting:

On Friday, SPJ’s executive director hosted a Zoom meeting with members. But they all saw a member no one wanted: A random man logged on and put his genitals right up to the camera.
Apparently, this is a side effect of the pandemic shutdown. It even has a name: Zoom bombing.

In case it’s not obvious, there’s a reason people get in more trouble on live air than they do when they record a program and run it on air after its been edited. It should also be obvious that you’ll run the risk of having to redo the whole thing instead of just archiving it if some twerp decides to use “Debbie Does Dallas” as a background during class discussion on Zoom.

To prevent Zoombombing, Zoom offers several hints and tips for people setting up their classrooms and meetings, including locking the room, using the waiting-room function and controlling screen sharing. If you are looking at using this tool to teach in a virtual setting, these are great bits of advice and they aren’t that hard to enact.

This approach to teaching feels like whack-a-mole: A problem pops up, we hammer it down with a solution and then, bam, another problem pops up. This is likely the nature of online learning for us for a while as we try to figure out how best to do this as classes progress. It’s like fixing a car while we’re driving it at 100 mph down a bumpy road.

Whether you’re going synchronous or asynchronous, using Zoom or posting lecture notes, well-prepared or running around like Beaker with his hair on fire, consider these three key points in how best to make your classes successful:

 

MINIMIZE FAILURE: One of my favorite stories about legendary hockey coach Herb Brooks was the one told in “One Goal” about his first national championship at Minnesota. After his team won it all, his players were celebrating loudly in the locker room, having a fantastic time. A friend went looking for Brooks, whom he later found sitting along in a hallway, completely drained. The line in the book said it all:

“They had succeeded. He had avoided failure.”

This may seem to be a dark and depressing way to look at life, but when it comes to trying to launch a series of online classes in the middle of a semester with almost no lead time for them, it’s actually the best way to look what you need to do.

This isn’t the time to break out six new digital platforms you’ve never used before in hopes of “jazzing” things up or because everyone else out there is yammering about what they’re doing. It isn’t the time to build a new educational philosophy, based on some BS eLearning journal article you read out of desperation. It isn’t the time to prove that you’re better, stronger, faster, cooler or whatever else because you’re terrified that your whole class is going to hell in a speedboat and you have no control over it whatsoever.

Now is the time to rely on the bedrock principles and simple teaching techniques that got you here. If you have platforms that work and have always work, use them. If you have been successful with certain types of exercises, tweak them a bit and stick with them. Be honest with your students and tell them that you’re going to do X, Y and Z but that’s about it.

You don’t have to hit a grand slam here. A base hit wins the game, so choke up on the bat and protect the plate.

 

RIGHT TOOL, RIGHT JOB: As I struggled to learn statistics, Steven Osterlind of Mizzou was a godsend. He looked like the uncle who showed up to Thanksgiving and would do that magic trick where he pulled a quarter out of a kid’s ear. He was always smiling and helpful, even as students like me were as dumb as a brick.

I kept trying to use more and more complex statistical measurements to find answers to my research problems. This guy, who knew more about stats than any 15 people I know, pushed me in the other direction: Simpler tools, better results. His motto was one in which the simplest tool was usually the best.

I like the theory of “right tool for the right job,” and I’m a huge fan of simplicity when it comes to those tools. If I want to hang a picture in my living room, a hammer and nail works just fine. I don’t need to fire up my air compressor and load up a nail gun.

When it comes to thinking about the tools at your disposal, consider this theory. Some classes need video because they require you to show process and activity. Others could get by with audio podcasting only. My students don’t need to see me and I can get away with still images.

I saw someone in a “COVID teaching discussion group” discussing PowerPoint and how to find ways to get student free copies of it. Do they need access to your PowerPoints for any reason or could a set of PDF’ed slides do just as well?

As we talked about with assignments before, try to find the essential elements of what is most important for your students in your class. Then, use the tools best able to deliver those elements with the least amount of complexity.

