Thursday, September 27, 2012

The future of me and...

I’m about to retire. It’s by choice (and because of a bit of a boot from my lovely bride of 40-plus years, Joyce).

But I have a lament. I love what I do. Though leaving a job I still love is not the cause of my lament.

I ain’t done yet.

I have lots of projects to keep me busy, so that’s not the issue. I simply have a need to get out there – back in the news biz – while I’m healthy, hearty and filled with energy, and before I sign off for good.

It’s for one simple reason: I think that I can do some “good,” that I can make a difference in these difficult times that someone who’s “in” can’t do as well.

I want to be back “in” because I care, and because I’ve been on the outside looking in for the past 16 years, and I’ve learned a lot from that perspective.

Newspapers have been downright stupid in their approaches to the changing environment – in news and in business – because of the challenges of “digital.”

Newspapers should have been the ones that developed Yahoo. And Google. And Linkedin. And, yep!, Facebook. And (especially) Yelp! and other sites like it and those mentioned.

As an aside: A.O. Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times (who gave Joyce and me a personal tour of his then new-HQ in New York City a few years back) once visited my class and offered an analogy (and lesson), often punctuating his point with the “f” word to show his concern. I paraphrase:

The problem with the railroads, when airlines were about to emerge, he said, was thinking they were in the railroad business and not the transportation business. Same with newspapers. They aren’t in the newsprint business, but the information business. That’s why Yahoo, Google, et al., should have sprung from the well of newspapers.

He was saying that the airlines that emerged shouldn’t have been TWA or Pan Am; they should have been the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Airline or the Norfolk & Western Airline, as clunky as that may sound, because they were in the business of moving people and goods. By rail, by air, by whatever. They just didn’t realize or embrace it.

Arthur Jr. was correct. And my dear old New York Times, unfortunately, didn’t follow that advice either, until too late. (And I’m hoping for great success for the Times in this new age for two reasons: it still practices the best, and badly needed, journalism in the world and, as important, much of my retirement income is coming from its retirement fund.)

But back to me and newspapers.

The problem with newspapers is they are afraid, to use a cliché, to reinvent the wheel.

Instead of working with what they have and trying to move forward, they need to approach it working from a clean slate. The “what they have” is holding ‘em back.

You need wipe the slate clean and ask one question: If we were to create a media model that served the community – “our” community, any community – and it was a model that was able to sustain itself and, even, make an acceptable profit, what would that model be?

Not what we’re doing now.

For me, it would start with making the “media entity” what newspapers used to be or should be: the center of “community.” A place that ebbed and flowed with information to and from the audience, all of the audience. It would be the community center in the true meaning of those words.

Everyone in the community – every organization, public and private, and every individual – would be as much a part of it as the editor and the publisher or the reporter on the street.

Everything “community” would flow through that hub.

That’s the starting point. Where it would finish would depend on the individual media entity because, ultimately, each community is unique to every other.

Then, perhaps, we wouldn’t be caught up with words like “demise” and “outdated” when talking about a local newspaper operation. Perhaps, just perhaps, we’d replace those words with “vital,” "relevant" and “irreplaceable.”

That’s what I want to do before I really retire. I want to make it happen.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Everyone should... (Part II)

Everyone should visit Hiroshima, Japan, where the first of the only two atomic bombs to be dropped in anger exploded in 1945.


There’s the photograph of a shadow. A man, sitting on a stoop, was obliterated. He literally evaporated with the blast, but it left his shadow, burned into the stone steps, behind.

That image is one of so many stark reminders of the power of nuclear terror. It sits in Hiroshima, home to a museum and surrounding grounds that bring home the abject horror, an understatement, of the use of nuclear weapons.

And the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were infants compared to the multitudes today, yet those tiny primers of the death and destruction available today killed thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people instantly, and thousands upon thousands upon thousands more suffered short and long from the effects of the blast and the radiation.

Today, we struggle with the prospect of a rogue nation, Iran, having nuclear weapons, and just crazy enough to use ‘em. But lots of nations have ‘em, including the U.S. Who knows what would prompt someone, sane or insane, to use ‘em again.

