Saturday, November 30, 2013

Good Fire Shots for Daily, but Not by Staff

I find it interesting--and sad--that the three photographers who took photos at the huge house fire in Old Southwest for the daily paper today have "courtesy of" by-lines, indicating they are "citizen journalists," not staff photographers. They just happened to be there.

The fire occurred a few blocks from the newspaper's offices. The large number of staff cuts reently, including all but three Roanoke-based photographers (one remains in the NRV, as well, but the photo chief lost her job).

Today's photos by Duane Howard, Jill Brooks and Jeff Loope were surprisingly credible, but I don't think a professional publication can count on that kind of luck as a rule.

It's just really, truly sad.

Downtown Asheville: The Good, the Bad, the Nostalgic

Maddie and Kara at the shops behind the Grove Park Inn. Maddie got a necklace.
For as long as I can remember--and I've known Roanoke since 1971--the Star City has wanted to be Asheville. There's a good reason: Asheville is a truly cool city.
My angel Maddie ...

Fact is, however, is that Roanoke doesn't need to be Asheville in order to be a truly outstanding place to live and the sooner we all get that, the sooner Ranoke will be free to be all that it is without the inferiority complex.

I enjoy going back to Asheville, as I've done over the Thanksgiving holiday, mostly to reminisce and this time to introduce my son and his family to my hometown. Much of what I "introduced" them to was not there when I was.

When I left Asheville for Roanoke (taking a job at the paper here) in 1971, it was not a good place to live. Badly managed, polluted, dense traffic, unhappy people, a downtown that was falling apart and little to recommend it. New leadership changed all that and now it's like Aspen in many respects.

... became my butterfly Maddie.
Fun to go back, but I'm not sure I'd be happy living in the 'Ville. It is entirely too congested and trying to get an evening meal out is an exercise in frustration.

Some of the shop owners--especially at the botiques--are jerks. We experienced a level of arrogant dismissal at the Scottish shop on Wall Street yesterday that I wouldn't wish on anybody. Still, the Grove Arcade (where I signed up for the draft in 1964), Grove Park Inn and all the wondrous nooks and crannies downtown remain a true lure for a short period.

Here's some of what we saw over the past few days.

Love the "hand-made" shops behind the Grove Park Inn.
I sooo wanted this for my office, but it cost as much as my house.
Oz found a train. Evan found Oz.
Window view at the Grove Park Inn.
Houses in the Teen Gingerbread House competition were astonishing.
More gingerbread.
And one more, sans color. Look at the roof tiles.
Grove Park lobby has huge fireplaces.
View from the Grove Park Inn porch during lunch. The outside is heated.
Grove Arcade is a former government building now a center for shopping.
Ev and Oz strolling.
Evan and Oz (the one sleeping).
Asheville at its best ...
... is reminiscent of Paris.
You can even get a good street hotdog.
Or find the place where my career began (and it hasn't changed a bit).

Friday, November 29, 2013

Photo Essay: Some Thanksgiving Magic at the Homeplace

Me and my kids, Evan and Jennie Thanksgiving Day in Asheville.
Jennie, the grands and me.
Love visiting family. My grandkids had not met most of my brothers' and sisters' families and now they have met more of them. Funny how everybody just settled in naturally--including Oz, who doesn't do that easily (at 2).

Maddie, of cours, idolizes her Aunt Jennie and it was hard to pry her away, but Oz fell in love with his second cousin Paula (my brother's daughter) and the hung together a good bit.

Here's some of what I saw yesterday, today and maybe later. We even went downtown (see previous post) for a bit. Asheville's a good place.

Girlfriends: Jennie and Madeline.
Brother Sandy, sister-in-law Jackie, and Paula with Oz.
Children and grandchildren.
With my brothers Sandy and Paul. Paul and I coordinated our wardrobes. Sandy didn't get the memo.
Paul and Paula with stripped turkey.
Paula, sister Becky with Paul and Sandy.
I love this shot of Jennie and Maddie.
My adorable daughter. This sums her up.
And this sums the bunch of us up. Oz. Oz! Dang it, Oz, look at the camera!

Photo of the Day: Where It All Began

I've been spending Thanksgiving in Asheville with my family and today, my son and his fam went downtown with me to be introduced to my hometown.

