abandoning ratings story

Here’s my story on today’s front page, a scoop of sorts about the state likely abandoning its school ratings system next year. (This has been a busy week; when another story runs Friday, I’ll set my personal Dallas record with four page-one stories this week.)
I hate looking at my writing after it appears in the paper. The awkward word choices and phrase constructions leap off the page. Damn.

millie in the wpost, brains benton

As might be expected, the stellar Post Style section has the best take on Millie Benson, particularly on the bowdlerized editions of her books put out by her prudish successors.
“Benson used to make autograph seekers read the first paragraph of their editions out loud before she’d consent to sign the copy — she knew in an instant if the book was an update, and didn’t want to autograph books that were not ‘hers.'”
And while I’m sure Nancy Drew was fine for icky girls and stuff, I bet they don’t compare to the Brains Benton mysteries.

ruh roh as beyond fuck

There’s a great discussion of the swearing-in-newsrooms story over on the letters page of Romenesko. My favorite is from an editor noting the landscape beyond common newsroom vulgarity:
In my city editing days at the Boston Herald, fuck was pretty much heard so often that no one ever noticed it. It just meant a standard snafu. But there were degrees of emergency that far exceeded fuck.
I will never forget one exchange between two of the other city editors at the city desk: One of them, Andy Gully, hung up the phone and muttered, “Ruh Roh” — the old Scooby Doo saying.
The other one, Kevin Convey, got a panicked look in his eyes and said, “WHAT! What is it!?!” Gully said in a calming tone, “Nothing much really.” Convey, clearly rattled, looked him square in the eye and said, “Don’t EVER say Ruh Roh unless you mean it!”
I thought at the time and still think that both those two funny fucking fuckers were really fucking fucked.

millie benson dies

Millie Benson died yesterday, at age 96.
Millie crammed a lot of adventure into her life: learning to fly at 59, archeological digs in Central America, being a championship diver in college, working as a journalist (at my old newspaper, the Toledo Blade) up until the end.
But if you’ve ever heard of her, it’s for the 23 books she wrote in the 1920s under the pen name Carolyn Keene. Millie created Nancy Drew. (For decades, the publishers made her deny it, but a 1980 court case proved once and for all that she was Carolyn Keene.)
I worked alongside Millie for a while, when we were both working nights — I was the cops reporter, she wrote obituaries. To put it generously, Millie could be cranky; I have a fond memory of getting a phone call from a grieving widower one night saying, “Excuse me, but an older woman claiming to be one of your reporters just called me. She sounded a little…off. Does she really work for you?”
She’d get frustrated if the recently deceased she was writing about led an unexciting life. “Didn’t your husband do anything interesting?” she’d ask their widows. “Anything at all? Did he at least bowl, or something boring like that?”
By the time I got to The Blade in 1997, Millie’s eyesight was already pretty much shot. The techs blew up the text on her screen to Olympian sizes, and she still used a magnifying glass to read it. But she kept writing. One of my occasional jobs as the night cops reporter was to pre-read Millie’s obituaries before the actual editors got to them and to start the process by which they’d be turned into something approaching English. The writing itself was still fine, but her typing was abysmal. I remember one time when three entire paragraphs were completely illegible — not a coherent word among them. After some investigation, I realized she’d typed the whole thing with all of her fingers one key over from where they should have been: every “e” became a “w,” every “f” became a “d,” etc.
Anyway, it’s a shame to see her go. Nancy Drew is a more than worthy legacy to leave behind. (Particularly since the Nancy she wrote was the feisty, kick-ass one, not the wussy Nancy her successors as Carolyn Keene changed her into. The books’ publishers went back and changed Millie’s books to make Nancy more compliant. Details here and here.) Wherever you are, knock back the beverage of your choice today and toast a cranky old lady who crammed five lives’ worth of excitement into 96 years.

union landscaping ordeal

Union battles like this sure make us reporters happy. (Unfortunately, I can’t find a link for this story anywhere online, but this story ran in the Cleveland newspaper last Thursday. The reporter was Rena A. Koontz, to give credit where it’s due.)
HEADLINE: Volunteer landscaping prompts union protest
Brooklyn, Ohio — A good deed meant to honor a dead second-grader has turned into a fight over whether school employees were cheated out of landscaping work.
Two custodians, whose duties include landscaping, have filed a grievance with the Brooklyn school district claiming they should be paid for landscaping work that a local company donated, even though it had no impact on their work hours.
Mark Hennings and Doug Scott want $37 an hour, the time-and-one-half rate, for the two weekends that volunteers, including high school seniors fulfilling community service requirements, spent sprucing up the grounds of Brooklyn High School and Roadoan Elementary School. The project honored Matthew Barrick, 8, who died Feb. 14 from a brain aneurysm. Funeral services were private, so Roadoan Principal Margaret Lennard and staff members decided to have a ceremony and plant a tree at the school to honor Matthew.
The idea snowballed. Local landscapers Jim and Tara Beale offered their help, donating $700 worth of materials. Semins’ Green House, Home Depot, Nations’ Rent and other companies and residents also donated materials, totaling $3,000.
At the ceremony, held two weeks ago, students sang songs and wrote letters to Matthew. They also raised money to help Matthew’s mother pay medical bills.
Then, a few days later, the custodians filed their grievance.
Tempers flared at Tuesday’s school board meeting when the grievance was discussed.
Gretchen Derethik, the high school principal, choked back tears as she defended the students who earned their community service hours in Matthew’s honor.
“The kids are taking pride in their school and our differences are pulling the kids right into the middle of our problems,” Derethik said. “Volunteerism is being criticized. This needs to stop. All we do is fight over nothing.”
Board members and some audience members stood and applauded.
Hennings angrily insisted that the project violated the union contract. Union members applauded him.
(Update: Thanks to commenter Stacy, here’s a link to the story, with an “amplification” featuring further union comments. [For those who don’t know, an “amplification” is a newspaper’s way of saying, “We didn’t get anything wrong, but powerful people are complaining about our story, so here’s a little something to get them off our backs.”] The comments don’t seem particularly exculpatory to me.
One final note: the Newhouse-owned newspapers, like the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, all have the ugliest, least useful web sites imaginable. The New Orleans and Portland papers are both excellent in print, but their web sites are awful.)

urban wal-mart

Got a letter in the mail today from Wal-Mart. They’re trying to build a new store on a smallish site in the middle of Dallas, a few blocks from Love Field — quite a shift from the acres of asphault they usually use. It’ll probably prove controversial, if they’re already lobbying nearby residents like me (actually, I’m not really nearby) and putting up web sites to defend it a year before it opens.