Category Archives: news

Inaugural images, the Braille month, 5 minutes with the flute, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, January 22, 2021

During the last few weeks, I am more and more  reading short stories rather than novels. Up to now, I have never paid much attention to short stories. It began, I think,  when a newsletter reader mentioned Ed Hoch, whose name I had never heard and stories I had never read. And it’s gone on from there.

Since then I have gotten through most of a collection of college campus-related stories put together by Lawrence Block (The Darkling Halls of Ivy); started and quit a collection by Patricia Highsmith (Eleven – a bit too creepy for night-time reading); downloaded a collection of the year’s best mystery stories (2018) from the local library; and gotten a few others off of Amazon (generally for free with the Kindle Unlimited program). Author Ray Bradbury once advised that you should read one short story and one poem every day. Sounds okay to me. This may develop into another of my New Year’s goals.

It’s still January, so whatever your goals/resolutions are, I hope that you can get on with them and have a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,468 subscribers and had a 26.8 percent open rate; 2 people unsubscribed.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Picturing the inaugural for the first time

Presidential inaugurations have taken place in America every four years since 1789 when George Washington first took the oath of office, but it was more than 50 years after that event that the public saw a news image and got an idea of what an inauguration really looks like.

That image, however, was not seen first by Americans. Rather, it appeared in the London Illustrated News in April 1845, and it showed the inauguration of James K Polk from Tennessee becoming America’s new leader. (Polk’s inauguration not only was the first one to be pictured as news, but it was also the first inaugural event to be broadcast by telegraph.)

The images that appeared in the London Illustrated News – there were actually two of them — were not photographs, of course. Photography had just been invented during the previous two decades, but there was no technology in place little allow the printing and mass production of photographs. Instead, the images were woodcuts. Even so, they were highly detailed and made interesting viewing for the reader.

The London Illustrated News was begun in 1842 by Herbert Ingram, who had gone into the printing and news agency business in Nottingham with his brother-in-law. As a newsagent, Ingram noticed that publications that contained images sold more copies more quickly than publications that did not. He began to develop the idea of a publication that would emphasize images. 

The first issue of the News appeared in May 1842, and its sales were brisk and healthy. But sales of subsequent issues were not as good. Ingram was determined to make the publication of success. One of the things he did was take an issue that contained images of the installation of the Archbishop of Canterbury and send a copy to as many clergymen as he could find. His subscriber list immediately increased.

The images that the London Illustrated News carried of the Crimean War in the 1850s were based on photographs. They, too, helped increase the circulation of the paper to more than 100,000. The London Illustrated News appeared as a weekly until 1971. It finally ceased publication completely in 2003.

How Americans really feel and act

The following words are from former President Barack Obama, but I am convinced did any president before him, no matter what party he belonged to, would have said the same thing:

America has changed over the years. But these values my grandparents taught me — they haven’t gone anywhere. They’re as strong as ever; still cherished by people of every party, every race, every faith. They live on in each of us. What makes us American, what makes us patriots, is what’s in here. That’s what matters. And that’s why we can take the food and music and holidays and styles of other countries, and blend it into something uniquely our own. That’s why we can attract strivers and entrepreneurs from around the globe to build new factories and create new industries here. That’s why our military can look the way it does — every shade of humanity, forged into common service. That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end. 
Barack Obama

5 minutes with the flute will make you a believer

A couple of weeks ago in this newsletter, I mentioned that I learn to play the flute when I was young.

Well, right on time and with perfect pitch (see this December newsletter), the New York Times has put into words many of the feelings that I have for that instrument. Not only have they used words, but they have also used sounds, and many of those sounds are delightful.

The Times’ editors have gathered a collection of flute music that ranges across flutists, styles, and centuries. They have also let those who play and love the flute write very short pieces as introductions to the selections they are presenting. Here’s what Nathalie Stutzmann, a conductor and singer, has to say about it:

The flute is one of humanity’s oldest ways of producing a beautiful sound, and it is based on the most fundamental sign of life: breath. Made from bones, wood or reeds, the earliest specimens date from the Paleolithic era. The flute is often associated with things elegiac, poetic, angelic — with purity — but also with the world of magic; in mythology, Orpheus seduces the underworld playing the flute. In this excerpt from Gluck’s Orpheus opera, the flute is extremely sensual, and, with its lyrical soaring, takes us from earthly pleasures to heavenly ones. Source: 5 Minutes That Will Make You Love the Flute – The New York Times

And as a final note (ahem) on this entry, I would remind you of what faithful newsletter reader Vic C. wrote in response to my flute musings a couple of weeks ago: “The other memory I have is of an interview that Dick Cavett conducted with Jean-Pierre Rampal.  At the time, some people would refer to the musician as a flutist or a flautist.  Rampal’s response was that he didn’t know anybody who played the flaut. Fortunately, for me, that confirmed my own preference.”