One of the stops along the way was the Citizen-Times, where I began in the newspaper business in August, 1964, as a copy boy in the sports department of the Citizen. I couldn't type the day I was hired and I went to work that day. Not long after that--18 months or so--I was the editor of the afternoon Asheville Times.

Damn building hasn't changed a bit from the outside. Hope it has inside. It never was much to write home about, but the lobby was wonderfully art deco (you can see that on the front, too).

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013: Thank You Mom and Dad

Thank you Mom and Dad for all you tried to do. It didn't always work out the way you wanted, but your heart was always right and you did your best. I appreciate you for what you were and what you gave your eight children.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

'Over the River and Through the Wood ..."

"Over the River and Through the Woods" by Joseph Holodook.
Here's a classic for your 2013 Thanksgiving Day enjoyment from mid 19th Century:

A New-England Boy’s Song About Thanksgiving Day

By Lydia Maria Child (1844)

Over the river, and through the wood,
   to Grandfather’s house we go;
      the horse knows the way
      to carry the sleigh
   through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood,
   to Grandfather’s house away!
      We would not stop
      for doll or top,
   for ’tis Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood—
   oh, how the wind does blow!
      It stings the toes
      and bites the nose,
   as over the ground we go.

Over the river, and through the wood,
   with a clear blue winter sky.
      The dogs do bark
      and the children hark,
   as we go jingling by.

Over the river, and through the wood,
   to have a first-rate play.
      Hear the bells ring,
      “Ting a ling ding!”
   Hurray for Thanskgiving Day!

Over the river, and through the wood—
   no matter for winds that blow;
      or if we get
      the sleigh upset
   into a bank of snow.

Over the river, and through the wood,
   to see little John and Ann;
      we will kiss them all,
      and play snowball
   and stay as long as we can.

Over the river, and through the wood,
   trot fast my dapple gray!
      Spring over the ground
      like a hunting-hound!
   For ’tis Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood
   and straight through the barnyard gate.
      We seem to go
      extremely slow—
   it is so hard to wait!

Over the river, and through the wood—
   old Jowler hears our bells;
      he shakes his paw
      with a loud bow-wow,
   and thus the news he tells.

Over the river, and through the wood—
   when Grandmother sees us come,
      she will say, “O, dear,
      the children are here,
   bring pie for everyone.”

Over the river, and through the wood—
   now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
      Hurrah for the fun!
      Is the pudding done?
   Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

Photo of the Day: You Gotta Love 'Em

I took this photo a few minutes ago in Maddie's room. We have a trip to Asheville upcoming tomorrow and she's cutting the Zs, getting ready. This is the moment you must love your children. So sweet. So pure. So innocent. She's had that little cat since she was a baby and won't let it go.

Maddie and the Bully: Is There an Answer?

My 8-year-old grandgirl Madeline got a black eye from a bully on her school bus a couple of weeks ago and her parents have been trying with considerable effort to make some sense of it. What they have run into is a school administration that apparently does not believe bullying is much of an issue.

School officials told my son and daughter-in-law that because the punch Maddie received wasn't on camera, there wasn't anything they could do about it. It was Maddie's word against the word of the bully. No effort was made to ask the other children on the bus. The bully, whose reputation precedes him among the kids, gets off scott free to bully another child and get off again. It's self-perpetuating because, first, the proof bar is set far too high and, second, school administrators are--as they've always been--terrified of their shadows. People of about equal amounts of cowardice and lack of ethics.

I've known school bureaucrats since I was a child and have never had a good feeling about them. They want to be left alone. They want conflict to go away without involving them. They don't want to make decisions, especially those that might upset a volatile parent with a litigious bent. They simply don't care about black eyes, scratched faces, broken arms, bruised self-confidence and children who go to school terrified and unable to learn. It's easier to give that kid an F than to expel his tormentor.

I honestly don't know what can be done, but I know Maddie's parents are very good at what they do, that they don't easily take "no" for an answer and that they're smarter than school bureaucrats. I would not be surprised to see some bureaucrats with red asses in the near future, red asses from the swift kicks they who thoroughly deserve.

My son said it best, I think: "If we weren't moving [to Spain] in a few weeks, Maddie would be going to Community School. We considered that before the school year started but thought we'd be gone long before now." Community School is private and protects its children. The public schools do not bother with that function.


Sentence of the Day: Oh, Lord!

