Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Windshield Survey ...

Recently, I had occasion to sit and visit over the phone with Mella McEwen, the Oil & Gas Editor for the Midland Reporter-Telegram. We talked about how each other was doing, families, jobs, health,etc. ... and the state of the energy business in the Permian Basin.

Ms. McEwen was upbeat about that state ... and that means something to me, because I believe her to be our most astute observer/reporter of the industry and its impact, not just on West Texas and southeast New Mexico, but upon the nation as a whole.

Those of who have been around the 'Patch for more than a few years will remember the late, great John Paul Pitts - who was not only a reporter and editor of great repute, but also a singer/songwriter/musician, and a connoisseur of menudo. Pitts' untimely passing was a loss not only for the oil and gas industry for which he was a tireless reporter and advocate ... it was also a loss for the craft of journalism in the Permian Basin.

It was those formidable shoes that McEwen was expected to fill ... and in my opinion, she's not only done that, but she's also taken her own steps, made her own advances, and the MRT's Sunday Oil & Gas Section remains a publication without peer. How she feels about menudo, I don't know.

But I digress ...

Our discussion of the state of the industry was not fueled much - if at all - by government reports, but by our own observations of what was going on around us ... what people were saying, what companies were doing, what assets were moving, what yields were recording.

My own windshield survey - looking at what's going on around me as I drive to and from work, and to and from surrounding communities - has been encouraging.

The area where I work is near Midland International Airport, well outside the civilized environs of either Odessa or Midland. Land here is cheaper, and the businesses one finds are those that need some place to sprawl ... like equipment yards, fleet operations and field offices. Existing yards are being improved and expanded, and new yards are being built.

A five-mile stretch of FM 1788, connecting I-20, US 80 and US 191, is one of the busiest in the area. Rigs and crews are on the move. So are service vehicles, survey trucks, tankers and company cars. The amount of work traffic on local roads is the greatest I have seen in a looooong time.

There are moments where it's hard for restaurants and convenience stores in close proximity to this traffic, to keep up with the flow of customers ... while trucks are filling their tanks in the fuel bays, crews of roughnecks are loading up on burritos, bags of chips, coffee and very large travel cups of Dr. Pepper for the start of the day. It's much the same at the end of the day, though one sees less coffee and Dr. Pepper, and more beer. Those that can time it right, will hot a restaurant for lunch, filling up two or three tables, eating well and tipping well.

Listening to the conversation over morning coffee, I'm hearing that old wells are being pulled out of early retirement, and new wells are being developed. People are going back to work, and royalty owners are realizing renewed income. There are stops along the highway where you can see two or three rigs at work. Plenty of traffic on the highway, too. Pound for pound, a steel rig is more valuable than gold right now. And if it isn't working a site, it's on the back of a truck hurrying to the next site.

The view through my windshield is a good one, at least for now. The view through others' may vary. I'd be interested in hearing what others have to say. At least two of the big guns in West Texas' blog arsenal, Eric at Fire Ant Gazette, and Wallace at Streams, bring more than a little first-hand experience of the industry to their observations.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

An Opportunity to Make a Joyful (?) Noise ...

Very little of the following is my own composition ... but thanks for visiting with me, today, and for the opportunity to share it with you ...


"This is the good news that we have received,
in which we stand, by which we are saved, if we hold fast:
that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures,
and he was buried, that he was raised on the third day,
and that he appeared first to the women, then to Peter,
and then to many faithful witnesses.
We believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Jesus Christ is the first and the last, the beginning and the end;
He is our Lord and our God. Amen."

As he he usually does when it comes to matters of faith and religion, Eric Siegmund at Fire Ant Gazette offers an insightful look at what we are celebrating this day and - really - all days. Eric cites Matthew 28. Me? I go with John 20, though it doesn't include the quote that formed the foundation for Eric's post.


A full house for early service this morning at First Prez-Midland, and I don't think anyone went home disappointed. The church's staff and ministry did themselves proud today, and the message of Christ's resurrection - and our salvation - was loud, clear and compelling.

There was a little something for everyone ... including me. A small notice in the church bulletin said (Those who have sung the "Hallelujah Chorus" and would like to join with the choir in this great anthem, please come to the chancel during the singing of "Because He Lives.")

I had ... so I did. And, for the first time in more than thirty years, I sang that awesome piece with a choir. And not just the choir this morning, but accompanied by brass, tympani and organ.

I was a tenor in high school, and I don't quite have the range now, that I did then. The lump in my throat - not the result of stage fright but, rather of exhileration - didn't help either ... it was a wonderful moment. And even as I mangled this note or that, I didn't care ... I was making a joyful noise, nonetheless. Perhaps what I felt was something like what Edward Hoagland describes below ...


