Friday, March 28, 2008

Rounding up the news

Sometimes our jobs are a little easier than others. Today, the news happened to walk past me while I was driving.

I was heading back from a work function in Baton Rouge with recently hired Times copy editor Jessica Waldon when we happened to see state Representative Patrick Williams walking on Highway 190. He's been hiking from Shreveport to the state Capitol to draw attention to autism, child obesity and education.

Jessica was gracious enough to take photos of Williams and his friend Floyd Kirksey as they walked. And they were moving pretty fast, which made it hard for the photographer of the day to keep up in flip flops. I guess that may have made the job harder for Jessica, but the easy part was having those guys on our route home.

Regardless of how you feel about politics, walking more than 250 miles in just more than a week is a pretty serious task, so I have to give a few props to the legislator. I prefer to do my walking in the woods and away from vehicles traveling 65 mph. But if he followed my lead he wouldn't be getting the attention he's trying to use to help Louisiana residents.

(Thanks to Jessica for documenting me at work. See? Reporters don't always just sit at desks.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Best of times

In about an hour, our newsroom will pack into the building's conference room to celebrate the best of the best.

Our ceremony will pay tribute to those in the newsroom who do good work and deserve to be honored. We nominate our coworkers for honors ranging from best reporter to best manager. It's one way we get to tell each the folks we work with how much we appreciate the work we all do.

And I LOVE it.

But this event has got me thinking about all the things that I could have done better over the past year--inside the newsroom and out. In the paper and on this blog. In my professional life and in my personal life.

But all that pressure I've put on myself has really got me thinking.

You know what I realized?

I realized that there are a LOT of things I can do better. And I'm going to try to do better, starting now.

While we celebrate our Best of Times honorees, I'm going to take time to celebrate myself and work on improving all the facets of my life. I don't need to wait until New Year's!

I promise to smile more, eat healthier, live better, work harder and let people know how much I appreciate them.

Your turn. Tell me what tweaks are you going to make to become the best you can be.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Behind the scenes of a war

A story is out now about the U.S. military deaths hit 4,000 but this story, The chaplains: Telling stories of the fallen highlights more of what happens behind the scenes. It's a profile of three military chaplains and their experiences in Iraq.

Chaplain Kevin Wainwright, from Fort Hood, Texas, talks about how close he was to some of the soldiers killed. He had once had given Holy Communion to a soldier days before he died. Chaplain Jesus Perez, also from Fort Hood, discusses how he breaks down to grieve soldiers he had known. The Rev. David Sivret, from the Maine Army National Guard, was injured in a suicide bomber's attack of a mess hall in Mosul, Iraq, but continued his duty running on adrenaline.

There's a local page dedicated to the five year mark of the War in Iraq, including a photo gallery honoring Local heroes killed in Iraq.
Whatever your political believes or thoughts about the war in Iraq and in other locations, take a moment to find an individual story and honor that single person, not as a number but as a life lost.

(Times graphic/Times photo)

Friday, March 21, 2008

A life-long eulogy

Looking down from a pulpit at a blue casket and sprays of lilies and roses was surreal.

Even when your loved one is old, it’s hard to plan her funeral, much less sum up the accomplishments of a life that ended just short of a century.

But that’s what I found myself doing this week after my 91-year-old grandmother passed away.

My baby brother and I both had the honor and responsibility of giving a eulogy.
This certainly wasn’t the first time I had thought about what Pauline Vanessa “Granny” Strong Causey meant to me. But I knew that at 11 o’clock Wednesday morning, my words delivered to the First Baptist Church in Doyline had to count. Even for people who believe in an afterlife, a home-going celebration brings a certain sense of finality. I had, maybe, five minutes.

On one hand, it felt perfectly natural to speak about things both painful and joyous in front of a group of a couple hundred people. On the other hand, it was quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve done.

Jonathan recited a knock-knock joke and talked about Granny helping him learn to read. I read her motto, which she wrote on the inside of a card she gave me for a graduation. It told me, among other things, to be dependable and follow the Golden Rule.

There were the trips I’d take her on to the grocery store that somehow ended up including a dress shop or plant nursery. As I said Wednesday, Granny had ways of persuasion.

But after my brother, our cousins and I slid that blue coffin over a big hole in the ground, I started thinking of a lot more things I didn’t mention. Like the hair cut she gave me a month ago before I went to a Mardi Gras ball. She didn’t want any young’un of hers going to a fancy shindig with “duck tails,” she’d said. Or the red capes she used to make me before I started to school. I’d run around her yard with those things flying from an elastic band around my neck.