I don’t know anybody who plays the flaut either.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”

Louis Braille and a new way of reading and writing

January should not escape us without noting that it is Braille Literacy Month. No name is more associated with reading and writing by the blind than that of Louis Braille.

Braille’s method of writing so that the blind could read was not the first such system, however. Another system of writing and reading prevailed and was well entrenched when Braille came along.

Braille was born on January 4, 1809, in a small town in France, and he was blinded when he was a very small child. He was sent to Paris by his family to be educated at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in 1819. He was only 10 years old, but he proved to be a quick and curious student.

At the time, students were taught to read using a system developed by the institute’s founder Valentin Haüy. Haüy was not blind, and his system involved embossing heavy paper with Latin letters, and students could read by moving their fingers across the letters. Haüy had produced a small number of books using this system, but these books were expensive and difficult to make. And, of course, blind people could not write without a lot of expensive equipment. Still, the system was a breakthrough in it married reading to the sense of touch by the blind.

Two years after Braille came to Paris,  the school was visited by Charles Barbier, a former soldier in the French army who had devised a system called “night writing.” The system used a configuration of 12 dots punched into a piece of paper for each letter, and it allowed soldiers to exchange secret information at night. The system worked, Barbier said, but it was very difficult for the soldiers to learn. Almost immediately, Braille recognized that this was a system that could be adapted to allow blind people to read.

Even though he was only 12 years old, Braille believed that he could improve on this system, and he started to work on it. By the time he was 15, he had devised a system that used only six dots per letter. Braille then went to work on a book that explained his system and argued that it would enable blind students to write as well as read. The book was published in 1829. It was the first book published using what would eventually be a universally-accepted system.

By that time, Braille had become a teacher at the Institute. Students loved Braille’s new system of reading and writing, but the teachers at the Institute were very conservative and far less enthusiastic about it. Installing a new system would mean that the teachers not only had to learn the system but also had to revise their teaching methods.

Nevertheless, Braille continued to revise and advocate for his system. In addition to his other skills, Braille with a noted mathematician and a musician, playing both the cello and the organ with great proficiency. Thus, he added numbers and musical notation to his system. Braille played the organ at churches throughout France, and he was the regular organist for two different churches in Paris.

Braille suffered from ill-health his entire life, and his condition – probably tuberculosis – worsened as he reached the age of 40. He finally had to give up his teaching position at the Institute, and in 1852, at the age of 43, he died. Two years after his death, The Institute began using his system of reading and writing. Within 30 years, that system had been accepted in all parts of the world except North America. It was only in the 20th century that Americans finally accepted the Braille system.

Podcast recommendation: Bag Man, the crimes of Spiro Agnew

If you lived through the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, or if you know much about it, you will remember that Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s vice president, resigned his office in October 1973 because he faced criminal charges that had nothing to do with anything involving Watergate.

The Agnew episode has come to be regarded as just that, an episode in the larger story that was taking place at the time.

But Rachel Maddow and her crew at MSNBC have come along to remind us that the Agnew thing was more than an episode. It was a full-blown, republic-challenging crisis, and there are things yet to be discovered about it.

They dug into it and developed a podcast, Bag Man, out of what they found, and you can find it at the link below:

Is it possible for an American Vice President to carry out a criminal enterprise inside the White House and have nobody remember? To have one of the most brazen political bribery scandals in American history play out before the country while nobody’s paying attention? In her first original podcast, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow goes back 45 years to dig into a story that got overshadowed in its day. Source: Bag Man: A Rachel Maddow podcast from MSNBC

The podcast is a couple of years old, but a book, Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-up, and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House, has been recently published based on what Maddow and her producer found, a book that the Washington Post review says is a  “case study in how the democratic ideal of equal justice under the law collides with the squalid realities of America’s political system.”

The podcast episodes are fascinating and easy to listen to, and you will come to believe that what happened back then resonates loudly today.

Vietnam Voices: the podcast this week

Here are the Vietnam Voices episodes that were posted this week:

Calibrating the artillery

Floyd Smith used land survey techniques to help ensure the accuracy of artillery guns in the firebases in Vietnam. He helped generate information for the artillery units to aim their guns correctly.

An encounter with the NVA

Marine platoon commander Ed Shore encounters a squad of North Vietnamese Army regulars in June 1968. The results are devastating for some of the Marines.


