Word on the Street

Personal essays from a young journalist in the Sunshine State.

Tag: Dallas Morning News articles

Talented Friends, Former Colleagues Hurt by Dallas Morning News Layoffs

Tuesday started off with uncertainty and ended with confusion and loss. In yet another round of layoffs, The Dallas Morning News lost several talented reporters, photographers, copy editors and more.

Though I was only in the newsroom for three months last summer, I met countless journalists who befriended and coached me during my internship. Many of these great journalists were laid off Tuesday, even despite their years of hard work and dedication.

Sure, news organizations lay off people who may not be performing well, but the journalists I know who were laid off were committed to the craft, proving that newsroom layoffs these days are far less about poor performance and much more about a news organization’s need to survive.

I wonder, though, how one of the country’s largest papers can manage to continue to survive after losing so many of its key players. I’m not saying it won’t stay around, just that it’s going to be a lot harder for the paper to produce quality work when its journalists are stretched so thin. Such is the case with too many papers nationwide.

We say that these papers will have to do “more with less,” but really, they’re often forced to do “less with less.” Journalism contest judges I’ve talked with say the quality of work submitted seems to have diminished throughout the past year, in part because there just aren’t enough resources to dedicate to long-term projects. In a Poynter Online article this week, for example, Kenny Irby said that judges in the NPPA contest “boldly withheld winners in a few categories rather than embracing the ‘good enough’ attitude that has plagued online journalism.” Good work is still being done, though, even if it’s harder to come by.

What doesn’t seem to be hard to come by is newsroom camaraderie. It might not be evident on a daily basis, but just look at journalists’ Facebook pages after a round of layoffs and you’ll see what I mean. This is how I kept track of who had, and hadn’t, been laid off throughout the day.

In many ways, social networking sites are transforming the way journalists vocalize their reaction to layoffs and buyouts, and the way others respond to them. Some DMN journalists came right out and said they were laid off in their Facebook statuses. Others said it had been a “good run,” while one simply wrote “–30–“. An editor wrote: “If you’ve ever had to say goodbye to dear friends, as they are headed down to HR, and all you can do is hug them, hold on to them for one more second, in tearful silence, because nothing you say can possibly change anything, and all you can think about are these newsroom treasures, slipping away, along with the laughs and craziness and the great stories — then maybe you will know what this day is like.”

Colleagues wrote thoughtful posts on these reporters’ and editors’ Facebook walls, reassuring them that their futures would be bright.

The Dallas Morning News lost a lot of bright stars Tuesday. I’m confident, though, that wherever they end up — in journalism or not — these stars continue to shine.

(Here’s a piece I wrote about layoffs at The Dallas Morning News last fall.)

How Facebook, TotSpot and Other Social Networking Sites Help Transform Traditions

I wrote two stories recently for The Dallas Morning News about the ways that people are using social networking sites to transform traditions and connect with the world around them. One of the articles is about brides using Facebook to plan for their weddings. I got the idea for this story after my colleague’s fiance posted photos of her engagement, with detailed captions explaining how the engagement happened.

I started searching for Facebook wedding applications soon after seeing these photos and found that there are quite a few applications for soon-to-be brides and grooms. It was amazing to see how Facebook and MySpace are essentially replacing the need for traditional newspaper wedding announcements.

The other story I wrote is about moms who sign their toddlers up for social networking sites geared toward kids, such as TotSpot and Kidmondo. Moms actually create profiles for their children and write on one another’s walls, in essence assuming the identity of their kids. They write about “their” burps and farts, about their first steps, about how their nose scrunches up whenever they’re fed baby formula, etc.

When editing these stories, my editor, Mike Merschel, pushed me to think about the deeper meaning they relayed. We didn’t just want these to be articles that said, “Hey, look, this is a neat trend.” We wanted them to speak to something larger than that, perhaps to a universal truth that would resonate with the greater population, even with those who aren’t all that Web-savvy.