I grieve for the Richmond Times Dispatch:

"Had Marshall won, he probably would have lost to Warner even more badly than Gilmore did."

Could this sentence have been structured more badly or, perhaps, more goodly? Thank god it's an unsigned editorial, but the people in the building know who wrote it. My guess is the writer is out sick today. Let's hope.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Still Practicing Journalism the Right Way

Anne Adams (right) and her staff at The Recorder.
I've mentioned here before that one of my few remaining heroes in journalism is Publisher/Editor Anne Adams of The Recorder in tiny Monterey, a town of 200 and a weekly newspaper with 5,000 circulation.

Anne's been in the news--nationally--the past few days with her coverage of the Creigh Deeds tragedy in Bath County, one of the areas her paper covers. I sent her a note Sunday evening congratulating her on all the attention she's been receiving and Anne, properly, took exception to the celebratory tone of the note. I was happy for her because she beat the pants off all the competition, all the big news outlets. She didn't believe that was important.

She said her goal was to write the truth and to tell the story fully. She's right, of course, and that's why she remains one of my heroes, the one at the top of a small pile. Anne wrote a lead story yesterday after talking to Deeds that was sensitive, informative and full of grace. She gave this grieving man the opportunity to look forward and tell her what the death of his son meant to him and what it could mean to us all. You could read Anne's values all over the story. Here's what she wrote me yesterday evening:

"I reached out to Creigh because I love the guy, personally and professionally, have known him 22 years (and believe me: I agonized for 48 hours before I got the guts to contact him). I reached out to him precisely because all the biggie news people were reporting a ton of stuff, quoting each other, mostly, without having asked Creigh about it, and to my mind, he was the only person who could speak to this. So, I asked him. You saw the quotes."

She also said this, which nearly brought tears because of its purity and integrity:

"I think it's not much about modesty, and it's a lot about compassion, and our central human experience. We're all in this together, come what may. We're all suffering, in some form — or overcoming suffering, moving on, trying to bolster one another. Right? 

"I know, I'm pretty damned naive on some things; people tell me that a lot. I'm just always hoping the world will spin around right most of the time without making us so dizzy we lose sight of where we're headed or fall off the planet entirely, but what the hell do I know?"
A lot, Anne. An awful lot. I would love to be half the journalist you are.

(Incidentally, you can read about Anne in the February edition of Virginia Living Magazine. I wrote the story and I like it a lot.)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Television Viewing in a Major Decline

Cutbacks in print media have been a major concern of mine for some time, but now it comes to our attention that the depression in communications is spreading to, of all unexpected places, television. Across the board television. Just when we thought it was safe to back cable, comes this from Business Insider.

Seems that all television is down considerably, alarmingly for those in the industry. We talk of Fox News' domination of the cable news landscape on TV, but the numbers of the top-rated shows are lower than the population of a big city. Younger viewers and older viewers are leaving in droves, finding alternatives.

Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson, who analyze media stocks, are quoted as saying, "The pay-TV industry has reported its worst 12-month stretch ever." That's ever, boys and girls. Five million people have cut their cable since 2010. Time Warner recently lost 306,000 TV cable subscribers and 24,000 broadband regulars.

The reason for all this? "We're at the beginning of a major historical shift from watching TV to watching video — including TV shows and movies — on the internet or on mobile devices," say Nathanson and Moffett. Every time I post something about a cable provider, network, TV station or television show, I get a lot of response, almost all of it negative. We're paying a good bit of money for entertainment every month and we're not being entertained at the levels we want.

There's also a deep suspicion of big cable companies, I've found, and much of it is deserved. Like so many oversized organizations they tend to be sloppy in customer service and billing, especially when they are taking money every month from your checking account.

It has been rare when I've gone a month without having to ask a question about a bill without getting a satisfactory answer. My dish provider, for example, charged for three months of NFL TV access at nearly $40 a month. I never ordered that. I don't even like the NFL and certainly wouldn't pay $40 a month to have it in my house. I called about that three straight months and was on the edge of discontinuing service when it was finally resolved. That leaves an impression.

I subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime and recently found a series I liked ("Justified") and looked forward to viewing. I watched three seasons and was gearing up for a fourth. I discovered that the fourth season cost about $4 an episode. Bait and switch is what that is. Pissed me off no end.