Elizabeth F.: Great edition….I especially enjoyed your observations as a painter enjoying the winter subtle palette. As a writer and poet, I have focused on the need for a sharper observational focus in capturing a word picture.  By mid to end of February there are small but visible season changes even here in mid-central Minnesota where I have seen snow flurries in every month. Yes, even July!
Dan C.: Happy New Year. Can we say 2020 is now hindsight? The way you can tell “The Queen’s Gambit” was fiction and not fact was that Bobby Fisher was not in the narrative. He was active at the same time portrayed in the mini-series. It could be argued that Benny Watts was about the right age, though he was not in any way similar to Fisher.
Vic C.: I have, of course, enjoyed reading Lawrence Block’s works, especially the Bernie Rhodenbarr series.  Somewhere along the way, I encountered “Telling Lies for Fun and Profit – A Manual for Fiction Writers” and was struck — if only by the title, alone — that I should have tried doing that, myself.  But, as so often happens, life got/ had gotten in the way and I’m left to share stories of my life with my grandkids. 
Chuck C.: Love the chapel, Jim. And the caricatures are always a favorite.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: A good book anywhere


Best quote of the week:

High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.
Walter Scott, novelist and poet (1771-1832)

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Susan Glaspell, a forgotten feminist writer, and Lawrence Block, successful and prolific: newsletter, January 15, 2021

PBS Frontline confronts the Facebook Dilemma

Some people spend hours a day on Facebook; others have never seen it and actively avoid it. Some people have strongly partisan views, one way or another, which may color their view of Facebook.

In my view, it doesn’t matter whether or not you “like” Facebook, or whether you are red or blue or any other political color. There is a problem with Facebook that goes beyond personal preferences and political partisanship. That problem is presented in PBS Frontline‘s excellent two-part presentation on The Facebook Dilemma. I hope that you watched it. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend it.

(As usual, I stay about three weeks behind on most things, and this is typical. The series was aired in late October, and I just got around to watching it this week.)

What the series tells us is that the people who run Facebook do not recognize the problems and are unwilling to make decisions to deal with it. All of the Facebook executives who talked with the Frontline reporters — there were six — essentially said the same thing, often using the same phrases. They were “slow to recognize” the problems that the Russian involvement in the 2016 election caused. They are going to have a “continuing conversation” about what needs to be done.

Most disturbing of all, I think, is that Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chief executive of Facebook, continues to spout an “idealistic” vision for his company — that it can change the world for good — when the purpose of Facebook is not to change the world but to make money for its investors.

Zuckerberg and his cohorts need to grow up — or they need to put an adult in the room — and confront the behemoth that they have created rather cling desperately to a pie-in-the-sky vision.


Hurricane news: it’s not always what you think – or what you hear

OntheMedia, the radio show about all things journalism, has produced an excellent piece to counter some of the predictable narrative that you are likely to hear as we approach another season in which high winds and waves slam into various parts of the U.S.

Members of FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Nebraska Task Force One (NE-TF1) remove an infant from a rescue boat in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

For media professionals, hurricanes offer the very best kind of bad news, because the story arc is predictable, and invariably compelling. In the latest edition of our Breaking News Consumer’s Handbooks, we examine the myths, misleading language, and tired media narratives that clog up news coverage at a time when clarity can be a matter of life and death. Source: Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: U.S. Storm Edition – On The Media – WNYC

News consumers should always be wary of what they see and hear. They should understand that recurring news stories inevitably gain a narrative that journalists are expected to follow. Often, that narrative has flaws — flaws that can impede the truth.

This piece helps us understand some of the flaws of “natural disaster” coverage.


girl reading

A pointed, provocative post: Why You Should Stop Reading News by Shane Parrish

Shane Parrish, creator of the Brain Food newsletter and the Farnham Street blog, has published a pointed and provocative essay on why should stop reading the news.

Source: Why You Should Stop Reading News (This article takes about five minutes to read.)

Parrish has a large following of people who are trying to make the most of their time and who need to make good decisions. The news, he says, is very little “signal” and mostly “noise.”

The point is, most of what you read online today is pointless. It’s not important to your life. It’s not going to help you make better decisions. It’s not going to help you understand the world. It’s not going to help you develop deep and meaningful connections with the people around you. The only thing it’s really doing is altering your mood and perhaps your behavior.

Parrish wisely makes the distinction between “news creators” and “journalists.” News creators simply want to gain your attention and hold it for as long as possible. He doesn’t spell it out, but I assume that in his view journalists report information that adds value to your life.

I agree.

