A Sax to Build a Dream on

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Photo by Nicole Foy

Just getting into the after-hours club in Phoenix required an unlikely combination of connections and trust.

You had to know it existed in the first place. Then you needed directions – there was no sign outside advertising the joint that opened at 2 a.m., the hour Arizona law required all bars to close.

After knocking on the door, you needed to give the name of a reference. Only then would you be admitted into the foyer, where you’d be patted down for weapons ~ or whatever.

“Don’t bring your purse,” Willie advised. So I slipped my driver’s license into right back pocket of my jeans, and a pack of cigarettes into the left.

Some time after midnight, we took off in his 1974 Datson 260Z for the south side  ~ to a place where the city’s best jazz musicians congregated to jam with each other for the fun of it, after the bars where they were paid to play closed down for the night.

We parked, he knocked and offered an acceptable name, and we got the pat down from the bouncer.

Looking around, I realized we were the only white folks in the room ~ except for the bartender, an off-duty cop.

The “pick up” band grew steadily by twos and threes, reaching about two dozen people by 3 a.m. There must have been about eight saxophones, from tenor on up to soprano, acoustic and electric bass players, a guitar or two, and a full compliment of trumpets, trombones, drummers and singers.

There were so many musicians up front that some spilled out into the room among the tables, not missing a note.

To my complete surprise, Willie took my hand in his and asked, right there, if I would marry him.

Right on cue, a tenor sax sidled up to the table and played for us like we were the only people on earth.

Soft, breathy and low at first, the saxophone swung higher and got more intense. The man behind the horn leaned into the riff, and the bell of the saxophone moved out and up as it wailed a passionate plea.

“Of course, I will,” I smiled.

A while later, we left, walking out the door just as the sun was coming up on the first day of June, 1986.

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Entreprenureal Journalism links and Twitters

Here are some of the links from my discussion today on Entrepreneurial Journalism at the SPJ Region 8 Conference in San Antonio.
Books for news startups:
Entrepreneurial Journalism by Mark Briggs
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Lean Analytics Croll & Yoskovitz
Net Smart by Howard Rheingold
Smart Mobs by Howard Rheingold
22 Immutable laws of Marketing, Reiss & Trout
Rocket Surgery Made Easy, by Steve Krug
Good to Great, by Jim Collins

Books for Nonprofits:
The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter
Measuring the Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter
Guerilla Marketing for Nonprofits Levinson, Adkins & Forbes
Leap of Reason by Mario Morino
Seeing Through a Donor’s Eyes, Emerson & Church

Twitter folos:

@dorieclark
@joshtpm
@lisawilliams
@timoreilly
@grist
@dailykos
@milsf
@acarvin
@kanter
@deanna
@steve_katz
@jdlasica
@hrheingold
@mashable

Caremark CVS delayed my mom’s cancer drugs

Here’s what I wrote to them tonight after I found out from my dad that Caremark CVS has delayed my mom’s cancer medicine. They didn’t say why or what for. No explanation, just no delivery to the drugs that will help keep her alive – drugs to keep her white blood cells going.

What in the world are you thinking by delaying my mother’s cancer drugs???
Given the discussion in Congress and across the country, it is important that people know what you folks are up to.
My mother’s treatment is being delayed by Caremark CVS and that delay is threatening her life.
It’s time for me to make a documentary movie and post it on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and make you famous for your incompetence, callous, idiocy and your cold-hearted bottom-line mentality.
I promise to quote you accurately when (if) you respond.
I put my real name and address here because I am not a coward, like whoever stalled her treatment and didn’t have the courage to let her know or sign their name.
Call me. Don’t hide behind fake HIPPA BS.

Fair pay and fair play

Fair PayToday is fair pay day. Here’s my part:

I got into the journalism racket back in 1975, when the newbies were relegated to the manual typewriters and when it was considered too demeaning for a male reporter to be assigned to the “Womens” section of the newspaper.

Although I’d completed one meager semester of journalism in college, my gender was enough to qualify me to fill in for the Womens Editor at the Vineland Times Journal. I learned on the job how to describe the design, fabric and lace on the wedding dresses of the prominent daughters in town. I selected recipes, and crossed my fingers that the kind people in the back shop would save me from my non-existent headline and layout skills.

I couldn’t change it, but I never forgot.

When the women’s editor returned from leave, the paper assigned me to fill in for one of the two staff photographers who was out for surgery for a month. My qualifications? I owned my own Cannon FTB and a lens or two, and I could develop film and make black and white prints (thank you Dad!).

