Saturday, March 28, 2009

Women's History Month

In past years, I've had more time to spend writing about WHM, but even though I haven't been able to write anything about it this year until now, I've been giving it quite a bit of thought. One of the things that I keep noticing in articles about women's history is a tendency to pick out some woman or another who did some job or another and say, "Look! She did this thing!"

That's all fine and dandy, and I wouldn't want to take away from anyone's accomplishments, but quite frankly I can't think of anything less interesting than reading yet another ode to a twentieth century woman who was a lawyer or a doctor or a scientist when everybody knows that "women didn't do that." Why? Because it's all HOGWASH. Women DID do it, at least they certainly did in the twentieth century, and we all know it, so it's disingenuous to keep pretending that it's such a complete surprise to find a woman who did whatever this thing is that has apparently left the writer breathless.

I think it would be more valuable for those of us who care about women's history to actually pay a bit of attention to the women in our own histories because if we don't document their lives, then who else is going to? Turning that thought to my own life, it occurs to me that the last thing I'd want to be remembered for was for any sort of job I'd done! I'm not a mother, but I know that if I were, I'd want to be remembered for that. I'd want to be remembered as a daughter, and a niece, and as a friend. I'd want to be remembered as a wife. If I were a sister, I'd want to be remembered for that. I'd want to be remembered for trying to do good somewhere, some how. But the thought of only being remembered for doing some job, doesn't make me happy at all.

Auntie was in the Foreign Service for thirty years, but it isn't the job itself that's memorable about her. It's that she's so intrepid. She was in all kinds of dangerous hardship posts like Damascus during the 1960s, and Nigeria, and various other ones. She had a fascinating career (more than one; she had another after she left the FS), and it's part of who she is, but what's important about her isn't what jobs she held.

My grandmother went to college during the Great Depression. She worked some as a teacher, and also as a clerk in my great grandfather's law office when he was the County Clerk. I doubt if it would have mattered much to her to be remembered for any of that. I do, however, think it would please her to know that I remember her for teaching me to read Shakespeare when I was nine years old. And for making the best orange cake on the planet. And for being a defining influence on my life. I also think others would have known and loved her as a wife, a daughter, a sister, a mother, and a grandmother. And if she'd ever thought about that (And who knows? Maybe she did!) she would think herself well-served by our memories.

If women's history is ever going to be more than a freak-show, I believe it has to move beyond trivializing the activities and accomplishments of everyday women. Not just the ones who become Supreme Court Justices. It has to include the woman next door who bakes cookies for her kids. And those of us who ARE women are the ones who have to make this happen. We have to look at the women in our lives and we have to pay attention to the value of what we're all doing. We have to look at the lives of our grandmothers and our mothers, our aunts and our cousins, our sisters and our friends, and we have to look at our own lives, and we have to acknowledge that we are all making history and it's up to us to recognize it and acknowledge it in each other.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Change at Seattle Post Intelligencer is a good thing for Seattle - I don't THINK so

Yesterday, I wrote a post about my sadness to see the last print edition of the Seattle Post Intelligencer. I received the following comment on that post from business consultant Adam Hartung, author of "Create Marketplace Disruption," who writes The Phoenix Principle blog.

The change at Seattle Post Intelligencer is a good thing for Seattle, and for Hearst. Developing a viable news model for on-line reporting is important to future readers and society.

I had a look at Mr. Hartung's blog and then I clicked over to the new PI site to see how it was going on the first day of their new venture. The site looked approximately the same, and it appeared to have been updated with local stories, but when I clicked into the headline story, it was just a two sentence blog-type post by someone I wasn't familiar with. And so, I clicked over to the PI's former newspaper rival, the Seattle Times to get the *real* local news for the Seattle area.

There, in addition to the local news, I found an interesting column by Danny Westneat who had written about a goodbye rally a Seattle Times reporter had organized for the PI reporters, editors, and photographers on Monday. He wrote:

Seattle Times reporter Hal Bernton organized it as a memorial of sorts, to say thanks to the P-I's reporters for helping tell the city's stories. He said he wanted it to be like when a firefighter dies and all the other firefighters come to the funeral.

It was. We gathered in a little park near the P-I offices. Some spoke wistfully, others ruefully. When it was my turn I said that while everyone is focused, understandably, on the corporate side of newspapering — on the making of profits — it's worth remembering that that's not why anyone goes into journalism. Reporting is what matters. Asking questions, prying things open, telling stories.