As we pallbearers pulled the pins out of the carnation boutonnieres attached to our coats and laid the flowers on the box that held her body, I couldn’t help but wonder if my words were enough. Will people remember who she really was? Will I?

The pain of loss is still fresh. But I think I know the answer to my questions. When we pick the first tomatoes off the vine in early summer we’ll think about how she’d bake them into a casserole that looks like a pie. When the daffodils – or buttercups as she called them – sprout in late winter, we’ll remember that she made us wait months to cut them with the mower because she said they wouldn’t bloom right the next year.

We’ll smile as we come across a newspaper clipping she stuck inside a notebook or romance novel. The faded yellow paper will remind us about a wedding or athletic event.

And we’ll cry when we look at old pictures of her cradling a baby.

Teddy Allen beautifully described her funeral service in a column that was a tribute in itself. But the best thing we can do will be to live her motto and retell stories about her in life’s little moments.

That, I think, makes her contributions infinite.

She told me just weeks before she died that she was proud of her family because, overall, we are good citizens. I hope we can continue to make that true.

(The photo is from Granny's 90th birthday party in August 2006. Special thanks to Times photogrpaher Val Horvath.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Texts by public officials

I saw this story on our Web site Sunshine Week: Text messages latest access battle about text messages written on tax-payers' time or technology falling under FOIA rules.
Courts, lawyers and states are increasingly treating these typed text messages as public documents subject to the same disclosure laws -- including the federal Freedom of Information Act -- that apply to e-mails and paper records.

"I don't care if it's delivered by carrier pigeon, it's a record," said Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition at the University of Missouri. "If you're using public time or your public office, you're creating public records every time you hit send."

A Texas judge agreed in December, ordering the city of Dallas to turn over e-mails written by some city officials as well as messages sent on hand-held devices such as cell phones.
Should public officials be put under more scrutiny than those who do not have a public role? Does it only matter if it's a government cell phone? How do you determine when a politician, or anyone else in a public role, is "on public time?" Or should those in public roles be held to a higher standard so not to have this problem? Or is this all just outlandish?

And, for those of us who pay our own cell phone bills, here's some information on how to save money by renegotiating your cellular plan.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Bad news for reporters

On this Friday before the start of Sunshine Week, I thought it was interesting that two stories about reporters becoming the news surfaced this week.

This one is about a haughty sheriff who threatens small-town journalists with jail time for writing about his son's arrest.

And the one with video shows a women beating a TV personality.

I do like a good story, and strong-armed law enforcement makes for some great fiction. But it's scary when the powerful try to shut down the truth, something that is Constitutionally protected.

Fight scenes are great for the movies, but I hate to think one of my co-workers or I would be brutalized for doing our jobs.

Personally, I have only felt physically threatened twice. And they both happened to be at or near the office. Once a woman brought her scrappy teenage son to talk to me about a photo they didn't like. (I didn't take the picture.) The boy came ready to fight, apparently, and bowed up at me a few times. (The bowing was obvious because he flexed his biceps, made visible by the cut-off sleeves of his T-shirt. I'd say that was on purpose.) We didn't fight because I told them there was no reason to yell. They recently had lost a family member in a traffic accident and were understandably upset.

Another time a man grumbled to me that he had "no respect for paparazzi" as I asked him if his loved one, who was pregnant and involved in a car crash in downtown Shreveport, was OK. He angrily told me I had to leave, and I said I hoped she was OK. I still decided to stay close by on the publicly funded sidewalk. He stared but never charged. (I didn't clarify to him that a paparazzo usually photographs famous people.)

I'll be the first to say that I know reporters can make folks mad. Words are powerful, and people don't always like what we ask, say or publish -- even if they know it's true. But does that mean they have the right to physically threaten or act on such a threat?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The (insert minority) vote

It’s wrong to assume that just because I’m black that I’d cast my presidential vote for Barack Obama, or just because I’m a woman I’m more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton. Or that because I fall into both minority categories, that I'm a Democrat.

However, that’s what it seems like the media is focusing on right now, especially with primary and caucus results coming in. And I guess that’s fine, considering the historic nature of the Democratic nomination.

BUT there’s one thing us media folks do all the time (in every election, not just presidential races) that literally makes my skin crawl: we overanalyze and make a hyperbole of the “black vote,” or “Hispanic voters” or “women voters.” Another one I’ve seen: “better-educated black voters.”

I've witnessed talk of reporters being instructed to get elections' race breakdowns and find someone to analyze them. I’ve even heard stories being called “black-voter turnout stories.”

During the Shreveport mayoral election how blacks voted seemed to be a very hot topic for folks inside and (especially) outside of the newsroom.

