Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Thanks for the column!

A free-lancer who writes a column for the Telegraph Herald recently told me about another writer's column in a regional daily paper. Half of that column quoted (with attribution, but not permission) the TH article. Is it any wonder why my local correspondent feels violated?

I'm reminded of the old tale of the small-town editorial writer, strapped for subject matter, who clipped out a NY Times editorial and sent it to his composing room for typesetting. (This was in the Linotype days.) Before he gave it to the typesetter, however, he made one change. He jotted at the top of the copy, "What does the NY Times mean by this?!"

In the early days of newspapers, reprinting news clipped from other papers was a common and cooperative practice. (That's why they referred to them as "exchange papers." They exchanged subscriptions and exchanged news.) In a way, the practice continues today -- just without permission: You hear it virtually every morning on radio newscasts in Dubuque. But that's another blog.

Anyway, the columnist and I are discussing appropriate response to the liberal use of the column that originally appeared in the TH. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Santa's Helper under way

The Telegraph Herald this week is marking a milestone of sorts. But we wish it weren’t necessary.

It would not be necessary if every child were sure to have a gift under the tree or a decent coat or gloves to wear to school.

It would not be necessary if all families had a roof over their heads.

It would not be necessary if folks had the money to cover their heating bills this winter.

Indeed, if there were no needy people in the community, there would be no need for the Santa’s Helper program. This is the 20th holiday season for Santa’s Helper, which is presented by the TH in cooperation with nine tri-state social service agencies.

Our program is simple: The TH shares the real-life stories of some our neighbors who could use a little help, details what that help might involve – payment of a utility bill, or food, or clothing, for example – and encourages you to contact the sponsoring agency, which has verified the needs as genuine.

Santa’s Helper is not intended to compete with the several other charitable agencies and programs that also operate in the area. Unlike most other programs, however, Santa’s Helper does not necessarily involve direct financial donations. In most cases, assistance may come in the form of merchandise, clothing or food – or gift certificates earmarked for those items. Donors might choose to cover one month’s utility bill for a family, or to help with a month’s bill for prescription medication. It is entirely up to the donor and the sponsoring agencies.

At the TH, reporter Erik Hogstrom does double-duty. Not only does he serve as our liaison with the Santa’s Helper agencies, he also takes the lead in coordinating the newsroom’s “sponsorship” of a Santa’s Helper family.

Erik says that delivering those gifts, on behalf of his newsroom colleagues, is a personal highlight of his year. If your family or office is looking for a new twist on the traditional gift exchange, here is a suggestion: Instead of trading gifts among yourselves, consider changing things up and putting those gifts toward a local family that could use a boost this time of year.

Santa’s Helper won’t eliminate poverty in our time. There will always be needs. But it is a small step toward bringing some smiles to the faces of children – and their parents – this holiday season.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Last call for First Citizen nominations

For just a few more days, the Telegraph Herald is accepting nominations for its annual First Citizen Award. Deadline to submit a nomination is 5 p.m. Thursday. This award goes to a Dubuque or tri-state resident who, generally outside the duties of his or her regular occupation, has helped make this community a better place in which to work and live. Working from nominations received from TH readers, newspaper executives select the award recipient. No petition drives are necessary. Some years, the recipient has been selected based on one, persuasive nominaton form. Each year, as I receive and read the nominations, I am struck by just how many great people there are in our community. There are many deserving citizens. The next First Citizen will be introduced on the front page of the TH on New Year's Day.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

You say it's your birthday ...

Not only did Thanksgiving weekend afford the Cooper family (minus future daughter-in-law Josie, who had job obligations) the opportunity to get together to observe the holiday, it also was an occasion to celebrate Ellen's 21st birthday. Adults occasionally share opinions on what, from a parenting standpoint, is the "best age" for kids. Each stage of childhood is important, fun and challenging, but there is something to be said for young adulthood. Parents get to observe (and enjoy?) how their kids "turn out." So far so good. As the third of our four children reaches 21, we indeed have another reason to give thanks.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Frozen turkeys?