"Though I'd seen mobs behave savagely, some of my experience was of the moments when, on the contrary, a benign expressiveness, even a kind of sweetness, is loosed. When life seems to be an unmixed good, the more the merrier, and each man rises to a sense of glee and mitigation, alleviation, or freedom that, perhaps, we wouldn't quite dare to feel if he were alone. The smiling likeness, infectious blitheness, the loose, exultant sense of unity in which sometimes, the mass of people as a whole, seems to improve upon the better nature of the parts."

"This intrigued me."

"Just as with other natural wonders of the world, to which one relinquishes one's self, instead of feeling smaller, I often felt bigger when I was packed into a multitude And taking for granted the potential for mayhem of crowds, of which so much has been written, I was fascinated instead by the clear, pealing gaiety."

"It manifests itself, for instance, in the extraordinary quality that singing by a congregation acquires. The humdrum and unlovely voices gradually merge into a sweet, uniquely pristine note, a note angelic-sounding, hardly believable. Looking about, one can't see who in particular might have such a voice. Everybody in the pew has an expression as if he were about to sneeze, and squawks just a little. It is a note created only when hundreds sing ... it needs them all. No single person is responsible, any more than any individual in a mob lends that its bestiality."

"It's like riding in surf. It's like a Dantean ascent ... one circle up. Suddenly, we like all these strangers, even the stranger in ourselves, and seem to see a shape in life, as if all the exertions of the week really were justified and were a source of joy."


Alleluia ... Amen

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Well, Isn't That Interesting ... Newsworthy? ...

Sometimes, the process of uncovering a news story is nothing more than the observation of something a little out-of-the-ordinary. 'Well, isn't that interesting,' you might remark ... and it usually is.

But is it newsworthy? Maybe ... maybe not.

This morning, on my way to work, I was westbound on that lest stretch of Andrews Highway in Midland, between Midland Drive and Loop 250, where it turns into Highway 191. In the opposite lane, the eastbound traffic was waiting for their green light. There seemed to be a pattern in some of that eastbound traffic. I saw two, then three ... then four Bosworth Company service trucks, one right behind the other, all heading into town on Andrews Highway.

As I moved along, I saw more ... and that's when I thought, 'that's interesting.' As I counted truck #10, I realized this wasn't a bigger-than-usual heating/air conditioning service call. By the time I counted 25 trucks, all heading the same direction on that same small stretch of road, well, by then, anyone would have realized something was up .... interesting, but newsworthy?

I pulled off the road, parked, and placed a call to the Bosworth Company. The woman who answered the phone explained that the company had just taken some kind of large, corporate-type photo out at the stadium with all their trucks and employees, and they were now returning.

It was interesting, yes ... but, no, it wasn't newsworthy.

It can work out differently, though, as it did for me just a few days earlier. A little before eight o'clock Saturday morning, I was in the process of putting out boxes on the curbs, weighted with bricks and bearing signs directing people to a garage sale we were having. While placing a box on the corner at Neely Street, I saw a couple of police cars in the middle of two intersections, lights flashing and officers out and moving around. Obviously, something was up in this normally-quiet residential neighborhood ... interesting, but newsworthy?

I drove over to one of the blocked streets and visited with a resident who was watching the proceedings. She told me she had been asked to leave her house, and that police apparently were looking at some kind of 'incendiary device.'

It was interesting, yes ... and, yes, it was newsworthy. I put in a call to NewsWest 9 and they dispatched the first news crew to the scene. From time to time, they cut into programming to advise the public of what was happening, and urging people to steer clear of the area and let the emergency personnel do their job. They remained on the scene throughout the day as the bombscare was resolved without injury to people or damage to property ... except for the suspected pipe bomb, of course.

And, really, that's how a lot of news stories get started ... and that's how YOU can be a part of the coverage of that story ... by noticing something interesting, something out-of-the-ordinary, and calling that information into one of the local news outlets.

It may turn out to be nothing .... but , then again ...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Terri Schiavo's Challenge to the Media ...

Terri Schiavo case fuels blogging storm

(MSNBC / AP) - In cyberspace, where anybody who cares to listen can hear you scream, the question of whether Terri Schiavo should live or die has spawned an endless shouting match.
CLICK HERE for the complete story.


At the moment, the hot topic of discourse in America is Terri Schiavo, a 41-year-old Florida woman whose plight has attracted the attention and concern of the entire country.

I won't go into the facts of the case. One can't turn anywhere, really, in any medium, and not have close to hand a thick file of names, dates, doctors' recommendations and judges' rulings ... far more comprehensive than I could present in this forum.

But how shall we, the media, report on those facts? In many ways, it's just another story. But that being said, the story is unique unto itself, and brings with it many unique challenges to those of us who would report that story ... and that, really, is just like all the stories we are called upon to report.