Last I checked there were more white men voting in all types of elections all over the country than any other minority group. And out of the relatively small population of blacks and Hispanics in the country there are a small number of people in those races who actually exercise their right to vote.

I’m not saying that race and gender in votes should be ignored. They shouldn’t. And sometimes it is very interesting to focus on. But I am saying that in the grand scheme of things, those minority groupings— especially black voters— aren’t really the determining factor in deciding elections. The real decision is made by the hordes of majority voters.

That said, the next time I see a story about “black-voter turnout,” I hope to see one about “white-voter turnout” too.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Stupidus Assidos

It’s a sad thing to admit, but I’ve generally come to expect that most guys just cannot keep it in their pants, particularly politicians.

Or maybe I should say particularly men in positions of power. And that stereotype was proven, yet again, with the latest sex scandal that had me and several other co-workers buzzing earlier today.

This time, the man at the center of the scandal is New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. In a strange twist of irony, the governor once known as “Mr. Clean” was accused of, and practically came clean about, paying for sex with a high-priced call girl.

Sure, it would be easy to call him just another lowdown, no good, so-and-so, but I’m convinced that Spitzer is just merely a victim of an epidemic that’s afflicted a disproportionate number of men that span across socio-economic lines, ethnicity, race, religion, Democrats, Republicans, Independents and even the average joe schmo.

I think the disease starts somewhere in the southern region of the male anatomy and moves to the brain, paralyzing the brain cells in its path. I believe the disease is called stupidus assidos, which of course is Latin for…well… I’m sure you can fill in the blank…

And is it me, or does it seem like, lately alot of these men are getting caught with their pants down, literally...I mean yeah we got Spitzer right now, but before that it was Louisiana's own U.S. Sen. David Vitter who was linked to a high-price escort service last year. And who can forget the 2004 scandal involving New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey who was caught in an adulterous affair with another man. What could cause all of these men and so many more to risk losing everything - their family, political career and dignity - for one moment (or moments) of infidelity? The explanation is simple: Stupidus assidos.

OK, in all seriousness though, what in the world is the deal? I mean what was Spitzer, this leader, husband and father of three teenage girls thinking when he agreed to meet up with a prostitute at a Washington hotel room?? On the fricking day before Valentine’s Day!

I guess it’s time to ask that age-old question: Is it really impossible for men to be faithful? But, I promise I’m not asking from a judgmental standpoint, I’m just very curious as to what happens in the thought process when men are in these situations.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Daylight Savings Time

Is anyone else still dragging after yesterday's morning "Spring ahead" time change? Or just me? The overcast skies probably didn't help, nor the lack of coffee. Hopefully tomorrow morning will be brighter and a little bit more caffeinated.

I know Daylight Saving time is supposed to save money in the economy and all that jazz, but does it really help? Or does it just mess up your sleeping cycle?

I found these articles End Daylight Saving Time and Keep Daylight Savings Time All Year doing a Google search for the correct phrase and such. Interesting.

Both of these articles Keeping Kids Healthy: End of Daylight Saving Time and Surviving the Change to Daylight Saving Time talk about making more gradual changes to your schedule over a few days.

How did you adjust?

Friday, March 07, 2008

What kind of words warrant a resignation?

Word got out today that Samantha Power, a Harvard professor who has been volunteering as a foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama, has resigned.

The reason: everybody found out she called Hillary Clinton "a monster" in an interview.

This story raises a couple interesting questions. Power apparently told a reporter for a Scottish paper that her name-calling was off the record. Not everyone agrees with what that little phrase means, but in an interview, the reporter is calling the shots. The reporter may have treated the comment differently if Power were not part of an extremely wealthy, high-profile presidential campaign. But I would be willing to guess this wasn't her first interview.

I interview people all the time, and they like to throw the "off the record" lingo out. I can be understanding with someone who is not media savvy, but not politicians or their advisers. Then again, I may have chosen not to insert the comment because it was kind silly.

Apparently Obama -- or at least more if his campaign advisers -- thought Power's comment was a bad move. Granted, that is not a very nice or grown-up thing to say, but was it really that bad? Should she have quit her job? This is politics, right? I never knew there was anything particularly sweet and kind in this game.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Got jokes?

I love playing jokes on my family and friends.
I think it’s something about the thrill of seeing their reactions and the complete shock on their faces when they realize what’s really going on.

My younger sister is always one of my biggest targets. I remember when we were younger. She’s always been a heavy sleeper, so sometimes I’d wait till she would get deep into one of her afternoon naps and right when she was in mid-snore, I’d frantically shake her awake like the house was on fire, yelling, “Hurry up! It’s time to get to school! You’re running late! Hurry!”

