Tag Archives: Hallsville

NaNoWriMo Day #7: Takin’ a Kianna break

Actually, Days #6 and #7 were temporary detours from National Novel Writing Month, although it would be inaccurate to say I took a break from writing. Yesterday (Nov. 6) was Election Day, which kept me jotting notes and typing away most of the day. (Is it still accurate to refer to “typing”?) My day job with the Columbia Daily Tribune found me arriving at the Hallsville Community Center at around 6:50 a.m. Tuesday and leaving a Democratic election watch party (the third watch party I’d been to since 8 p.m.) at The Blue Note in downtown Columbia just after 11 p.m.

That, my friends, is what you call a real long day. There was nary a moment free for my WriMo tasks. Today (Wednesday the 7th) was less busy and less long … at least I think so. I was in a post-election fog most of the day.

Considering that I was a WriMo machine the first five days of our 30 days of literary abandon, I allowed myself to step away the last two days.

Here was the highlight of today:

Having a great time with soon-to-be 9-month-old granddaughter, Princess Kianna Brown. (Grammy got some sugar, too. Scroll down). This caption should be: reading and sucking her thumb and leaning on Grandpa. This little beauty melts my heart every single time I see her.

 

Grammy lovin’ on Princess Kianna Wednesday evening in Jefferson City.

 

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Filed under Family, Kelly, Kianna Allene Brown, National Novel Writing Month 2012

The Write Life: Opt for ‘remarkable’

Saturday in Jackson’s Journal is The Write Life, a trek past the mundane and beyond the borders of creativity. This is where we celebrate the craft of writing, storytelling and connecting with the hearts, minds and souls of readers.

I love my job as a reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune. I now have 30-plus years of newspaper clips as evidence of my role as a modern-day scribe, chronicling the events and people who I’ve been fortunate to encounter.

Like most writers and reporters, my work leads me to rather paradoxical conclusions. On the one hand, I do believe that what I do is important. I’m telling and reporting history. Live. As it happens. On the other hand, I often believe that what I actually produce is gibberish and not very important because it’s so poorly done.

This week I wrote an article about a rural water district’s bookkeeping problems. Maybe the water district has only 2,500 customers, but to those payers and for the community where the district is located, that’s a big deal.

Without the aid and patience of a gifted editor, however, no one was going to read beyond the lede sentence. I mean, for crying out loud, I learned to write a lede — how to “hook” the reader — in high school. What I presented to my editor began like this: “Officials with Public Water Supply District 4 at Hallsville …”

And I lost her. SHE didn’t read beyond that bland, lazy launch into an important story. Worst of all, I filed the story knowing that the lede stunk. Did that mean I lost sight of the importance of what I do for a living? Probably. Sometimes the reporting and writing seems effortless. Sometimes it’s clumsy and confusing.

My editor, Lora Wegman, insisted on a new lede. This is what I came up with:

“Failure to pay payroll taxes on some expenses and paying a higher-than-allowed mileage reimbursement rate are just two of the bookkeeping issues a former office manager brought to the attention of Public Water Supply District 4 board members Tuesday.”

Better, wouldn’t you say? I got right to it. Still a bit wordy, but so much more interesting and readable than, “Officials said …”

My sophomore (and last) year in college I was editor-in-chief of The Muleskinner, the campus newspaper at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. The managing editor and I decided to reject any article that began with the words “the,” “a” or “an.” Our motto: “Get to the point.” We had journalism professors and all manner of academics argue about our unbending ban, but we won every argument. (Or so we thought. And it was that attitude that led me to leave college after two years because I really did think I knew it all).

Get to the point. If we’re writing something important, get to it. And in today’s newspaper world of a shrinking news hole, maximizing the words we use is top priority — well, second to the journalistic trinity of accuracy, fairness and balance.

The water district story was important to those customers, but I’m also convinced it was a big deal to all readers because watch-dogging and exposing what might be less-than-transparent operations ought to serve notice on all public entities entrusted with the people’s money.

Maybe that’s a lofty goal, but I buy into that aim. My first weekly newspaper boss used to say that photos of car crashes — and sometimes just the crashed car, because maybe we missed the actual accident — made everyone drive more safely.

I remember asking, “Then why do we keep seeing wrecks?”

My publisher, Norman Gallagher, scowled at my seemingly logical question and zinged me with a challenge. “Why don’t we do a better job getting their attention? Let’s tell the story better.”

Mr. Gallagher’s zeal for the truth was sometimes sidetracked by prejudice and personal vendettas, but he was passionate about telling the story.

“Let’s tell the story better.”