First, we must assume nothing. We must present our stories with enough background detail to allow a reader, addressing this topic for the first time, to know what this is about, and how this story has developed. Names and titles of the principals - Schiavo, her husband, her parents, their main attorneys - are important, of course. A brief synopsis of the arguments of both sides on this issue would help. So would a brief timetable of the past fifteen years of Schiavo's life, her injury and ensuing condition, and the legal and legislative actions that have become a part of that life.

Secondly, we must give breaking developments their time at the forefront. Today, for example, the principals mentioned above should be moved down the page to make room for U.S. District Judge Whittemore. And the general arguments made throughout the past fifteen years should be moved down the page, as well, to make room for the arguments being heard in Judge Whittemore's courtroom. Over the weekend, it was the turn of Congressional leaders in Washington and President George Bush to move to the forefront, as they moved to intervene in the Florida case and place it in the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary.

Anything else? Yes, give each side of the issue a chance to contribute to your report. You don't want to devote an overwhelming majority of your space to one side or the other ... but there are times when one side will have more words, more column-inches than the other. The argument made by some outside the media that there must be an exact, '50/50' split between the two sides is not always practical ... and sometimes it's more than a little ludicrous. Think about it ... when someone has made a compelling presentation to you - a sermon, a sales pitch, a plea for assistance, whatever - was it the number of words that swayed you, or the quality of those words.

And a sub-point to that. Whenever you can, go outside the pool of spokesmen representing one side or the other. One of the most interesting sidebars to the Schiavo story I've encountered today was a piece on National Public Radio (KOCV-FM, Odessa College), which featured an extended conversation with the man who was appointed Schiavo's guardian ad litum by the State of Florida. For several minutes, the host of "NPR All Things Considered" spoke, not to the husband's advocate, not to the parents' advocate, but to Terri's advocate - the man appointed by the State of Florida two years ago to immerse himself in the case, to study the situation (more than 30,000 pages, then) and to be at Terri's side, legally and literally. I got more out of that ten minutes then I would have gotten listening all night to the lawyers, the politicians and the pundits.

One last point, tighten the chin strap of your helmet, and hunker down. In stories like these, where emotion is as much a part of the debate as reason, reports in the media will be carefully screened and either praised (if they present facts agreeable to the reviewer) or condemned (if they don't). Really, the only middle ground to be had when covering a story/debate such as this is if the complaints come from BOTH sides ... that's one pretty good indicator you're presenting a fair and impartial report of the news.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Wouldn't It Be Neat If ...

One of the great things about traveling the blogosphere is that, given time, you'll eventually find a stop along the way with a focus that is especially interesting ... a group of people posting on a topic-of-interest that seems to answer the question, "Wouldn't it be neat if ..."

I found one earlier this week while perusing the following on the Associated Press wire:


Disgruntled Los Alamos workers share insights and gripes on blog

If loose lips sink ships, then what can a blog at a top-secret nuclear lab do? Many of the mostly anonymous Los Alamos National Laboratory employees who post to
"LANL: The Real Story" take aim on work conditions and perceived weak morale at the federal lab. Others are bent on ridiculing -- and perhaps sinking -- their boss, lab director Pete Nanos.

Whatever its effect, the blog that debuted in December has become a lively public forum for current and former Los Alamos lab workers who share articles, gripes, rumors and observations.

A computer scientist at the New Mexico lab, Doug Roberts, says he launched the site after an online publication for employees stopped accepting submissions critical of Los Alamos.


Wouldn't it be neat to sit down in a virtual room somewhere and listen in on a bunch of people from Los Alamos?

I think it would. Any of you out there with some experience in northern New Mexico know that Los Alamos is one of the most storied communities in the state ... and one of the most unique in America. It's population once had probably the highest concentration of scientists and technicians gathered in one place, from around the world, to pursue am awesome objective.

Oh, and the stories they could tell ... about some things at least. Back in the seventies, at the University of New Mexico, my professor in "Physics for Non-Majors" was a Manhattan alumnus. When lectures were finished for the day, and the last questions had been answered, he would often share a humorous tale of life in Los Alamos in the 1940s, featuring people like Oppenheimer, Fermi and others.

And, while Los Alamos today is a far cry from the early days of Manhattan and Trinity, there is still much going on there that is kept well out of the public eye ... which makes me wonder just how far contributors to this blog will be allowed to go.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Finding Our Niche ...

A post by Eric at Fire Ant Gazette, with comments from Wallace at Streams, discusses the "misperception that a few heavy hitting bloggers are somehow drowning out the rest of the blogosphere."

One spinoff of this discussion is the idea of 'niche blogging' ... boldy going, I suppose. where the A-List bloggers don't have the time or the wherewithall to go.

But aren't all blogs, really, 'niche blogs?' Think about it. A chain of newspapers may all run the same AP story or photo, a network of television stations might all run the same package. But weblogs may be one of the few media that is composed entirely of individual outlets. Even those of a similar attitude or political alignment, addressing the same story, will do so with a noticable degree of individuality.

For me, the individuality, the specialization, is one of the greatest attractions of these online journals.

I have a feeling there are already forces at work that could change that ... strings of blogs - each with a local 'feel' - that are really affiliates of a coordinating, and directing network.

Let the Sun Shine In ...
NEW MEXICO - Public should see agendas, have notice of meetings

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO (AP) - In recognition of Sunshine Week -- Your Right to Know -- a national project designed to open dialogue about public access to government information is asking:

DID YOU KNOW ... You have a right to attend meetings of public bodies such as your county commission, city council or school board?

All public bodies must adopt an annual resolution that tells where and when meetings will be held and how much notice will be given. The attorney general's office and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government recommend ten days' notice for regular meetings, three days for special meetings and as much time as possible for emergency meetings.

Notices must be posted in prominent places readily accessible to the public. Agendas must be posted or you must be told where you can obtain them 24 hours in advance of each meeting.
Action should be taken only on items listed on the agenda.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Just Up the Road a Way ...

With the boys out of school for spring break, and with family in town, we decided to head north and spend a day in Lubbock. At a distance of about 110 miles, Lubbock is - by West Texas standards, at least - just up the road a way.

The road from Midland to Lubbock may seem like a tremendous amount of nothing to some. The flat terrain and sparse clusters of population may seem like another world to some. To others, it's a look at what was once a more common - even predominate - setting for our country and its way of life - rural America.

Yet, in the two hours or so that it took to get from here to there, we had plenty to observe and discuss.

For example, it's not often that one sees more than one of the region's traditional industries doing well at the same time ... but it's happening now. Only now are the gins turning out the last bales of the 2004 cotton crop, which has already gone into the record books. I had more than one story last year about the growing optimism among cotton farmer - due to the rain that was nourishing their crops. Later, we had a report about growing concern among those same farmers - due, again to the rain that now was soaking the ground and preventing harvesters from going into the fields. But it turned out all right ... and early indications are that West Texas cotton growers may be at the start of another good year. We did see plenty of tilling going on alongside the highway.

And then there's the oil business. Old wells are being pulled out of early retirement, and new wells are being developed. People are going back to work, and there were stops along the highway between Midland and Lubbock where you could see two or three rigs at work. Plenty of traffic on the highway, too. Pound for pound, a steel rig is more valuable than gold right now. And if it isn't working a site, it's on the back of a truck hurrying to the next site.

What else? Well, more cattle, more horses and more goats. They're growing sunflowers around the town of O'Donnell ("Home of Dan Blocker"), and while the newly-tilled fields are bare now, they will be dazzling later this year. Early grape-growing ventures in the Llano Estacado are now fully mature vineyards, and the wines they produce enjoy a growing reputation. We visited the Caprock Winery on this trip, and enjoyed an entertaining tour and a liberal tasting. I've often noticed that the more generous the tasting at the winery, the more generous our purchase, and the same held true on this visit.

Spanky's, across the street from Texas Tech, for lunch. I had the green chile cheeseburger, and cheese sticks ... Delicious! After that, we visited the Silent Wings Museum - a tribute to the glider forces that trained in Lubbock during World War II. Silent Wings is not nearly as large as Midland's CAF, but it is every bit as good. Then, we enjoyed a movie at the Omni Theater in the Science Museum.

Our last stop in Lubbock was one of the boy's ideas - the Krispy Kreme Donut Shop. Large glass windows allow you to follow the progress of the dough, its shaping, cooking, glazing, etc. And it's hard to beat the taste of an absolutely fresh donut. We had some at the shop, with coffee, and took another dozen home with us for the next day's breakfast ... packed securely in the trunk to make sure they lasted would still be around at breakfast-time.

There's plenty more to Lubbock, of course. But this was just a day trip. We'll be heading back soon ... since it really is just up the road a way.


Let the Sun Shine In ...
TEXAS - Legislators use mixture of recorded, non-recorded votes

AUSTIN, TEXAS (AP) - The Texas Legislature is thick into the debate school finance. In the House, lawmakers took their usual approach in debating and passing legislation. They chose at times to cast recorded votes, but at other times held non-recorded voice votes.

Although some legislators propose creating a state law or constitutional amendment requiring lawmakers to record their votes, those measures remain in legislative committees. Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick has indicated he doesn't think the state needs new requirements in the law or constitution.

Legislative rules were changed in January in part to allow lawmakers an easier way to request a recorded vote.

Dozens of Texas civic, media, open government and political organizations are pushing for recorded votes, including The Associated Press.

Doug Toney is publisher of the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung and a representative of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association and Texas Press Association. Toney says open government -- is accountable government.

