Category Archives: People/Places

Exploring the world with the people I care about.

20 years later, I finally understand what college media leadership taught me

 

current sauce teaser

 

My career is in digital media now, and I’m grateful for that. But my younger self romanticized the notion of being a newspaper journalist.  Almost 20 years later, the university student newspaper I edited is celebrating 100 years of publication and digitization of its archive. Its tradition may not be yet be gone with the wind, but is certainly being buffeted by modern reality. Here are my thoughts looking back on that time.]

As a painfully introverted Northwestern State University pre-forestry major in 1990, I made one of those classic freshman errors that changes the direction of one’s life forever. In my case, it was taking Intro to Mass Comm class as an elective, a move that derailed any dreams of making a career among trees and not people. Following one class, instructor Tom Whitehead declared I should be writing for the paper and that he was sending me to meet the Current Sauce editor in the journalism suite.

I couldn’t immediately think of an excuse not to, which destined me to spend the remainder of my college life working in the “J-Lab.” It was a indeed a laboratory where an experimental tradition of combined curiosity, tenacity and vision manifested in journalism that reflected ourselves as much as the world around us.

My time as editor-elect was when I first discovered my life’s purpose, though the emergence of social media a decade later that would finally give form to it. It was a time of dreaming about what my paper might be like, and exploring the wonder of historical perspective by looking back through the archives dating back to the earliest Current Sauce issues —identifying the best parts of its legacy, and evolving them with a new generation of writers and editors.

Our “experiments” were published on Tuesday morning, usually after a bleary all-nighter. Still we all anticipated noon, when we could savor a printed copy of our creation. The savoring slowly turned to stewing with each typo found leading up to 3 o’clock. For that was the appointed hour we assembled on that stickiest of all wickets—Media Writing Class, which began with the gang …er,.. group critique of the paper led by Dr. Sara Burroughs. If you are familiar with the character of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice, you have a sense of Dr. Burroughs.

Indeed, a weekly beating with a cricket bat would have been the quicker and less painful experience than those critiques. They examined every possible element of journalistic decision making that went into the issue—style, tone, grammar, placement, length and even design. The most thorough contributions came from classmates who had not (nor even cared to) write for the newspaper. The experience introduced me to the nuance of three critical career lessons:

  1. Fight fearlessly for the things that matter.
  2. Recognize a stalemate and change the conversation if you can.
  3. Take it on the chin when it’s due but always keep moving forward.

The beauty of the critiques is that they inspired more determination than defeat. If there was one thing wish I could have done better, it would have been to learn these lessons earlier in my college career and express much more gratitude for my co-editors both as people and as journalists capable of leading the paper in their own right. The talent, work ethic and diversity we had on staff that year was a source of endless conflict, but a profoundly rare gift.

We blew off steam like all proper journalism nerds—with more work. On publishing a tabloid “April Fools” insert along with the regular 12-page broadsheet, Tommy congratulated me on producing the most expensive issue of the Current Sauce ever. I congratulated him on witnessing publication of the Current Sauce’s finest edition ever. Around that time the editorial staff road tripped to Atlanta for the SSPJ conference where the Current Sauce was in competition for the first time. For all our bravado, no one was more shocked that us when we took home several awards, including an honorable mention for best overall newspaper.

We were fortunate to share one more unexpected and gratifying moment that meant more than an award. It was the end of the spring semester and the editorial staff were visibly worse for wear when we assembled for one of our last meetings. Suddenly, Dr. Burroughs appeared in the office—the first time I could recall seeing her in the suite. “This was an exceptional year for the paper,” she said. “Certainly, we’ve torn it to pieces every week, but I just wanted you all to know that.” With a wink she was off, like St. Nick.

Nearly 20 years later, I’ve worked in the digital media space in Center City Philadelphia, and am about to embark on a new adventure in Miami Beach. Two very different cultural environments than where I came from, yet I still find the lessons from that time enduring and influential. The cycles of experimentation and evolution, and the continual refinement finding one’s place in the world can be painful, but they are the ingredients of a legacy that spans generations.

As part of the celebration of the newspaper’s 100th year, Northwestern State University scanned every issue of the Current Sauce and recently put them on archive.org. Here’s the newspaper from my year as editor of “The Sauce.” What wonderful memories!

The Music Makes it Christmas

christmas musicAs of now, iTunes tells me I could listen to my holiday playlist for twelve days (I just realized the coincidence there) without hearing the same song twice. Forget the tree, and the lights and shopping. Music and family make it Christmastime to me.

