Saturday, August 15, 2009

A good read for a Saturday

Inside Out has a good read with lots of links about a former journalist who enlisted in the Marines at 34 and was killed last week in Afghanistan.

More about the new that I don't get

There was a simple news posting about a new leader for the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce at the new site. Simple enough.

Then a member of the site's staff put up a link to a Crain's online story that had additional resume information about the new Chamber leader.

Here's my question. Why not pick up the phone and simply check the information and add it to your story and not drive traffic off your site to another site? One of the commenters even mentioned that.

Violating my own rule about posting links to that site you can see it here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Flint police officer Clarence Banks - RIP

Truly sad news today with word that officer Clarence Banks, one of the truly nice police officers on the Flint Police Department died of a heart attack while off duty.

The Flint Journal has story on it today.

Just yesterday I wrote about Sgt. Bob and great source and I promised further stories on other sources in the future. Well, one of those would have been Clarence Banks who was a young officer when I started on the beat back in 1989.

He had an infectuous smile and a quiet manner that endeared him to nearly all who knew him.

Banks was another of those people who I never heard speak ill of any one else and while he was not often in a position to help me with on the record information, he often led me in the right direction. Sometimes we just kept each other company at the yellow tape barricades at a crime scene.

Like Sgt. Bob, another of those who I truly missed after my beat moved me out of Flint.

It is my understanding that Officer Banks was contemplating retirement in the near future.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sgt. Bob, thanks to a great source

"Who do you think I could ask about getting the front clip off that pick-up truck?," the man asked me on Dort Highway.

The question caught me off guard because I was covering a double fatal traffic accident during my first summer of night police reporting in Flint.

Not quite understanding the question, I asked the man again what he said. He repeated the question and added that he had been looking for the front end of that pick up truck for a long time to replace his damaged truck.

At the time he asked, one of the bodies was still squashed inside the car that had slammed into the back of the pick up truck. But, yes, the front of the truck was unscratched.

I suggested he wait for the tow truck (which was still hours away from being called) and follow it back to the storage yard.

The memory is clear because this was the accident I met a police sergeant that would become a longtime source of mine in the Flint Police Department. Not one of those "pssst, you didn't hear this from me" sources, but a guy who laid it on the line every time I asked a question.

At this same accident, I waited until it appeared the rush of activity, always present at a fatal wreck, was over and walked up to the police officer with the chevrons on his shirt. I extended my hand and introduced myself and he reciprocated.

What happened next was so unusual that I never forgot it. In dealing with police, one learns that it almost always takes time to build up a mutual trust and the expectations for getting a lot of information during those early encounters is low. At least it was for me.

I figured I would get a body count, a brief description of what happened and then a terse, call me later to get the names. After all, one of the victims was still wedged in one of the vehicles and the other victim had just arrived dead to the hospital.

"Any chance you could give me the age or cities where the victims are from?," I asked Sgt. Bob.

He looked right at me and then did something that he would do many times again, but that I wasn't prepared for during my first meeting with him. He handed me the two driver's licenses of the victims.

"Mr. Smith, take down their names, ages and cities, please don't use the addresses in the story and make sure I get them back before you leave," Sgt. Bob said. "Oh, and don't run those names until I call you later tonight and let you know I've reached their families. Give me your number."

So I scratched down the information (I wrote down the addresses so I could contact the families later, but I kept my word not to use the street addresses in the paper) and handed the licenses back. Three hours later, just before I was going off shift, my phone rang and Sgt. Bob called and said, "feel free to use their names, I've talked to their families."

Sometimes Sgt. Bob would hand me his notes as he worked at an accident scene, complete with a rough sketch of the wreck.

During my career, when other police administrators ran the other way when asked for a quote for some story my editors wanted, Sgt. Bob would volunteer a good quote and be willing to put his name on it.

Because he was honest, it often got him in trouble with his superiors, but he never held that against me. It wasn't just me either, Sgt. Bob was open to all the reporters at the Journal and treated them with an extraordinary openness.

Over the years, I would sit with Sgt. Bob and he talked to me about his family. One of his daughters was an airline pilot and he was incredibly proud of her. Sgt. Bob later rose through the ranks and because my beat changed we didn't cross paths much after 2001, but when we did see each other it was always fun reliving old times and crashes.

"Remember that Mustang that was torn in half over on Chevrolet Ave?," that kind of thing.

Those are the people and times I miss the most post-reporting. More on some other sources later. But where ever you are Sgt. Bob, thanks.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Opening at

A former colleague of mine, one of those hired to write at the new is no longer listed as a staff writer on the site. So just three weeks into the venture, already a casualty.

Sounds like he might have landed on his feet with an Oakland County public relations firm. Good for him.

At the salaries they are paying folks at the there will be more of this as the economy recovers, which probably won't bother the suits who would prefer to hire cheap.

Anyway, good luck to my former colleague, his wife and child with the new job.