That brings me, in a rabbit-trail-chasing sort of way, to the point made by author/writer Jeff Goins, whom I consider a writer’s writer.

“What is up to you is the choice to be remarkable. As is the decision to be mediocre.”

That’s the conclusion Jeff reaches in Friday’s post, “The first day of the rest of your life.” Check out his blog.

Then choose to be remarkable.

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Filed under A reporter's life, Living Write

Let’s have a meeting!

I routinely cover a lot of routine meetings, most notably county commission meetings, planning and zoning meetings, board of trustees meetings (fire district and hospital board), and in the past there were school boards, ambulance districts, city councils, boards of aldermen … lots and lots of meetings.

It’s safe to say I’ve been doing it forever. Today I was at a hearing (another word for “meeting”) at the State Capitol, where the House Committee on Appropriations for Agriculture and Natural Resources heard about an eminent domain issue in Hallsville.

You’ll just have to wait until tomorrow’s Columbia Daily Tribune rolls off the press to see my report on that meeting/hearing. Like thousands of meetings before it, my single focus and single goal is telling the story of the meeting without inducing eye-glazing numbness, which so often is the effect I fight off during said meeting.

In 30 years of news reporting, I’ve covered too many meetings to count. My archives of material for my epic memoir-in-progress — tentatively titled “Goats on Top of the Car” —  contain a time-lapse chronology of a meeting of the Belle Board of Aldermen, dated Jan. 14, 1981. I was a senior in high school, but employed by The Belle Banner as the ace reporter. I’m assuming I kept notes of the real action, but my “log of the meeting” details the cigarettes smoked and coffee consumed during the city aldermen meeting in a town of 1,104 residents.

I’ll only present the highlights, so to speak, but first you need a quick introduction to some of the main players: Herb Henley, the city marshall, collector and sewer commissioner; Marlis King, the city treasurer; and Guy Rager, the mayor, a man who perfectly resembled Col. Sanders.

Here goes, unedited:

7:02 p.m., Mayor calls meeting to order. 11 present. All have coffee. Most have cigarette. Some already on cig #2. Marlis King to be late because of wisdom teeth just removed.

7:05, councilmen Curry and Hicks light up. Mayor appearing foggy.

7:08, Henley/Rager begin unnecessary discussion on cig. tax stamps.

7:10, Treasurer King comes in, holding jaw steady.

7:14, smoke in room blending with color of mayor’s hair.

7:35, Hicks lights cig #3. King cusses — couldn’t hear exact word. Curry lights another. King leaves, coughing. King grabs jaw, face contorted in pain as she exits.

7:39, mayor nearly completely obscured by nicotine-laden cloud of toxins.

7:39, aldermen Shanks, Curry get coffee. Curry now has three half-full cups of joe. And two cigs going at once.

7:48, I imagine being fatally wounded by a gunshot through the door.

(I’m skipping over rapid-fire references — with time stamps — to someone lighting up or getting another cup of coffee).

8:28, mayor says he’ll veto an ordinance that just passed. He adds, “Just kidding.” I hear his voice, but i can’t see him.

8:33, mayor doesn’t know Henley is also the water/sewer commissioner. Aldermen snicker.

8:38, meeting adjourned.

Tonight’s totals: 36 cigarettes smoked (that I could see), 24 cups of coffee downed. Conclusion = arteriosclerosis, emphysema and caffeine addiction.

Those were my notes. No idea what was in the actual news story, but I’m sure it wasn’t as entertaining as my notes.

COUNTDOWN TO KIANNA: 35, 34, 33 days away …

The highlight of today was dropping in on my old stomping ground at the Jefferson City News Tribune, unaware that so many of the old gang would be working. Intruding was my pleasure and it gave me a chance to kiss former sports writing colleague Tony Hawley smack upside the head. Sports editor Tom Rackers, under whom I wrote and produced sports and sports pages for parts of nine years from 1992 to 2001, declined a smooch.

Managing editor Richard McGonegal and so many other faces and names from those wonderful years at the “other” Tribune provided the perfect audience for me to announce, “I’m going to be a grandpa soon!”

Reporter Anne Kettenbrink, who was in high school and an intern when I left 11 years ago, recognized my voice, inquiring from her obscured seat, “Is that Jodie Jackson?” When I said it was nice to be remembered, my old sports writing pals quickly let me know that my name does crop up from time to time. It seems I’m partly remembered as a spinner of stories, a teller of tales. And I believe they also mention my name mockingly.

Kind of like at the Tribune where I’m presently employed. (Columbia).

Grandpa’s message to Kianna, #5:

Learn to laugh at yourself.

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Filed under A reporter's life, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress