Word on the Street

Personal essays from a young journalist in the Sunshine State.

Tag: Life in Dallas

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?

Places to Go, Sights to See in Dallas

I made it to Florida. I’m slowly settling into my new apartment, reuniting with friends and getting back into the Poynter work mode. I’ve missed this place.

I miss Dallas, too, and all that a large metropolitan city has to offer. Someone told me before I went to Dallas that “there’s nothing to do in that city.” Apparently, that person didn’t do much exploring. Dallas, and some of the surrounding suburbs, are full of fun places to go. I’ve compiled a list of recommended restaurants, shops, places of worship, etc. Please feel free to add to the list.

Avila’sThis Mexican restaurant looks like a hole in the wall. You’d never know that it’s home to what I would consider some of the best Mexican food in Dallas. The food and atmosphere seem much more authentic than some other Mexican restaurants I tried. I’d recommend the spinach enchiladas.

Barcadia — A fun bar on North Henderson that has a friendly wait staff and lots of outdoor seating.

The Buffalo Exchange — I found both fashion and frugality at the Buffalo Exchange. There are lots of stylish clothes here with price tags that never made me cringe. I once bought three cute dresses and a pair of yellow hoop earrings here for $50, as well as a pair of cowgirl boots for $22. Not a bad deal. Oh, and I saw Jason Castro here.

Cafe BrazilThis restaurant serves breakfast all day and night. The service is sometimes slow, but the food is pretty tasty for a chain restaurant. The French toast with fruit is my favorite. It’s served with cream anglaise, raspberry sauce, powdered sugar and walnuts.

Cafe San MiguelGood Mexican eats with a bit of an upscale feel. (My guacamole was served with a tortilla chip sticking out of it. A little strange, I thought, but it added a nice touch.)

Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe — A beautifully designed church that offers several Masses in Spanish. Whenever I went to the Spanish Masses here, they were standing-room only. It always felt uplifting to see so many people attending church.

Central Market — This grocery store is like Whole Foods on steroids. It’s full of organic food, fresh produce, gelato, and salad bars. It’s also a haven for fruit mix fanatics. There are bins upon bins of different kinds of fruit mixes that customers can scoop into plastic bags. Same goes for coffee beans and candy. And I can’t forget my favorite part: Free samples! I left feeling full.

Chuy’sI wasn’t especially impressed by the Mexican food at this restaurant, but it’s a popular chain that you should visit at least once for the lively atmosphere. The restaurant boasts lots of Elvis memorabilia, and the menu even features an “Elvis Presley Memorial Combo”: chicken, beef and cheese enchiladas, chile con queso and a crispy taco. Why the obsession with Elvis? Chuy’s owners explain on the restaurant’s Web site: “When we started plans for decorating the original Chuy’s back in 1982, we had less money than you probably have in your wallet right now. Twenty bucks to be exact. Mike went out, spotted a vendor selling velvet paintings, bought two – Stevie Wonder and Elvis, and brought back the change. (Hey, we needed to buy nails to hang them, too.) After that, people’s natural love for the king inspired them to bring their own Elvis memorabilia to the restaurant.”

Corner Bar & Grille — Located at the corner of McKinney and Monticello avenues, the bar has karaoke nights that usually attract a lively crowd. Request your song early, though. The bar gets crowded quickly.

Cosmic Cup Cafe — A great vegetarian restaurant with an atmosphere that will leave you wanting to redecorate your house, if only for a day. The restaurant is brightly colored and has a lot of character. I had difficulty deciding what to order when I went. I decided on the pizza mystica — black beans, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms with mozzarella cheese and basil, all served on nan. Good choice. The restaurant also offers dance meditation and yoga classes.

The Crow Collection of Asian Art — This museum currently has an impressive display of Chinese art from private collectors in Texas. There are photographs, paintings, sculptures and more. The museum, which is free of charge, left me feeling cultured and inspired by art.

Dallas Museum of Art — It doesn’t live up to New York City’s Modern Museum of Art, but then again, not many U.S. museums do. The museum features an exhibit with artwork that Dallas Museum of Art employees have made — artwork that I wanted to take home and hang in my room. The museum offers free sketching lessons every Thursday from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., as well as several other events.