At least 40 states require a recorded, or roll-call, vote on final passage of every bill in both legislative chambers ... Texas isn't one of them.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Let the Sun Shine In ...

WARNING: The following post contains material supplied by the "Mainstream Media." Proceed with caution, and use at your own peril ... unless you're already a debauched harlot of the MSM, like myself. Then, there's no harm done.


The Associated Press Managing Editors Association encourages journalists to join the national Sunshine initiative for greater public access to government and information.

"Sunshine Sunday" and "Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know" kick off March 13, 2005, and continue through the following week.

Participating daily and weekly newspapers, magazines, online sites, and radio and television broadcasters will feature editorials, op-eds, editorial cartoons, and news and feature stories that drive public discussion about why open government is important to everyone, not just to journalists.

"We all have a stake in open government that responds to the needs and wishes of the people it serves," said APME President Deanna Sands, managing editor of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald. "That's the challenge and opportunity for citizens of a representative democracy. We must pay attention either through our own efforts or through those of skilled journalists who act as watchdogs. Sunshine Week is a way to remind us how important vigilance is."

Find out more about the initiative at:


While the invitation above is extended to those affiliated in some way or another with APME, it really is something of tremendous concern to ALL producers and consumers of news and information.

It is also of tremendous importance to any of you out there who might agree with me that citizens ought to break from the herd from time to time, to rear-up on their hind legs and ask questions of our governing bodies ... especially those questions they prefer to keep in the dark.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Looking Forward to a Break from Spring Break ...

We, the parents of school-age children in the Tall City and other communities across Texas are preparing for - or already in the midst of - one of the most challenging periods of the school year ... and it has nothing to do with the TAKS test.

No, it's Spring Break - a time for all of us to get a better appreciation of the remarkable job our teachers do in keeping a room full of kids occupied and focused, seven hours-a-day, five days-a-week.

I'm more fortunate than some parents in that I can send a great deal of my work home from the office, and post it to the web site from there. Of course, one still has to go into the office for things ... dubbing over audio/video components to accompany the text reports, coordinating with television news producers about topics for online polls and additions to our "Today's Links" feature, and sampling the delicious baked goods that show up in the newsroom some mornings.

Then it's back home, getting some work done, keeping an eye on the kids and keeping them occupied ... and, there's the rub ... keeping them occupied.

Chores take you part of the way ... but there's only so much laundry to be folded, so many dishes to be put away, so many toys to be picked up and so many beds to be made.

The weather has been a big help. Even by West Texas standards, it has been a clear and warm week, so far. And that means plenty of opportunities to get outside, run around the yard, ride bikes and shoot hoops. Taking the dog for longer walks than usual has been popular this week. The weather has been perfect, and I would like to personally thank Tom Tefertiller and the Stormtracker 9 staff for their part in bringing us all this perfect spring break weather! :-)

Of course, one hates to let all that free time get by without getting out their and doing stuff. Earlier this week, we spent part of the day at Monahans Sandhills State Park, picnicking and surfing the sand dunes. The return trip included a stop at Odessa's Meteor Crater, which now features a new visitors center ... well worth the visit. Tomorrow, it's off to Lubbock for the day.

All in all an eventful and enjoyable week. But me, personally, I can't wait until Spring Break is over ... I need a break!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

What's In a word? ...

Last week, while commenting on a television news story, Eric at
Fire Ant Gazette offered a number of suggestions on how that story might have been better approached in the beginning, and presented in the end.

The topic of the news story that inspired his post was a report on whether or not non-white drivers might be pulled over and searched by police more often than white drivers and - if so - by how much, in comparison to their presence in the total population. The report offered both a statewide view and a county-by-county, community-by-community view.

One of Eric's suggestions that got me to thinking addressed a single word in the news story. He recommended changing the "the report shows" to "the report alleges" and suggested that "There's a world of difference" between the two.

He's right ... at least, regarding the difference a single word can make to the entire story.

We, all of us - news producers and news consumers - would do well to choose our words very carefully and to devote more time to the study of words and their use, and to the expansion of our vocabulary ... a study, I believe, that ideally continues to the end of our lives. You may not be able to teach old dogs new tricks, but they should be able to fetch a new word now and then.

Actually, I'm just as guilty as the next person ... well, part of the time, at least. For example, I have to keep myself from making too much use of the verb 'said' in my reports. Molly Ivins once told me that we should find alternatives that better convey the reason our interview subject is talking to us and to those who read our product, and the circumstances in which that interview was conducted. Depending upon the context, alternatives to 'said' include 'agreed,' 'suggested,' 'asked,' 'responded,' 'explained,' 'acknowledged,' 'added,' 'admitted,' 'observed,' commented' and many many more.