A Cooper Family tradition (at least since 1997) is to start each Thanksgiving with the Turkey Trot at Wahlert High School. Parents, children, in-laws and even a grandparent have entered the 2.5- or 7.5-mile events. (One Thanksgiving, my father-in-law -- in his late 60s and a several years removed from heart bypass surgery -- ran and walked the 2.5-mile course. He survived.) On Thursday, the family recorded a couple of second places, a couple of thirds and a couple out of the money. (My son-in-law would have improved on his third place had there be a course marshal present at a criticial intersection; he missed the turn and wound up running an extra half-mile or mile.) Anyway, what will make Turkey Trot 2005 memorable for us was the weather. The temperature was 17, and a strong and steady wind put wind chills into the below-zero range. The icy crosswind, which fought us all but a one mile of the 7.5-mile course, cut right through us. About the only positive aspects were that it was sunny and there was no preciptation during the race. I've run hundreds of races over the years now, and I don't recall competing in conditions as brutal as those of yesterday. (At the other extreme, there was the Moonlight Chase near the Quad Cities in July 2001, when at 9 p.m. the temperature lingered in the 90s.) If you are a runner, what were the toughest conditions in whch you competed? Photo (c) 2005 Telegraph Herald. Posted with permission.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Tuesday's front page of the Telegraph Herald showed people camped outside Dubuque's Best Best store -- prepared to wait hours and hours -- just for the opportunity to buy the newest version of Microsoft's video gaming system Xbox. I'm confident that it was happening outside stores all across the U.S. It reminded me of what I observed in Russia 15 years ago. Only, then and there, the people lining up outside the stores were hoping to buy bread. And we wonder why people in certain parts of the world resent Americans? (Photo (c) Telegraph Herald, 2005. Republication or posting without permission prohibited.)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Maria House

My weekend included attending "Attitude of Gratitude," the annual dinner and auction to benefit Maria House, Dubuque's homeless shelter for women and their children, operated by Opening Doors, which was formed six years ago by a half-dozen congregations of women religious. Between the dinner and live auction, the program included testimonials from two Maria House residents and a third woman's story read by Executive Director Michelle Brown. The courage demonstrated by the two who stood before hundreds of people to tell their stories was remarkable. If anyone had any doubts about the need for such a facility in Dubuque, I wish they could have heard those testimonials. So too for anyone who doubts that drug abuse, alcoholism and physical abuse exist in our community. There are so many women in need of its services that Maria House has a waiting list. All this makes me wonder how the community got along before Maria House. (Not well, most likely.)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Interview tips

On Friday, I was a guest at Amanda Troy's journalism class at Dubuque Senior High. The topic was interviewing. I enjoy interviewing. (That's one reason why I started doing the Newsmakers series in 2002.) It beats the heck out of budgeting. The best question I fielded from the class was the last one of the morning. A young man in the back row: "What would you be doing if you weren't an editor?" On a bad day at the office, I think about that. (Some people wish I thought about it more!) Left-handed reliever for the Chicago Cubs? Not likely. Something still connected to media and communications? Probably. Newspapering has been my career choice since I was 16 years old, so I haven't spent much time thinking about alternatives. But perhaps I should see if I can still throw a curveball.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Envision this

The Envision program -- or Envis10n, if you follow the logo -- is in the home stretch. This community visioning process, which started in July, has as its goal to identify (based on citizen suggestions) 10 "great ideas" for the future of the Dubuque area. On Thursday, I was among the 300-some volunteers who in various sessions voted on which of the 100 top ideas (initially, there were more than 2,000) should be kept among the final 30 suggestions. We convened in Dubuque Greyhound Park & Casino's meeting room, where Vernon Research Group conducted a series of meetings. Each participant had a hand-held device -- like an oversized TV remote -- to record his or her choices. Our 1 p.m. group had 60 participants. The 100 ideas were divided randomly into 20 groups. For each group of five, volunteers got to vote for one idea. To make the process statistically valid, the ideas were reshuffled and we did it again. The ideas ranged from the relatively modest (24-hour child care facility, for example) to the grandiose (monorail service between Dubuque and Chicago or Quad Cities). After the volunteers' 30 favorite ideas are identified early next week, the selection committee will go back and pick the final 10. When the list is release, the Telegraph Herald will report it. Even if none of the 10 ever comes to pass -- not likely, given this city's reputation for getting things done -- I believe that this process has encouraged more of us to keep looking ahead and "thinking big."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Sorry, that's not the question

My recent mention of comics, in connection with the upcoming depature of Calvin and Hobbes, has prompted some readers to send me e-mails along the line of, "Yes, we vote for the TH to continue Calvin and Hobbes." I would agree 100% -- IF that were the question. Unfortunately, C&H is running in the TH on a limited-run basis. We have 17 weeks of Calvin "classics." That is the decision of creator Bill Watterson and Universal Press Syndicate. Like it or not -- and I say "not" -- Calvin repeats will end the last day of 2005.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Another Saturday night ...