Eno’sI love this new neighborhood restaurant. The pizza is a little too thin for my liking, but it’s good if you’re looking for a light lunch or dinner. The restaurant, which is located in the Bishop Arts District, tends to attract a younger crowd and sometimes features live bands. There are TVs in the restaurant and even in the bathroom so that you’ll never have to miss Romo making a touchdown. (TVs in the bathroom seem a little unnecessary to me, but hey, I’m sure some people find them entertaining.)

Fearing’sIf you have a full wallet and you’re in the mood for an upscale dining experience, check this place out. The restaurant, which is located in the Ritz Carlton, is a good place to take visitors who you want to impress. I felt lazy after eating here. The employees valet parked my car, opened the doors for me, (including the bathroom doors), frequently refilled my water, gave me free brownies with the check, and more. Note: The main menu doesn’t offer many options for vegetarians, but there is a vegetarian menu. You just have to ask for it.

Greenville Avenue — Lots of shops and restaurants here. If you’re in the mood for live music, check out the Granada Theater. Artists such as Ani DiFranco, Neko Case and the Avett Brothers have performed here in recent months.

Kalachandji’s — A Hare Krishna temple with a gift shop and Indian restaurant attached to it. The temple is open to anyone who wants to worship there, or just catch a glimpse of the ornate decorations. And I’d highly recommend the restaurant. I normally don’t like Indian food, but it’s all vegetarian, and it’s not loaded with curry. The restaurant is cafeteria style and reasonably priced. And the dessert is delicious, too.

Kirin Court Restaurant — This place has amazing dim sum. I had never eaten dim sum before coming here, but I ended up liking it. I even ate jellyfish, which is saying a lot for someone who is not very adventurous when it comes to trying new foods. I’d recommend going with a group of people because then you can order more dim sum and share it. It’s best to get there early. The place is generally packed by noon on Sundays.

Irving Bible Church — Service at Irving Bible Church is a pretty amazing experience, especially if you are used to going to Catholic Mass. Unlike most Catholic churches, Irving Bible Church is set up like a mini shopping plaza with a “Town Square” and a worship area that resembles an amphitheater. The musicians here are extremely talented. One of the singers has a voice that sounds very much like Sarah McLachlan’s. I love signing along with her.

La Calle Dolce — This quaint restaurant doesn’t seem like much from the outside, but on the inside, it’s full of delicious Mexican eats. I had my going away party with friends here and everyone seemed to like the food.

Latino Cultural CenterA great place to visit if you’re interested in Hispanic culture. Read an article I wrote about it to find out more.

Lee Harvey’s — A dive bar that everyone in Dallas has to visit at least once. The bar offers indoor seating, but I’d recommend taking advantage of the spacious outdoor seating area. On a clear fall night, you can get a great view of the Dallas skyline. You’ll be sure to meet lots of characters here.

Nasher Sculpture Center — This outdoor museum features sculptures from artists such as Edgar Degas and Picasso. I expected there to be more sculptures, but I still enjoyed what I saw. Sculptures, I found, seem more beautiful in the outdoors. Sunshine and shadows fall on them, creating an interesting balance of light and darkness depending on the time of day. My favorite sculpture in the center is called “Walking to the Sky.” Sculpted by Jonathan Borofsky in 2004, the piece features seven life-size figures walking up a 100-foot stainless steel post. It looks as though they’re walking on clouds, determined to reach the sun.

NorthPark Center — This mall is huge, and it’s a great place to people watch. For a while, I was walking behind a little old man, who seemed as though he was doing his speed walking workout for the day. At another point, I walked behind a group of five ladies who were all wearing over-sized T-shirts and hats that had pink and purple strands of hair attached to them. Then there were the women in Barneys New York who were buying $600 dresses. I walked inside the store, just so I could say I’d been there. Naturally, I gravitated toward the sales rack. Wow, a T-shirt for “only” $199! This store, and many of the other stores in the mall, are a bit too pricey.

Quarter Bar — A fun place to go after a long day/night in the newsroom. It looks small from the outside, but don’t be deceived. The bar, located in the Uptown part of Dallas, has a couple of different rooms with plenty of outdoor seating.