Much of what you see, hear, and read today — particularly online — is designed to peak your curiosity rather than to make you a more informed citizen and a better decision-maker.

Avoid the noise because it messes with the signal. Your attention is valuable, so why spend so much time on stuff that will be irrelevant in a few days? Read what stands the test of time. Read from publications that respect and value your time, the ones that add more value than they consume. Read what prompts you to think for yourself. Read fewer articles and more books. Read books that have stood the test of time, those that are still in print after 20 years or so.

Good advice.

September 8 is International Literacy Day


September 8 is International Literacy Day, designated so by the United Nations. There are still too many people in the world who cannot read, and two-thirds of them are women. This year’s theme is Literacy in a Digital World.

“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”

This quotation is often ascribed to Mark Twain. It sounds like something he would write, but there is no evidence that he did. Those who investigate these things cannot find a single source for the quotation or the idea.

The truth of the quotation, however, is self-evident.

Photos of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation from FEMA’s photojournalists

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sends out photographers along with its emergency responders to record disasters wherever they occur. Here are some of those photos.

Please remember the victims of this disaster by donating to the relief agency of your choice. My choice is the United Methodist Committee on Relief (

Members of FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Nebraska Task Force One (NE-TF1) rescue a pet from floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey.

Members of FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Nebraska Task Force One (NE-TF1) remove an infant from a rescue boat in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Members of FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Nebraska Task Force One (NE-TF1) comb a neighborhood for survivors impacted by flooding from Hurricane Harvey.


The Newspaperman: A poem from the 1880s

In doing some research in 19th century newspapers recently, I found this clever little poem:


Little they know. or even think,

Of the work there is in shedding Ink

By the busy wielders of pencil and pen,

Generally known as newspaper men.

“Jottings,” “In General,” “Spice of Life,”

“Variations,” and rumors rife,

Weekly notes and special news

All sorts of paragraphs to amuse.

Market reports and marine disasters,

Puffs of pills and patent plasters;

Now at the theatre in white cravat,

Claw hammer coat and open hat;

Then to the prize-ring, where you write

Sickening details of a bloody fight-

Back to the city, just in time

To report the sermon of some divine;

Steamboat collision, smash-up of trains,

Election returns to bother your brains;

Agent dramatic with long-winded story.

To write up his ” star” to theatrical glory;

Deaths and marriages, murders, rows,

Balls and parties, minstrel shows,

Stock speculations, bubbles of air,

Tossed aoout by bull and bear:

Praising the limb in the dancer’s pose,

And next the calves in the cattle shows;

Pencil in hand at the racing-course,

Taking the time of a trotting horse;

Jotting down each stroke and catch

Made in a famous base ball match;

Now of a street row taking a note,

And then of a row In a pleasure boat—

These are a few of the many things

At which the tireless pencil swings,


Bangor Daily Whig & Courier (Bangor, Maine),  Tuesday, January 13, 1880


Digital Reader blogger tries to get at the real facts about ebook sales

A lot of buzzing and scoffing these days in the world of independent publishing about the “fact” that ebook sales are down.

Blogger Nate Hoffelder tries to set the facts — the real facts — about ebook sales straight.

Source: Damn the Facts: The “Ebook Sales Are Down” Narrative Must be Maintained at All Costs | The Digital Reader

This is an important issue for independent publishers and authors such as myself. Much of our work and our world is geared toward ebooks.

Traditional publishers would like for the public to believe that ebook reading will fade away and that were are on the path that returns to the halcyon days where publishers controlled everything, including some outrageous pricing practices.

Their willing partners in perpetuating this narrative are some well-placed journalists who don’t take the time to examine the information they are being handed by publisher association and who don’t bother to do a basic act of journalism 101: getting another side of the story.

The journalists should know better.

But, as independent publishers and authors, we can only hope that traditional publishers keep fooling themselves with their own narrative and keep the prices of their books frustratingly high. That will continue to give a golden opportunity for those of us who publish our own work.

Revelations by scholastic journalists come by just ‘looking it up’

“You can look it up.”

If you remember anything about baseball in the 1950s (and fewer and fewer of us do), you would remember Casey Stengel’s famous conclusion to almost all of his long soliloquies to surrounding newsmen. Stengel was the manager of the New York Yankees, and his teams won pennant after pennant in those years.

Casey Stengel

Stengel was a master at circumlocution. (You can look that up.)

He would often offer long involved answers to the simplest of questions. His flights of verbosity soared above Yankee Stadium until everyone lost sight of what the original question was. Then, to allay the skepticism of the journalists, he would conclude with the words:

“You can look it up.”