The power of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was and is that they sent a message to the world that we shouldn’t, couldn’t use ‘em – ever again. That notion has held for more than six decades.

But I wonder if the passage of time, and the sacrifice those many residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made on our behalf, has not dulled that important lesson.

So, remember.

Remember that man and his shadow.

Visit Hiroshima. Everyone.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Everyone should... (Part I)

Everyone should visit Dachau, the former Nazi extermination camp, now memorial, not far from Munich, Germany.


My visit many years ago accentuated, in bull-horn crescendos, a question and angst that has plagued me since my youth: How did the people around Dachau and the multitude of other concentration and extermination camps, chimneys vomiting human ash, not run up to the gates screaming: “STOP THIS. STOP IT NOW!”

And would have I?

It took a 2- or 3-year-old Ethiopian boy to give me the answer.

And it ain’t pretty.

That boy sat, alone, squatting on the side of the path that took me on my walk from the YMCA in Addis Ababa into the center of the city in my young adulthood. He wore ragged clothes, barely enough to cover his boyhood. Dirt was as much a part of his body as his dark skin. A small tin cup sat in front of him, its mouth clearly wanting to be fed. The boy silently pleaded his case easily and effectively with his appearance and plaintive gaze.

And he was beautiful, as all children are.

The first day, I gave him a coin. The second day, I gave him a coin. The third day, I gave him a coin. The next, and the next, and, perhaps, the next. But, then, it stopped. Not sure what day it was. But it stopped. I walked by, with a mere glance in his direction, then no glance at all. At some point, I just didn’t see. Him.

It was a simple act (or inaction) of self-preservation. I really couldn’t help him. He was everywhere. He was everyone. The poverty, the need, of the 99 percent that was Addis Ababa, was everywhere. You saw it. You heard it. You smelled it. You tasted it. You felt it. To the core.

You turned it off.

You had to. Or it would kill you because of the absolute and stark realization that there was nothing you could really do. No matter how many times you dropped a coin, or a thousand more, it just wouldn’t help. And that’s why you turned away, or turned off completely, the eyes, the ears, the nose, the skin, the tongue, the brain. It felt much like putting a Band-Aid on an amputation. It just wouldn’t help. Nothing would.

And it was killing me. So I turned it off. Just like Herr and Frau Dachau.

If you didn’t turn it off, it would eat at you until you died.

I know the people around Dachau had to know what was going on, but had to convince themselves it was not. The futility of their own inability to stop it beat them down until they simply had to tell themselves it didn’t exist, even as the ash fell on their homes and their fields and dirtied their newly-washed linen and Sunday best hung to dry.

That numbness to horror and futility is something I came to realize during my time in Ethiopia and a thousand other places like it.

I wanted to scream “STOP IT. STOP IT NOW! DO SOMETHING.”

No one, it seems, is listening. Or caring enough to listen.

That little Ethiopian boy, if alive, now a middle-aged man, is with me every day. And, yes, I’m ashamed. To this day, and beyond.

Maybe if everyone on the planet visited Dachua, it would change.

Maybe then everyone would stand up and yell: “STOP IT. STOP IT NOW! DO SOMETHING.”

And, maybe, maybe, someone would finally listen.

I have failed. But I feel as though I am alone, my voice in a vacuum.

Together, as a chorus, perhaps there is hope.



Visit Dachau. Everyone.


Note: When you read this, when you read anything on this page, please feel free to comment. Everyone needs an editor, every writer needs to know, especially me. Your comments are welcome, even if you disagree.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Serendipity, and an apology...

Serendipity is an important part of our life.

Joyce and I embrace it. We encourage it.
For example, I’ve relayed to many of you about my frustrating attempt to chase down an Army buddy from the ‘60s by the name of Andy Love. After more than a decade of failure, I finally found him on an Amtrak train from Lawrence to L.A.

During dinner with the New Mexico landscape whizzing by, I was chatting with our dining car waitress, “Charlie.” She, incidentally, was subbing for someone; it wasn’t her regular route, which punctuates the serendipitous nature of this tale:
“Where are you from?” I asked.

“A little town in northern Maine nobody’s ever heard of.”


Her eyes popped large.

