Sunday, April 23, 2006

Strong showing in “San Fran”

The final 24 hours of the San Francisco national high school journalism convention proved successful for my students and their publications. Both the yearbook and newspaper placed in Best of Show contests, and four of 10 students earned awards in national on-site contests.

The Best of Show winners were announced at the Saturday awards ceremony, which we skipped to do some sight-seeing in the Haight section of town. The contest involves various categories of newspapers, newsmagazines and yearbooks, all based on number of pages -- which theoretically means publications of similar attributes will be judged together. There is one judge for each category, usually a professional journalist or a seasoned veteran educator with no students at the convention. I judged the newsmagazines a couple years ago, and it was just me and a pile of newsprint. So, I always advise my students that it is one judge’s opinion on that one day compared to that group of publications. There really is not a lot of consistency to it all. In the eight previous conventions, we’ve only placed in the top 10 three times. Because of that, we decided a better use of our time would be to see more of the city instead of wait during a marathin awards ceremony for our five seconds of excitement.

But Saturday both the newspaper and yearbook placed for the second convention in a row. The Apple Leaf newspaper placed sixth, and the Wa Wa yearbook placed fifth. The newspaper placing repeated its highest-ever place; it also placed sixth two years ago in San Diego. The yearbook also placed fifth last November in Chicago.

The on-site contests require students to use provided information to write a story, captions and/or headlines. Two yearbook students earned honorable mentions in their categories for copy- and caption writing. Two newspaper students earned superior ratings in editorial and feature writing.

I’m glad we stayed for the Sunday morning awards ceremony, and it was a fantastic honor for my students to be able to earn national recognition. The ceremony ended quickly, and we were soon en route to the airport. After four days in the city, the students had learned a lot about staying in a group, getting on the subway train and being aware of their surroundings. Two students misplaced their tickets, but we had the manifest, so it was fine.

-- Composed at Oakland International Airport, Calif., and posted in Wenatchee, Wash., with my own high-speed wireless connection

Good time at the 'Bee'

It was a fluke that worked out so well -- lik eit was almost meant to be. After asking a few students if the wanted to attend a showing og "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" on Saturday night, I tried to call the ticket office, butthe hours had passed. Since we were already in the neighborhood of the theater, I said we should go by and see if any tickets were available. When we got there, turns out there were still four seats for us at the orchestra level -- $66 each. That's not bad for a Broadway show that is playing here before heading out on tour. Then, I asked if there was a student discount, and the sales woman said she had some seats just to the side -- still very good -- for $25 two hours before the show (which it was). Jackpot! We took them.

We arrived early to get seated. I tried to be a speller, meaning that the troupe selects four audience members to participate in the show as spellers. I thought I was a shoe-in as an English teacher, but I missed going back out to the lobby when I was supposed to be there. In retrospect, I think that would have been a blast, but I also would not have seen the show as much, so it was OK that I was not able to participate.

The show rocked! The music is adorable, the cast hilarious. The basic premise is an elementary school spelling bee, and all the pressures and personalities associated with that. It runs one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission, and there is lots of audience interaction in addition to the spellers. Also, there are customizable portions of the script where the cast inserts bits about the news or local scene. It was clear there were a few San Francisco-based jokes. Hilarious.

All in all, to see a fantastic show for just $25 -- and before anyone else I know did -- was a treat for me and my students. I hope I can take students to a show like this in the future instead of spending the Saturday night of our convention at the dance. This made my San Francisco trip memorable.

As they said in the show when someone was eliminated from the bee: "Bye bye!"

-- San Francisco

Friday, April 21, 2006

San Francisco Digest

Just came back to the "hotel" room to decompress and relax before heading back to the convention to judge editorial cartoons and then a reception/auction. It is another day of absolutely beautiful spring weather -- sunny and mild. So, some random blog tidbits are below.

Access: I am using a citywide wireless network that costs about $6 per day. From my bed in the hotel room I get about two bars at night on the wireless network. From my roommate's bed this afternoon (only visible outlet) I am getting all four bars. He said the place should charge more for his bed then. Coverage has been spotty at best -- and slow.

Sunburned in SF: Apparently during the boat trip to Alcatraz Thursday, I got too much sun. My forehead is completely burned. I look like a lobster. It will have turned to tan in a couple days, but it is annoying. I never expected to be sunburned in April in San Francisco.

Strange site: I went down to Market Street for an errand and lunch, and while I was waiting with my friend on the street, I saw some police motorcycles with lights, but they weren't moving very fast. So I suspected it might be an escort -- a local dignitary or something maybe? Turns out the cops were escorting a city MUNI bus. Inside the bus -- which I saw pass twice -- was a film crew and the band of costumed characters for Fruit of the Loom. Really -- Fruit of the Loom on a bus! Watch for it on TV soon maybe.

