Transition, elections & a new beat

Transition, elections & a new beat

In late July I left MIRS for MLive, and transitioned beats from purely Senate coverage to Capitol/Business reporting.

Here’s my fancy announcing-I’m-joining story.

The new beat means I cover business-related policy going through the legislature as well as statewide business trends, some local business development and issues like incentive policy and talent.

Some of my favorite stories so far have been about credit card processing, possible reforms to tax increment financing and business development in the Lansing area.

I also got to do some of the election coverage I love so much this cycle — I covered the Attorney General and Secretary of State races. My “I voted” selfies will live on. I’ve got a series of election day traditions/superstitions.

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Just for fun, I should mention a story on Michigan-themed tattoos. I got e-mails and comments from people living far away who wanted to tell me about tattoos of their home state.

Anyway, enjoying the new beat and loving the crew at MLive. Looking forward to bringing you more coverage.

Could you recognize Brian Williams?

Could you recognize Brian Williams?

I’m sure that if I’d been asked to identify Brian Williams, the nation’s top news anchor, I’d be among the 53 percent of Americans who didn’t know him.

A recent Pew poll showed folks pictures of Williams and 27 percent identified him correctly. The plurality of those polled, 53 percent, couldn’t identify him. Another 18 percent guessed incorrectly and 3 percent knew he was an anchor or reporter.

I saw the indignation of everybody on my feed who tweeted that. But I don’t think this is necessarily a negative.

Not many people my age watch the nightly news. I have a TV hooked up at my house now, but didn’t for the two years prior.

I’ll sometimes catch a newscast at the gym. But for me (and I suspect many my age) the internet has allowed me to curate my news. I don’t have to tie myself to a specific time to sit down and learn whatever a network wants me to learn.

Obviously I’m a huge proponent and consumer of news. I’m getting news on my smartphone between interviews, via links on Twitter, in Google News alerts and through a carefully culled Feedly.

This is about efficiency. I was watching the news at the gym this week and had to sit (well, run, actually) through a good three or four minute segment on some B-list celebrity who had a baby at 49. I’d much rather have spent those minutes consuming news on a political or international event.

This aligns a little bit with how I was taught to learn. Traditional education used to put a lot of emphasis on memorization. I’ve been reading a lot about early presidents (see this post) and many of them memorized long passages of classical text or poetry so that they could draw upon them in conversation or speeches. By the time I was going through school, we had Google for that.

A big emphasis in my education wasn’t necessarily knowing everything, but knowing what you need and how to find it. Back again to efficiency.

It’s nothing personal, Brian Williams, but for me your medium is outmoded.

Exploring The Media Lanscape In Germany

Exploring The Media Lanscape In Germany

I wish I could bottle up the German appetite for news.

I was fortunate enough to spend a week in Berlin through the German American Fulbright Commission, where a group of participants interviewed members of the media as well as political folks.

Program participants setting up for an interview at news magazine Der Spiegel.

Program participants setting up for an interview at news magazine Der Spiegel.

One thing that struck me throughout our conversations with people was the amount and quality of news that the German audience consumes and demands. There is a strong public media in Germany, and one statistic we heard is that the average person listens to more than 100 minutes of radio per day. In addition, there are multiple newspapers in major cities, and generally at least one paper in smaller cities.

Even young people read newspapers or online newspapers at decently high rates.

As far as quality goes, here are two telling things: 1) Huffington Post launched in Germany recently and hasn’t taken off and 2) we talked with at least one publication that generated more readers by investing in investigative coverage.

It seems like in the U.S., investigative departments are the first go be cut (a shame).

But even with this strong appetite, it seems like German media is making the same mistakes that U.S. media made with digitizing content.

Many German publications started putting content online for free, and circulation has decreased. I remember U.S. media outlets making this same mistake.

But I think that Germany may be in a better position to have their existing newspapers recapture revenue because they haven’t lost their young audience. They may have lost their young audience’s subscriptions, but they’re still looking at content online.

Another innovative thing a lot of media brands do in Germany is cultivate their younger readers. Der Spiegel, for instance, has a children’s magazine and one geared toward university students. Those readers are more likely to transfer to their flagship publication.

In any case, I had a great learning about the media culture in Germany, and still have to contact some of the amazing people I connected with.

For me the temporary paradigm shift — thinking about an entirely different political system being covered by a totally different media system — was a healthy one.

Standing inside the dome at the Reichstag building.

Standing inside the dome at the Reichstag building.

My Senate Switch

My Senate Switch

After two years of covering the administration and public policy for MIRS, I’ve officially taken over the Senate beat.

While I’ll miss some of the leeway to spend a lot of time on enterprise stories and delving into public policy, there are a few things I can tell I’m already going to love about the Senate.

