Thursday, March 31, 2005

Scouring the World for Talent, And Licking Magazines

Get a load of this interesting Business Week piece on Google's global hunt for engineering talent. Great world-class companies don't worry about borders when it comes to recruiting talent. Sorry if that depresses my Cleveland techie/geek readers (especially you, Kukral). But of course there's a flip side to this global market: if you work hard, sharpen your skills and intelligently leverage the web to find opportunities, there's a world of work out there for you to land. So get to work...

Rusty Website. Is this the saddest waste of a great web address you've ever seen? Some map-maker on Cleveland's near west side, who was evidently hip to the web pretty early, seems to have locked up the URL for and then promptly done...not much of anything with it. I say sell it to the highest bidder on Ebay. He could probably make some real money doing so.

Sarah Loves Magazines. At Northern Ohio Live Magazine's 25th anniversary event last week at Fat Fish Blue the food, drink and music were good, but the people were even better. Live is an interesting Cleveland publishing story. Long considered something of a stepchild of the larger, deeper-pocketed Cleveland Magazine (from which it sprang, in a way, since it was founded by ClevMag alums Dennis Dooley, Diana Tittle and John Shambach), it has struggled financially during its entire life. The couple dozen well-heeled investors who initially threw money into the pot to get it off the ground are said to have grumbled aloud for years to anyone who would listen that they never made a dime off their investment. But, as I've written before, with Cleveland Magazine having gotten away from serious journalism in recent years in favor of a bland, soulless formula, with anorexic cover models and stories catering mostly to moneyed outer-ring suburbanites, NOL has kept something of a small pilot light going for a more serious brand of regional journalism. Not the entire magazine, mind you (much of it is still given over to the same kind of advertorial-style section crap that completely dominates ClevMag), but enough to remind serious readers and writers of how good magazines can be and mostly used to be.

Good magazines are infused with a couple of crucial human elements: savvy and courageous veteran editors who push the envelope with the ad side on behalf of their readers, and a steady stream of younger folk who aren't put off by the industry's low pay and long hours. Live's Managing editor Sarah Sphar is a perfect example of the latter type (click here and here to sample some of her work). I've known her for some time, but she's ordinarily too swamped to talk when I happen to be around sheparding one story or another (I'm a contributing writer there). But at the 25th celebration, I got my first chance to sit for a moment and get to know her. And she didn't disappoint. First, by informing me that she was first turned on to magazines by an old friend and colleague of mine, Bob Rosenbaum, who is indeed an inspired and gifted editor (he's now a publisher at Penton). And then she talked about the visual appeal of a good magazine. A great page, she said, should be so interesting and exciting that the reader "wants to lick the magazine." I never thought of it that way before, but from now on, I probably will. Here's to higher pay and shorter hours, at least eventually, Sarah. And may you have thousands of pages worth licking in weeks, months and years to come.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Coming Soon: The Killer Regional Portal

With the web, things are often comically circular. A few years ago, back when Yahoo bestrode the universe and Google was little more than a bunch of Stanford geeks playing with algorithms, portals were the thing. More recently, of course, search has been the big killer app, and portals were left in the dust. But now they're back, seemingly with a vengeance. The Web Association has an upcoming program devoted to portals and even bloggers are talking (and some of them whining) about regional portals as a kind of meta-blogging exercise. But I'm encouraged by something just over the horizon that promises to be one hell of a useful web portal for the region. Finally, it seems, some actual substance may come from what until now has been mostly p.r. by TeamNEO. Listen in to a recent TeamNEO newsletter:

Team NEO is working extensively with groups of economic development organizations, real estate firms and site selectors, to finalize requirements for a regional economic development portal that will be accessible through the Internet. The system will provide a plethora of tools and data, including a GIS based land and property database; labor pool mapping with drive times and wage rates; demographic information; interactive credits and incentives survey; infrastructure, environmental, and zoning maps; data on existing businesses; and the location of education institutions, transportation structures, and workforce programs. The portal is expected to be up and running by early summer.

Let's hope this regional tool ends up being half as interesting and useful to economic developers as this description would suggest. But I also can't help wonder why a couple of institutions with all the right resources and expertise (plus years, even decades of head start) never got around to doing this: CSU's Urban School and the Weatherhead School's Center for Regional Economic Issues.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Time for Some Changes in Washington

Are you sickened by the way shameless, bottom-feeding politicians have used a defenseless woman as a video prop to pander to those who react better than they reason? Me too. So I say remove the feeding tube. No, not that feeding tube, this one.
And while we're at it, maybe we should also consider sacking the entire federal government, and handing policy decisions over to the Brookings Institution, which for decades has been a font of eminent common sense. This fellow is apparently cut from the same cloth. No wonder Nixon openly mused about firebombing the place.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Showing Their Chops