Reunion Tower — The tower is temporarily closed because a Wolfgang Puck is being built in it. I’ve heard that you can catch a beautiful view from the top of the tower when it’s open. I often used the tower as my point of reference because it’s right next to the Dallas Morning News building and it’s near the highway I took to go home every day. The tower, which lights up at night, is one of Dallas’ most recognizable buildings.

Sixth Floor Museum — I loved visiting this museum because of all it taught me about President John F. Kennedy and his assassination. The museum also gave me a greater appreciation for journalism and those who covered Kennedy’s death. It’s weird to think I drove down Elm Street, where JFK was shot, on a regular basis while in Dallas.

Snider Plaza — This outdoor shopping center near Southern Methodist University has cute little boutiques, nail salons and restaurants. It’s three blocks long and great if you’re looking for a shopping area that isn’t dominated by designer stores. I like the names of some of the stores here: “The Blues Jean Bar,” “Goo Goo Eyes,” “Peek in the Attic” and “Peggy Sue BBQ,” (which I’ve heard is pretty good). Heck, there’s even a snoring center. (What?!)

Soda GalleryThis “gallery” sells a variety of different sodas –200 types to be exact. There’s not much else in the shop, but it’s worth a visit, if only to crack open a nice, cold Dublin Dr. Pepper.

Southside on Lamar’s Jeanette Kennedy Gallery — I took a free yoga class here Sunday night. I had only done yoga once before and wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but I found it to be incredibly relaxing. I listened as the instructor guided the class through the motions. “Inhale. Exhale. Oooowwwwwm,” he said. “Breathe, smile. Breathe, smile. Pretend as though your brain is falling to the back of your head. Relax.” At times I felt funny, my head hanging between my knees, my arms and hands folded in a knot. But by the end of it, my body felt like jello, and my mind felt at rest.

St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic ChurchI naturally gravitated toward this church, seeing as I went to a Dominican college. This church seemed more conservative than other Catholic churches I visited, but I always felt as though I got something out of the homilies.

Taverna — I didn’t find too many good Italian restaurants in Dallas, but I was impressed by Taverna’s. The food is tasty, and the cozy outdoor seating area makes for a good date spot. I’d recommend the Risotto and the Gamberetti e Pesto pizza.

The Texas Club — I joined this gym in part because it’s only about two minutes away from the Dallas Morning News building. The gym features a pool, a track, racquetball courts and plenty of equipment. I usually worked out in the evenings and would often be one of the only people in the gym. (It tends to attract more people during the daytime, and during the lunch hour in particular, the owner told me.) One drawback to the gym is that its aerobic classes aren’t at the most convenient times — there aren’t many classes on the weekend or later in the evening on weekdays.

Texas State Fair — If you’re in Texas anytime from the end of September to the end of October, you have to go to the fair, if for no other reason than to indulge in some fried food and to ride North America’s largest ferris wheel.

Thai Soon — I couldn’t find many decent Thai restaurants in Dallas, so one night I drove to Richardson with a friend to try out Thai Soon. The unassuming restaurant with delicious eats was worth the extra miles. I’d recommend the spring rolls and the vegetable fried rice. The restaurant is tiny, so get there early if you don’t want to wait.

Veracruz CafeBy far my favorite restaurant in the Bishop Arts District, and one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in Dallas. There is never a lack of chips and salsa here. Everytime I ate here, the waiters would refill the dishes of salsa and the basket of chips at least twice before the meal came. So much for saving my appetite for the main meal. I’d highly recommend the shrimp quesadillas.

Village Church I was amazed by how young the congregation is at this nondenominational church. The one night I went, it seemed as though everyone was either in their 20s or early 30s. If there were older people there, they hid their age well. The church, which is located in Flower Mound, features beautiful music and attracts people from all over the Dallas area. Two of my friends drive 45 minutes to an hour every Sunday just to go to church here.

White Rock Lake — A good place to run, especially on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I was never ambitious enough to get up super early and run on the weekends, except when I ran road races. I ran the Walk, Wag and Run race here in October and really enjoyed it, aside from the dog that nipped at my feet in the final stretch of the race. …

What other places should I add to the list?

