Thursday, June 29, 2006

You know it is going to be a bad day when ...

When the phone rings at 2:25 a.m., it is never good news. For a parent, the first thought is that something has happened involving one's child. For an editor of a morning newspaper, the second thought is something bad has happened affecting the content or delivery of the paper.

That was my situation early Thursday, when News Editor Monty Gilles delivered my wake-up call. A computer problem was preventing us from outputting the final eight pages of the Thursday's Telegraph Herald. We still had to produce negatives of those pages to burn the press plates required to print the paper. At the time of Monty's call, press time already was 90 minutes past. Worse, our technicians, in communication with specialists off-site, weren't sure when the problem would be fixed.

Fortunately, it was fixed less than an hour later, and the press rumbled to life about 3:35 a.m. -- more than 2½ hours behind schedule. It had been a long night for many people -- employees and independent drivers alike -- who had been waiting for papers, or working to fix the problem, or planning ways to mitigate the delays once we started printing.

Then it was a difficult morning for for thousands of people -- employees, carriers, drivers and customers -- who had to deal with schedules thrown far out of whack. (Some of those employees had already been up half the night.)

Fortunately, it could have been much worse. Our press, circulation and mailroom crews picked up the pace to get the newspapers out the door. Drivers moved efficiently. Carriers delivered as quickly as they could once their bundles arrived.

Certainly, there were serious service delays on certain routes. Many carriers had other commitments and could not forego those obligations to wait for their newspapers. For them, delivery would have to wait until late morning or, in some area communities, mid-afternoon. However, as best we could where we could, we used substitute carriers or employees to pick up the slack.

However, in most areas, that 2½-hour deficit was trimmed. Some subscribers did not even know there was a problem until they read it in the paper.

We are quite appreciative of those individuals who demonstrated that extra effort — and of our many customers who showed their patience and understanding during the service problem.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Weather or not

Update (Tuesday evening):
Sure enough, the nasty weather affected my daughter's travel in the DC area -- She had to exit the Metro train when the authorities shut it down Sunday night. Monday, she was unable to return back to her dormitory and had to crash in an associate's apartment.


I spent four days last week in the Washington, D.C., area, where I attended a seminar. The weather was great -- except for a fierce thunderstorm that started about midnight Thursday -- but forecasters predicted rain for subsequent days.

They were right.

The D.C. area Sunday night and Monday was hit hard by hard rain and floods. Rain resumed there this morning. Rush hour -- no bargain on a good day -- was crippled when parts of the famed Beltway were flooded. The Metro rail system also experienced temporary shutdowns.

I got out just in time.

In January 2000, while attending a seminar sponsored by the same organization, the D.C. area was hit by a crippling snowstorm. We couldn't even ride the shuttle bus the 2-3 miles between our hotel and the conference center, so organizers scrambled to set up the program in the hotel. Travelers were stranded all day (and, for some, part of the next).

Now my thoughts turn to my younger daughter, who is working in D.C. this summer and is scheduled to travel this weekend. Will things dry out by then?

What's the worst weather you've experienced while "on the road" for business or pleasure?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

With the Doobies

I attended my second Doobie Brothers concert Tuesday evening. That it has been 29 years between shows speaks to my age and the staying power of the band, which still features a couple of charter members. I first saw the band in the spring of 1977 at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill. The concert marked one of my first dates with Ann, who (as of Saturday) has been my bride 28 years.

The venue this week was Wolf Trap, outside Washington, D.C. It's the only U.S. national park dedicated to the performing arts. A foundation puts on a full season of performances, from symphony to rock groups. The huge, wooden ampitheater, the Filene Center, and adjoining hillside were packed by about 6,000 fans. The band, which has a boatload of hits, seemed to hold back most of the favorites toward the end of the 95-minute show. But nobody seemed to mind much.

It was a great evening at a great venue -- and great memories of younger days.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A grand gallop

Saturday's inaugural Grandview Gallop, a four-mile road race along a stretch of Dubuque's Grandview Avenue, was a success. More than 400 runners and walkers participated. My wife and I were among them. Though I didn't run the time I had hoped to, I was satisified with my effort and happy with the experience. (So too for my wife, who also competed.)

The only things I might have changed were parking and the weather. If this event grows, we might need to have shuttle buses between remote parking areas and the start/finish area. The conditions felt much warmer than the mid-70s showing on the thermometer at the 8 a.m. start. But then again, it IS June -- and it could have been worse.

The Telegraph Herald was pleased to be a co-sponsor and part of the planning of the event. The Mississippi Valley Running Association provided much of the expertise toward putting on the race.

I'm looking forward to next year's Gallop!

(Photo (c) Telegraph Herald, 2006. Reprinted with permission.)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Hall of Famers

Thursday evening, instead of spending another night watching videotape of that day's World Cup action, I attended the banquet and induction ceremony for the Junior Achievement of the Tri-State Business Hall of Fame. About 200 people attended the event at the Grand River Center.

I have interacted with each of the inductees -- Ed Babka, Mike Budde and A.J. Spiegel -- from time to time. That is to be expected of a local newspaper editor who has been in town 20 years. And though the Telegraph Herald has reported on each of these gentlemen over the years, I learned more about them through the awards program, which included a brief video biography.