Stengel’s famous words came to mind when I read the story a couple of weeks ago in the Washington Post (and reported by many other news organizations) that a group of high school journalists in Pittsburg, Kansas had forced the resignation of their new principal because they found that she had apparently questionable credentials for the job.
Source: These high school journalists investigated a new principal’s credentials. Days later, she resigned. – The Washington Post

How did they do this?

Well, they looked her up.

According to the Post story, several students began checking up on the credentials presented by the new principal.

In the Booster Redux (their newspaper) article, a team of six students — five juniors and one senior — revealed that Corllins had been portrayed in a number of articles as a diploma mill, a place where people can buy a degree, diploma or certificates. Corllins is not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education, the students reported. The Better Business Bureau’s website says Corllins’s physical address is unknown and the school isn’t a BBB-accredited institution.

“All of this was completely overlooked,” Balthazor (one of the students) said. “All of the shining reviews did not have these crucial pieces of information … you would expect your authority figures to find this.” (quoted material)

According to the students, the information wasn’t that hard to find. All they did, as Stengel would have advised, was look it up.


Point Spread by Jim Stovall

All of this relates, at least tangentially, to my next novel, Point Spread, which will be available soon (May 31 on Kindle, sooner in print).

It’s the story of Maxine Wayman, a high school senior at Trinity Lane High School in Nashville. The story is set in 1967 against the backdrop of the war in Vietnam.

Maxine finds a story that will rock the foundations of her school — and possibly endanger her life.

The digital version of the novel is currently available for pre-order here on Amazon.

The print version can be found here on CreateSpace.

50 years ago, Harrison Salisbury did not win the Pulitzer Prize

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Harrison Salisbury, pen and ink by Jim Stovall © 2017


Fifty years ago when the Pulitzer Prizes were awarded, politics — not merit — kept Harrison Salisbury from winning the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting.

This week’s announcement (see below) of the latest prizes brings this sad tale to mind.

Salisbury was a reporter and editor for the New York Times who already had one Pulitzer to his credit.

With the war in Vietnam building to a rage in 1966, Salisbury applied to North Vietnam to visit Hanoi and file reports from there. North Vietnam was at that time considered the enemy, and the U.S. was conducting a brutal bombing campaign against the country and particularly its cities.

The U.S. government, with Lyndon Johnson as president, assured the country that the bombs were hitting only military targets.

When Salisbury arrived in Hanoi in December and began filing his reports on Christmas Day, he told the American public quite a different story. The bombs were falling everywhere, and civilians and civilian targets were taking a beating. The bombing was not, as the administration liked to say, “surgical.”

Salisbury reported what he saw and what he heard as people talked to him. His reports were full of descriptions and people and had the ring of authenticity. Many in America accused Salisbury of being stage-managed and manipulated.

Salisbury returned to the United States and may have wished he had stayed in Hanoi. He was subjected to scurrilous attacks from fellow journalists who were being supported by “leaks” from the Pentagon. The Pulitzer Prize jury voted to award Salisbury a Pulitzer that April, but it was overruled by an advisory board of mostly publishers. The award went to someone else, whom we don’t remember.

We do remember Harrison Salisbury.

Point Spread

Harrison Salisbury is an important background character in my forthcoming novel Point Spread.

The novel is set in 1967 at the time when Salisbury was sending back his reports. The protagonist, a high school girl, wants to be a journalist, and one of her models is Harrison Salisbury.

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Pulitzer Prize announcement

Watch a live stream of Pulitzer Prize Administrator Mike Pride announcing the 2017 Pulitzer Prizes on April 10, 2017 at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Source: Video: 2017 Pulitzer Prize Announcement – The Pulitzer Prizes

In which I answer the question, “What’s next?”, part 2: the suffrage ladies and me

Seeing Suffrage

Seeing Suffrage

The suffrage ladies may not be done with me.

Those were the women who, between 1910 and 1920, affected the most profound change in the make-up of the electorate in the history of the Republic.

In 2013, Seeing Suffrage was published by the University of Tennessee Press. The book was about the 1913 Washington suffrage parade, the visual nature of the event, and the profound effect that it had on the suffrage movement, photojournalism, and American politics. At the time I wrote it, I planned for it to be the first of a trilogy.

Alice Paul

Alice Paul

The second book would be the Silent Sentinels, which would tell the story of Alice Paul and her cohorts in the National Woman’s Party who, in 1917, stood silently outside of Woodrow Wilson’s White House asking that he support a suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. What happened to those women, particularly when World War I began and their protests were viewed as treasonous, does not reflect well on the history of the nation, but it’s an important, interesting and instructive story.

