Saturday, April 29, 2006

my beef

Everyday when I visit the website of my local Knight Ridder (McClatchy?) news organization I feel frustration and despair.

I know the people who gather the info for the site are qualified professionals, and they're buzzing around the metro area and the region digging up stuff I ought to know about. And I'm fairly certain that on any given day their website contains at least a few morsels of info that I want to chew on.

But when I go to their local news page, I find a list of story choices with maddeningly vague and outright boring titles like "Rabbi: Teen Defies Odds"; "Panel Votes to Not Discipline Lawyer"; and "Home's Never Been So Sweet" (from today's Miami and Charlotte websites).

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but do any of those headlines give you a real sense of what those stories about? Or, more importantly, are they intriguing enough -- considering all the billions and billions of links floating out here in cyberspace -- to make you want to click on them?

Let's check out the list of stories offered today on my hometown Knight Ridder (McClatchy?) website. I'll provide the headline/link text in bold, followed by my immediate thoughts when I read them.

Effort seeks to build park to remember Precious Doe
OK. I recognize Precious Doe. She's a big story around here. But who is "Effort"? How does Effort "seek" or "build"? Sorry, this is just a bad headline, whether on the 'Net or in print.

Police change complaint policy
What police? We've got more than a dozen police departments in our metro area.

Changes expected in education funding plan
Whose education funding plan? What kind of education? Primary? Secondary? College? Why are changes needed? Is this good or bad? What does this mean?

Red Vine restaurant loses battle
OK. I know about Red Vine restaurant, vaguely. But I had no idea they were in a battle. What kind of battle? Against whom? What does this mean? Why should I care?

Judge rules Cauthen isn’t liable in lawsuit
I assume this is referring to Kansas City Manager Wayne Cauthen. But I haven't been following this story, so I don't know what lawsuit, or how this matters to me, or why I should care.

Decision in predator case upheld
????? I'm actually starting to get pissed here. I mean, come on! What in the hell is this about? I suppose I could assume they mean sexual predator. But why should I assume? Please. Tell me what the stories about, and why I should click over and read it.

National radio host sees KC as model
What natiional radio host? Is he/she famous? Model for what? Or is this radio host hallucinating? Is the host literally seeing our great big city as a teeny-tiny model?

The Kansas City Star

Correction and clarification
Of what? Is this news? If not, why is it tossed in the middle of the news stories?

What the hell is this?

21-year-old found guilty in 2004 killing
This might be the most thoroughly informative headline of the day. I still don't care enough to click over and read the story.

A hospital ‘almost like a hotel’
Is this an ad?

FBI said to be reviewing Missouri license fees
What license fees? License fees are boring. I'm not reading this unless you tell me how it might affect me.

Senate OKs bill to end park entry fees
What Senate? United States? Missouri? Kansas? UMKC student senate?

Kansas law tightens rules on meningitis vaccinations
Not bad.

Meeting will focus on Africans’ issues in KC
A meeting! Yippee!!

Three cities on short list for complex
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! Stop being so BORING and COY!! Or I'm gonna DUMP YOU!!!

House plans inquiry into lunch
That's it. I'm leaving.

There were four more headlines. But that last one was so freaking bad and vague and laughable I just had to go.

Now look. My point here is not to bash the headline writers and website administrators at the Star. And tomorrow I'll compare the web headlines to those in the print version of the paper. You'll see that these make sense in that medium. Really, I'm on their side. I want this and all other Knight Ridder (McClatchy) ventures to survive and thrive in the rapidly changing world of news and media. Think of this as a dose of tough love.

But if a few feelings are hurt, so be it. The time has come to stop politely ignoring the obvious. The time has come to stand up and demand a change. Because the alternative is unacceptable. If this massive warrior of the old media landscape fails to make the transition into the future of news, I fear that the very foundation of our democracy will be in danger. We can't entrust the entire burden of the Fourth Estate to the New York Times, AP and bloggers.

So it's time to force the KR beast to straighten up its wobbly toddler walk into cyberspace. It's time to demand that they give us headlines and story discriptions that make sense.

We can deal with pop-up ads and topic organization later. Small steps. It's gonna be alright. Small. Steps.

Friday, April 28, 2006


Ok. Good. There's some crackling in these grassroots nether reaches of cyberspace.

I got a mention from Tony. I got some comments.

Scooterj posted a long list of gripes about Knight Ridder sites. And Chris mentioned that he's actually going to work with our local Knight Ridder outlet to "pretty pretty" their website.

I feel the beginnings of a movement.

This is good.

So here's my gripe. I actually have a few gripes about these websites. And there are probably more I don't even know about. But I'm gonna start slow and simple.