Flint Expats on the Journal's new blogging efforts

For your morning reading, this from Flint Expatriates on the current blogging efforts at the Flint Journal.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A thunderstorm using hands only

A friend posted this on Facebook. The opening is really amazing. The choir uses its hands and body to simulate the sound of a thunderstorm. I love creative stuff like this.

Good stuff over on Inside Out

Three new posts over at Inside Out, all worth reading. One is about a former colleague, Chris, who has made the transition from reporter-editor to college journalism professor. Plenty of good links over there as well.

Monday, August 10, 2009

New Chicago Tribune online site.

Here's the new Chicago Tribune, Chicago Now website.

Why is there anger in the health care debate? My answer to Jennifer

On Facebook, a former colleague wondered why there was so much anger about the proposed health care plan. Seemingly she didn’t understand why people would be so angry about such a good idea.

I wanted to take time to respond thoughtfully, because I’m one of those who believes there is a need for health care reform, but not sure that I understand what is being proposed and secondly, I not sure those proposing the idea even understand what it is they are proposing.

Before he was running for President, Barack Obama was an unabashed supporter or a single-payer system. But now, trying to appease all sides, he now wants a hybrid reform bill that he neither wrote nor seems to know much about.

It is my belief that the current bills in Congress are simply a trap to bring us to a single payer system. It would be more honest and refreshing if both the President and the Congress would admit it.

In the bill Congress supports (the Senate is still working on a variety of approaches) there are about 1,200 pages and not one Congress representative admits to even reading the bill. If you plan to make fundamental and sweeping changes to something as important as health care, you owe it to your constituents to read the dang bill. Every rambling, lawyer inscribed page of it.

Secondly, when did angry protests become such a problem for Democrats or the left. Heck, they basically invented the organized protest. Which brings me to my next problem with the health care debate.

It is not a debate at all. President Obama said he just wants all those who oppose his bill to get out of the way. Democracy and a Republic simply don’t work that way. Did then Senator Obama or the Democrats get out of Bush’s way when he wanted to push his agenda?

Just because you get elected President doesn’t mean you own the football and can decide all by yourself who plays the game, who wins, who loses and whether the game is played at all. You would think Democrats, after the last eight years, would understand that better than most.

The greatest community organizer of recent times shouldn’t complain that someone is using community organizing to be heard on a matter of great importance.

Let’s not forget we have already seen trillions flushed down a drain on rushed legislation both before and after President Obama’s election. If you go back to my postings from September 2008 you will see that I was totally opposed to the first bail out and remain opposed to all those since.

The first Obama stimulus plan was supposed to arrest unemployment at 8 percent or below. How did that work out? People don't believe their President and they don't believe their representatives anymore. Who could blame them?

Lately, we’ve seen Congress drop another $3 billion so my neighbors can buy a new car, subsidized by me and you. The Cash for Clunkers ran out of money three months faster than Congress anticipated. Imagine if they miss the mark that much with health care.

Wanting to confront a congress representative is a time honored right and tradition in America. Angry mobs are what brought America into existence. So don’t get mad at the mobs, get mad that you can’t explain what you are trying to do. It’s not my style, but as long as it works, the left and right will continue to use it.

The fact that none of this even goes into effect for three or four years gives us time to debate and work on a real reform for health care. And not a plan that just pleases Congress and the President, but one that the majority of the people will be satisfied with as well. That only makes sense.

My political leanings are basically Libertarian. I have little use for Republican or Democrat hacks. They live where the air doesn’t move. They abuse corporate CEOs for flying on private jets at the same time they are ordering an 8-plane private fleet for themselves.

They have the world’s best health care. They have a choice of top private medical plans and access to their own clinic and doctors. When asked if they will scrap their plan and join the one they propose for us the answer is pretty vague.

So here’s my idea. I think health care reform is an extremely important issue, one that needs to be addressed sooner than later. Of course, Social Security and Medicare are other extremely important funding issues that also need addressing.

The Congressional races are coming up in 2010, I think both parties should come up with their best plans for dealing with health care reforms. They should also explain how much the plans will cost and who will pay for them and how. Then the folks running for office should choose which of the plans they support and run on that.

That will basically turn the 2010 mid-term elections into a referendum on health care reform. People can vote for the single-payer plan or a reform plan that stops short of that. Then based on the results of that election, then Congress will have a sense and maybe even a consensus of what people want.

But what we don’t need is Congressional representatives shutting down debate or maligning folks who are expressing their First Amendment Rights, organized or not.

So Jennifer, I don’t know if that explains why people are angry, but the lack of respect for dissent – on both sides – is a disturbing trend.

Competition in the news business fades

This is not a criticism of, just an observation. If there is any major change in the relationship between news competitors it is not better observed than an article on this morning, which simply links to a Detroit Free Press sports story.

In the previous model, the sports department would scramble to mine its sources and come up with a story of its own on such a major event. Now it appears the attitude is one of surrender. We got scooped, let's not waste time, we'll just admit we missed a story and run the competition's story.

It's hard for old journalism minds like mine to wrap around this kind of reporting, but I'm willing to believe with the staff shrinkage, probably inevitable. It's take on

Here's a story on the experiment.

Chevy XX