Another thought? Ask the students what they have and what they would like to get. Several faculty members did email surveys or Doodle polls to find out what made sense for their classes.

(I asked my students once about moving to video and a student told me, “I like the audio podcasts. I put them on right before bed and after an hour, I’m ready to sleep.” I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about that…)

 

THE HAM STORY: I swear this came from a priest in a sermon, but after all these years, my memory has blurred a bit. Still, it’s the story I tell all my students when the time comes for them to learn how to think for themselves:

“A newly married couple is having dinner together at home for the first time. The woman is making ham and before she does anything else, she cuts two inches off of each end of the ham.”

“The man asks, ‘Why did you do that?’ The woman replies, ‘It’s my mama’s recipe and you always loved mama’s ham so I’m following the recipe.'”

“Later that year, the couple is at the woman’s parents’ home for Christmas dinner. The mother is making ham and she starts by cutting two inches off each end of the ham.”

“The man asks, ‘Why do you do that?’ Mama replies, ‘It’s grandma’s recipe and everyone loves grandma’s ham so I’m following the recipe.'”

“Grandma arrives for dinner and the man asks, ‘Grandma, your recipe says to cut two inches off of each end of the ham before you start. Why do you do that?'”

“Grandma replies, ‘Oh! I never had a big enough pan to hold a whole ham, so I wrote that down to remind myself to cut two inches off each end so that it would fit the pan I had.'”

The lesson? Sometimes, something makes sense at the time, but it outlives its usefulness, even as people blindly continue to do it.

I asked people who use Zoom to do their lectures why they use it and I got a lot of “That’s how I was taught in grad school” kind of responses. The same was true of going synchronous for learning, using specific reporting lessons and other similar things. I have no idea if Zoom is the best tool or not. I also don’t know if those approaches were any good or not.

The problem? It didn’t seem like the folks answering the questions did either.

As much as now isn’t the time to break out a whole new approach to things, it doesn’t hurt to question what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If you come to a satisfactory answer, you’re in great shape.

If not, maybe it’s worth a second look.

 

Happy Birthday, Dad: 4 valuable things I learned from my father that might help you, too

DadSuit

It might be hard to believe that a guy who dressed like this could have valuable advice, but trust me, he always does.

(Editor’s Note: I do my best to follow the 70-20-10 rule for social media, in which only 10 percent is about some form of self-promotion. Today is one of those 10 percent days, so feel free to skip it if you feel I’ve already used up your willingness to tolerate me in promotion mode.

Also, if this or anything else I’ve ever done has helped you in any way, please feel free to wish my dad a happy birthday in the comments section. I’m sure it would be appreciated. -VFF)

As my daughter was going stir-crazy the other day, whining loudly about missing her friends, her extracurricular activities and even in-school classes, I told her the one truism I hoped would keep her sane:

“You can’t focus on the things you can’t do because of social distancing. You have to focus on the things you DO get to do. Otherwise, you’ll go batty.”

For me, an introvert with a long-standing aversion to social situations, this has been an easy adage to espouse and obey.

Until today. Today is my dad’s birthday.

Like everyone else in this country, Dad is stuck at home with limited contact to the outside world, for fear of contracting a virus that is decimating people at an incredible rate. While this “wait this out at home” rule is rough on a lot of people, it has to be killing my dad, who earned the family nickname of “No-Line Frank” for his disdain of waiting in line for anything. (It probably isn’t any great shakes for my mom, either, as she’s isolated in the house with him like this for at least another month.)

I wish with all my heart I could jet down I-41 and give him a big hug (and a nice bottle of Drambuie) today. The fact I can’t saddens me to the point of distraction. That said, he would be the first one to tell me it’s fine, not to worry and that I should get back to work.

My parents were and still are instrumental in who I am and what I do in life. In honor of dad’s 76th birthday, here are four “Filak-isms” he taught me that helped make me who I am and likely will help me make it through this pandemic unscathed:

HUSTLE WHILE YOU WAIT: I can’t remember when he first said it to me, but I rely on it almost daily: “The best things in life come to he who hustles while he waits.”