This will be the last installment of my Nashville "travelogue" (I promise!) The second (and final) night of our weekend in Music City included a stop at B.B. King's club, which Saturday night hosted a Sam Cooke tribute to benefit the Country Music Hall of Fame. Among the performers were Bobby Hebb, who in 1966 took "Sunny" to the top of the charts. Also on the card was Billy Swan, whose "I Can Help" reached No. 1 in 1974 ( "It would sure do me good to do you good ..."). However, neither performed his pop hit. The show was all about Sam Cooke (pictured), and they performed only Cooke compositions. Nearly 41 years after his death, he is still celebrated. They had plenty of great songs to perform. What is your favorite Sam Cooke composition?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Neighborhood news

The Telegraph Herald's first editorial priority is to be the leading source of local news and information -- from Dubuque and the tri-state area. We carry state, national and international news, certainly, but our priority is news from your community and your neighborhood. And my neighborhood, apparently. Today's TH carries a front-page photo and story about a huge, old oak tree that blew over late Saturday night or early Sunday. It happened just three doors down the street from our house. However, I confess that I didn't know anything about it until Monday afternoon, when photographer Deana Mitchell showed me her photo from the scene. My explanation: I was out of town all weekend. It was dark when we got home Sunday evening. And on Monday morning, I had no inclination to step out my back door to look around. Good thing the TH is keeping me aware of what is happening in (or at least near) my own back yard. If you see news in your community, your neighborhood or even your back yard, give us a call at 563-588-5671.

Monday, November 14, 2005

All originals, all night long

There is something special about hearing a hit song performed by the composer (rather than the performer on the single). At The Bluebird CafĂ© near Nashville on Friday night, I had the experience of hearing P.F. Sloan, (pictured) one of the great songwriters of the 1960s, perform his protest song, “Eve of Destruction,” which Barry McGuire took to No. 1 on the charts. Sloan also wrote several hits for The Grass Roots and The Turtles. Now 60 years old, Sloan played acoustic guitar and harmonica and gave an emotional vocal rendition of “Eve of Destruction.” Actually, the entire event was a night of original compositions. As it regularly does, The Bluebird brought together four singer-songwriters to perform “in the round.” Joining Sloan were Don Henry, who was part of the Freedom Sings troupe that performed in Dubuque in April 2004; Gary Nicholson; and Russell Smith, of the The Amazing Rhythm Aces (”Third Rate Romance, Low Rent Rendezvous”). A great and memorable evening!

Sunday, November 13, 2005


How often have you found yourself at a bar or coffee shop, hoping to enjoy some live music, only to encounter other patrons whose mission, it seems, is to be heard above the musician(s). They keep talking LOUDER! That frustration made my recent visit to The Bluebird Cafe near Nashvhille all the more enjoyable. For more than 20 years, The Bluebird has hosted country and acoustic musicians, some of them established and most of them hoping to earn their Big Break. It is a small place – it seats only about 75 – and when musicians perform “in the round,” the audience is within an arm’s length. We sat right next to Don Henry, who came to Dubuque in April 2004 with the “Freedom Sings” troupe. (More about the show later.) The Bluebird emphasizes that it exists for the music. The Bluebird's slogan is “Shhhh!” Ownership explains it this way: “As a listening room, quiet is requested at all times during a performance … if you are looking for an evening of conversation, there are more appropriate places in Nashville.” Amen!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

"Could you be more specific?"

In my job, I review many resumes, cover letters and employment applications. Some are better than others. I realize that applicants want to hedge their bets, and not close the door to any possibilities, but there is a point where they need to commit to something. I recently saw a resume:
Objective:To find a position within a company in my particular field.
Thanks. That narrows it down. But could you be more specific?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Rubber Soul -- 40 years later

Yes, I remember 1965. It was the year The Beatles released their "Rubber Soul" album. I've listened to Rubber Soul off and on for four decades, so I was intrigued to hear that contemporary artists -- people who weren't yet born in 1965 -- had re-recorded "Rubber Soul" with their own interpretation of the songs. It's called "This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute to The Beatles' Rubber Soul." I had never heard of the Cowboy Junkies or any of the three Bens on the disc -- Lee, Harper and Kweller. I'm no music critic, but I will say that this 50-something Beatles fan loved the concept and liked most of the tracks. Some songs were faithful to the original -- which sort of seemed contrary to the idea -- and other tracks were barely recognizable as the cover of a Beatles song. My favorites: Ben Harper's reggae twist to "Michelle," Rhett Miller's "Girl" and "I'm Looking Through You" by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Least favorite: "What Goes On" by Sufjan Stevens, who -- let's face it -- was stuck with the worst song on the album. This CD won't go platinum, but for a Beatles fan interested in a change of pace, it's worth the purchase.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Comics questions (again)

A salesman for comics and other syndicated features called on me yesterday. The date was Nov. 1 -- meaning that in less than two months, the temporary run of "Calvin & Hobbes" repeats will conclude. That means I'll have to make a decision about what comic to start or reinstate starting Jan. 1, 2006. Among newspaper readers, it seems, everyone has an opinion about the comics. The sales rep also presented a list of 75 papers that have dropped "Peanuts," which has not produced a new panel since Charles Schulz died more than five years ago. Because I must give our Sunday comics section printer four weeks' notice of any changes, I have less than a month to make a decision. I wonder if any readers have any opinions or suggestions.