And this:

So Seattle wakes up today a one-newspaper town for the first time. But The Seattle Times is hardly alone. It's also a multiple-Web-site-town. And a dozens- or hundreds-of-blogs town.

Someone at the rally compared today to the frontier days — an unruly but inventive era when some of today's news businesses first formed.

Loggers or fishermen will tell you living through sea change like that isn't easy.

I take comfort that they also say this: We're still here.

I think it's fascinating at how views like Mr. Hartung's diverge from those of Mr. Westneat. Mr. Hartung thinks in terms of business model and how the PI's model and, the newspaper industry's model in general, is flawed and must be changed or it will completely die. I agree with him; this is patently obvious.

And yet, Mr. Hartung doesn't see, or doesn't acknowledge what is also patently obvious -- that if the newspaper industry dies, we, as a culture, will suffer a tremendous loss. Because this is not just about making money for Hearst of Sam Zell or anyone else. Mr. Hartung wrote his own blog post about the death of the PI and in that post, apparently, without realizing it, he alludes to the problem:

The on-line paper already achieves about 4million hits/month, and it hasn't really started trying to be competitive on-line. The site (www.seattlepi.com) already has 150 bloggers - so you could make a case it has more reporters than were let go from the old newsroom. And it has made agreements to pick up content from Hearst Magazines, xconomy and TV Guide amongst other partners.

Right.

The size already has 150 bloggers - so you could make a case it has more reporters than were let go...

Um, no. That is a problem.

Why?

Well, it isn't because the bloggers are inferior as writers (although they may be; there's no way of knowing). It's because, at least on this first day of the new PI, these bloggers are not writing articles, they are writing two sentence blog posts! I clicked over to the Seattle Times because I wanted to read the local news, which means I wanted details; I wanted quotes; I wanted sources. In short, I wanted articles! Journalists know how to do this. I can get syndicated content anywhere, however, now that the *real* PI is gone, I apparently will need to go to the Seattle Times web site to get detailed news about Seattle.

Although Danny Westneat has a vested interest because he wants to keep his job, I think he is a smart guy because he understands what he, as a reporter, is supposed to be doing: telling stories.

A note to Mr. Hartung -- if you are going to advise the newspaper industry, you need to incorporate this aspect of it into your business model. There MUST be stories; they MUST be detailed; and they MUST be LOCAL. The Huffington Post is fine, but advising every paper to try to be just like them is silly.

As for the Seattle PI, well, hopefully, they're just having first day glitches and they'll improve as they go along.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In Honor of the Seattle Post Intelligencer

Today is the last print run of a newspaper I have long admired: the Seattle Post Intelligencer. I was a faithful reader and subscriber both times when I lived in Washington and I've continued to read that paper online nearly every day since I moved away from Washington. After today, the paper will continue with a limited online-only edition, but somehow, it won't be the same.

I know it seems peculiar in this day and age, but I'm such a newspaper lover. I mean a real news-PAPER lover -- I like the ink and the paper and the pages themselves. I've been this way ever since my dad started working for the Tribune Company when I was 13, and he started getting all kinds of newspapers sent to the house. When he did that, I started reading all those newspapers and I became addicted.

In all the different places I've lived, I've subscribed to a local rag, and once the web came along, I continued to read many of those I left behind. I currently subscribe to the hard-copy edition to the San Antonio Express, and I pay for some online stories from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. I also read the online editions of the NYT, the Seattle PI, the Houston Chronicle, and the occasional story from the Lake Charles American Press and the Chicago Tribune.

None of this is strictly about the news -- you can get that straight from AP and Reuters (or the plain vanilla CNN) -- it's about the place. With the exception of the New York Times, which I read because it tends to have more in-depth coverage of major events, the primary reason I read newspapers from different places I've lived is because those papers give not only in-depth coverage of those specific regions, but they also report with the viewpoints of those regions.

For example, when Hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast last fall, I wanted to read about it in the Houston Chronicle. Who else would have a more relevant viewpoint? CNN? The NYT? The Seattle PI? Highly doubtful. Of course those viewpoints were relevant when I wanted to read about how the rest of the country viewed the storm, but not when I wanted details about the storm itself. And now, no one cares about the aftermath of the storm except the Gulf Coast, and so for that, once again, I turn to the Houston Chronicle.