In no particular order, here are my top ten choices for Christmas music.

Favorite Christmas Albums

1. Come Darkness, Come Light – Mary Chapin Carpenter. Melancholy, yet comforting like cocoa by the tree on a wintry day, this album has become like a cherished friend of the family we only get to see at holiday time. We all love it and listen to it over and over and over again. With simple arrangements and Carpenter’s nuanced vocals, this one never gets old. Favorite title: Very difficult to choose since the album is so evenly produced, but my sentimental favorite is “Hot Buttered Rum”

2. A Christmas Dream – Bobby Schnitzer, et al. We picked this one up several years ago while Christmas shopping at Louisiana Pecans. While this is an album of mainly Christmas standards, I’ve never had that dread feeling of “not What Child Is This AGAIN.” It’s low-key approach (just three primary instruments) makes it the perfect background CD throughout the holiday. Favorite title: “Coventry Carol”

3. The Chipmunks Greatest Christmas Hits – Chipmunks. I remember wearing out the old eight-track of this album when I was a kid. It honestly didn’t sound much different at that point, but the point is that I loved the Chipmunks. I love hearing it again every holiday. Once. My wife doesn’t care to hear it even that much. My daughter has taken over the obsession of wanting to hear it over and over. Favorite title: “Here Comes Santa Claus”

4. Rocky Mountain Christmas – John Denver. This is my wife’s favorite. I was never a John Denver fan, but I have to admit his voice is both powerful and beautiful on this album. It’s a sacred experience, with the exception of “Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas,” which I also will sing at the top of my lungs, to the accompaniment of eye rolls from the girls. Favorite title: “Aspenglow”

5. A Charlie Brown Christmas. A less offensive version of a childhood obsession, this album’s jazzy instrumentals are universally identifiable and beloved. Favorite title: “Christmastime is Here”

6. Noels and Carols from the Olde World – Various. When I long for a break from the endless covers and want a classical music fix as well, this is my go-to album. These are the original holiday classics. As a bonus, they can be listened to as background music, unlike Handel. Favorite title: “Fum, Fum, Fum!”

7. Carpenters Christmas Collection. I love voices — especially when it comes to Christmas music. Karen Carpenter was a the peak of her vocal powers and phrasing during the recording of these classics. Her brother Richard, more than brought it himself with the instrumentals, producing the definitive holiday title. Favorite title: “Christmas Waltz”

8. Smokey Mountain Christmas – Various. Simple, melodic and down-to-earth without wallowing in its bluegrass roots, this album maintains an even pace that’s the perfect soundtrack for anyone’s country Christmas. Favorite title: “Joy to the World” starts it off just right

9. An Evening in December – First Call. The harmonies on this a capella album fall on your ears with the gentleness of winter’s first snowfall. I still have a hard time believing just three people provided all the harmonies on this album. Favorite title: “Starlight”

10. The Gift Goes On – Sandi Patty. This 1983 album is Sandi Patty at the zenith of crystal vocal perfection. Arranged in a classical style, it’s a Christmas title that’s never been matched in my opinion for beauty, power and sheer addictiveness. Nobody will ever beat this album’s rendition of O Holy Night. When it’s time to start decorating at our house each year, this is the first accompaniment. Favorite title: “O Holy Night in a close tie with Bethlehem Morning”

And a bonus …

Christmas Live – Sandi Patty. Nearly 30 years after The Gift Goes On was released, my family was fortunate to be in the audience during this live recording in Richardson, Texas. This is a testament to a seasoned vocalist who takes care of her talent. It is available in both DVD and audio CD formats. Both highly recommended. Favorite title: “Songs of Snow”

Now that you know my favorite holiday albums, what are yours?


Graphic by By hans s on Flickr

 

 

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Fifth Birthday Whirlwind

Tinker Bell Doll Cake

My daughter turned five this past week and to celebrate, we invited her kindergarten class to her party. In the past, this has always just entailed nearby family, so we had no idea what we were in for. Luckily, our town has a gymnastics facility for young people that hosts birthday parties. Kids are led through structured gym activities both before and after all the sugar! We had Nazy Lacour create a doll cake again this year, and will continue to do so every year until she doesn’t care to anymore. It was a Tinker Bell cake, in keeping with the theme Kaleigh selected several months ago. The birthday went off splendidly, with everyone exhausted and happy. Me and my wife may just need another year to recover, though.