In thinking about this deeper meaning, I realized that in the case of the wedding story, social networking sites are transforming, if not replacing, traditional ways of planning weddings, making the process a more shared and open experience. In the case of the TotSpot story, social networking sites are acting as alternatives to traditional play groups and face-to-face parental interactions that some moms nowadays say they simply don’t have time for.

Nut graf for the Facebook wedding story: “Many soon-to-be brides and grooms have found that the sites do more than just make wedding planning more fun; they turn what has traditionally been a personal, behind-the-scenes process into a shared, and more transparent, experience.”

Nut graf for the TotSpot story: “The messages, of course, are from parents, usually moms, who say sites such as TotSpot provide them with time-saving alternatives to play dates and face-to-face relationships, while helping them connect with parents and children in nontraditional ways.”

For both stories, I found my sources on Facebook. I typed in “TotSpot” and “Wedding Book application,” for example, then searched through hundreds of users and sent messages to the Facebook members in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Each time I reached out to Facebook users, about 75 percent of them responded either with a phone call or a written message.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about these articles. How else have people been using social networking sites in new and interesting ways?

A Visit to the Book Doctor Turned Into a Story

I stumbled across the Book Doctor’s shop while walking around Dallas’ Bishop Arts District one day. It’s a tiny shop, nestled in the corner of a strip of stores.

I went into the store and started talking with the shop’s owner, Julie, a.k.a. the Book Doctor. She told me fascinating anecdotes about her customers, many of whom are book sellers or self-described bibliophiles. They seemed to carry tales that were as interesting, if not more interesting, than the books they bring in for repairs.

Julie told me that she is 12 weeks behind on orders. I wondered, with the economy the way it is, why are so many people looking to get their books repaired? Julie said she believes it’s because of the sentimental value that’s attached to books. People really do love reading, so much so that they’re willing to spend upwards of $1,000 repairing their books and Bibles.

After talking with Julie, I felt compelled to write a story about her, her shop and her customers.

You can read my Book Doctor story here.

Seniors Dance Their Way to Health, Companionship

Mark M. Hancock/The Dallas Morning News

Mark M. Hancock/The Dallas Morning News

I wrote an article for Tuesday’s Dallas Morning News about senior citizens who ballroom dance as a way to stay fit. While working on the story, I went to the Plano Senior Center and danced with several seniors who came to know me “as the girl with the notebook,” aka “the young reporter.”

Dance by dance, the seniors led me through a tale of history that helped me get to know them and their passion for dancing. Many of the seniors said they dance to remind themselves of days past, to stay healthy and to fulfill their need for companionship.

Click here to read my story
and a related blog post that my colleague Leslie Garcia wrote.

A Lesson in Shooting Video

Photo taken by Guy Reynolds/The Dallas Morning News

Guy Reynolds/The Dallas Morning News

The thought of shooting and editing video used to intimidate me. It seemed overly complicated, so I hid in the comfort of words. But one day, toward the end of my internship at The Dallas Morning News, I decided to stop hiding.

I’m so glad I did. While in Dallas, I paired up with photographer Ron Baselice, a great mentor who let me help him shoot a video in the Dallas Cowboys’ locker room. Who wouldn’t want to keep shooting video after an assignment like that?

A few days later, I came across what would become my first video story while walking through an apartment complex in Dallas. I saw a flyer for adult hula hoop gatherings and, hoping to relive a favorite childhood pastime, decided I’d see what they were like. After two classes, I was a hooked. I pitched a story about the gatherings to my editor, who thought the story had legs. She let me run with it, and said I could shoot a video to go along with it, too. I shot the video and edited it over a three-day period. The whole editing process took about 10 hours — for a minute-long video. I had edited audio a few times before and knew how to use Audacity and Garage Band, but I needed to learn Final Cut Pro, so the learning process took a little while.

Here are some tips I learned along the way:

–Shoot wide, medium and tight shots.

