Time to dust this thing off

It’s me. After years away, I am back to reclaim this little chunk of the Internet that is my personal blog.

Quite a lot has happened since I filed my previous post four years and 11 months ago. For starters, the resumé section of this blog became sorely out of date. I’ll fix that properly before I even post this. But here’s the career primer:

Three years at a slowly-imploding hyperlocal venture

In September 2010, I began working for Patch.com, AOL’s network of hyperlocal news websites. I moved to Virginia and launched Fredericksburg Patch, overseeing its operations in its first year. In January 2012, I then moved back to my hometown of Hyattsville, Maryland to run that city’s Patch site. I continued to work for Patch as it slowly unwound under the weight of its own expansion. As it circled the drain, I was tasked with the management of more and more Patch sites in Washington, D.C.’s Maryland suburbs. Still, my sites had good metrics and I more-often-than-not met or exceeded my traffic goals.

I quite liked working for Patch. If you met your goals consistently, regional management didn’t really meddle with your site too much. As a result, I was free to spend my time doing a lot of engaging reporting on municipal policy. I also began to develop my skills as a data journalist, and produced my first interactive maps.

Also, and this is important, they paid me more than I had ever been paid as a journalist before. Heck, they raised my pay every year and had nice performance bonuses. As a journalist who started his career in the mid-‘aughts, and whose career was punctuated by layoff-induced dishwashing stints, that was a welcome first for me.

I even bought a friggin’ car.

Then, in early August 2013, I listened in as Tim Armstrong straight-up fired a guy out of nowhere on a conference call about the “future” of Patch. Long story short: there was not much of a future for Patch, at least for about 800 of us. Some were laid off shortly thereafter, a small group were kept on indefinitely. I was one of the lucky ones who was given 60 days notice as part of the transition team.

I essentially had 60 paid days to get my resumé circulated to the wider journalism world. I used my time wisely, and when my last day came around I had landed a new job as…

Digital editor of the Austin Business Journal

Yes, two weeks after I was laid off, I shoved as much of my life as you can fit into a 2004 Pontiac Vibe – which, incidentally, is a lot – and drove to meet my girlfriend, who had shoved as much of her life as you can fit into a 2004 Honda Civic, and – along with our two cats – we drove south by southwest for three days to Austin, Texas. Three nights in a La Quinta Inn later, and we had our first apartment.

The photographer wasn't the best

The couch, on the other hand, we had to buy in Austin.

I’ve been working at the Austin Business Journal for a year and a half now, overseeing the digital operations of the editorial side of the office. I coordinate coverage with reporters, photographers and editors. I assign, edit and post stories. I write up press releases that don’t need the expertise of our beat reporters. I aggregate relevant stories from other news outlets for our audience. I manage the editorial social media channels. I compose and send our daily and weekly email newsletters. I also occasionally shoot and edit photos and video for our coverage. And I also make a lot of maps, as part of my ongoing effort to create a new field of journalism: cartojournalism.

In short, I wear a lot of hats.

The newsroom is friendly, as are the folks in the non-editorial side of the office. Indeed, I’ve found the Austin Business Journal to be the most-transparent news operation I’ve ever worked for. Each month, the entire staff is updated on the just about everything everyone is doing, how well they are doing it, and what they will be doing next. I’ve never worked at a newsroom that clued reporters in to the finances like is done here. It’s a breath of fresh air, for sure.

The future

Anyways, that pretty much catches you up on my professional life. From here forward, I’ll be using this site to do whatever I want with it. It’s not like I have an audience clamoring to read my missives. Calm down.

But I should post more often.

THERE, ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?

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Tennant, Manchin statements punt to legislature

While marking a visible difference in legal opinion, statements made by West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant appear to agree on one thing: the law is convoluted, and the legislature can change it, perhaps in a special session.

Earlier in the day, Manchin told reporters that he has asked state Attorney General Darrell McGraw for a second opinion on the state’s election law. Tennant had previously declared, that because of a quirk of timing and a confusing election law, that the seat had to be filled by appointment. After Manchin’s comments hit the wires, Tennant released a statement which, while recognizing the legal authority of the attorney general in this matter,  firmly stated “while I welcome the opinion of the Attorney General’s Office, I stand by my original interpretation of state code and our review of the appropriate case law.”