'Writing is like a first kiss. The prospect creates a palpable anxiety that tightens the chest and inspires impatience. How do I initiate this thing? Part of the problem is that no one is sure of the exact right angle from which to begin. No amount of preparation can prevent it from starting out awkward and sloppy, so the first time is inevitably a disaster. Fortunately, though, with patience and practice, anyone can learn to do it well. Ultimately, it’s quite a thrill.'
--Bob, a graduate student tutor at the writing center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

And Bob isn't the only one at this evidently fine academic writing center who waxes so poetically about the art of writing. Just take a listen to another tutor, Heather:

'Writing is a powerful puzzle. Although the end result may seem linear, I don't think that way. I think in pieces and patterns, and I write that way as well. I almost always do the edge pieces of a puzzle first; then I have my framework, a little something to gauge the relationships between other things in the puzzle. There may be a cloud that I can work on right off of the frame. Or maybe I will need to instead pick out the little red patch of poppies to work on, or that tree that's a different color than all the rest, or the figure of a particular person. Maybe I'll first pile all the, say, red pieces together, maybe not. Pieces get added to the puzzle itself as they are discovered, sometimes randomly as I encounter each piece--like cobbling thoughts together. And there are plenty of moments when the piece I've picked simply does not fit into that space like I was sure it would.'

If you get a moment, check out some of the thoughts of other UNC writing tutors here. Even the group photo at the top beckons the visitor, like a sublimely written lead paragraph wooing a curious reader. Salesmanship counts in writing, too. With gifted and inspired tutors such as these, a student just might learn something. Come on, Case, John Carroll, B-W and CSU, where are your similarly literate writing center spokespeople, people who can teach others how to write well rather than in dense academese? This isn't rocket science, after all. It merely takes a pinch of imagination. Let's start deepening the bench by adding to our supply of Mary Grimm's (here) and George Bilgere's (here). After all, that crosstown pair is one helluva start...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Searching For Slivers of Ore

'I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it. We must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and soul.'
--Henry Miller in Tropic of Cancer

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Helen Thomas Stays on the Offensive, Part II

A couple of weeks ago, I noted how the elderly, diminuitive White House reporter (now columnist) Helen Thomas refuses to accept transparent lies from official sources, instead aggressively pressing for real answers to real questions. This week, the "reality-based" community is under almost unprecedented assault from those shameless, slippery rascals at the White House. Former chief flak Ari Fleisher continues to hawk his new book, a pathetic attempt to indict the media by changing the subject from his laughably Orwellian spinning to their supposed bias (yes, the media is biased against stonewalling, weasly liars). And his former boss, Stonewaller-In-Chief Karen Hughes, has now been installed as a global ambassador of spin, which no fiction writer I know could have ever invented if they tried. Perhaps most hilarious of all, today comes word that the White House is rejecting a GAO report that labels as illegal government propaganda masquerading as news. The Justice Department makes those decisions, not the independent agency charged under the law of the land with independently investigating wrongdoing, says another bungling Bush appointee, evidently making it up as he goes along. Anyway, against that macabre backdrop, Helen was at it again, doing her thing in the White House press room. Here's a transcript of her exchange yesterday with White House press secretary Scott McClellan:

"Go ahead, Helen.

"Q Diplomacy depends on policy. You can't sell what is unsaleable. If the policy remains that we will engage further in preemptive war, you cannot sell it to the Middle East, I'm sure, or anywhere else. So are you going to change any policy?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Our policy is to expand freedom and democracy and to support the aspirations of people --

"Q By gunpoint?

"MR. McCLELLAN: -- and support the aspirations of people in countries around the world that do not have the freedoms that we enjoy. And, no, Helen, the President made it very clear in his inaugural address that it is not primarily the use of arms. It is supporting the aspirations of the people in those countries and doing all we can to stand with those people as they seek greater freedoms. We are standing with the people of Lebanon. We are standing with the people of the Palestinian Territories. We are standing with --

"Q We also invaded Iraq.

"MR. McCLELLAN: -- we are standing with the people of Iraq, and the people of Iraq have shown that freedom is a universal value. They stood up and defied the terrorists and went to the polls.

"Q And we invaded the country.

"MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Terry."

The Line of the Day. Leave it to the incomparable Chicago-based twentysomething writer Jessica Crispin, a.k.a. Bookslut, to come up with a sly, snappy way to briefly note the news that her literary blog has just won a Bloggie award. She writes: "The Bloggie is to blogs what the LaFontaine Aquatic Entomology Award is to aquatic entomology. So we're very flattered."