The Silent Sentinels are important for more than just their suffrage work. They invented our modern forms of public protest. Labor unions, anti-war protestors, civil rights activists and many others have drawn on the work and ways of the Silent Sentinels.

But I digress.

The Silent Sentinels outside the White House, 1917

The Silent Sentinels outside the White House, 1917

The third volume would be Securing Suffrage, the story of the final battle over women’s suffrage that took place in the summer of 1920 in Nashville.

Alas, life, work and many other things got in the way, and those projects have not been completed.

So, maybe part of the answer to “What’s next?” will be mixing it up with the suffrage ladies again. If they will have me.

And that’s only part of the answer.

* * *

Note: For some background on why this posts exists, see In which I answer the question, “What’s next?”, part 1.

Blue Angels streak across the pasture for fourth straight day

Few sights get the blood to pumping or raise the goosebumps on your skin like the sight of a sleek Navy fighter jet streaking across the sky.

When the jet is streaking across the treeline of your pasture, the heart pumps faster.

When you get six of them — the pilots performing with mathematical precision — the thrills are exponential.

That’s what happened to us Thursday through Sunday as the Navy’s Blue Angels team performed at the Smoky Mountain Air Show at the Knoxville airport this weekend. We live close enough to the airport to get a good view of the show, and we couldn’t have been more pleased or satisfied.

You cannot help but look and be amazed at what these young people do with the very expensive planes that our nation has put in their hands. They show precision, training and discipline to a degree that is hard to imagine.

This video, along with some clumsily edited music, gives you a taste of what we experienced.


Swag for SPJ’s Front Page Follies

For the past several years I have been asked (and honored to be asked) to provide some items for the silent auction for the Front Page Follies, the annual musical production of the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists.

So, here are this year’s offerings:

Ayres Hall, atop The Hill, at the University of Tennessee

Ayres Hall, atop The Hill, at the University of Tennessee

The first is a watercolor that was posted on Facebook a few days ago. It’s Ayres Hall, the major architectural symbol of the University of Tennessee. Ayres Hall was constructed about 100 years ago and sits majestically on top of The Hill at UT in Knoxville.

When I was a freshman at UT in 1966, I had an 8 o’clock class on the third floor of Ayres Hall every Monday, Wednesday and Friday during my first quarter. That was in the days before there was a bus service to the Hill. There wasn’t even a bridge from the University Center. So, there were lots of steps to climb both outside to get to the building and then inside to get to the classroom.

The second is a watercolor of the bridge across Cumberland Avenue; the painting is titled “Bridge to Sophie’s; Cumberland Ave.”

Bridge to Sophie's; Cumberland Ave.

Bridge to Sophie’s; Cumberland Ave.

Directly across Cumberland Avenue was Sophia Strong Hall, then a girl’s dormitory, which had a cafeteria and probably the best food on campus. I crossed that bridge many times as an undergraduate.

Strong Hall has recently been demolished, and there is lots of construction going on over there now. The bridge is currently closed to all foot traffic in order to keep folks away from the construction site. I hope it can open soon so folks can enjoy the walk.

The third item is a desk set – pen, letter opener and magnifying glass – that I made from walnut and turned on my lathe. I made one of these for the Follies last year, and it did well, I think. (I didn’t attend the silent auction.) The wood is finished with, among other things, beeswax from our beehives. Walnut is a beautiful wood to work with and usually finishes up very nicely.

All of these items were fun to produce, and I hope they do the Follies some good.

Desk set, hand-turned walnut

Desk set, hand-turned walnut

Design: breaking the chains of habituation

Design is important, but not always for the reasons we believe.

In the TED video below, Tony Fadell, the designer of the iPod, talks about the things that really make design something that innovators should pay attention to.

Here are some of the points that Fadell makes:

Habituation – “We get used to things as they are. Our brains encode everyday things in habits.” Mostly, this is good, but if it stops us from noticing and fixing the things around us, it’s bad.

— The job of the product designer is to notice things and solve problems. “It’s had to solve a problem that almost no one sees.”

— In the early days of the iPod, we noticed that gadgets that had batteries had to be charged before they were used. At Apple, they noticed. They determined that customers wanted products that they could use immediately.

Fadell’s tips:

  • Look broader. Try to see the invisible problems.
  • Look closer. Focus on details and see what is necessary and what isn’t.
  • Think younger. Listen to newbies (young or old) to see what problems they notice and what solutions they have.

Design then is more than just the way things look. It’s helping people use the things we create.


The designer behind the iPod talks about ways to see your product in a new light.

