Sunday, March 25, 2007

Auction miscalculation

For the third or fourth time, I attended the spring brunch at Divine Word College, the only Roman Catholic seminary in the U.S. that graduates only missionary priests.

The fundraiser, on the campus of the Epworth seminary, included silent and live auctions.

(The Red Faber biography that I donated brought less than retail price. Perhaps the announcement that I would autograph the book for the winning bidder hurt its value.)

Anyway, I bid on several items, figuring that someone would outbid me on a few (if not all) the items. Isn't that how it's supposed to happen?

Well, it did not exactly play out that way. As a result, I would up with a little more merchandise -- and a bigger check to write -- than I anticipated. Oh, well. There were some bargains. And it goes to a good cause. And an early start to my Christmas shopping?


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Signing up


The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium hosted a nice event tonight -- a book-signing featuring more than 30 authors.

The event featured several authors with Telegraph Herald ties. My tablemate was TH columnist and editorial writer Amy Gilligan (above), whose collection of columns continues to be a local best-seller.

Also present were free-lancers whose columns appear in the TH: Katherine Fischer, Bob Byrne, Kevin Koch and John Tigges. Around the corner was ex-TH reporter Becky Sisco, as was former TH photographer Jim Shaffer, who has collaborated with Tigges on several local history photo books.

It was an enjoyable evening. The two hours went quickly.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Overbooked

Between my TH responsibilities and book-publishing endeavors, I have fielded invitations here and there. I accepted (whenever possible), enter it into my electronic calendar and move on.

Only now, as I take a big-picture scan of that calendar, have I come to the realization that the next 2-3 weeks will be busy.

If you can't find me at the office, you might look here:
  • 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 21 -- Authors event at Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. Signing Red Faber biography.
  • Thursday, March 22 -- MC of the Bud Isenhart roast, a fund-raiser for the Dubuque Community Y. At The Meadows.
  • Wednesday, March 28 -- Address at the Wartburg College communication awards banquet in Waverly, Iowa. Journalism theme.
  • Thursday, March 29 -- Dubuque Optimist Club. Red Faber program.
  • Saturday, March 31 -- Inland Press Association Job Fair, Chicago, and Greg's Birthday Parade. (No speeches or book-signing involved!)
  • 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 3 (tentative) -- Loras College. Faber program.
  • 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 11 -- Dubuque Key City Genealogy meeting. Basement of Masonic Temple, 12th and Locust. Public invited. Red Faber program.
  • 1-3 p.m. Saturday, April 14 -- Red Faber program and book-signing at Borders, Kennedy Mall.
Lest you think I just can't say no, I did ask for a rain check for a book-signing in Chicago this week.

See you around!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A slow news day? Perhaps

“It must have been a slow news day.”

That is a common crack from critics unhappy that we reported something they would rather you not read.

While virtually all of those stories wind up being reported in some form or fashion, it is true that “slow news days” exist. A news story that leads the front page one day might, when “competing” with other events and issues of the day, fall to the bottom of 1A or move “inside.”

Every day is unique – there are no guarantees -- but news does have a certain flow to it.

That is as true in Dubuque as it is in Des Moines as it is in D.C. Those patterns have not escaped public-relations professionals.

Last week, the public radio program Marketplace aired a report on managing the news – or attempting to manage it.

In her Marketplace report, Ramy Inocencio interviewed some experts and offered these conclusions:

  • When releasing good news, Mondays are often better than Fridays.
  • In the same vein, if it’s bad news, and you hope it attracts less attention, think about releasing it on a Friday. TV viewership is not great on weekend nights, and Saturday newspaper readership is lower than Sundays.

Katie Conover, media vice president of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, said, “As you get into Friday though as you know news is often, becomes sort of buried as people head into the weekends they are paying less attention and the chances of your story really being picked up and noticed are slim.”

Maggie Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of APCO Public Relations, told Marketplace, “If you're releasing good news, some folks in the public relations industry claim that Sunday is the new Monday, that you work the story on a Sunday to try to get in the Monday morning news.”

However, as Fitzpatrick noted, it is not simply a matter of Good News Monday and Bad News Friday. The Sunday morning talk shows, Internet sites and 24-hour news channels complicate matters.