Road Trip Back to Florida Begins

Man, I’m going to miss this place. Just as I was starting to feel settled and get closer to the people I’ve met here, it’s time for me to leave. That always seems to be the case.

I’ve said a lot of hellos and goodbyes throughout the past few years when moving from Massachusetts to Rhode Island to Florida to Texas. I’m looking forward to this next part of the journey, though. I’m going to be reuniting with friends in Florida and starting a new job. It’ll be my first full-time job and the first time I’ll have an apartment that I can truly call my own.

When I arrived in Texas, I felt overwhelmed and scared. Everything seemed so sprawling, so unfamiliar. But with time, my familiarity grew, as did my fondness for the city. That’s what’s so great about traveling — you’re faced with the challenge of stepping outside your comfort circle and exploring new territories that you may have never thought you’d like. I’ve often thought that being a journalist is the best way to get to know a place because it forces you to get out and find story ideas, meet people, and build sources. As you explore, you have to learn to embrace the wrong turns and the unreliable directions because, really, it’s in getting lost that we find our way.

I’m hoping I can find my way back to St. Petersburg, Fla. I start my 18-hour road trip Wednesday morning and will be stopping halfway in New Orleans before arriving in Florida on Thursday. My departure is bittersweet. I like to think of it as more of a “so long” than a goodbye. I know I’ll run into some of the people I met in Dallas at some point in the future and that we’ll keep in touch. Already, two of my Dallas friends are coming to St. Petersburg next month — one for a wedding and one for a Poynter seminar. “So longs” are never fun, but they often yield new friends, new beginnings and much-needed reunions.

Thanks, Dallas Morning News friends, for a memorable three months. I’ll miss you.

Much to Be Lost, and Gained, During Times of Uncertainty

There are times when life seems defined by uncertainty. Will my house sell in this market? When can I get that raise I was promised? Will I have a job tomorrow? These questions become all the more prevalent during tough economic times, when financial instability creates worry, angst and a “Why this, why me?” mentality. I suspect many journalists who were laid off at The Dallas Morning News last Friday are struggling to find an answer to this question.

Even those who have stayed are left wondering how much longer they can survive in a “dying profession.”

“Are you sure you really want to go into journalism?” a colleague asked me the other night, a touch of cynicism in her voice.

“Call me crazy,” I said, “but yes, I still do.”

Despite the layoffs, the cutbacks, and the low morale in newsrooms nationwide, I still believe in journalism. I believe in the power of this profession to create change, to give voice to the voiceless and to bring clarity to uncertainty. Journalism is a noble profession that the world needs to be informed and enlightened. I do worry, though, about the quality of journalism, and how the continuous cutbacks will affect the work that news organizations do. Will there still be room for long-form narratives? Will news organizations have enough money to train their journalists? If the veterans leave, who will the younger, less experienced reporters turn to?

On Friday, I saw several talented journalists leave the Morning News, some of whom have been in the industry for decades. Their 25-plus years at the paper ended in an instant. Goodbye. Cubicles once cluttered with newspapers, candy wrappers and family photos are now empty. Something, it seems, isn’t right. Something is missing.

The layoffs created a void that seems to be growing in newsrooms nationwide. It’s a void that isn’t getting filled, and probably won’t be filled in the foreseeable future. I was hoping to bring a ray of sunshine into the newsroom, but I joke that I brought a rain cloud with me. Buyouts were announced on my first day at The Dallas Morning News, and layoffs happened on one of my last days. I don’t regret accepting an internship at the Morning News. In fact, I feel honored to have interned at the paper and lucky to have learned so much while I was there. Being at the Morning News during such a tumultuous time in the industry forced me to work hard despite the low morale and to latch onto the gifted editors in the newsroom who still want to produce good journalism despite the doom and gloom.

More than anything, it’s the holes I worry about. The missing people, the lack of enterprise, the inability to dedicate ample time to stories that need to be told. It’s the uncertainty that has me wondering what the future holds for those still in journalism and those who have left, either by choice or by force. The storm can’t last forever, the pain of reality won’t always hurt this bad. Will it?

