Friday, March 31, 2006

Quote of the day

Our friends at the First Amendment Center at the Freedom Forum produce a First Amendment Calendar. It features quotations dealing with the five freedoms covered in the First Amendment (can you name all five?)

When things are slow at NewsConference, I just might pop in a quote from the calendar or Web site.

For example:
"When the public's right to know is eroded, it is difficult to reclaim the lost ground." -- U.S. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, 2004.

By the way, could you list the five freedoms of the First Amendment?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Not exactly what was meant

Headlines can be the easiest thing to criticize but the hardest thing to actually do. Non-journalists don't always believe that, but just try to capsulize a major, complex story in three to five (maybe seven) words. Ask our Reader Panel, which a few months ago tried its hand at writing headlines.

A friend send along this image, apparently from the News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., from a couple of years ago. It's a fine newspaper. However, this was not its finest moment. The point the headline writer intended to make -- that the death toll is unchanged? -- was not apparent here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Their must be a reason

As editor of the Telegraph Herald editorial page, I review about 2,000 letters to the editor a year. (Those from out-of-area authors writing about national issues are set aside first; we have more than enough local authors and local topics to fill the letters column.) That leaves more than 1,000 letters to get a closer look.

Rare is the letter that does not have at least one spelling or grammatical error. That's not a huge deal; everyone makes a mistake now and then, and these authors are not professionals (who also commit typos and misspellings).

Anyway, over the past couple of weeks, I have noticed that many authors are mistaking their for there, or there for their. I don't recall seeing this error appear in so many letters in such a short time period. Why? A full moon? The change of seasons? The approach of Daylight Saving Time?

Could someone help me with a conspiracy theory?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

It's vicious

Saturday night found us back at Mississippi Mug, the coffee shop/bar on Bluff Street near Fourth, for the return engagement of Sid Vicious and the Human Resources. The band -- if you can call two guys and a pinch-hitting drummer a "band" -- features a couple of guys I work with at the Telegraph Herald building, M.D. Kittle and Sid Scott. Matt is a senior reporter covering business, and Sid is our corporation's vice president of human resources. In the photo, that's Matt on guitar and Sid on keyboard. The guys decided to get together again after playing an impromptu jam at a retirement party at the TH. They play a wide range of numbers, including old-time rock (ie, Peggy Sue) to the Rolling Stones to Dylan. A week ago, they rocked the house with their version of "The Wheels on the Bus." (You had to be there.) I don't think they will give up their day jobs any time soon, but they have a lot of fun -- and so do their colleagues and others in the audience.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A tornado? Or just a funnel-shaped cloud?

We all have heard (and repeated?) the saying: Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody can do anything about it. Yes, it is true that we can't change the weather -- let's not go into global warming arguments now, please -- we can do something about it as it concerns weather's impact.

I attended a National Weather Service "weather spotter" class Wednesday evening in Cascade, Iowa. The free class is offered for law enforcement and other emergency personnel -- as well as the general public -- to help them help the NWS identify and track major storms.

Folks who are just interested in weather were welcome, too, and that best describes my reason for attending. I figured that a little more knowledge about dangerous weather might help when I am out at the soccer field (I officiate) and see a storm brewing.

The presenter covered a lot of ground in the two hours, making liberal use of graphics and video clips. We received enough of the basics (and a booklet) to understand the composition and characteristics of storm clouds, tonadoes, gustnadoes, hail storms and downbursts.

Note: Not every funnel-shaped cloud is a tornado. A tornado must have rotation.

The series of seminars is winding down, but there are few more in the general area. The last session closest to Dubuque is 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 27, at the fire station in Galena, Ill.

I believe that I'd have to attend another class and/or study more before I would be comfortable describing myself as a bona fide weather spotter. However, it was interesting class, and I'd recommend it to anyone with a free evening and an interest in weather.

We can't do anything about the weather? Think again. Information from weather spotters helps the National Weather Service issue accurate and timely watches and warnings -- giving the public more time to take safety precautions.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Watch Your Head!

I've selected a new comic strip to replace The Boondocks, whose creator is going on sabbatical next week.