She stated that her office has been evaluating the legal requirements and timelines for various election scenarios and has contacted the attorney general and offered their election law expertise.

“I have said time and again that I do not personally agree with this section of code. In fact, I would like to see the people of West Virginia go to the polls as soon as possible,” wrote Tennant. “I have always been an advocate for voting whether it be satellite precincts, vote-by-mail, or internet voting for our military and overseas voters.”

The big news that the AP seems to be focusing on is that Manchin has said that he would run for the seat if a special election were held. I would venture to say that most West Virginian’s are not surprised by this, but it is nonetheless newsworthy for the grim and awkward dance that is filling the late, and openly beloved Sen. Byrd’s seat.

The larger story is slowly focusing itself on the legislature and how, or if, they are open to changing the law. They have a special session coming up on July 19, and the matter could be addressed there. Tennant also issued a call for a special session as early as possible to examine the section of state code that deals with the succession process. “I believe by working with the legislature we can clear up the confusion in the code and pass a law that works for West Virginia voters.”

Innovative use of multimedia by a newspaper…in 1924

I’ve been poking around the video vaults over at Archive.org recently. Much of this is due to the fact that I have been itching to edit video for about six months now, ever since my 2004 Canon Optura 10 died for the last time. Archive.org’s large and downloadable cache of public domain documents, ranging from videos, to e-books, to archived websites, make it an excellent resource for any videographer searching for production elements (or inspiration) on the cheap. Recent excursions into Archive.org’s vaults have me working on some re-edits of Things To Come, which is basically a British Metropolis (as well as another movie which George Lucas must have seen before he conceived the Death Star).

Then I stumbled upon this fascinating piece of newspaper cinematography from 1924, a early example of a newspaper attempting to engage its readers with motion-picture content (sound like a familiar topic anyone?) Try pitching this to your editor on Monday and see what looks you get: readers send in descriptions of their bizarre dreams which the newspaper then makes into a movie starring the dreamers.

Brilliant!

The challenges which news organizations face are not new. As new communication avenues have opened up, newspapers have often been at the forefront of that change, be it dabbling in early radio ventures (mobile journalists should dig the picture showing how they did live remotes in 1922), interpreting dreams for the big screen, or today, with multimedia and social journalism.

Knife pulled in late night fight

Multiple anonymous sources living in the vicinity of German Street are reporting that the Shepherdstown Police Department responded to a fight late last night on German Street in which a knife was drawn.

One resident who lives in an apartment overlooking German Street says that shortly before midnight she heard a verbal argument escalate into a physical confrontaion below her window. She says that, while she did not look for herself, she overheard the beligerents remarking about the sudden insertion of a knife into the loud altercation.

Another witness who was commuting home around midnight reports that he passed by two Shepherdstown Police Department squad cars with their lights on interacting with a group of about 10 to 12 people, some of whom appeared to be overcome with emotion. He says that by this point, order had been restored.

All versions of the rumored fight share a few details: A street side argument on German Street escalated to the point where a knife was drawn, at which point multiple belligerents wrestled the knife away. Shortly thereafter, many of the rumors say, the police arrived on the scene.

Ranking members of the Shepherdstown Police Department have been contacted to comment on the story, but as of 8:13 p.m., no response has been received. Messages were left with SPD personnel after business hours, It is not unusual for local police to refrain from commenting on a story of this small nature until they conduct an initial investigation into the incident.

This story will be updated once official confirmation, refutation or clarification of the described sequence of events has been obtained. Readers should, until then, bear in mind that the details of this story are still emerging and unverified by official sources.

Water problems persist on Ray Street

Roots run deep east of the tracks on Ray and College Streets, one of two historically black sections of Shepherdstown. Many residents can trace their local family lines back to the Civil War, and in some instances, the houses have stayed in family ownership for generations. In instances of hardship, it is common to witness the community rally around their affected neighbor to help them out of duress.

Today is no different.