Source: The First Secret of Design | The Scholarly Kitchen

The web imposes new responsibilities on journalists

The web has imposed new responsibilities on the journalist – responsibilities that go far beyond those of the traditional print or broadcast reporter.

Web journalists must report and write original information, just as traditional journalists do. They have the additional responsibility of finding the best information about the topic that is already available on the web and presenting that information through links. That process is sometimes called curating information.

Competence in using all of the tools of the journalist – text, pictures, audio and video – is another responsibility of the web journalist. And with knowledge of the hardware and software available for reporting must also come an understanding of when these tools are best used to present the information that the reporter has gathered. The choice of tools of reporting has many aspects, not the least of which that the reporter often choose the tool he or she is most comfortable and most confident in using.

Web journalists must also work with speed. The web is an immediate medium, DF-ST-99-05401ready to disseminate information as quickly as it is prepared. Reporters often find themselves in increasingly competitive situations where a few minutes or even a few seconds will mean the difference between having an audiences and not having one.

Once information is posted, journalists must be willing to promote their material so that those who are interested in it know that it is available and have some incentive for finding it. As they get better and more experienced, reporters should have an increasing and committed audience for what they do.

Finally, reporters should be willing to engage their audience. The interactivity of the web, referred to earlier in this chapter, allows audience members to be participants in the conversation that is generated by a reporter’s efforts. The reporter, in a real sense, has a responsibility to join in and even lead that conversation.

All of these responsibilities make the life of the reporter more interesting, complex and demanding. They give journalists an important part in generating and supporting the public conversation that is vital to a democratic society.

A version of this essay will appear in the ninth edition of Writing for the Mass Media. The new edition will be in print during the summer of 2014.


Newswriting in the near future


Acceleration, with attention to accuracy, is the characteristic of news writing today.

The speed of the Internet and the World Wide Web in disseminating information has forced editors and journalists to rethink the way they present news and the structure of writing.

Consider this:

  • The Internet and the Web have brought the speed of live broadcasting to the written word. People turn to Web sites, RSS feeds or other devices to get news, and they expect it to be immediate and up-to-date.
  • Twitter (and tweets that show up on Facebook and other social media) has become a chief way in which news is conveyed. But Twitter limits writers to 140 characters for each tweet, not nearly enough to develop even a short story.
  • Journalists are increasingly using Twitter, Facebook, social media and updated blogs rather than the Web site of their news organizations to present their reporting.
  • Mobile devices—cell phones, smart phones, Blackberries and other handheld gadgets—are increasingly popular and convenient to use. With a click, a slide and a glance, you can get your news as you are walking from class to another.
  • These developments are beginning to make the inverted pyramid news story structure—which once seemed ready-made for the Web—look old and slow. Is there a new structure of writing news that will emerge to fit into this fast-paced environment of information dissemination? Will such a structure be adaptable to the environment but also preserve the values of accuracy and verification that are the hallmarks of journalism?

What does all this mean for the future of news writing?

Professional journalists and communication scholars are thinking hard about these questions. What is emerging is a form of writing that no longer adheres strictly to the inverted pyramid structure. The form, which is as yet unnamed, consists of a headline, a summary (if a content management system demands it), a lead paragraph, and bullet points of information that give the reader some quick, up-to-the-minute information about the story. The bullet points stand independently. They are not tied together in a narrative structure. They are usually less than 140 characters long, allowing them to fit into a tweet.

Forms of this kind of journalism are on display most prominently on Web sites such as CNN, which uses the term “highlights” for its bullet points that top each news story. Another term for this kind of reporting is “link journalism,” which is simply covering an event or subject through a series of bullet point statements.

The online environment resembles what we think of the “wild west” where anything goes and any off-the-wall idea might just be crazy enough to work. One such idea was Twitter itself, where people originally thought of it as a way to broadcast (or Webcast) “what are you doing?” Twitter has since changed its call for tweets to “What’s happening,” which reflects the way that people are increasingly using it—as a news and information outlet rather than as a personal diary.

What’s next? And where will it settle? We do not know that, and this is what makes many traditional journalists nervous. It also makes the world very exciting for those who are looking to the future.

Note: A version of this essay will appear in the ninth edition of Writing for the Mass Media, which will be published in the summer of 2014 by Allyn and Bacon.

Two major league sports journalists question the NFL’s existence

Times are tough for the National Football League. Concussions, racism, criminality, strokes and heart attacks, harassment — the problems keep piling up.

This weekend, things got a little worse.

Two of the best sports journalists in the business raised questions not just about what’s happening in the NFL right now but about the existence of the league — and the sport as we know it.