Blogging Continues to March Into Mainstream Journalism. Despite the continued, often dyspeptic, yelps of outrage from plenty of journalism traditionalists, which I liken to a kind of irritable bowel syndrome, the form of blogging continues to be accepted into nearly every corner of the craft. You'd be hard-pressed to identify two more stalwart organizational members of the traditionalists' camp than the Society of Professional Journalists and the Investigative Reporters and Editors. And yet SPJ's Quill Magazine has just published this interesting exploration of the topic, written by a grad student from Alabama. What I love most, however, is that the rest of the issue is packed with such articles as those probing the practice of email interviews and a nice little jewel of a piece on assembling virtual freelance community by my colleague Wendy Hoke. SPJ, in short, really gets it these days. Meanwhile, those vaunted gumshoe hard-asses of IRE, once chaired by my old friend, the formidable Cleveland native Jim Neff (now head of investigative projects for the Seattle Times), has recently added this sterling blog to its excellent website (do check it out, since it's full of interesting stuff). To sample the kind of powerfully reported, well-written series he's helping produce in Seattle (one of the last of the regional newspapers to invest in this kind of expansive and expensive work) click here.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Good Riddance, Michael Powell

'It saddens me when public officials and bureaucrats are criticized for ulterior motives, none of which I have ever found in a government bureaucrat, or when someone personalizes disagreements. This country needs to disagree civilly and continue to recommit itself to the welfare of its citizens -- which is all we are sent here to do.'
FCC Chairman Powell, on stepping down

Sorry that poor Mike P. felt the personal sting from millions of Americans who cared about the diversity of media voices as a crucial bedrock of democracy, and who didn't take kindly to anyone trying to fool with it. After only Reagan-era FCC Chairman Mark Fowler, who famously called television nothing more than a toaster with pictures, this numbskull ideologue did more than any FCC chairman in history to attempt to hand over the control of American media policy to a few large companies. And Americans rightly take that seriously, and they took it personally. If that continues to sting for him, that's all to the good, I would say. But don't feel too bad for Mike. There will always be a cushy sinecure for him somewhere as a telecom industry lobbyist, or with a right-wing think tank, where his brand of intellectual dishonesty will fit right in with the decor and the chatter around the water cooler. It's just good that he's no longer in a position to do really large and lasting damage to the country. Then again, do you expect that his replacement will be much better?

Actually, on another level, I suppose I almost feel sorry for this guy. As the son of a famous dad and a certified heroic American, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Michael seems to have had trouble finding his own place to shine. I have a theory about the sons of famous men, based on watching a few guys I have known who had fathers of outsized reputation: for many, they try so hard to break free of the orbit of their dads that they can often venture into trouble. Rather than following in their footsteps, and trying to live up to their reputation and high ethical example, these tormented sons can tend to try too hard to diverge down different paths, often to their detriment. I think that's been the case for our weasly president, whose dad, while not the most effective president in U.S. history, was nevetheless a completely honorable man, who mostly tried to do the right thing over his long career. His son, like the recent FCC chairman, seems to have devoted so much energy to trying to break free of the old man's reputational gravity, that he has mostly flown off course and out into another galaxy.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

A Few Things That Got My Attention Recently

A wonderful passage from a lovely writer, Jeff Hess, and his equally lovely (caffeinated) blog:

Have Coffee Will Write is dinner-time conversation. When I was growing up in rural Southeastern Ohio we had dinner seven days a week. Not the meal, the experience. I sat down every evening with my father, brother, grandmother and grandfather at the dinning table. We ate, of course, but more importantly, we talked. I think that a great deal of how I think was shaped by those conversations. If it shows up here in my daily musings, that is a good thing. Pass the potatoes, please.

And this, from the outgoing head of the Cleveland Museum of Art, in an interview yesterday on WCPN: Quoting her counterpart from Houston, on a visit to CMA, where he marveled at the collection: "This could be Paris, this could be Rome. No, this is heaven."

And from my favorite radio jokesters, the impossibly joyous, ebullient car guys on Car Talk Saturday morning: "...our new spring break video: Mechanics Gone Wild."

And finally, as I begin going through painful withdrawal from St. Ignatius hoops until next fall, I found this passage about Iggy to be quite interesting. It's from Sun Newspapers sports reporter Jim Isabella's High School sports blog on, written back in January:

During the summer months, I ran into a coach that I've known for a few years. We started talking about his sport and teams that had a shot at the state championship. Suddenly the coach became upset when I mentioned St. Ignatius was pretty good. "You know how I feel about those Catholic schools," he said, "They shouldn't compete with us public schools. Let 'em get their own league." OK, we've heard that argument more than a few times. But for this space, let's ask the big question - Why do so many people hate St. Ignatius? Why are the comments so full of malicious feeling and vile remarks toward the school? Jealousy plays into it. It is a complete school, with top flight teachers and sports programs to die for. The coaches are good teacher, even trainer Hank Gaughan is one of the best. Fans think it is all about money. No, it is all about organization. St. I's strength is it's togetherness of administration and staff. Dale Gabor is a long-time athletic director, respected to the point of being involved with the OHSAA. Chuck Kyle is an English teacher who doesn't buy into jockracy. If one is looking to understand the wildcats, then look at Pat Massey. The St. Iggy grad was on the dais Monday night at the Cleveland Touchdown Club awards banquet. Though physically an imposing looking figure, no one hesitated to talk to the big defensive lineman because of his public demeanor. I can't hate a place that produces a good guy like Pat Massey, even if he is at that school up north (Michigan for you younger kids).