Ray Street residents Lucy Curbo and Walt Green chip away at the dirt and rocks hiding a water main which may or may not be the source of Keith Boyd's water problems. Boyd, in blue, says he has been using bottled water since Monday. Also pictured, to the left of Green, is Buck Showalter.

A group of neighbors are pitching together to help restore water service to the home of lifelong Ray Street resident Keith Boyd. Boyd says he has been without water pressure since at least Monday morning.

“It was just my problem, but now it’s my neighbor’s problem because they are helping me so graciously,” says Boyd.

According to Boyd, the Corporation of Shepherdstown can’t repair the line because, simply, it’s not theirs. Boyd admits that he won’t know for sure until he finds the source of the leak, but he suspects the problem could be related to last weeks emergency repairs to a ruptured water main at the intersection of Princess and Washington Streets.

But finding the leak has proven to be difficult for a number of reasons.

Boyd says that a plumber’s estimate to fix the problem ran over $3,000, which Boyd can’t afford. Instead, Boyd’s friends and neighbors have donated a considerable amount of sweat equity to try and overcome his water woes. The small group of volunteer plumbers arrived around midday today and began digging to discover the source of the leak. By 6 p.m., the group included Buck Showalter, Dawn Showalter, Walt Green, Lucy Curbo and a whimpering puppy named Wider. They, along with Boyd, are lending muscle to the formidable task of discovering the source of the leak, repairing the line and restoring water pressure. Obstacles so far have included the wet, heavy clay soil and persistent, frequent rocks which have to be delicately worked around, lest they disturb surrounding pipework.

“We’re learning as we go,” said Buck Showalter between shovel strokes.

What they are looking for now is an instructor, someone who can volunteer their time to help them out of their situation. Neighbor Lucy Curbo has been calling around to her plumber friends to see if they can offer any guidance or services. Dawn Showalter was also calling a family friend who owns a plumbing business to seek advice. As of this writing, it had been in short supply.

“We just need someone to tell us what to do, and we can do it.” Said Showalter, who labors in a brickyard by day.

Lifelong Ray Street resident Keith Boyd, in blue, pauses for a moment as his neighbors Walt Green, background, and Buck Showalter, foreground, dig to find the source of a leaking water main on Boyd's property. Boyd says his water service has suffered following last weeks water main break in Shepherdstown.

Failing professional help, they also would appreciate any other volunteers who may be able to come out and help them dig up the water line over the next few days.

If you are able to donate time or expertise to help Keith Boyd return water service to his house, please contact 304-283-9840 or 304-707-1907.

Hawaii state legislator has mad flow

The meetings of legislative bodies are meant to be boring and stale affairs. This ennui serves the important purpose of highlighting for journalists the (surprisingly frequent) moments of legislative insanity. Or creativity. Or both?

To be quite honest, I’m not sure what this falls under (discovered via Fark):

But I love it. I love that Rep. Brower (D-Waikiki) apparently listens to Yung Joc, to the extent that he was inspired to incorporate the memorable and titular hook of Yung Joc’s first single “It’s Goin’ Down” into his 2010 Hawaiian state legislative session themed rap. I love that he, himself, uploaded the video you just watched. He appears to understand how to be a politician in the digital age.

I love that Rep. Bower, apparently, does this every year. Here he is delivering another rhyming invocation on the floor of the legislature in 2008:

And again in 2009:

Mostly, I love how he sells his entire performance. Look at him. He’s a middle-aged legislator who, frankly, cannot rap worth a damn, but you wouldn’t know it from watching him. You just know he’d be an excellent front man for some Hawaiian themed industrial surf rock band (I hope those exist).

For sticking to the script and exceeding my expectations (which were low) Rep. Browers gets my highest praise, the title of “Consummate Showman.” He’s up there with the Two Man Gentleman Band and Khaos Kloud.

How to pitch to a multimedia journalist

This is from my audition at Ragan Communications. I talk to Chicago-Sun Times multimedia journalist Kevin Allen about how public relations practitioners can pitch a story to overburdened reporters in the digital age.

Mike Zaruba ran camera for my standups (the first standups of my career, I might add). Script, lighting, principal shooting and editing were done by yours truly.