First, I see a lot more of my media colleagues. It’s kind of a nice perspective to know that there are a handful of people who care just as much as you do about getting the story and getting it right. Before I was working pretty independently most of the time.

Then there’s the schedule. Knowing what I’m going to do a day ahead of time is completely new to me. Often in my prior position I had ideas of what I’d like to accomplish, but they’d get pushed toward the end of the week as breaking news, events and other things I covered would pop up.

And I can’t overlook the most important difference: the senators. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the senators I’ve met so far, and how passionate they are about some of the issues they’ve taken up. Of course, I’ve got a learning curve here, but I can’t wait to learn more about the men and women who represent Michiganders in the chamber.

Of course, I’ve got some transitional issues, like coming up with story ideas and things to write about on non-session days. But overall, I’m really enjoying the job two weeks in, and if prior experience serves well I know that soon I’ll be busting at the seams with more story ideas than time.

Bike Tour – Day 5

Bike Tour – Day 5

Today we made the 44 miles back to Bay City from Au Gres in good time.

We had left my car in a Walmart parking lot (with permission) and Kevin made he joke that it was the happiest he’d ever been to see a Walmart.

This was a pretty difficult trip. We upped the miles covered per day without necessarily upping our preparation or doing too much differently from our last trip. We did drop some weight in our packs, and more evenly distribute the weight. But the basic things we carried (tent, sleeping bags, etc.) couldn’t get any lighter without some significant investment. And I would have liked to get a trailer of my own, but that’s a $300 proposition.

I think both Kevin and I came away with a new respect for Lake Huron. Sometimes Lake Michigan gets all the glory, you know? After riding alongside it for miles and miles, we had a lot of great things to say about how gorgeous Lake Huron is. I think we’re both interested in coming back when it’s a little warmer out to fish, swim and really have more fun on Lake Huron.

Our total this trip was 260 miles. My lifetime total, having done a couple trips without Kevin, is just over 1,000 miles of touring. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned a little. But I’m far from being an expert. My advice to anybody interested in bike touring is just to get on a bike and go!

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Bike Tour – Day 4

Bike Tour – Day 4

The fourth day was our best yet! We went 50 miles, and my muscles didn’t hurt any more than during a normal day’s workout. Kevin feels slightly differently — for some reason on this trip his knees have really been giving him problems.

Our only issue starting out was the temperature. It was cold when we woke up in the morning, in the lower 40’s. I put on what I had and braced myself. Kevin, a habitual over-packer, showed up with a hat, gloves and a scarf! This is his guiltyish, “I sneaked these into my pack” look…

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Kevin and I have a lot of debate over what gets to come with us. Things I nixed this year included a stool, a solar phone charger, a pan, and other ridiculousness. He managed to sneak in apparently a full winter ensemble, a manicure kit, q-tips and who knows what else. I’m still finding things :).

Anyway, it got a lot warmer once we got more inland, and ended up being in the 60’s. We took the ride slow, and had a lot of time for our favorite activity: meeting people.

Among the people we met was a man whose father founded Mount Clemens General Hospital, where Kevin was born. Small world! He showed us a photo wall of his family, including the hospital founder, I believe Robert Allan, who accomplished all that before dying at 45. He also had three daughters, two of which served in the armed forces, and one of which was a helicopter pilot in the military. Which is kind of admirable, considering he had been drafted into Vietmam himself and didn’t like the experience. He made and lost a lot of friends in combat, but it’s great to think that he was still open to the idea of his kids serving.

We also went back and visited some friends we’d made at our first campsite, Rick and Carol. They were kind enough to give us the bathroom code after we had checked in late that night, and we brought them a blizzard to repay the favor. They have a really great system worked out where they have a vacation camper about 20 miles from their real home! But they switch it up so one of them has a shorter commute to work depending on the time of year. Plus their camper is super nice… must feel kind of like being on vacation all the time :).

One of our favorite parts of bike vacations is all the people we meet. The people on this side of the state are so generous and interesting. We haven’t met anybody who hasn’t wanted to know where we’re coming from and if there’s any way they can help us out. They’re pretty amused by us biking so far.

As one lady put it in Oscoda, “Are you biking for a cause or just ’cause you’re crazy?”

Of those options, I suppose the latter :)

Bike Tour – Day 3

Bike Tour – Day 3

As luck would have it, my back tube blew out just as we were pulling into the campground today.