I felt reality’s sting when I heard that one of my role models in the newsroom had been laid off. He was gone before I could say goodbye. I wanted to send him an e-mail, but I didn’t know if his work e-mail address had been deactivated yet. I searched for him on Facebook to no avail. I hoped to get his contact information from an editor this coming week but, as fate would have it, I ran into him at Border’s Sunday night. He was sitting in a bright red chair reading a book, seemingly calm after just having lost a job he held for almost 15 years.

I greeted him with an “I’m so sorry,” unsure of what to say.

“It’s OK,” he said. “I’m dealing with it as best I can.”

We talked about how layoffs suck, how at least initially, there’s no other way to describe them. They hurt our financial situations, our egos, our families. But we also talked about how the pain they bring can be turned into positive energy — energy to do the things we’ve been wanting to do but haven’t had time for. The reporter said that now he’ll have more time to watch his young son grow up. He’ll have time to put down his reporter’s notebook and pick up baby bottles and diapers. He’ll have time to be a dad. Another colleague who was laid off wrote on her Facebook profile that she can now work on the novel she’s been wanting to write, spend time with her grandkids, and put Obama signs in her yard because “now nobody can fire me for it.”

In this time of uncertainty — with the upcoming presidential elections, the difficult economic times, and the struggling journalism industry — the need for stability seems more important than ever. As much as we’d like to have stability, though, I don’t think we ever truly find it. We rightfully try to hold onto whatever stability we can find, but like sand in a clenched fist, it eventually falls from our grasp. It seeps back into the ocean, and like the water that ebbs and flows, it comes and goes. The challenge, it seems, is to find the beauty within the changes and the instability, to realize that happiness is a gift that comes in all different shapes and sizes. It’s the foliage that fades into winter. It’s the cat that sleeps on our pillows when loneliness lies beside us. It’s the sense of nourishment we get not from food, but from relationships that make us feel whole.

The reporter I talked to seemed content, but he acknowledged toward the end of our conversation that no matter how hard we prepare ourselves for something, reality’s repercussions still sting. He spoke about being angry and hurt. Who wouldn’t be? Then he held up the book he had been reading. It was simply titled “Happiness.” A yellow smiley face adorned its fluorescent pink cover.

He, like so many other displaced journalists, seems to be working toward finding joy in new nooks and crannies of life. I admire him and all the recently laid-off journalists for their years of work, and for their willingness to embrace change in times of upheaval and uncertainty. I hope that wherever they go from here, they find happiness.

What has your experience with layoffs been like?

Spotting Jason Castro and Terrell Owens

My brief encounter with Jason Castro

My brief encounter with Jason Castro

While shopping this weekend at the Buffalo Exchange, a thrift store in Dallas, I spotted “American Idol” contestant Jason Castro. No one seemed to recognize him, or they just didn’t care to approach him. I couldn’t remember his full name, but I walked up to him nonetheless.

“Hi! You were on ‘American Idol,’ right?”

“Yep, that’s me,” he said while holding up a pair of jeans.

“Oh wow, nice! Do you think I could take a photo with you?”

“Sure,” he said, brushing his dreadlocks out of his face.

I asked some random guy if he would take a photo of us, not realizing that my camera batteries were dead. One of the store’s cashiers overheard that my batteries were dead, and she ran to the back of the store and gave me some. Castro, who is from Rockwall, Texas, kept looking for clothes as I stood and wondered whether he’d think I was acting somewhat creepy. I’m not a huge “American Idol” fan, but I figured I might as well take advantage of an opportunity to get a photo of him.

While we’re on the subject of seeing semi-famous people, I should share my Dallas Cowboys experience. A couple of weeks ago, I shadowed a photographer to learn how to shoot/edit video. The photographer was assigned to shoot a video of Pacman Jones prior to his suspension from the team. Little did I know, we were going to shoot the video inside the Cowboys’ locker room. Oh my.

I walked inside and was faced with a room full of naked football players. They were all casually undressing in front of the news crews. Some of the guys are huge, and not particularly pleasant to look at in the nude. I tried to act nonchalant, but I couldn’t help but stare! At one point, I looked over and saw Terrell Owens naked. He may be the most muscular man I’ve ever seen. Pacman never showed up, but we managed to get some good footage of the other players. You never know what you’re going to see as a journalist, or when shopping.

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).