–Don’t zoom in and out a lot in the middle of a clip.

–Hold each shot for at least 10 seconds.

–Shoot relatively short clips. I sometimes shot 15-minute clips, which made the editing process more difficult.

–Shoot from different angles. Lay on the ground, climb stairs, hold the camera up high, then down low.

–Remember to hit “record” when you’re shooting, and don’t be afraid to ask someone to do an interview again if for some reason you forgot to record the interview. (This happened to me. Luckily, the woman I interviewed was very understanding. Often, especially when dealing with spot news, you won’t have the luxury of re-recording interviews.)

–Be wary of background noise. Shotgun mics can pick up more noise than you might think.

–To the extent that you can, try to hide the wireless mic cord. It looks tacky when it’s hanging out from behind someone’s shirt.

–Use a tripod or a monopod to help keep your camera still.

–Get lots of natural sound. In the hula hoop story, I tried to capture the natural sound of the hoops falling to the ground. The adults I videotaped didn’t use hoops with beads in them, unfortunately. This would have made for good natural sound.

–Test out your batteries before going out on an assignment. Make sure you have some back-ups just in case.

–Remember that editing a video is much like writing a story. The approach is different, but the basic fundamentals are still the same. Your clips are your scenes. Your soundbites are your quotes. Every image, every word, matters.

–Have fun, and don’t let video cameras, or Final Cut, scare you. Learning the basics of Final Cut really isn’t that difficult. If you don’t learn how to shoot and edit video now, you’ll regret it later … and you may never get the chance to go into a pro football team’s locker room!

Here is a link to my story and video. On to the next video!

What tips do you have for shooting video?

FlyLady Flies to Dallas to Share Housekeeping Tips

I had fun writing this story about Marla Cilley, also known as the FlyLady. Haven’t heard of her? I hadn’t either.

She’s a woman who started a Yahoo! group that has nearly 500,000 members. The FlyLady sends up to 15 e-mails a day to help encourage her “FlyBabies” to keep a clean house and love themselves. (The acronym FLY stands for “finally loving yourself.”)

The FlyLady came to Dallas earlier this month to share tips and testimonials as part of her annual FlyFest event. FlyBabies from as far away as Australia and Canada flew in for the event. Some purchased hundreds of dollars worth of FlyLady merchandise and waved feather dusters in the air as their cleaning queen spoke. I’d never seen anything quite like it before. For a better idea of what the FlyLady is like, watch this video (with sound).

Interviewing Giada De Laurentiis about Cooking, Motherhood

My family and friends know that I’m not one to cook. I have an envelope full of recipes my grandma hand-wrote sitting in my desk drawer, and I have plenty of cookbooks that once belonged to my mom, but I hardly ever open them.

Given my extensive background in cooking, one of my editors asked if I would write a story about Giada De Laurentiis. The Food Network star just came out with her fourth cookbook, Giada’s Kitchen, which features Italian dishes and desserts. Though I don’t cook, I was happy to have the opportunity to interview De Laurentiis, who is signing copies of her book this weekend in Dallas.

During the interview, De Laurentiis talked a lot about her six-month-old baby, Jade, and the communal nature of cooking. She encourages moms to cook with their kids and even has a “(Not) Just for Kids” section in her new cookbook.

I often associate cooking with motherhood, but I’ve been starting to think about it more in terms of friendship. Since moving to Texas, I’ve started to cook a little bit more with friends. (I say “a little bit” because I’ve probably cooked a total of three meals while in Texas, unless you count throwing together a salad or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.)

It can be tough to cook when you live by yourself, especially after a long day of work. Some people say cooking relaxes them at night, but I’ve never found that to be true. One of my goals when I return to Florida, though, is to start cooking for myself more. I’ve said I’m going to start cooking for myself for years, but I figure it might actually happen if I commit my goal to writing. Maybe it’s a matter of making a couple of meals on a Sunday and then storing them up for the week, or maybe I’ll find that cooking at night actually is relaxing, especially if I can do it with friends.