I was pretty proud to be in the elite crew until I walked into the darkroom and saw the pinup calenders with half nekkid women on every vertical surface of the room. No, I was told, I could not take them down during my month in that job. That just wouldn’t be respectful of the men photographers, now would it?

I couldn’t change it, but I never forgot.

Fast forward about ten years to the Dallas Times Herald newsroom, where my editor, Ernie Makovy,  was giving me my annual review. Makovy was a friend and teacher every day, so there wasn’t much for him to add. He told me to stop splitting infinitives, and said I wasn’t doing bad otherwise.

Well, OK, I’d been on a team of reporters who were named finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service Journalism, so I guess I wasn’t screwing up too bad.

Makovy reached in his pocket and pulled out a little folded piece of paper. He opened it, looked down at the scribbled number on it and said, “You’re getting a raise to $35,000 a year.”

Holy cow! That was more than $5,000 a year more than I was making at the time. But it wasn’t for prize-winning journalism.

“That’s to bring you to parity with the guys,” Ernie said, still looking down at the paper. Seems there had been a class action lawsuit, and the paper had either lost or settled, I still don’t know.

I couldn’t change it, but I never forgot.

Fast forward to 2004, when I was hired to be Content Director of MySanAntonio.com. I looked at the roster of people working for me. I looked at their qualifications. Their experience. Their gender. And their pay.

The gender gap glared up at me from the page.

I hadn’t forgotten. And finally, I could change it.

So I did.

Newspapers don’t own journalism

I always thought it was odd to hear flat out declarations that there can be no life on other planets in the absence of water. How egocentric! So you’re saying that life can only exist if it’s precisely like us?

Really?

That’s the feeling I’m getting right now in the woe-is-us, hand-wringing sob-fest about whether life and our democracy can survive the death of some newspapers.

With all due respect to some great newspapers where I’ve worked, I don’t give a damn about the paper they’re printed on.

What I care about is journalism.

And you don’t need special 3-D glasses to see that completely fabulous, raise the rafters, award-winning, democracy-preserving journalism is being committed and published many times a day in life forms other than newspapers.

Guess what else?

Some online news operations, including two where I was a top manager, have been profitable for years, while upholding the highest standards of journalism.

Here’s a bit of what I saw from an editor’s perch:

Were we perfect? No.

Was it journalism. You betcha.

For more examples of the kind of journalism that’s been committed outside the world of paper, check out the Online News Association’s awards gallery, whose members range from the BBC News and Frontline to Slate and NewWest.

Fast forward to 2007, when the San Diego public radio station, KPBS, performed an amazing public service by using Twitter and a Google maps mashup on its Website to broadcast alerts and illustrate the danger during the deadly wildfires that swept Southern California.

Then in 2008, there was Josh Marshall’s unflinching journalism at Talking Points Memo, which prompted the resignation of the Attorney General of the United States.

Don’t get hung up on the life form: TPM is published with blog technology, and I get updates thrown on my browser’s front lawn by Twitter via RSS, (thank you Dave W!).

Update: And anyone who didn’t see Marcy Wheeler’s breathtakingly good journalism from the blog Emptywheel quoted on the front page of the New York Times, well check out the story right here.

That’s the kind of journalism that helps me sleep well at night.

I spent the first 20 years of my career inside print newsrooms, and I have nothing but admiration for the print folks whose journalism has made the world a better place. (Check out the winners and finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service Journalism. I’m proud to be on that list, in the company of a team of reporters from the late, great, Dallas Times Herald.)

It is precisely out of respect for those journalistic achievements that I will not lament the demise of newspapers that ignore the public good. David Simon details such a case in this chilling piece in the Washington Post. I’ve also written about instances where having a monopoly on the newspaper market turned watchdogs into sycophantic, naval-gazing, paper tigers. Those newspapers – and the corporations that own them – deserve to decompose with the fish.

But those forces no longer control the conversation – if they ever did. This is spring again, a time for celebration.

Centuries ago, the discovery of movable type meant that Martin Luther no longer needed permission from the Pope to publish his work.

And today, our ideas, conversations and questions won’t be stifled when the newspaper owners run out of cash and ink and stop their giant presses.

We control our own free presses with funny names, like Drupal and Joomla and WordPress, YouTube and Blip and Twitter, Flickr and Utterli and Ning.

And yes, Virginia, there really is a healthy and irrepressible thing called journalism.

Update: Please forgive my unintentional sins of omission and add the following to the list of great un-paper journalism: Politico, The Huffington Post, MarketWatch, Pegasus News and Voice of San Diego.
I will gladly add more as folks knock the cobwebs from my brain!