Monday, February 16, 2015

Being Frank, exclusively for Montgomery County, Indiana

Dear Montgomery County, 
It's Saturday morning and a little past 5 o'clock. It's also Valentine's Day and that means Linda and I will visit Red Lobster later today. 
This is going to be about a few things. I am too satisfied to get on my usual high horse and develop one topic for several hundred words. This will probably sound more like one of Hawkeye Pierce's letters to his dad than a newspaper column. 
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I woke up thinking about Gov. Mike Pence this morning. That may sound weird to you but to an old newspaper guy it's not out of the ordinary. I often awake thinking about newsmakers. 
Governor Pence has been in Montgomery County news a lot lately thanks to ISTEP+ and his visit to Nucor. 
He can't seem to catch a break. The principal of Mollie B. Hoover Elementary school in Crawfordsville was interviewed on TV and she wasn't a bit shy about expressing teachers' frustration with ISTEP+. 
Other folks in these parts are upset with his plan to cut funding to the Indiana State Library for genealogical research. 
A few years ago Pence visited a Crawfordsville factory and his keys were locked in his car by the state trooper who was driving him around that day. I know because the governor sent a thank you to the local towing operation that broke into his car for him. Thankfully for the governor it wasn't one of winter days.
The tow truck operator put the thank you note from the governor on his front counter so all his customers could see the note bearing the seal of the State of Indiana. 
Governor, when -- not if -- you decide to test the waters for a run for President, you might think twice about stopping in this part of Indiana. Over the next several months you might become known as Indiana's version of "W."
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Thanks to Twitter and Facebook I have been able to keep up with the family doings of many of my friends. 
My editor asked me for an idea for a Valentine's Day story a few days ago. We asked our combined Facebook friends to tell us about the best Valentine's Day gift they have ever given or received. 
Surprisingly, many of the comments had to do with family and not romance per se. Two people said their children, born on Feb. 14, were their greatest gifts. One man said hand made cards and a bag of Laffy Taffy from his kids were his greatest gifts. 
I have never considered Valentine's Day to be a family event but I guess it is. 
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I am getting to write more now than I have ever written in life. In the past, those pesky minor issues likes getting out the next edition of the paper or getting ready for the next newscast took a lot of time away from just thinking and writing. 
Not that I would be opposed to being an editor again. That would mean more money and I'm not enough of a hypocrite to say more money wouldn't be nice. Always. 
But my morning routine includes taking Linda to work, driving a few blocks to my office, greeting The Boss (she reminds me of Gail Hamilton in many respects) and settling down to my desktop computer. 
I then go through e-mail and look through the past 24 hours on my Twitter and Facebook accounts and then the paper's Facebook account. Many times I will look through the statistics of our paper's website, always looking for something to write about. 
Our company's goal is for every reporter to average two stories a day. I'm between two and three stories a day and I love it. 
Let me tell you where some of those stories have led. 
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An old friend, a genealogist, came into the office the other day looking for the editor. Pete was out so I met the man. He wanted to promote a meeting of the Sons of the American Revolution of West Central Indiana. 
He left the information in my trusted hands and then our conversation turned to genealogy and I learned about his frustration with the governor's plan to defund the Genealogy Department of the state library. 
Later, he sent me a few e-mails he had received that were being distributed by his friends and fellow genealogists opposing the governor's plan. Social media is wonderful!
So, I went online to see what our wire service had written, copied their story and proceeded to call our local library and a nearby library devoted to genealogical research. The wire story had covered the governor's view pretty well so I wanted informed local comments on the other side of the issue. 
One thing led to another and I was invited to speak at a meeting of the local genealogical society this week. 
I tried to suggest other people but the lady to whom I spoke insisted they wanted me. 
I think I will talk on how media has changed since I first became involved -- some 40 years ago. Can it be that long? 
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I used to sit next to a reporter who came into the building cussing every morning. 
"You know what I hate about this job?" he said one morning. "Every day it's something different. I just want a job where I go in and do the same thing in the same way day after day." 
Something new and writing news stories pretty much go hand in hand!
In a few years, he was working for a big box store and happy as can be. 
One morning last week I was surprised to find on my desk a plastic mailing bag that contained a book and a letter. 
The letter was from a publicist and the book was "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles." 
The letter said a local woman had contributed one of the chapters in the book.
The letter contained her e-mail address.
Not surprisingly in this day of the declining use of home phones, I couldn't find a phone number for her but I dropped her a note on e-mail. We ended up doing an interview by e-mail and I think I have a new friend. 
Diane Stark and her husband live nearby. They have five kids and she is a freelance writer. As it turns out, she has written for several editions of "Chicken Soup for the Soul" as well as a number of other religious publications. 
Her busy life just made it easier for us to do the interview by e-mail than in person which was fine for my purposes. Did I mention I love social media?
After the interview, we wrote again, talking about freelance writing. 
She was impressed I had been freelancing for more than 40 years, much longer than she has been alive, I am sure.
I don't think writing for publication for 40 years is impressive, any more than living to be more than 60 years old, which reminds me of the last person I tried to interview and I will wrap this up by telling you about Nettie. 
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Nettie is 100 years old this week. 
You know how Willard Scott is always showing those old folks whose faces are superimposed on a jar of jelly? They are always smiling and happy to bless us with their presence after 100 years on this earth. 
The nursing home had a birthday party for Nettie and Nettie was having nothing to do with it. 
That's what she told me, when we met and the expression on her face when I took her picture says it all. 
Hey, I get grumpy sometimes now. If I live to be 100 I expect every day won't be great then, either. 
Poor lady. But her face says it all: "I didn't want to have this **** party. Get the **** out of my face with your banners and cakes and flash cameras!" 
"That's a terrible picture," Editor Pete said, laughing, when he pulled it up on his editor's computer screen. 
I told him Nettie's story and in some ways it is down right funny. 
"I don't want a party and I want all you people to get out of here and leave me alone!"
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Last night I learned how to do something. 
Pete asked me to come back in and help check pages before the pages were sent to the printer for today's edition. 
Between pages I tried one more time to learn how to do something that had eluded me for over a decade. I have struggled to understand how to combine individual photos with feathered edges into a new picture in Photoshop. 
Yesterday I mastered the technique. I learned how to use layers to join the pictures into a Valentine's Day montage I was trying to create. 
It seems simple now, but I guess brain surgery is simple, too, after you get the hang of it. 
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So, unlike the character of Hawkeye Pierce, no one is shooting at me. People treat me very well (guess it's that senior citizen thing.) I will not be performing meatball surgery after I email this letter. And, I am very happy with life in general 
I love this job!