Here it is:


Um, Allie just said, "I'm ready whenever you are." I'm off to a rainy-day matinee. More later.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


I going to start a grassroots Internet movement. Wanna join me?

The issue at hand:

Knight Ridder's websites suck.

And I've come to believe that their sucky-ness poses a serious threat to our democracy.

It's like this: Knight-Ridder is like the biggest daily newspaper chain in the country. Say what you will about them, how they've cut back on news operations, and they're the death of the Fourth Estate, or whatever. But the fact is they're still huge, they're still stacked with tons of hard-working journalists, and if they fail to transition into the 21st Century, and they go down, we're all in big trouble.

The Kay Barneses and Matt Blunts of the world will be free to breed and dominate in complete darkness!

And recent news suggests that they're not only going down, but that they've sunk, what with their sale to old man McClatchy. So perhaps my urge for an online revolution is at once too late and premature.

But the immediate threat remains. The websites for one of the biggest news organizations in the world suck, and our very freedom is in danger.

So I ask you, Are you with me?

Is it possible to start with one little post read by a few dozen people and ultimately force a mega-corporation to face the media future and give us websites we can use and depend on?

I'll go more into specific reasons why the websites suck later (as if you need me to tell you). And we can talk later about strategy.

For now I just want to know if there are any willing comrades out there.

Are there?

tv in japan

This is better than cable.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

summer feeling

Yesterday I created a playlist on my iPod and I called it "running." I put 111 songs in it. Today I went for a run listening to the playlist on shuffle and I had one of those random-song-shuffle moments of insight.

It all started predictably uptempo with MIA's "Galang", but then everything got slower and more pensive. I spent a good seven minutes in the Gateful Dead's "Tennessee Jed" and I thought about being young and stoned and wasting a perfectly good sunny day thinking I'd somehow tapped into the knotty-pine spirit of the U.S. The Dead's sound is pleasantly lopsided, and I might think it brilliant if it didn't drag on so damn long. Now that I'm all uptight and snooty, and coffee and nicotine (gum) are my drugs of choice, it seems feels like a soundtrack to a life fittered away, which is still kind of nice now and then.

A couple relatively slow songs later, as the endorphines were really flooding my system, on came Jonathan Richman's "That Summer Feeling", and I slipped into a trance.

Such a true song:

When the cool of the pond makes you drop down on it
When the smell of the lawn makes you flop down on it
When the teenage car gets the cop down on it
That time is here for one more year

And that summer feeling is gonna haunt you one day in your life...

When you're hangin around the park with the water fountain
And there's the little girl with the dirty ankles
Because she's on the swings where all the dust is kickin up
And you remember the ankle locket
And the way she flirted with you
For all this time how come?
Well that summer feeling is gonna haunt you one day in your life

You'll throw away everything for it

It was sunny and cool this afternoon as I ran. Flowers were everywhere, and the birds were chirping when the song ended.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

funny guy

In 2003, I voted for Stan Glazer to be mayor. I didn't think he'd be a good mayor, but I didn't think he'd be awful. One thing I particularly liked about him was that he talked often of "the little guy." I thought he might bring a sort of bottom-up perspective to KC's power structure. He's not in the in-crowd. Which is good because I've only lived here for six years and I've long been fed up with the in-crowd.

I'd been planning to vote for Glazer the next time around until I read Nadia Pflaum's excellent profile of him. When I got to the part where he tells one of the most obnoxious racist jokes I've ever heard I decided there's no way in hell I'll ever vote for him.

It's not just that he told the joke, though that probably should be enough, because it was a truly awful joke, and I would never tell a joke like that in any company, and I'd be genuinely pissed at anyone who would. It's that he told the joke in the presence of a reporter from the only media outlet in the city that is guaranteed to publish it. I mean, that's just common knowledge. Say something stupid, the Pitch is gonna print it.

What a freakin' idiot!

And they say one of his most promising assets is that he'll be a good salesman for the city? Puh-lease! Like I want an uncivilized buffoon like that representing us. God knows what he might say.

Oh sure, he was quick to admit that the joke was racist, and that black comedians use the N-word all the time. And Nadia deftly included all the context. But it still shows that he ain't got a clue how to act. I mean, yeah, blacks use the n-word. But whites don't. Especially whites that are angling to represent blacks as mayor. Glazer should know that. (Might not seem fair. But when it comes to unfair, blacks clearly have a lot more room to complain.)

I think I'm gonna write in Michelle Singletary. She isn't eligible, and probably wouldn't take it if she were. But the city needs someone with her ethos.