News producers need to be especially adept at the craft of 'wordsmithing,' because the people we meet in the course of covering the news certainly are ... and they're getting better and better as we go along. Over and over, we find examples of a small, tiny change - just a word or two, really - that can make a huge difference in how we view something and how we relate to it.

Want to dump a higher level of radioactive waste in a repository built for a lower level? Just re-classify the waste, and - *snap* - it's lower-level.

Is there growing concern among people about the "privatization" of Social Security? Don't change the idea, just start referring to it as "personalization," instead.

Do international agreements accord too much protection to "prisoners of war" in our custody? Simple, just change their label to "enemy combatants."

And something to keep in mind before we begin pointing the finger of blame at one another ... the wordplay above is completely non-partisan, and is pursued by people of all political persuasions. It's not this party, or that party ... it's the system ... it's all of us.

Hopeful, Prayerful Thoughts ...

While I visit Yellow Bug News each day, I can't really say I know its proprietor, Julie, a "Texas tap dancing cheerleader" and one-half of the Tall City's dynamic duo of blogging.

We have some things in common ... I know from her postings that we share an appreciation for books and coffee at Barnes & Noble, love for our children, and the friendship of Ed Todd. But I also know from those same postings that she and I would disagree - very strongly - on other things ... politics, the media, and a number of social issues.

We are ... people ... and God bless us all.

Which is why I hate to check out her 'schmooze you can use' and read the words, "there is a growth."

Those of you who are virtual acquaintances of Julie and Wallace, please visit
Yellow Bug News and Streams and say, 'Hello.' Julie has been asking for "war stories" from anyone who's been through the procedure before.

And here, in the real world, keep Julie and her family in your thoughts and your prayers. While you're at it, seek God's grace and comfort for all who suffer in some way ... He has plenty to go around.

Monday, March 07, 2005

#2's Okay ... For Now, at Least

Plenty of celebration around the television station today. The Texas Associated Press Broadcasters have announced the winners of their 2004/2005 contests, and NewsWest 9 led the pack in Odessa-Midland with 13 awards in nearly every category of broadcast and web journalism.

Yes ... web journalism, too. The web site I edit took second place statewide in the "Best Website" category, finishing behind, the online component of our NBC-affiliated neighbors to the north, in Lubbock.

We were competing in the TAPB's DIVISION 3, which includes radio and television stations in the Odessa-Midland, Lubbock, Abilene, Sherman-Dennison, Beaumont-Port Arthur and Wichita Falls markets, among others.

So, why am I so proud of finishing in second-place? Well, for one thing, we have one of the newest news websites in Texas ... only now completing our fifth week of operation. We've learned a lot and gone far since those first, struggling days of discovery and experimentation. It's a process, I hope, that never truly ends. Because, I believe that, when you stop experimenting, when your desire for discovery ends ... that's when the decline begins.

The challenge is, I think, different for websites than it is for other categories in the competition. In those other categories, one picks a particular entry ... an especially good newscast, an exemplary individual report or series, an above-average bit of video shooting or editing. But it's different for websites. All the judges receive is your URL and some basic information about the size of your market and the size of your website staff (in our case, it's one person). Then, over a period of a few weeks, they visit the site a number of times, allowing them to get a feel for the site's performance over an extended period.

That's not to take anything away from my award-winning co-workers, though. They are ...
1. NewsWest 9 Sunrise with Jordan Williams, Antoinette Antonio & Darrell Ward.
News Anchor/Team
1. Jordan Williams & Antoinette Antonio.
2. Reporter Marcy Clemons - "Journi"
1. Reporter Billy Churchwell - "Flying Spiders"
Investigative Report
2. Reporter David Marino and Photographer Mike Ortiz - "Call for Help"
2. Reporter Antoinette Antonio
Sports Story
1. Reporter Steve Loscalzo - "A Trey Howell Christmas"
1. Reporter Billy Churchwell and Photographer Frank Morales - "West Texas Guardsmen at Fort Hood"
General Assignment
HM. Reporter Billy Churchwell and Photographer Frank Morales - "Teens Shooting at Traffic"
Continuing Coverage
1. Reporter David Marino - "Massage Parlor Scandal"
Feature Editing
2. Photographer Mike Ortiz - "Dobbs Series"
HM. Photographer Mike Ortiz - "Sex Offender Series"

And while they are the competition, I should also acknowledge our friends at KOSA-TV, who took home some awards of their own - including an Honorable Mention for Best Website - but not as many as we did! :-)

Someone not listed in the TAPB's award credits, yet deserving a big acknowledgement, is Dennis Temby of Midland ... school district telecommunications man by day, web designer by night ... who designed our site. It was not an easy process, considering the patience and the perseverance he showed over A LOT of adjustments made as we hammered out the final product.

Anyway, for me, #2's okay ... for now, at least. Next year, we'll have to take a shot at being the #1 website.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

New Popularity for Ol' Timey Music

A relatively brief posting today, as I must head once more into the storage unit in preparation for a garage sale ...