The Marketplace report noted that Sen. Hillary Clinton made her presidential bid official on a Saturday in January. “Her goal was clearly to insert her story into the Sunday talk shows, so releasing on a Saturday made sense,” Conover said. “By releasing then, it becomes fresh news and fresh fodder for those discussions.”

OK, that’s the situation with national newsmakers. What about the tri-state area?

Dubuque is not a media-saturated market. There is no TV newscast originating from Dubuque. The Cumulus radio stations in Dubuque have abandoned local news. (Radio Dubuque maintains a slimmed-down local news staff.)

Thus – and I don’t think it’s bragging -- when it comes to Dubuque news, the TH maintains a strong position as the leader in news. (That does not mean we have no competitors. Hardly. The TH is surrounded by quality daily newspapers that come into various tri-state communities.)

After more than three decades working for daily newspapers, I have observed that there is a flow to news events. It tends to build through the weekdays, then slows on weekends, when there are more scheduled events, such as festivals, than major announcements.

Does that mean that a “good news” announcement is a lock for the TH’s front page? Does that mean that “bad news” announced on Friday and reported on Saturday will have less impact? As stockbrokers often stipulate, “past performance is no guarantee of future results.” However, as the professionals in the Marketplace report observed, newsmakers hoping to manage their visibility might consider all that.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Get the message

About 15 months ago, I got a new computer at work. Our tech staff set me up, and I went to work. I had noticed that no longer did my e-mail program show me how many messages I had in my "in" box. Oh well. Just a minor inconvenience. Just a curiousity.

Today, while poking around in my e-mail settings, I found the check box that allows me to see the total number of messages -- not just the unread messages.

The answer: 2,623.

Just don't tell the Tech staff. I might be about to crash the network.

This number, of course, does not include all the messages I routinely deleted as junk or no longer needed. These are messages that, at one time, for some reason, I thought I might need to retrieve. Every month or so, I delete a month's worth of messages. These 2,623 messages go back to Dec. 1, 2006, with a few select ones even older.

Would you say some spring cleaning is in order?

BTW, how many messages in your "in" box?

Monday, March 12, 2007

More about you than about me

For advocates of openness in government, the timing was fortuitous.

On the eve of Sunshine Week, a media-initiated observance to encourage conversation about open government and freedom of information, the Justice Department released a report revealing that FBI agents broke the law by infringing on citizens’ privacy.

Robert Mueller, FBI director, acknowledged that agents improperly obtained phone records and illegally demanded certain confidential data.

Note that these legal breaches involved private citizens. The news media regularly beat the drum for freedom of information and open government — to which many people respond with a yawn or backlash.

Some people like seeing the news media on the short end. After all, it’s the news media that over-reported on Anna Nicole Smith. It’s the news media that — aside from Fox News, of course — are not “fair and balanced.” It’s the snoopy news media that published my OWI or delinquent tax bill or (in the case of local public employees) my annual salary.

So, any time someone can stick it to the news media, good for them. Right?

Clearly, the news media have their faults and critics. What industry or organization does not? As a journalist and citizen, I read, see and hear things in the media that I question.

However, as the saying goes, be careful what you ask for.

Open government and freedom of information — the theme of Sunshine Week — should be more about you, as a citizen, and less about me, a journalist.

Five years ago, when Americans were still stunned by the events of 9/11, Congress enacted sweeping changes in federal law to fight terrorism. Many were written into the USA Patriot Act.

Some of those changes — promoting communication among investigative agencies and combatting money-laundering, for example — made good sense.

Other provisions sparked objections and questions from civil libertarians, journalists and even public librarians. However, those objections were swiftly dismissed as untrusting and even terrorist-friendly. As the recent report indicates, even with greater authority, the FBI exceeded its legal bounds.

If only this were limited to the FBI. All across the country, day in and day out, some (not all) local, state and federal government officials disregard and violate laws regarding public access. (For examples, visit the SunshineWeek Web site.)

Just keep in mind that, when these violations occur, you might be denied — indirectly, through news reports, or directly — information that might be important to you, your family, your business or your neighborhood.
It’s all about you.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Springing forward

I decided not to watch the second half of Wisconsin's loss to Ohio State in the finals of the Big Ten Conference basketball tournament Sunday afternoon. There will be dozens of games to watch the next three weeks. Instead, I headed out to take care of a couple of errands.