I flipped through De Laurentiis’s cookbook tonight and came across some meals I think I’ll try. The whole wheat linguine with green beans, ricotta and lemon; eggplant timbale; orzo stuffed peppers; fusilli alla caprese; and the hazelnut crunch cake with mascarpone and chocolate look especially good. Maybe if I keep looking at her cookbook, I’ll feel more motivated to follow the recipes and find my place in the kitchen. Here’s to hoping!

How do you motivate yourself to cook?

Recent Dallas Morning News Stories

Here is a round-up of some recent stories and blog posts I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News:

“Nelly Plugs Away During House of Blues Show” and related blog post.
“Flogging Molly Brings Punk O’ the Irish to House of Blues” and related blog post.
“Another Chance to ‘Walk from Obesity’ on Saturday”
“The Color Purple at Fair Park Music Hall”

Walking Barefoot with Hanson

Fans walking barefoot

Fans walking barefoot at Southern Methodist University.

I’ll admit — I was a huge Hanson fan back in the day (when I was 13 or 14), but the group fell off my radar years ago.

In just the last week, though, I’ve interviewed the eldest brother, Isaac, written stories and blog posts about the brothers, walked barefoot with them, and gone to their concert. Let me explain the barefoot part: The Hanson brothers are walking barefoot in every city they tour in to help raise awareness about poverty and AIDS in Africa. They’re encouraging fans to join them and to register their own walks online.

I joined them on their walk in Dallas, which you can see from the photos I posted. It’s funny because I was running alongside screaming young girls as I tried to get toward the front of the pack to take better photos. I was amazed by how many girls still ooo and aww over the boys. The bros may have matured into young men, but they sure as heck still have lots of teenie-bopper fans. Here are my Hanson articles/blog entries:

Taylor talking to fans after the walk

Taylor talking to fans after the walk.

“Hanson Asks Fans to Join Walk for Aid to Africa”

“Hanson Frames Catchy Songs in Sibling Harmony”

“Hundreds of Fans Walk with Hanson Brothers”

“Hanson Brothers Still Have Rhythm, Energy and Harmony”


Isaac after taking the walk

Isaac after taking the walk.

An unflattering photo of me standing next to Isaac.

An unflattering close-up of me next to a smiling Isaac.

Writing the Story Behind ‘The Late Homecoming’

Kao Kalia Yang

Kao Kalia Yang

Earlier this week I interviewed Kao Kalia Yang, author of The Late Homecoming: A Hmong Family Memoir. While talking with her, I was struck by how beautifully she spoke. It was as though her writing and speaking voice were synonymous. Having read her book, I grew to appreciate her poetic style of writing, and I listened with earnest as she shared the back-story of her book with me.

In both her book and in our conversation, Yang spoke candidly about her struggles as a writer and as a Hmong American. For much of Yang’s early life, she struggled to survive. Born in a Thai refugee camp in the aftermath of the Secret War, Yang fled to America with her family at age 6. As she grew older, she struggled to adjust to a new lifestyle, a new culture, a new home. She began writing about her family’s journey in her early 20s, she said, because the story of Hmong Americans had not yet been told.

In talking with Yang, I learned a lot about how writing The Latehomcoming helped her to remember and recount pieces of her past.

Click here to read more about Yang and her book:

As a child, Kao Kalia Yang immersed herself in books. She read about the Vietnamese, the Chinese and the Japanese, but she could never find books about the people she identified with best, the people of Hmong.

So at age 23, she decided to write her own story.

It took four years, but the result was The Latehomecomer, which Coffee House Press released this spring. Hailed by Publishers Weekly as a “moving, unforgettable” book, The Latehomecomer details the arduous journey Ms. Yang’s family took from Laos to the refugee camps in Thailand to America in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. She’ll discuss that journey, and her book, today in Allen.