Monday, April 24, 2006

comment of the week

From anonymous:
Joe you're going to scare these poor inner city children away from you if you don't learn how to react or adapt to them.

the preacher

This past weekend I listened on several occasions to a preacher who used to be a practicing homosexual. He travels the world giving sermons and seminars and he specializes in talking about sex. I was struck dumb for the first several minutes when I first heard him speak. He completely overloaded my stereotype filters. He talked just like a conservative fundamentalist preacher. Same cadence, inflection, words, all that. But he was totally gay, with a lilting voice and a posture that tended to settle into slight curtsies whenever he made a point or finished a thought. He flailed his hands around a lot. He admitted that he composes urban electronica music in addition to preaching, though that also carries a Christian message.

But he was a good preacher. Really the whole recovering-gay thing was just a small part of his schtick, and it was fairly easy for me to ignore. Mostly he talked about not letting outside stuff control your life. That was the basic theme, and it was general enough to be applicable, I think, to pretty much everyone who was listening to him speak, including me. A lot of what he said was challenging, in a good way.

I didn't know what to expect before seeing this guy speak. Like any urban liberal (libertarian? cynic?), I'm leery of this sort of thing. Everyone at the church where I've been hanging out told me that he was really good, but such praise is hard for me to gauge because I'm not really one of them. I guess the last thing I expected was that I would like it and that I would get something out of it, and that it would, in a very round about way, actually make things a little better in my own relationship. Which is always a good thing.

Friday, April 21, 2006

the millennials & the fourth turning

Tonight I heard a breathless paraphrase of the future as prophesized by William Strauss and Neil Howe, authors of The Fourth Turning and Millennials Rising, and it didn't quite add up to me. Especially the stuff about the Millennials, the generation born in 1980s and 1990s. The argument is that this is a generation that was highly nurtured in their childhood, and that they'll grow up and save the world.

Yet it was during the late 80s and early 90s when the crack epidemic decimated black communities, and nurturing was in short supply for the children who suffered through it. It's also spans the era when school desgregation failed and blacks and white children became even more isolated from one another than they had been before Brown v. Board.

It's funny how we whites think the world begins and ends with us.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

debate awards

I went to the DEBATE Kansas City awards ceremony last night. Got me in a real good mood. The highlight was a speech delivered by this kid named David from Washington High in KCK. It was a scorcher of a screed about civil liberties. Full of passion. David's going to Morehouse next year.

And I'm happy to say that Central High (where I help coach) defended its legacy as the debate powerhouse in Kansas City, by claiming the top three awards in the varsity division and by winning the biggest award in the league: the sweepstakes award for most overall points.

In other debate news, the University of Kansas finished first in the nation in varsity rankings, beating out Dartmouth and Harvard, which were second and third respectively. The Jayhawks finished second in overall rankings, behind Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. UMKC finished sixth in overall rankings and tenth in varsity. And Missouri State was fifth in varsity rankings.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Tracy wrote a post I wish I'd written. When I saw the billboard on Troost that reads: "Weed. The more you smoke. The less you care." I thought, Isn't that the point of smoking weed? To not care.

Either the people who think up these ad campaigns are totally clueless, or this is a conspiracy to actually get inner-city kids to smoke more.

saturday documentary

(Click photo above to be taken to the Saturday Documentary.)

Friday, April 14, 2006

self explanatory

It is what it is.

mr. manners

Poor LaToya.

Last night I had dinner at Gates with most of the Central debate squad and a rep from the University of Oklahoma. LaToya drew the short straw and wound up sitting next to me.

The Oklahoma man ordered a big platter of meat, and the waitress set it down in front of me. I was famished, and the sight of all that meat got me real excited. So excited that I squeezed the plastic tongs a bit too hard and they broke with a loud snap. LaToya flinched, startled by the sound.

We were sitting at a long table, so I wound up serving meat on folks' plates. LaToya asked me to get her some ham. So, with the tongs broken, I scooped some up with a fork. I tried to shake the ham off the tines, but they wouldn't budge, so I instinctively pushed them off with my fingers. LaToya cringed and all the other kids at the table laughed. She asked me to remove the contaminated piece of ham from her plate.

As I said, I was really hungry, and thrilled to have so many choices of meat, so I just started scarfing down really fast. Too fast, I guess, because I tried to swallow and breath at the same time and I made this loud cough/snort sound that made Latoya shift in her seat and lean as far away from me as possible.

After we'd all had our fill, we sat around and talked about OU. It's a great school, and they have gone above and beyond the call of duty to let the students we work with know that they have a home at OU. Seriously, I've never seen a school with such an active commitment to diversity. Truly amazing. I sat listening, positively amazed.