In a posting at "Sticky Doorknobs" over the weekend, Jimmy Patterson sings the praise of bluegrass music ... to which I can only add an off-key, though still heartfelt 'Amen.'

There are few styles of music that capture the American experience quite like bluegrass, with a combination of Old World influences and New World innovations and attitudes, leavened with a good dose of that ol' time religion and delivered without pretension, with a level of honesty that is as much a part of the music's appeal as the notes or the lyrics.

Fans of the music, and those curious and wanting to learn more about it, are strongly encouraged to tune-in Bill Myrick's "Silvergrass & Purple Sage" every Sunday evening, starting at six o'clock on KOCV-FM, 91.3

Myrick moved to Odessa in 1951, where for many years he hosted live radio and television shows featuring bluegrass and oldtime music. An evening includes recollections of that career as well as news for upcoming concerts and festivals in West Texas ... and plenty of good music, too.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Missed Opportunity ...

I would imagine every profession has its moments that carry with them an opportunity to do something above and beyond the usual level of your work ... I know it's certainly true for the media.

I was recalling one instance from my own experience. It happened while I was working the Editor's desk at the Fort Stockton Pioneer, a Thursday morning weekly that has served Pecos County for more than 100 years.

A call went out over the scanner that a suspect in an armed robbery earlier that afternoon, may be at a local motel. I grabbed a camera (one has to wear a lot of hats when you're on the small staff of a small paper) and headed to the scene. As I pulled into the parking lot, it wasn't hard to figure out which room ... it was the only one that had a line of city PD officers and county SO deputies lined-up along the wall, guns drawn, ready to head in through the door. And head in they did ... and I was just a few seconds too late. Getting out of the truck, I looked through the viewfinder just in time to see the back of the last officer disappear into the room.

There was no suspect, it was later determined that he had probably gotten right back on the highway after the robbery, and disappeared to parts unknown.

So, I missed an opportunity for a great photo. But it was also a missed opportunity for my readers, and a missed opportunity for those men going in that room. That's an aspect that some news users - and some news producers, for that matter - miss about coverage of moments like this. Those that accuse us of being 'ghouls' or 'vultures' hovering around the scene of tragedy, don't realize that they are seeing only part of the story ... and that should serve as a reminder to news producers that, sometimes, we have to do a better job of telling the complete story.

That story is not just about someone whose home has caught on fire, it's also about those who responded to the scene to put that fire out. It's not just about someone hurt in a traffic accident, it's also about those who administer emergency medical care before rushing the victim to the hospital. And it's not just about someone who called in a bomb threat, it's also about those who go into a building to search for and disarm an explosive device.

Photos taken on the scene, at the moment of crisis, offer a more compelling image of the job our emergency personnel do. And one such photo does it better than one-hundred staged 'officer stands beside cruiser with open door' photos could ever hope to accomplish.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Search for Missing Persons Illustrates Web's Growing Impact ...

The fact that the growth of the web and - every bit as important - web access is having a dramatic effect on many facets of our life is hardly news. Yet, still, every few days, I an confronted with another compelling illustration of how that is becoming more true, in more ways, for more of us.

Over the last two weeks, it's been the search for missing persons that offers me another illustration of the web's reach, and its impact.

There was the case late last month of Fort Worth-area woman and her 7-year-old son who were missing. I first learned of it when an Amber Alert, issued by the National Weather Service through its emergency broadcast system that temporarily interrupted cable television programming.

Editing, a news website for West Texas and southeast New Mexico, I went to work. My first stop was a local page for the National Weather Service, where I picked up the complete text of the Amber Alert for the boy and his mom.

Over the next couple of hours, searches on the internet produced a photo of the two - albeit an old one - posted by a Fort Worth-area newspaper. Websites devoted to missing persons (
Team Amber Alert, for example), provided added details to descriptions of the two. Then a Beaumont-area television station posted a more current photo of the two.

Very few of the sites I visited remain static for very long ... Added details, updated information, clarifications, newer photos all made sure that coverage of developing news was, itself, developing throughout the evening, and the day that followed.

The day after that, the story reached its tragic conclusion, and our coverage included photos and video of the woman's missing truck, found in a pond in the area ... then the news that the remains of both mother and child had been found. Not long after that, we posted our first photos of the suspect being held in connection with their death.

Of course, work such as this was going on in all media outlets ... but I believe the internet offered some advantages over the others. A newspaper, for example, may reach into more homes in the community, and may do so with a very thorough report, with plenty of supplemental pieces and sidebars ... but it won't be on your doorstep until tomorrow morning.

And now, it begins again. This time, our attention turns to West Texas, where the search is on for Andrews businesswoman Bonnie Duncan. Police are searching the streets of Andrews, while county sheriff's deputies comb the county roads and a DPS helicopter flies over the surrounding countryside.