Thursday night keynote: Marcus Chan of the San Francisco Chronicle was super interesting. He runs the podcasts for that newspaper. He had a few main points I left with, aside from the very catchy "Think outside the newsrack." He played some clips and showed some slideshows that had every voice silenced. It was absolutely captivating. What better way to illustrate the power of multimedia? His points:
  • Choose the right medium to tell the story.
  • What do readers/consumers want to see or hear or read?
  • Don't be a one-trick pony.
  • Be Swiss Army knife of journalism.
Friday keynote: Farai Chideya of National Public Radio (formerly of MTV News, Oxygen and Newsweek) and also of Pop and Politics was absolutely fascinating. She said, "Journalism is about wanting to know, not thinking you know everything." Wow. Better yet, she described how truth and imagination aren't that far apart. She said, "You need a lot of imagination to tell the truth in a way other people will understand."

Live blog: I considered live blogging the keynotes, which would have been cool. But, I settled for listening and just writing some notes. Maybe I am thinking about live blogging because I went to a great session about the Paly Voice, an online outlet from the students at Palo Alto High School. It was fascinating. Awesome stuff. I want to be like them. I want my students to do what they do.

Learning: Seems like all my students have, for the most part, attended the required number of sessions. I think they all made it to their contests this afternoon, and I look forward to debriefing with them tonight. I'll be judging and then attending the benefit auction for the Student Press Law Center. I have vowed to spend less than in years past. Tomorrow: a marathon of meetings and sessions to present as well as announcing the Best of Show winners. In the evening, perhaps a musical that's in town. Should be a great day.

-- San Francisco

Thursday, April 20, 2006

San Francisco Day 1

I am used to traveling with students. This is my 14th national journalism convention, and my ninth with students. Generally there are few problems, and I know how to anticipate most potential ones.

Leaving Seattle was flawless, and the short flight on Southwest to Oakland was fine, too. The travel from the airport was a bit more hectic. I forget that some students need extra guidance with getting a bus and subway ticket, and it's sometimes hard to keep the group of 10 kids and me together. But, we all got on the bus, and then the subway -- even after a few wrong turns on
the platform and one girl who had her ticket stolen by a persuasive swindler who was trying to "help" her (and she naively accepted).

Coming up at Powell Street in San Francisco from the subway, my group was immediately accosted by a couple street people who were handing out maps and again being "helpful" by working for tips for their advice. I was not prepared for the aggressive attention -- they accompanied us for three blocks. I was starting to get just a bit worried at that point. But, we finally found the hotel, its small awning tucked among a row of low-cost restaurants on a busy street.

Let me say from the beginning that the hotel is more modest than I expected. In some ways it is downright crappy. The beds are fine -- new bedding -- and the bathroom has been recently remodeled. The rest, though, leaves a bit to be desired. I'm on the second floor, sharing with a pal of mine from Olympia, and the Quizno's sign is just outside my window. The only view is of a beautiful theater across the street. It is a modest and no-frills hotel. I am glad I brought my own bottle of shampoo, or I would have been out of luck. Last night I don't know which was worse: the rattling window or the street noise.

We walked to the Hilton a block away, where the convention is held, and it was a dramatic difference -- this Hilton is even more Hilton-y than most. It's posh. I suspect we'll be hanging out there a lot.

I thanked all my students in advance for withholding their complaints. The lower cost of this hotel allowed us to come in a night early, so we can have a full day of sightseeing.
On the agenda today is Alcatraz and Fisherman's Wharf. The weather looks remarkable mellow for San Francisco, so I anticipate a swell day.

-- San Francisco

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Busy weekend

The last three days have probably been the busiest I have been in a long time. Honestly, I have grown to enjoy a level of relaxation and lack of busy-ness that became my life.

Friday after school I came home and painted the final wall of the living room. It is the accent wall and is colored "cinnamon cherry," which is a cranberry sort of red. It took three coats, and I was done by 7 p.m. The living area of my house looks awesome! I still have to go along the corners and touch up where the paint bled because of the wall texture, but that will probably wait for a few weeks. I am finally enjoying the color in my living room. It feels like a home instead of just the whitish walls.

Saturday I spent a few hours at school working on some projects and planning for the coming week. I came home and watched a movie called "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio," a sweet little flick with Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson based on a true story of a woman who raised 10 kids despite hard times by entering and winning contests in the '50s and '60s. I also watched the commentary and extra features for the last episode/series finale of
"Six Feet Under" -- and I loved it. What a great show.