The choice is “Watch Your Head,” distributed by Washington Post Writers Group. It starts on Monday, March 26. I'll let the publicity materials describe the new feature:

"Watch Your Head" chronicles the lives of six students attending Oliver Otis University. The strip is told largely through the eyes of Cory, a freshman who’s academically brilliant and socially awkward, especially with girls. His first friend at Otis U. is Omar, a recluse who some suspect is tied umbilically to his computer. Quincy, Omar’s friend (and therefore Cory’s friend by default), seems primarily to be studying women and fun and rarely has a serious moment. Kevin is a foreigner times two—one of the few whites on the predominantly black campus, and Canadian to boot. Robin is the object of Cory’s crush, the woman who leaves him befuddled and tongue-tied. And Jason is Cory’s roommate and polar opposite.

Here is a link to some samples of the new strip.

This change is occurring because Aaron McGruder, creator of The Boondocks, decided to take six months off from the comic strip while working on other projects. Whether the Telegraph Herald will resume The Boondocks upon McGruder's return will depend largely (entirely?) on readers' feedback.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Tragic accident major news, regardless of cause

Several acquaintances of Marvin Ginter are unhappy with us at the Telegraph Herald.
Mr. Ginter was a driver in the March 11 traffic collision in which two people were killed and he and two others were injured. Another motorist was injured in a collision a few minutes earlier.

A few days later, we carried a Page 1A report that, for a six-minute period, Mr. Ginter was involved in a series of collisions.

The article, based on police reports and witness accounts, also stated that authorities would not speculate on possible causes until they receive the results of standard lab tests.

Defenders of Mr. Ginter objected. “YOU SHOULD GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT BEFORE YOU PRINT A FRONT PAGE STORY ABOUT SOMEONE,” began one message. It was representative of the complaints we fielded. (Most of the phone calls and notes we received were anonymous. Why?)

In any case, the objectors state that Mr. Ginter’s erratic driving was due to a medical condition, not drugs or alcohol. They might be right. However, as of this writing, the lab results have not been released. As our story stated. The authorities said they would not speculate, and our story did not speculate.


Regardless of the factors behind it, this tragedy occurred. In a bizarre and frightening series of events, there were collisions with vehicles and property. Two people were killed. Four people were injured.
Is this not news? If a medical condition were a factor, does that mean that the tragedy did not occur? Does it somehow reduce the loss experienced by friends and family of those killed, or lessen the injuries of the survivors, including Mr. Ginter?

We reported what happened, based on interviews and official reports. When further facts emerge — starting with the lab results — we will report updates on this tragic event.

Friday, March 17, 2006

It's appalling!

In my job at the Telegraph Herald, I regularly receive calls, letters and e-mails from readers on subjects large and small. There are complaints and compliments -- more of the former than the latter, but that's generally true in life, isn't it?

The most interesting complaint of the week came from a long-time (50-plus years) subscriber who described herself as a sports fan. However, she made it perfectly clear that she objects to our running a sports photo on Page 1A (as we did after Bellevue Marquette's quarterfinal victory in the state tourney).

My explanation that, when it is tourney time, the fortunes of the local basketball team is community news, was unconvincing. So too with my point, in response to her observation that there are so many important things going on in the world, that a photo of local young people on Page 1A can provide a respite from the gloom and doom of world events.

My caller described our practice of front-page display of sports photos, which is followed by newspapers around the country, as "appalling."

"And," she added, "they are not even from Dubuque."

Unfortunately, I guess she will have to be appalled only a few more days this season. The Iowa, Wisconsin and Northern Iowa teams' first-round exits have seen to that.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

E-mail those letters to the editor

When there are major or controversial items in the news, the number of letters to the editor we receive spikes accordingly.

At the Telegraph Herald, we accept letters via regular mail, fax and e-mail.
All things being equal, however, e-mail is our preferred method of receipt. It might be your preferred method of delivery.

It takes less time for us to process an e-mailed letter. We don't have to find staff time to retype it into our computer system. Removing the typing step means that an e-mailed letter usually gets into the publication queue sooner.

Letters may be e-mailed to

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Hardly a gallop

After a couple of years away from the event, Ann and I on Saturday ran the 25th annual Gaelic Gallop road race in Dyersville, Iowa.

The organizers always put on a good event, which starts and finishes by the National Farm Toy Museum and Recreation Center. We entered the 8-kilometer (5-mile) race, which sent us onto the rolling hills just outside of town. (The event also includes a 2-mile race, primarily for the walkers and joggers, and a short event for kids.)

It is fairly obvious that, for a hundred or more locals, the Dyersville race is their only compeition of the year. People were there to have fun!

As could be expected with a race in the Midwest in March, the weather is always a roll of the dice. It has been contested in the snow and, as was the case Saturday, in springlike conditions -- sunny, breezy and with temps in the 50s (on their way to a record high).