Though their main businesses are (or were) varied -- Babka in publishing, Budde in call centers, and Spiegel in manufacturing -- they have several things in common. Each started his own enterprise. Each worked long hours (and days and weeks and years). Each found a niche for his business. But that's not all: Each acknowledged that he could not do it himself. Each surrounded himself with talented people. And each gave credit for that vital help.

Beyond that, each of the Hall of Fame laureates has given back to the Dubuque community in many ways -- financially and through personal service.

Though Babka's success with his Antique Trader publication brought him to Dubuque -- his publication outgrew his previous printers, so he came to Dubuque, where the Telegraph Herald handled his printing needs -- Budde and Spiegel are natives of the area.

When out-of-town acquaintances comment on Dubuque's success as a community, I point out that this area is blessed with a large number (it seems to me) of home-grown, privately owned businesses. Their leadership and "give-back" to the community simply can't be duplicated by corporate owners with headquarters in some distant city.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Soccer 'boring' only to those who don't know the game

Every four years, people around the world watch the World Cup tournament. Americans call the game soccer; to the rest of the world, it is football.

Many Americans call it something else: boring. Among them are journalists – including some who work here at the TH. (In his column the other day, Ken Brown took his shots at the game.) They admit that they don’t know much about the game. Then they go ahead and prove it by writing about it.

I don’t expect to change any minds by offering a contrary opinion, just as I hope that viewers and potential participants won’t be turned off by their criticism.

(If there is criticism to be dispensed, start with the United States’ lackluster performance in a 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic on Monday.)

I first attended a soccer game 30 years ago, but I really started to pay attention to the game in the late 1980s, when my older son signed up for the local American Youth Soccer Organization program. I volunteered to officiate, and I expanded my involvement from there. Officiating remains a hobby.

American criticism is nothing recent.

In 1967, sports columnist Jim Murray told his readers, “Soccer is a game in which everyone does a lot of running around. Twenty-one guys stand around and one guy does a tap dance with the ball.”

In 1994, Chicago columnist Mike Royko dismissed the global popularity of the game: “All that proves is that most of the world is too poor to build bowling alleys, golf courses, tennis courts and baseball fields. There's hundreds of millions of poor people out there who still ain't got indoor plumbing, but that don't mean there's something great about an outhouse. Soccer is boring. I've never seen a more boring sport.”

The common complaint is that soccer is low-scoring.

To those who don’t know much (or anything) about the game, that criticism is predictable. There is more to the game than scoring. In soccer, the athletes do play defense.

Do the critics just want to see the scoreboard numbers spin like the display on a slot machine or gasoline pump?

If it requires many scores to hold your attention, then soccer is not your game. Arena football, perhaps? I read that the championship game on Sunday was a 69-61 nail-biter.

However, while some of the critics are suggesting the game is a cure for insomnia, more and more kids are getting involved in soccer and enjoying the game. What is boring about that?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Let's address the problem

One of the services offered by the Telegraph Herald is what we call "short/miss" service in the city of Dubuque. If a subscriber fails to receive his or her Telegraph Herald, we dispatch a driver to deliver what the carrier apparently missed.

Fortunately, it is a small (but important) part of our operation. By industry standards, our delivery service is well above average, and a recent survey of customers gave our service very high marks. (That was somewhat surprising to us, frankly, since as recently as a half-year ago we faced some significant challenges with timely of the Sunday paper related to new equipment.)

Anyway, our "short/miss" drivers are estimating that as many as half the customers who are reporting missed papers live in residences lacking house numbers (or where the house numbers are obscured).

Could that be a contributing reason to delivery problems? The regular carrier might know all the subscribers' houses, but it can be a different story for a substitute carrier.

Is your house number clearly visible from the street? It would be convenient for your newspaper carrier (and you) if it's there, but as it concerns police officers or firefighters, that number might make a life-of-death difference.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Unhappy homestead

My parents were the original owners of the place at 617 St. Charles Road in the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn, Ill. We moved there in 1958 or 1959, and I called it home throughout my grade-school and junior-high years. Though we moved away in the fall of 1968 -- nearly 38 years ago! -- we have not forgotten the place. The ball games in the back yard. Mowing the lawn. Delivering newspapers. Watching the construction of houses on either side of us. The usual suburbia stuff.

Over the past decade or so, the house had fallen on hard times. At one point, perhaps still, the federal government had ownership.

On Saturday, during a trip back to the suburbs on other business, I decided to swing by the place. I would not have been surprised if it were demolished to make way for one of those "starter mansions" that people build these days.

My memories of the place are so far different from the scene today. I almost wished the place were razed.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Red alert

I experienced three positive developments related to my Red Faber biography projects on Thursday.
  • My condensed biography of Faber was posted on a baseball research organization's web site.
  • My publisher, McFarland, shipped me marketing materials related to this fall's release of my full-length book on Faber.
  • I saw the cover and ordering information for a separate book, which includes my chapter on Faber and is due to be released any time.
Details, may be found on the Red Faber blog I maintain.