It works that way for most things. For an earthquake in California, naturally, I turn to the LA Times. For the economic melt-down in the car industry, I start with the Detroit Free Press. There are so many wonderful newspapers: the Boston Globe, the Chicago Sun Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Austin American Statesman...

The economic downturn and falling advertising revenues has really hit the newspaper industry hard. The Tribune Company, where my dad finished his career, declared bankruptcy in December, and it made me incredibly sad. The venerable Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colorado, which began in 1859, published its final issue in February.



And now, today, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, which started in 1863 is distributing its last press run. Without these papers, the news will still go on and it will still be reported, but we lose so much when we lose these local voices doing the reporting of it. The headline on the final issue of the PI is "You've meant the world to us" -- playing on the iconic symbol of the globe that sits atop the PI building in Seattle. I think I can say the same back to the PI and all the other great newspapers out there.

You've meant the world to us.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Bug the Size of a Mouse?

I made a cake for DH's birthday last week and it was a success. I also encountered -- in my bathroom -- one of the not-so-wonderful local species: a palmetto bug. As to whether or not the outcome of that meeting would be defined as a success, I believe it probably would depend upon your viewpoint. Suffice to say, the bug probably would not agree with defining as a success.

If you've never been to the Gulf Coast, you probably have no idea of what I'm talking about. A palmetto bug is like a roach. a GINORMOUS roach. These puppies are about two inches long and they are nasty. They normally live outside, and they don't seem to be attracted to the kitchen like a cockroach would; they go for the closet, or the bathroom, or the bedroom. Oh, and they can fly. There are all kinds of stories about them flying around and tangling in long hair. Yikes!

I still shudder when I think about the first time I encountered the horrid little beasties. I was about 10 years old and spending the summer with my grandparents in Florida. I stuck my foot into my tennis shoe and felt something odd in there. I pulled my foot out and shook the shoe and not one, but two palmetto bugs fell out of it! Naturally, I screamed the house down and my grandmother came and killed them, but to this day, I never put on a shoe without shaking it first.

I had almost gotten over my palmetto bug trauma by the time we first moved to Houston 12 years ago. However, we had only been living there for a few weeks when I heard a sound that I originally thought was a mouse in the closet. DH and I had just gone to bed and I kept hearing rustle, rustle rustle. He refused to do anything about it, but I couldn't sleep, so I got up and turned on the light in the hall, thinking that if it was a mouse, then the light would at least drive it to another room.

The rustling didn't stop when I turned on the light, which seemed kind of strange. That's a pretty bold mouse, I thought, and I went to look in the closet. It wasn't a mouse; it was a palmetto bug. But it was easily as big as a mouse! Naturally, I screamed the house down -- and nearly caused DH to have a heart attack since I was only standing about 3 feet away. He tried to kill it and missed and it scuttled behind some shoes, so he told me to go back to bed and he turned off the light. I could hear it in there going rustle, rustle, rustle. The dog could hear it too, so he started barking. Thank heavens for Alexander the pekingese because it was his barking that bugged DH enough to finally get up and get rid of the palmetto bug (Yes; I know I should have done it, but I'm terrified of the stupid things).

Fast forward 12 years. I was putting something in DH's closet and Pippin the pekingese started barking hysterically. (Apparently pekingeses don't like palmetto bugs either) I turned around to find Pippin and Tabitha (my kitty) facing off with a huge palmetto bug. I stood there for a moment, hoping Kitty would do something to it, like whack it with a paw or something, but she was totally useless.

Well, damn, I thought. My pets aren't going to do anything, so I'm going to have to kill it. Then, I looked around the room for something I could use to do it with. I was in the bathroom, which I had just cleaned, so there wasn't anything lying around that I could hit it with, and it was between me and the door. Of course, I was barefooted, so I couldn't just step on it. I had a reassuring thought: What if it starts flying around? Yikes!

Then I saw the bottle of Windex that I'd used to clean the mirrors. I could hit it with that, but it would be disgusting. But I wondered, what would happen if I sprayed it with Windex?

I will not go any further except to say that while Windex is probably not a good alternative to an exterminator, it was sufficient for the task. I suspect, however, that the man who cleans our pool thinks I am a bit odd. I did not know he was out there until after I had got rid of the bug, but I am fairly certain that he heard me yelling, "Hah! Take that, you frikking b#####d!" because when I saw him (the pool man), he asked if everything was quite all right. I gave him what I hoped was my best Mona Lisa smile, but I think he is still wondering.