Oh, and by the way, though we were hardly galloping out there, Ann and I managed to make the Top 3 in our age groups. In fact, Ann was the winner of her group. Way to go!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

No time to wait

It’s funny how the mind works. The connections it makes. And how idle thoughts take on greater significance in light of subsequent events.

Saturday night, Ann and I stopped by Dubuque’s Grape Harbor, where a 20-something man on acoustic guitar performed original compositions and cover songs. In front of the stage was a grand piano, and the notion of a piano in that setting had me thinking about my friend Rocky Rockhold, a long-time professional musician who moved to Dubuque a dozen or so years ago. I visualized Rocky at that piano. However, Grape Harbor was a long time and a long way from the Palmer House and other Chicago venues he used to play.

As we drove home, westbound on Dodge, I made a mental note to contact Rocky to reset our lunch date. A few weeks earlier, Rocky had to cancel at the last minute. We had not gotten together often enough the past few years. Either I was too busy at the office, or he was too busy with directing the church choir. Now, my annual budget was submitted, and he was between Christmas and Easter. Yes, I resolved, I’d contact Rocky this week.

As we prepared turn off Dodge onto University, we saw ahead of us, at Dodge and Wacker, the emergency lights of a half-dozen vehicles. “That looks bad,” I understated.

I didn’t think any more about the accident scene until Tuesday morning, when, during an out-of-town trip, I checked my e-mail. There was a message from Rocky – or so it appeared. However, instead of the usual subject line touting Rocky’s next gig or the “forward” of some Internet joke, the subject line read, “Rocky Rockhold, 1929-2006.” The author, using Rocky’s e-mail address book, was friend Ric Jones, who had the sad task of informing us of Rocky’s death. It was Rocky who was in the accident. He rear-ended another vehicle, and he died in the hospital the following day. He was 75.

Like a great many others, in Dubuque and elsewhere, I will miss Rocky. His deep laugh. His ability to sing and play hundreds (thousands?) of songs without looking at a songbook. His quirky and teasing sense of humor; those jokes that didn’t quite hit the mark.

Mental note to self: Don’t postpone reconnecting with friends. If you wait until you “have time,” there might be no time left.

Farewell, Rocky.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ready for Samurai Sudoku?

Since I am the editor who introduced Telegraph Herald readers to Sudoku, and helped put on the recent "Solving Sudoku" seminar, the puzzle comes up frequently in my conversations with readers. Some misinformed individuals occasionally ask me for advice.

An acquaintance who came into Dubuque recently from Europe shared with me a puzzle appearing in The Times of London: Samurai Sudoku. As the photo of the page shows, the puzzle is five interlocking Sudoku grids, to be solved as one complete puzzle. The newspaper even suggests that players complete the challenge in 30 minutes.

I think I have a headache.

Don't look for the Telegraph Herald to introduce Samurai Sudoku anytime soon.

The Times also has a Killer Sudoku. The grid has no numbers. Instead, it delineates certain cells with dotted lines and tells the player that the numbers inside the dotted lines total a designated sum. Players are then to enter the numbers themselves and make the Sudoku come out correctly.

I think I have a migraine.

By the way, The Times offers interactive puzzles on its web site. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Photographic memories

Friday was a special evening for the Telegraph Herald and for anyone who appreciates photography as an art form. It was the opening reception for the Dubuque Museum of Art's two photography exhibits.

One show is Images From Places Past: Color Photography by Louie Psihoyos. A Dubuque native, Psihoyos, who attended the reception, is regarded as one of the best photographers in the world. His work is simply remarkable, and his descriptions of the great lengths (and expense!) it took to capture some of these images are fascinating. Despite the title of his exhibition, Psihoyos included one black-and-white image -- that of actor Sylvester Stallone, taken in an elevator while the actor was in Dubuque to film "F.I.S.T." For Psihoyos, who was a 17-year-old intern at the Telegraph Herald at the time, that image was his ticket to full access to the movie set. His career only went up from there.

The Telegraph Herald is honored to share the exhibition spotlight with Psihoyos. Our exhibition, "Day In, Day Out," features more than 40 images taken by TH photographers over the past dozen years. (The photo above, by Dave Kettering, is part of the show. (c) Telegraph Herald, 2005. Reprinted with permission.)

The Psihoyos and TH exhibitions run through April 23. Check them out.