But the internet is also a part of that search, carrying a detailed description of the woman, and sharing whatever is known about where and when she was last heard from. You can also download a
full-color flyer, to help with the search efforts.

Another West Texas effort, the year-long search for missing Balmorhea teen Monica Carrasco,
has also turned to the internet to help get the word out to even more people, faster.

And the people talk back. This is another important aspect of web coverage on stories like this ... the opportunity for instant feedback from readers anywhere and anywhen. It's not unlike a virtual water cooler where everybody can gather and discuss the day's news.

"Bonnie was like my own aunt. What has happened to her is a horrible thing. I just want to say that my prayers are with her family. I pray to God that she will be brought home back to her family safely," one reader wrote to me earlier today about the search for Bonnie Duncan.

That comment, and others, are posted to the tail of the stories that appear on our website. And they become more than just comments. They become a part of the story, and a part of the way that we - news producers and news users, alike - relate to what is going on around us.

There's new site on the web, related to part of my post. It's called, "Bring Bonnie Back"


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

So, What's It Like ? ...

It happens a lot ... someone finds out that I make my living in the media, and they ask, "So, what's it like, I mean, what's it REALLY like, you know?"

Really, it's pretty interesting. And, sometimes, it's awfully tiring. And it can have moments of great exhilaration, and moments of great sadness. It's life, really.

There are times when you find yourself struggling to maintain a reasonable flow of oxygen to your brain ... listening to county commissioners debate, over the better part of an hour, the relative merits of competing bids to supply sand and gravel.

Then there are times when you're wide awake and cranking, when the story seems to write itself, when the pages fly off your typewriter (then) or word processor (now) with a speed and sense of ease that makes you think you're no longer in control ... that your mind and your fingers are possessed.

There's a lot to the business that has no direct impact on writing words, taking pictures or laying-out pages (in print or online), but are important to your business nonetheless.

There are some books out there that capture the business very well, and I'd like to recommend one. It's a collection of short stories called, "Quaint We Ain't: A Country Editor Confesses the Hilarious Truth About Life in Small Towns."

Author J. Tom Graham has drawn from his real-life experiences as a Texas country newspaper man to write the book. Comparing it to my own experiences editing a small-town weekly in West Texas, I have to say, "he's nailed it." And, it is a very funny book, thanks in part to Graham's skills at writing and storytelling, and in even greater part to the people he meets, and the experiences they share.

The emphasis of Graham's book is definitely upon small towns. Anyone with media experience large AND small will tell you they can be two entirely different critters ... as a matter of fact, that might make for a good post or two later.

Pick up a copy, some time. It will answer, far better than I could, the question, "So, what's it like?"

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

You'z Tawkin' T'Me, Huh ...

Recently, a post on Midland blog Streams had some fun with the character of "Edith Bunker," blaming a longtime misunderstanding on her diction. I guess what caught my attention was that the 'revelation' that inspired the original post, was something that had been obvious to me from the very start.

'Obvious' not because of any exceptional level of intelligence or perception on my part, but, rather, just a simple matter of geography, and having spent part of my life as a 'dang Yankee from back-east.'

Some of you watching old reruns of "All In the Family," may not realize just how far the characters of Archie and Edith Bunker were - in terms of speech - from performers Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton ... both of whom brought years of stage and film experience to Norman Lear's groundbreaking television show.

And unless you've spent a little time in close proximity to one of New York City's boroughs, you may not appreciate fully how perfectly both of them nailed the diction, the accent, the phrasing for their respective characters. There are some who have said there's no way somebody would actually talk that way ... but, they're wrong.

I've had a lot of opportunities for adopting, then discarding accents from different parts of the country ... one of the requirements of growing up in a military family, and moving to a different post in a different state every year or two.

Those moves that took me from the deep south right up to the deep north were the funniest, really. All of a sudden, "crick" became "creek," "resevwah" became "reservoir" and "polecat" became "skunk" ... just to offer a few examples. It did offer some advantages, though. When our high school theater department staged "Thurber Carnival," I was the only one who could produce a proper southern accent to play the role of General Robert E. Lee in the 'If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox' skit.

And now, here I am in Texas. The state tourism brochures say, "It's Like a Whole 'nother Country" and, judging by the accents, that's probably true.

But one thing we need to be careful of - no matter where we come from or what we talk like - is equating accent with intelligence. A recent report on National Public Radio (talking about the various accents employed by Oscar-nominated performances) pointed out that some make the mistake of equating 'southern accent' with 'dumb ' ... can you say 'hillbilly' ?

And, really, I don't mind when my 'dang Yankee from back east' accent generates a little amusement among the native-born in this, my adopted state. Besides, you should hear they fun THEY have with YOUR accent !