The temperature was only in the mid-50s, but it was such a pleasant, sunny day that I found myself pushing the spring season a little. I opened the car's "moon roof" and let the fresh, crisp air whoosh around me for a while.

OK, it might have been a bit cool for that, but it was a refreshing change to the cold and snow we experience the past couple of Sundays. Besides, if we now must push our clocks forward in March, why not try the same with the calendar?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

This could be expensive


I was honored to be invited to a local Meet the Authors night hosted by the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque. For details, click on the graphic above. I'll be signing my biography of Red Faber.

Looking over the list of the nearly three dozen authors who will participate, I saw that I own several of the books already. However, there are many other books I have yet to acquire. And with the authors present to autograph? Impulse buying might run rampant. It could prove to be a very expensive evening for me.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Grab your calculator and try this

Have 60 seconds to kill? Try this little exercise, forwarded to NewsConference by my Chicago-area friend Bob.

1. Key in the first three digits of your phone number (NOT the Area Code)
2. Multiply by 80
3. Add 1
4. Multiply by 250
5. Add the last 4 digits of your phone number
6. Add the last 4 digits of your phone number again.
7. Subtract 250
8. Divide number by 2

Do you recognize the answer?

Phone number puzzler math

Courtesy of Greg:

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Final chapter

Usually, when I convene our weekday afternoon Page One meeting, I know what stories City Editor Ken Brown and assistant Tom Jensen will have on the budget for local and area news. (It helps that we often have an informal meeting to discuss story plans in the morning.)

Thus, I was surprised and saddened Friday afternoon to see the entry, "River Lights Bookstore to close." Sometime between the morning and afternoon meetings, the Telegraph Herald learned that Dubuque's independent bookstore is throwing in the towel. It will close in the next few months.

Long before I became an author whose book is carried at River Lights, my wife and I were River Lights customers. We shopped at River Lights when it was in the Kmart Plaza and followed Martha Fuerste, Sue Davis and company to their present location in Wacker Plaza. We appreciated the personal service and friendly, knowledgeable staff.

Actually, I was more saddened than surprised. A few years ago, Borders a store opened in Kennedy Mall -- right across Wacker Drive from River Lights. How long could a small, independent bookseller survive against a bigger chain store, which can command deeper discounts from publishers than can the River Lights of the world?

Don't misunderstand: I have nothing against the folks at the Dubuque Borders; it is managed by an energetic Dubuquer who runs a good store and has been supportive of local authors.

And who can say River Lights' challenges were all because of Borders? After all, Internet sales continue to grab a bigger share of the sales marketplace (ie, Amazon.com).

Whatever the reasons, I'm sorry that River Lights will close. The folks there have been so great for the community -- and especially for local authors (including yours truly). That River Lights was able to hang in there so long with the Internet and a "Big Box" competitor right across the street is an accomplishment.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A crushing defeat

I'm a fan of oldies music, and fancy myself as being above-average with oldies trivia. I like to 'play along' with the trivia questions on the radio, but rarely try to win the prizes. However, before work this morning, I decided to take a chance with a question on Oldies 107.5.

It was a two-part question, based on several seconds of audio of an early 1970s song.
I immediately recognized the song as "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing." No problem there.

Question 1: For what product was this song adapted in a TV commercial?
That was easy: Coca-Cola.

Question 2: What group performed the song?
Hmmmm.

I thought I knew the answer. Not confident, but confident enough to phone DJ Dick McGrane. I was the fourth and final caller he would take this morning. (Same question tomorrow, by the way.)

I answered the easy half of the question: Coke.

Now, for the clincher, and the chance to win a ballcap: The name of the group?

Mustering all the confidence I could exude -- it was for broadcast, after all -- I replied: "The Treetop Singers."

"Sorry," Dick replied. "Good answer, though." Small consolation.

Wrong? Licking my wounds, I went to Google and found that my answer was close, but no Coca-Cola: "Hilltop Singers."

Of course! The Coke commercial showed the singers positioned on a hilltop, not in a tree! (Later, The New Seekers recorded the song.)

Anyway, if you are in need of fame and a ballcap, phone 107.5 around 7 a.m. tomorrow and reply Hilltop Singers. I won't be calling; I'll still be in mourning over my embarrassing defeat.