Nathanson and Moffett agree that price is a huge problem: "Of course, the fact that pay-TV revenue is still rising smartly is part of the problem ... We have always argued that cord-cutting is an economic phenomenon, not a technological one. ... Pay-TV revenue growth reflects rapid pay-TV pricing growth and that is precisely the problem. Rapidly rising prices are squeezing lower-income consumers out of the ecosystem."

The number of cable TV subscribers in this country is getting ready to drop below 40 million for the first time in I don't know when. That's serious for an industry in a growth mode (500,000 newbies a quarter until recently). Satellite subscriptions have remained steady because of their rural nature.

Mobile device use is, of course, growing. About 40 percent of YouTube views come via mobiles. Mobile is still a minor player, but it is a segment that's growing.

So, where do we go? Who knows? But a good guess is "somewhere else and soon."

(Chart: ISI Group/Business Insider)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Democrats Looking Strong and Competent in Roanoke

Roanoke City Council: Changes a-coming?
Roanoke Democrats have a problem right now that Democrats in Virginia rarely have: too many good candidates.

The candidates for Onzlee Ware's vacated 11th District seat in the Virginia General Assembly are, by and large, capable, involved and forward-looking. My favorite in that race is Sam Rasoul, but there are two other candidates of a total of five that I would not hesitate to support.

In addition, two days following the firehouse primary Dec. 7, candidates for Roanoke's City Council will need to file for the May election and my guess is that two or more of the candidates for the General assembly will be in that mix. There could be as many as four seats open on council, but more likely two or three--all Democratic seats. Republicans tend not to do well in the city. In fact, the last Republican mayor, Ralph Smith, won his seat with 34 percent of the vote while two Democrats split the other 66 percent down the middle.

Bill Bestpitch, a city councilman whose seat will be contested next year, was quoted this morning by the local daily (here) as saying of those not winning the District 11 nod, "It will certainly be interesting to see how they justify deciding that Roanoke City Council is a good consolation prize.” City council is a lesser political position than the General Assembley, bill, so "consolation prize" in this context is not derogatory. It is fact.

Bill is one of those whose seat is in some considerable danger of changing. If they don't win the District 11 nomination and if they run again for Council, my guess is that the seats of David Trinkle and Court Rosen will also be hotly contested. Neighborhood groups are still angry at them (and Bestpitch) for votes that favored business interests over those of those living in affected neighborhoods (including mine).

What I see coming is better representation for Roanokers, regardless of the outcome of the races in the next few months. District 11 representation can only improve. Ware was simply awful, ineffective and a man who wasted Roanoke's vote. The competition for council will be healthy and will remind council members who is in charge. We benefit from that.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Photos: Inside the Grandin Christmas Parade

Marco the Pug was having a grand time at the Grandin Parade.
Here's the guy they all came to see.
Santa gets his photo taken.
Maddie and Maggie, Viking maidens.
Kazim Clowns love having their picture taken.
Sam Rasoul and his political contingent. Nice hat, Sam.
Hey, where's the doughnut shop?
Steve Stanley, steam pumper.
Mysticon transformer cop.
Nevaeh Dade is 5 and happy.
My pals Bill and Juanita Tanger.
Biker gang.
Biker gang, too.
Bev Fitzpatrick's antique bus.
Mom and the kids.
Twins Erin and Devon Tanner, 20 ...
... and twins Aiden and Jake Glover, 26 months.
My pals Dan Crawford and Mary Bishop with their dog.
Best buds Brenda and Heather McDaniel.
Pretty family: Keri, Jason, Dez Garnett.
One little, two little, four little Indians.
One little snoozing Indian.
I want a banana split. You?
Danielle Foutz, 15, and Scarlett.
Dierdra Martin with her alpaca.
Riding, marching band.
Polly Branch and Pete Johnson of Plowshare Peace Center.
Vikings lift Kelly Nipper.
Sisters Arianna and McKenzie Marsh.
Color photo on steroids.
We got hats and we got hair here.
Bringing up the rear in the Grandin Christmas Parade, 2013.
The Grandin Christmas Parade kicks off the season every year with pure Americana: kids and dogs and bands and paramilitary marchers and scouts and moms and tubas and clowns and lots of color. I love it and here is a look at today's version.

Maddie hands her brother, Oz, some candy (me on right).