Sunday was hardly a day of rest. I worked on a project at school for five hours, and then I came back home to dinner, laundry and another three hours of work for another school project.

In some ways I am happy that I made so much progress on all these projects. I had to. I am leaving Wednesday for the national high school journalism convention in San Francisco, and I had to get this stuff done before I left.

I plan to try to post a few times from San Francisco, if technology and time allows. But first, the layout night from hell. I cancelled Sunday layout because I felt my time was being abused, but it did allow us to get some work done. I think we are a bit behind, but we will find out tomorrow.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Spring Break update

I spent the majority of Spring Break last week doing work around the house and also being relaxed around the house. The beginning of the week found me taking some much-needed down time and catching up on some reading and DVD watching. I had toyed with the idea of doing some painting around the house as well.

I mean, heck, I have lived here for three and a half years and I have hated the walls since then. So I finally went to the paint section of my local home-improvement store and committed to some colors. Wednesday I had a friend help me get the tools and cut in around the ceiling. Thursday I painted the ceiling (vaulted, mind you) and had the sore neck to boot. I also taped and edged in the walls of the main color for the living room and hallway. By that point I was pooped.

I spent Friday through Sunday in Seattle visiting friends and taking in a musical at the Fifth Avenue Theatre as well as plenty of good food and beverage at a couple lower Queen Anne hot spots. My friends Uniongrrl and Superfrankenstein took me out to celebrate the almost-completion of my master's degree.

I returned home Sunday, painted the main color walls and graded papers that I had put off all week. I had big plans to do more blogging, but I just could not do it between coats of paint and having sore muscles from all that painting. Then Sunday night I felt a cold coming on -- even after I thought it was just paint fumes giving me a headache -- and that knocked me out Monday and most of today.

Tonight, I have painted the dining room accent wall and I have just the accent wall in the living room left to go. I am anxious to get the main living area back to normal and to move the dining room table out of the middle of the kitchen and into the dining room where it goes. It is kind of a pain to have that table dominating the kitchen.

It is amazing to see how quickly the day can be filled with the routine, and I have plenty of things on my plate. I know slow and steady plodding will get all the tasks accomplished before I leave on a school trip to San Francisco next week.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The CBS Evening News -- with Katie Couric?

Katie Couric, the co-host of NBC's "Today" morning show for 15 years, announced Wednesday that she has been named the new solo anchor of the CBS Evening News when her contract expires at the end of May. She will be the first woman to solo anchor an evening network news program.

CNN Report.

Speculation has swirled around Couric for months because of the temporary status at CBS of Bob Schieffer, the veteran moved in to replace Dan Rather, who left after a sourcing controversy. Couric will also apparently have a spot on the "60 Minutes" news magazine show.

Couric's departure from NBC opens up a lot for discussion, including her hard-news credentials and the race to be her replacement at "Today." She is known for doing tough interviews on the morning show and also the softer stuff. I wonder if people will immediately see her in the role of evening news anchor at CBS -- enough that they will turn to her instead of Brian Williams at NBC. Even when she did a hard news interview at "Today" or on "Dateline" she approached it with a softer touch. She is no Tim Russert in her questioning -- or even as tough as Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters at ABC. Still, younger viewers may like her approachability and may turn to the network because of her as a known quantity.

The race to replace her at NBC centers around two current "Today" members: weekend host Campbell Brown and news reader Natalie Morales. Brown is by far a tough, hard news person, and I read last week that some people were concerned she would ne too "newsy" for the show. Still, I think she has proven she can do the hard stories and then move right into the cooking segment. I like her. Morales is softer and might be a nice complement to co-host Matt Lauer. She is also far less annoying than Al Roker, who has become so unbearable I can hardly stand his voice. Some reports have also included Meredith Vierra, co-host of ABC's "The View." She has a great TV personality and she was the first woman to have a regular spot on "60 Minutes" -- she has the credentials to slide into that spot, and she would bring a ton of morning experience from "The View." My money is on her if she wants the gig.

The last two years at network news have seen an incredible amount of change starting with the seemingly uneventful departure of Tom Brokaw in December 2004. Who would have known that just 18 months later, Peter Jennings would be dead of lung cancer, Jennings would be replaced by co anchors Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff, and Woodruff would be seriously injured in Iraq and sidelined for months; Dan Rather would be forced out in a semi-scandal and replaced by a Sunday talk veteran, Bob Schieffer, then the queen of morning TV, the "perky" Katie Couric. Brokaw's replacement, Brian Williams, was supposed to be the "new kid on the block" for a while. Instead, he is suddenly the veteran at the evening news desk.