Although Dad later told me he heard this in a Credit Union seminar or something, I still attribute it to him because he not only said it, but he lives it. I often joke that I’m a “human twitch” when it comes to keeping busy, constantly writing books, teaching classes, refinishing furniture and doing almost anything else anybody asks of me.

Compared to my dad, I’m a piker.

I can’t remember the last time I saw him watch a whole ballgame or TV show without getting up and looking for something to do. He might be cleaning out the junk drawer in the dining room or sorting some baseball cards or looking for something in the basement, but he’s constantly on the move. Seeing this always inspired me to find more stuff to do and to keep looking for new opportunities to make the most of my time.

If you’re always hustling, the good things will come your way.

 

DON’T BRING SHAME ON THE FAMILY: I know I’ve explained this before, but it bears repeating. Dad told me this when I went off to college and decades later, it still rings true. “When you go out there, have fun,” he said. ” But, don’t bring shame on the family. It’s my name, too.”

The sheer tonnage of stupid things I avoided doing in college, simply based on that bit of advice, could stop a speeding locomotive from moving another inch forward. Even now, when I considered doing something, I would imagine the headline “UWO Professor Arrested for (Fill in whatever stupid thing I thought about doing)” and immediately decided against doing that stupid thing.

Whether it was being a success or just avoiding failure, the goal was pretty simple: When Dad saw someone he knew at the grocery store, it would be great if the person didn’t start the conversation with, “Hey, yeah… Heard about your son… Geez… That’s not good…”

 

YOU ARE NOT AVERAGE: In fifth grade, I came home with five C’s on my report card, much to the dismay of my parents. Dad was less than pleased that I wasn’t living up to my potential, whatever that was, and he pretty much knew full well that I fell short because I wasn’t giving a crap.

We were in the middle of a “silent supper,” thanks to my transgressions, when I finally broke the silence with what I thought would be a pretty good argument for my folks to not be so upset: “I read the report card, and it says that a C is average, so-”

Dad cut me off in a firm tone, “You are NOT average.”

I got the point. I could do better. And I knew it.

From that moment, I didn’t get another C on a report card until I hit my freshman year of college. In that case, it was more of a scheduling mistake than a lack of effort, because I took an introductory zoology course that served as the “weed-out” class for the veterinary medicine program at the U.

It’s always easy to take it easy, but that’s not the right way to do things. I was lucky enough to get a set of tools and the ability to use them in a way that matters. I was also lucky as hell to have parents who wouldn’t let me slide because I was good enough to get by or because other people’s kids were doing something worse.

Once that got stuck in my head, I realized that it’s important to always push beyond average whenever possible.

 

FINISH THE WORK FIRST, DRINK BEER LATER: Dad always believed in the separation of work and relaxation. He once told me about my grandfather and how he liked to do part of a job and then relax a bit and then go back and do more of it. Dad fell into the mode that my great-grandfather espoused: Finish the work first, drink the beer later.

What I learned from this was not only the importance of a strong work ethic but also the idea that I could find joy in completion of work. Seeing things get checked off a list or looking at a well-done job brought me happiness that could far exceed the joy of a brief respite and the knowledge that I had to do more work.

Even more, the beer always tasted better when I knew I was done for the day.

Thanks for everything, Pop. I love you.

Dad

 

 

 

“Focus on things that are important:” A message to my students during the coronavirus outbreak.

My chair had the great idea of doing a video in which we all recorded a short message for our students, for whom Monday will be the first day of online-only classes. Here is what I hope to be a calming and yet amusing message to anyone who knows me:

For those of you still in the middle of a class build, feel free to check out the Corona Hotline for Instructors page and grab any lessons, exercises or helpful tips you find there. If you want to share anything, feel free to contact me through the site and I’ll get you hooked up.

Be safe and be well.

Vince (a.k.a. The Doctor of Paper)