It would take everything to keep me from laughing as I’d watch her jump up, dazed and confused, blindly rushing to the bathroom to start the shower before I’d say “I’m just playing girl!” Boy, she would get so mad and chew my head off, but by then, I was usually falling on the floor laughing at the whole thing.

I thought about that and other such memories when I read about how Ashton Kutcher will take Punk’d to a whole ‘nother level with yet another reality show. However, this new show, Pop Fiction, will target another group celebs love to hate – the paparazzi.

On one hand, it sounds like a very clever way for celebs to poke fun at the very folks who scrutinize their every move. On the other hand, it seems kinda silly since some of these very celebs tend to use the media just to get public scrutiny and attention anyway. Thoughts anyone?
Meanwhile, what’s the best practical joke you’ve ever played on someone? Or what was the best practical joke ever played on you?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

What's in a name?

The thing I hate most (besides being confused with Shreveport celebrity Donecia Pea) is for people to get my very simple name wrong.

I got called Ashley Northingham yesterday for the zillionth time. Ugh! Ham? It's NorthingTON, people. I gave the school secretary a break though, I just smiled and shrugged as if she pronounced it correctly.

She was very nice and professional, but I get tired of over-enunciating my last name, only for people to still get it mixed up with something else.

At least she didn't say Worthington. Or Washington. Or Nottingham. Or Northing. I get all those other last names a lot too.

The people who get it wrong the most are administrative assistants. I call them incessantly. And, just when I think we've built a friendly relationship someone always lets me down by saying, "OK, Ms. Worthington. I'll tell him to call you."


I get a ton of mail addressed to Ashley Northingham, Ashley Nottingham, Alisa Northington (I can only guess the first name mix up is due to the fact that my editor's name really is Alisa--at least they got the last name right.)

When people call to ask me for my email address I cringe: "It's A as in apple, D as in dog, N.O.R.T.H.I.N.G.T.O.N. at And that's G.A.N.N.E.T.T."

It's really a mouthful.

I understand my name is long. It's even too long for me to write the whole thing when I sign papers. But I will never change it. Not even if I marry. I think my last name is one of the things that makes me unique--aside from the other Ashley Northington, who is a teacher in Aiken, South Carolina. I bet people mix up her name a lot too.

At restaurants I don't even tell people my real name. Most of the time I give the hostess the last name of the other people I'm with: Rucker, Anderson, Ellis, Holland. Lately, I've taken to Hunter. I stole that from my editor Velda. I think her last name suits me well--at least for restaurant reservations.

But seriously, how hard can it be?

Really hard.

Just ask any school secretary.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Jewel's back!

You've probably already heard that Jewel is reinventing herself now as a country singer, but I didn't know when she would be finished with her newest songs.

Well, I heard Jewel on the country radio station Saturday. I like her song, "Stronger Woman" so I thought I'd share it with you:

Here's the "single" version with the lyrics embedded in it.

Here's the music video ...

What do you think about the song? What do you think about her twang? How does it measure up to, or fall less than, other country or any genre of songs about empowered women?

Monday, March 03, 2008

An interesting combination

We have a place in the newsroom we like to call The Usual Spot, or
TUS, for short. This is where we put food or any other kind of goodies
to share with our co-workers.

Today in TUS was an 11 pack of the new Cherry Chocolate Diet Dr Pepper. It came to me minus one can from my mother, who didn't like it. I didn't know how my taste buds would react, so I figured I shouldn't test it alone.

I guess the verdict is still out. I immediately got e-mails from people in the building who said they didn't want to try it. And some said it was gross. But another said she thought it tasted like a "cherry Tootsie Pop," which was a good thing to her.

I thought that was accurate, but I don't know if I would call it good. It is quite a juxtaposition of tastes. I like chocolate, cherries and Dr. Pepper separately, but I don't know if this will work for me. I think the cherry and chocolate does mask the diet taste, though. Diet flavor tastes nasty to me in any drink.

The stuff hasn't gotten a lot of good reviews outside of here, as evidenced by blogger Derek K. Miller in Canada.

Apparently it is only the third "flavor extension" Dr. Pepper's history. They've had a good run, so it seems like it's only good business for them to try to branch out and hook some more lovers of all things carbonated.

Got any opinions on the new drink out there? Zero calories and carbs, according to the nutrition facts.

And if you need a little... entertainment... on this rainy Monday, enjoy this Cherry Chocolate Diet Dr Pepper-inspired video from Tay Zonday featuring Mista Johnson. I'm not sure this helps or hurts.