And people wonder why viewers are turning to cable news? Maybe it's for stability.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Put a fork in Tom DeLay

He's done.

Tom DeLay announced this morning he would resign his seat in the Congress and would not be a candidate in the November election.

From the Washington Post:
Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), a primary architect of the Republican majority who became one of the most powerful and feared leaders in Washington, said this morning that he will give up his seat rather than face a reelection fight that appears increasingly unwinnable.

In a videotaped message aired this morning on stations in his home district, DeLay said that "the voters in the 22nd District of Texas deserve a campaign about the vital national issues they care most about . . . and not a campaign focused solely as a referendum on me. So today I am announcing my intention to resign my seat in the House."

DeLay cited the increasing difficulty of the campaign and that it would likely be a drain on GOP coffers as main reasons for stepping aside. Fact is, he probably would have lost. Depending on when he leaves office, a special election might be held to replace him. Assuming a Republican won that special election, he or she would run in November as an elected incumbent, a significant advantage over other Republicans and any Democratic challenger.

The Texas 22d was a race to watch already; now it is the first step in the Democrats' plan to regain control of the House.

Meanwhile, DeLay, one of the most corrupt people to serve in Congress, is left behind. Certainly the GOP leadership must be breathing at least a small sigh of relief today as they can move forward beyond this one of their many scandals.

With eight months to go in the 2006 election season, things are getting interesting.

UPDATE: From Slate magazine, an analysis and decoding of the interview DeLay gave with Time Magazine.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Spring -- finally

Spring Break began at 3 p.m. Friday, but it has hardly been spring-like weather. I avoided yardwork Saturday morning because of the rain, but I finally got some maintenance done out there Monday morning. I fertilized the lawn and shook a few seeds out there, covered with sphagnum; planted some new plants in the back beds and front yard; and checked the front drip systems. It all happened just in time for a big rain yesterday afternoon and evening, which was just what was necessary.

That rain yesterday has made way for a glorious morning -- a crisp sunny day full of potential. I have lots of projects planned for the remaining days of the break, and I am sure I will be disappointed by the things I don't get to. But the idea of having just 10 weeks remaining of classes is one that energizes me. It will go by quickly, I am sure -- just as it always does.

The spring is a time for renewal and re-evaluation. For me, it is my favorite season, a time of potential and of rejuvenation. Each day is longer and warmer than the last, and I love the green hillsides and fresh smells that hang in the valley.

-- Wenatchee, Wash.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

'West Wing' Election Day -- finally

What surely has become the longest campaign season in television history will finally come to an end tonight on the penultimate epirode of "The West Wing" as California Sen. Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda), the Republican, takes on Texas Rep. Matt Santos, the Democrat, for the battle of the show's future. It's a bleak one, though, because it all comes to an end in a matter of days.

Tonight's episode should also be sad as the show deals with the death of actor John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry, the former chief of staff and Santos' running mate in the show. Last week's teaser had a hotel room with a screaming voiceover for someone to get help. I suspect McGarry will be found dead in his hotel room on Election Eve or something equally dramatic. It's almost as if the writers planned it that way, though clearly they didn't.

Stay tuned for reactions.

-- Issaquah, Wash.

'Thank You For Smoking' -- worth the price

I had a chance to take in the comedy/satire "Thank You For Smoking" on Saturday, and I am glad I did. This film delivers beyond the funny and awkward moments showcased in the amusing trailer, and it has some great lines. It walks a path along believeability and ridiculousness -- successfully.

The film follows the story of tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor, one of the three members of the "MOD Squad" -- Merchants of Death, including lobbyists from alcohol, tobacco and firearms industries -- and what happens when he tries to get cigarettes to be cool again after dwindling sales and attacks from health advocates.

The story is about 10 years old (read more in The Seattle Times), and it took that long to get the book to screen. As a result, some of the situations and humor is a bit dated or would have been more effective if it had been written today. Still, there are some riotously funny moments. The directing also has some freeze-frame effects like in "Election," with similar comic effects -- on me at least.

The best part is that the movie doesn't try to have a sappy and happy ending where Naylor realizes the wrongs of his ways and sets out to convince people to stop smoking. Instead, it just acknowledges that the world has bad people and bad things and sometimes life is not so great. But even when life is not so great, it can still be funny.

Especially during a season where there is nearly nothing entertaining let alone good in theaters, this shines as a bright gem. Recommendation: Pay full price.

-- Issaquah, Wash.