What is striking about what Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post and Rick Reilly of wrote in their weekend columns is not the litany of sins that the league, its owners and its players have committed but the way in which these journalists are taking it. They’re taking it personally.Reillycolumn

Here’s part of what Reilly says: “This is the game I’ve spent 36 years glamorizing. These are the men I’ve spent five decades lionizing. And it turns out I was part of the problem.” Boswell doesn’t go that far, but he almost does: “. . . I’ve enjoyed the NFL since I was a boy 50 years ago. My father, my son and I have watched the evolution of the NFL for generations. . . . But especially in the last couple of years, the deluge of ugly, even horrific news surrounding the NFL has become a source of shock, chagrin and even critical self-examination for many of us.”

Any sport needs its cheerleaders among the ranks of the Scribblers. If these two major league Scribblers find themselves unable to watch — and thus to write — what’s the future of the league? And the sport?

Think about boxing. In the 1920s and 1930s, that sport and baseball were the two most popular pastimes in America. By the 1970s, in the minds of many people, boxing was no longer legitimate.

Could football be traveling down that road?

Here are longer excerpts from Boswell’s and Reilly’s columns, with links to the complete columns:

Thomas Boswell

Richie Incognito bullying allegations are the latest in long list of NFL problems

On Thursday night, I’ll watch when Washington visits Minnesota, just as I’ve enjoyed the NFL since I was a boy 50 years ago. My father, my son and I have watched the evolution of the NFL for generations. It has been the backlighting for Thanksgivings and a cause for phone calls of delight or misery as recently as Sunday. But especially in the last couple of years, the deluge of ugly, even horrific news surrounding the NFL has become a source of shock, chagrin and even critical self-examination for many of us.

Where are we? Where is pro football? The NFL doesn’t have a PR problem. It has a reality problem. And it may be a grave one. Every month — and it seems every few days — the NFL is inundated by new, barely suspected revelations. What has the NFL become? Or is this what it has been for some time? Is the truth coming out of the shadows?


If the NFL doesn’t alter its culture, it won’t be “America’s game” forever. Pro football isn’t going away any more than prize fighting has died. But status among sports can change — a lot. Is the NFL already so violent and infatuated with its own wealth that its phenomenal success will handicap it in facing the breadth and depth of its problems and prevent it from properly protecting its long-term future?

Rick Reilly

Football is getting harder to watch: Knowing the cost to players strips watching football of any innocence

This is the game I’ve spent 36 years glamorizing. These are the men I’ve spent five decades lionizing. And it turns out I was part of the problem. Howard Cosell stopped covering boxing when his conscience wouldn’t allow it, and yet I go on. I’m addicted.

In Caesar’s day, they filled the 50,000-seat Roman Coliseum to watch gladiators compete. These gladiators trained at special schools. They knew the risk. The glory and the money was worth it to them. If the gladiators weren’t dead at the end of the fight, the emperor looked to the crowd to help him decide: Had the losing fighter fought hard enough to please the people? If he hadn’t, the emperor would give a thumbs down, and the victor would immediately stick his sword into the neck of his opponent.

We are all still in that Coliseum. We are still being entertained by men willfully destroying each other. It’s just that now, the sword comes later.

FoxNews and CNN viewers

This is interesting. The Pew Center (cited earlier) conducted a survey in October 2004 (in the middle of the presidential election campaign) in which it asked viewers of different news shows who they preferred as president. Here’s how the center reported its findings:

    • Earlier this month, Pew found that the voting intentions of the election news audience were deeply divided according to where voters got their news. The current survey shows that gap remains substantial, with a large majority of the Fox News audience supporting President Bush and a comparable share of the CNN audience favoring Sen. Kerry. 
    • Seven-in-ten voters who get most of their election news from Fox News support Bush, while just 21% back Kerry. By contrast, voters who get most of their election news from CNN favor Kerry over Bush, by 67%-26%. 
    • Other news audiences are more closely divided. Kerry has a modest advantage among voters who mostly rely on network news and newspapers. Voters who get most of their election news from local TV are split, with 46% supporting Kerry and 42% Bush.

Is there a bias — among the audience, not necessarily among the journalists?

Open society

The concept of the open society is worth spending some time on.

What does an open society mean? Students may want to talk about what part of society should be open and what should not. How freely should information be available?

There are many situations where an open society might or might not be a good thing. For instance, most of us expect our income taxes to be to kept confidential (and the U.S. Treasury has a very good record in that regard). But what about somebody who runs for public office? Should their tax returns remain confidential?