But then I felt a sneeze coming on. I have allergies, and at this time of year I can be suddenly attacked by sneezing fits. This one was moving in fast. I had less than a second to size up my options. In a mere wink of time I looked around the table and saw wads of napkin that were greasy and red with Gate's juice and sauce. For some reason, I thought it would be gross to grab one of these and sneeze into it. I saw no clean napkins. I thought for a second about cupping my hand against my nose and mouth, but with no clean napkins immediately visable, I figured I'd then have to wipe the discharge on my pants or something. So in the final milliseconds, with the mighty sneeze welling up, as I cocked my head to prepare for the unleashing, as I moved into the Ah part, I decided I would direct the force of the blast into my chest.


I bent my head down as far forward as I could.

From the corner of my eye I saw LaToya recoil and start rubbing her arm. Like Cheney, I'd "peppered" her with the outer spray of my shotgun blast.

I tried to deny it.

"I couldn't have hit you," I said. "I was aiming at my chest."

"You hit me," she insisted, still drying her arm.

"I'm sorry," I said, offering: "But you're safe. It's just pollen. It's not like I have a cold or anything."

She wasn't comforted by my rationalizations.

Poor LaToya. Had to sit next to the gross old white freak.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Sorry I haven't been writing much. I've been very busy, which is a good thing, compared to where I was a couple of months ago. This new book project is going full steam ahead and it's getting better and better all the time. This seems like a real winner, and I'm spending more and more time at the church I'm writing about -- especially this week, what with the resurrection of Jesus and all. Jesus is black this year.

Besides that I've started pulling in some magazine assignments. I got a couple from Vibe, one of which had me in Dallas a couple weeks ago. They decided to feature me on their contributer page, which means they'll print my picture along with my answers to a kind of fun questionaire. I'm excited about it, but a little insecure -- I'm worried I'm too old and white. It's all supposed to be in the July issue, so check it out. And I got an assignment from this new business mag that's starting up here in KC. It actually pays pretty darn good, which is unusual for local publications, but they're making me work for it. They want an investigative piece, so I pitched them a bunch of ideas and of course they picked the toughest one. I've also been doing some articles for my neighborhood newspaper, which is fun -- a good way to get to know my community (plus they pay better than my former employer).

So, as you can see, I'm back in that jittery, fired-up, gum-shoe reporter mode. I'm feeling a tad out of shape, I suppose, but it's better than being comotose in depression.

On top of that I'm doing a final read through on my book. And it's time to get going in the garden. I planted peas yesterday. A whole bed and a half of them. I hope they grow. I like peas.

Monday, April 10, 2006


I've been on a reading binge. At one point last month I had two dozen library books stacked up on my nightstand. At that point it was all nonfiction. I was doing research for Central's debate squad. I read a lot of books about the Black Power movement.

But then I needed a break. I needed to read something that was just pleasant to read, so I picked up Salvation on Sand Mountain, by Dennis Covington. Great book. The writing was so simple and straight forward, yet Covington managed to convey some mighty deep thoughts with his plain language. Plus it's full of snakes and Southern accents. No way to lose with that.

So Covington got me back into reading again. Not simply amassing knowledge and insights and info, but escaping into unfamiliar lives and places through words.

Last week I finished Baldwin's Go Tell It On the Mountain. I'd tried a couple of times before. It took some work to get through. Baldwin's writing seemed old fashioned, a bit over done, though consistantly beautiful. I particularly admired the book's structure, it's frame of a mere day or two that tied together entire life histories of several characters. It'll help, I think, as I ponder my second book project.

And now I'm reading Nadine Gordimer's latest, Get a Life. It's absolutely exquisite. I can't even begin to contemplate emulating Gordimer's writing. It's in a whole other realm. It's one of those books to sip slowly and savor.

Friday, April 07, 2006

a sports god

If you thought Maryland's win in the college championships was exciting, check out this great moment in sports history...

Thursday, April 06, 2006


After six years in this supposedly dangerous city, I am finally a victim of street crime.

This morning I went to retrieve something from my car. I noticed right away that my license plate was missing.

Oh crap, I thought, I'm gonna have to spend the rest of the day at the license bureau.

Then I noticed the plate sitting nearby. The tags were even still attached.

Huh, I thought, they wanted my cheap plastic plate holder thing?

But then I spotted it sitting nearby as well.

So what did they take? The screws that held the plate and the plate holder.

"You got screwed!" Allie says.

Should I call the cops?

the greatest rock and roll band in the world

Ladies and gentleman, the Rolling Stones!