Monday, March 07, 2005

Nuns Never Forget

If you went to Catholic school during the heyday of parochial education, as I did, you can never forget the nuns. Back then, before they all left the order or became elderly and retired, they were a formidable and simply unforgettable part of the experience. And no amount of lighthearted Hollywood puffery by a then-youthful Sally Field playing in "The Flying Nun" could convince you that these ladies meant anything but business. They seemed to care about your soul more than your parents did. Even post-Vatican II, these ladies played for keeps. I was reminded of these battleships in black habits after reading what has to be my favorite letter to the editor thus far this year (in fact, one of the best ever). It was published in last week's Free Times, and went like this:

Years ago, when I was a new nun, I taught in Cleveland and taught a student named Norman Kay. He was president of the 8th grade Civics Club and editor of the school paper. I'm wondering if he grew up to become the Norman Kay who recently wrote a real nasty letter to the editor about his councilman in Lyndhurst, Josh Mandel. Oh, Norman: remember how I used to say to you boys on the playground, "you'll never get to heaven on your tongue." Well, I say to you today: "You'll never get to heaven with venom on your laptop." I am sure Councilman Mandel is a very nice man--a hard worker, just trying to do his job. A wise and holy man once wrote: "All real leadership is crucifixion." Remember that, Norman. Instead of being so critical, try working with Mr. Mandel, for the common good. They printed your letter on Ash Wednesday. What a way to start Lent! For your penance, put your name on the board and see me after class. Fifteen years ago I retired from teaching. I'm an old lady now, Norman, and I spend most of my day praying for world peace. And I still pray for all my old students. Norman, is that you? If you are not Norman Kay, you are some teacher's Norman Kay, and the good advice is still valid--still holds true. Take it to heart. Thank you, Norman. I you know you will. The best of blessing to you, your family and those you love.
--Sister Mary Ignatius, Elyria
What a way to start Lent, indeed! Thanks, Sister Ignatius, for reminding everyone that teaching (at least when practiced at its highest level) is not unlike parenthood: you never stop rooting for, worrying over and praying for your kids.

Cleveland Museum of Art Vote in WSJ. From today's Wall Street Journal editorial page, a piece that begins thusly:

Today is D-Day for the Cleveland Museum of Art. The board is to vote on whether to go ahead with a $225-million, Rafael Vinoly-designed expansion and renovation that would unify the museum's four existing buildings into one, increase the museum's overall size by over 50% and its gallery space by about 33%. The decision has been getting a lot of attention in the local media owing to the museum's consultative approach taken in its dealings with the community. But it has also attracted attention because of the troubled nature of the project. The plan announced in November '03 called for a lager expansion, but it was scaled back last June. Nonetheless, the price tag is still 30% more than originally estimated. Meanwhile, attendance is down and last month the museum's director, Katherine Lee Reid, announced her retirement, leaving the museum to search for a new leader just as it is about to embark on a major campaign. Nor is the larger context more encouraging. Cleveland has been losing jobs and residents for the last two decades. Since 2003 it has had the higest poverty rate in the country, with one in three residents living below the poverty line. In an effort to get people to address the dispiriting stage of their city, the Plain Dealer has for the last four years run "The Quiet Crisis," an ongoing series it describes as "focusing on what Greater Cleveland must do to play a
more successful role in the 21st century economy." Hardly auspicious coditions under which to take on the debt and uncertainty of a major building program, not
to mention the higher costs associated with running a bigger institution. Which makes one want to ask the museum's board: Folks, are you sure this is a good idea?

The piece, written by a Journal features editor named Eric Gibson, is all about the larger trend toward museums commissioning monumental architecture as a branding device, which was touched off by Frank Gehry's astonishing Bilbao creation for the Guggenheim. But I was struck by how similar the theme of this opening was to a great piece on the Cleveland Orchestra in the New Yorker last month. It too asked the larger question: can Cleveland's world-class cultural institutions--first founded at a time when the town was a muscular, sprawling municipal behemoth just a few years removed from serving as the HQ for the world's oil business--survive in the same exalted state now that the city and surrounding region is of a more modest scale? I'll explore this subject a bit more as the week unfolds.