“You’re the only person who ever got that,” she gasped.

I then told her I knew Madawaska because I’d been looking for an old Army buddy from Madawaska by the name of Andy Love.

“I was in his sister’s wedding” she yelped.

Andy and I eventually hooked up. Andy lives in New Hampshire not far from our daughter, who lives in Nashua, N.H., and he once worked the bar at our favorite restaurant in New England: Warren’s Lobster House, a part of which literally sits atop the estuary in Kittery, Maine. Best salad bar ever. Oh, and fish and chips, too.


I once ran into an old high school buddy, whom I hadn’t seen in 10 years – in downtown Nairobi, Kenya.


Joyce and I always take roads less-traveled just to increase the opportunities for “surprise.” That’s how we found the wonderful Groveland Hotel in Groveland, Calif., that I’ve written about previously in this space.

Hence, my time on the Loneliest Road in America this May.

That’s where serendipity (and the need for an apology) struck just west of Ely, Nevada, this May. It’s where I encountered the intrepid German couple, Marita Weber and Cornelius Hummel. In my “age group,” the two adventurers were on bicycles laden with enough gear to live on their own. Yep, bicycles loaded to the gills literally in the middle of effing nowhere. (“Can you hear me know,” Mr. Verizon sez. “Nope.”)

Cornelius Hummel and Marita Webber, whom I encountered on the Loneliest Road in America. The Miata can be seen down the road a bit in the background.
Marita and Cornelius (we came to first-name status quickly) were biking and camping across the United States. They had started in Florida, they told me, circumnavigating the Sunshine State (I guess for practice on relatively level ground) before heading west, mostly uphill, I would think, until you cross the Sierra Nevada range and head downhill to the Pacific. Each, it must be told, received a bit of a boost on their many-thousands-of-miles trek from a fist-sized motor that, Marita told me, helped on the hills. But they still had to do a lot of pedaling to crest the hills.

They’d been doing it for months, and they planned to put their kickstand down for the last time in San Francisco. (Though I love San Francisco, I’d have picked a flatter spot to stop).

We exchanged pleasantries with promises (that I hope to keep) to hook up at some point either in Kansas (they have an open invitation) or, more likely, in their native Germany.

After the promises, I wished them well, hopped back in the Miata and whizzed off on that lonely, but magnificent, road in Nevada.

It was made more special because it was in the Miata, top down. No cops. Twists and turns. Great weather. And speed! (That’s the “no cops” part.)

So today’s lesson is to embrace serendipity so you run into good, intrepid and interesting folks like Marita and Cornelius (and “Charlie”). But do a better job at keeping promises.

I had promised Marita and Cornelius that I would tell all y’all about my encounter with them and keep in touch, but I’ve neglected my duties as a blogger and an emailer (though Marita did send the photo I took of them with their camera, and you can spot the Maita in the distant background). I hope this begins to make up for my lapse, and I apologize (to them and to you) for being such a slacker.

I’ll try to make it up when Joyce and I visit them (as promised) in Germany.

The beer’s on me.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"I'm back..."

Hello all, and no apologies for being so silent for so long because all would fall flat.

There are significant distractions in my life, including/especially my aging parents (who are in varying degrees of declining health and demand a good deal of attention from my patient wife, Joyce, and me), the UDK (which had a trying year on many fronts and continues to face the same "challenges" that all traditional media are facing), and other issues that, for those who know me, will find interesting (or, at least, I suspect as much given our conversations).

I will post in the coming days details about all of those topics and more, including a serendipitous encounter with a great German couple this summer on the Loneliest Road in America, and a bone-rattling moment (which was a "moment," shortly before that encounter with my new German friends, that lasted about four hours) when Ms. Garmin sent me on what I have dubbed the Scariest Road in America.

And just a quick note on this past weekend: Wonderful. UDK alums gathered this weekend, about 50 at our house for a tailgate before the KU football game, and 150 or so Sunday night at the Grenada. It was great seeing everyone. And, as promised, I reminisced with and kissed as many of those good folks as I could. It was a wonderful time seeing how most have, well, become adults! Proud of each and every one.

So, stay tuned folks. More to come -- and soon. Promise.