No sarcasm there — believe me when I say it’s about a hundred times more fun to change a tire at a campsite than roadside, with cars whizzing past you. It’s not a difficult task, but it can be ridiculously frustrating. You definitely know what needs to happen, and it seems so simple. But sometimes your tire/tube/both just don’t take direction well. So I tackled the tire while Kevin set up the campsite. Afterward, I was demonstrably a mess:

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The campsite, by the way, is in Harrisville. The ratio of natural resources to everything else here is pretty high, but we think we may have spotted a place for a beer later. We’re making dinner tonight, but today we stopped at a place called Connie’s Cafe outside of Alpena. We bought some cookies to go… those are good bike fuel, y’know :)

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The ride, by the way, was a short one: 34 miles from Alpena to Harrisville. We knew this was the hilly section (oh my god is it the hilly section) so we decided to make it its own mini-day. The wind was a TINY bit better. It switched directions and was still working against us, but was more of a crosswind than a headwind. But the hills, yeesh.

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The next two legs we’ve broken up into 50-ish mile chunks. See you down the road!

Bike Tour – Day 2

Bike Tour – Day 2

They call Chicago the Windy City, but I think Alpena could give Ms. Windy a run for her money.

Kevin and I rode 66 miles straight into the wind today. Straight. Into. The wind. Typically we keep about a 13 mph pace with quite a few pounds of equipment. This leg of the trip. We averaged more like 6-8 mph, mainly because we were riding into a wall of wind.

On top of that, as the locals warned us, pretty much the whole area between Harrisville and Alpena was hill after hill. I believe there’s an area called Black Hills. Our host for the night said the hills there were so steep that a couple years ago they grated them down. They’re still pretty big though.

Which brings me to, our hosts, who were awesome! The Waligora family hosted us here in Alpena. Kevin and Bret, their son, were RA’s together in college, so we’d all done a fair amount of hanging out (in fact, Bret has met my parents, so I was glad to meet his!) We were so thankful for their hospitality, and their dog, Friday, was super fun to play with.

There’s this thing about showers: on a normal day, they’re just a part of your routine. On a bike trip, they become literally the best ten minutes of your day. I love biking, but the sweat of 60+ miles combined with sun lotion and road dirt just isn’t a clean situation. I feel like a whole new person every time I get it all off me (and let’s be real, I lose a couple pounds of grime, haha).

I’m late on getting this post up, but today’s route is light: 33 miles and then some fun at Harrisville State Park.

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Bike Tour – Day 1

Bike Tour – Day 1

Kevin and I rode 63 miles from Bay City to East Tawas today, but it felt like 163.

Nah, not really. But it’s hard getting back in the saddle (no pun, that’s actually what bike seats are called) for 50+ mile days without actually putting in 50+ mile days. So even though I’ve been going on 10-15 mile rides and taking spinning classes, I found myself unprepared for the rigor here. I know from past experience though that by day three it all feels natural, and by the time you’re on the last day you wish it were the first day of your next journey.

Here’s an embarrassing fact: last time Kevin and I were on a trip, we brought food and utensils but forgot our camp stove. So this whole riding and then making a meal thing is pretty new to us. But today we cooked up some brown rice at our campsite and paired it with a packet of heat-and-serve Indian food. Delicious! Another food difference is that neither of us are vegetarian this time. But for some reason, biking just induces carb and veggie cravings. So we both picked the meat off our sandwiches at lunch, and decided vegetarian was the way to go at dinner.

This time around we’re trying to cook as much as possible, partly to cut costs and partly to make up for not cooking at all last time, I guess :)

Happy trails, guys! Tomorrow we’re headed to Alpena, so stay tuned.

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Scandal, hold the “gate”

Scandal, hold the “gate”

I’ve long thought that slapping a “gate” on everything mildly scandalous demonstrates a lack of creativity. It long ago branched into the realm of ridiculousness, but it’s officially come full circle: I give you watergate.

No, not that one. The one that describes a series of scandals and crimes in the early 1970’s which eventually forced a sitting president to resign. Which is a big deal.

You know what’s not a big deal? Somebody pausing to take a drink of water.

The “gate” suffix has gone from describing the biggest political scandal in a century or so to describing the mundane.

But between the truly scandalous and the mundane, there’s been a smattering of ridiculous. I give you:

1) Bountygate

2) Tigergate

3) Skategate

4) Seatgate

5) Nipplegate

These are, for the most part, society page items. No presidents lied to the American people. The leader of the free world didn’t resign. The whole world didn’t suddenly learn there was a Vice President (hat tip, Spiro Agnew, for making that office worth more than the proverbial “bucket of warm piss“).

I’m not the first one to notice this. But I’m a young reporter interested in the future of my profession, and we need to start getting more creative. C’mon, newsroom up-and-comings, let’s tell the world there’s a new suffix in town. If there’s a “gate,” let’s make sure it at least involves a hint of political scandal.