Up next: Summer shenanigans

Its summertime! You know what that means? Shenanigans. All day. Every day!

Its summertime! You know what that means? Shenanigans. All day. Every day!

Summer is finally here! It’s been so great not having to deal with cold, crappy weather. Even the rain this spring hasn’t been so bad, or at least it hasn’t interfered with my plans too much. But on the occasion when I am cooped up, or in the evenings at home, I’ve been planning some projects for the summer. Usually, I try to stay away from previews on this blog – it’s part of managing expectations. I don’t like to make promises and then not deliver.

However, I’m super excited about this summer, and some of the adventures I’m about to introduce have already started, so I’m confident I’ll get through them this summer. Without further ado, I present to you my summer adventures!

Gettin’ my nerd on

I try to keep my nerd hidden, but sometimes it slips, usually when it comes to historical things. History was always my favorite subject in school; I’m fascinated by how it  overlaps with everyday life. I see history in layers. Where I am right now is one layer, but if you peel some back, you’ll find my apartment gone and just a wild, land filled with Indians, then Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone.

Right now, the layer I’m fascinated with is the Underground Railroad and Civil War. The Ohio River was a main thoroughfare for escaping slaves, and subsequently there are many Underground Railroad stations in the area. Of course, Kentucky’s strategic geographical location made it the location of several Civil War Battles, so there is much history to explore in Kentucky as well.

Over the coming months, I’ll be exploring as many of these locations I can find.  In the meantime, if you have a suggestion of somewhere to check out, please leave it in the comments. I have a huge list of places to visit, but I know I haven’t found everything.

Hiking, camping and general outdoorsy stuff

I’m still stubbornly working on increasing my endurance and lung capacity so I can hike over longer distances, so I’ll be sharing my misadventures along the trails in the Tri-state area. Along with these adventure posts, I’ll finally start updating more of the Gus Scale posts – my ranking for trails in the area. I’ve found that many of the descriptions of trails really aren’t accurate, or detailed enough. Something that is called “moderate” has me about to die after a quarter mile. \

That’s not moderate.

So I have a slightly different rating scale that’s handy for other cripples, like me, or people who just want to know how easy or difficult it is to navigate a certain area.

Vagabond Girls

Last year, before my body broke down, Lacey and I were working on starting a joint blog project to document our adventures. We met up at The Highland – a great coffeehouse in Clifton – bought a domain, set up a blog and started working. Then life intervened, and we realized it would just be better to keep the Vagabond Girls theme, but make it separate sections on our respective blogs.

She’s working on getting her blog revamped and relaunched – with some nagging from me – and I can’t wait to read her musings on the world. We have several smaller adventures in the works this summer, but we’re also working on some bigger ones a little further in the future, including a driving tour to Alaska and eventually to the tip of South America.

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The anatomy of a friendship

I like to commemorate moments in life. Maybe it’s because I am the oldest in my family and every second of the first three years of my life is committed to film by doting parents, grandparents and aunts.  There are albums full of pictures from the big moments – like my first birthday or my first day of school – and the everyday moments – just sitting in the floor playing. And that was before Papaw bought a camcorder – you remember those 40-pound behemoths that threatened to dislocate your shoulder and recorded to VHS tapes?

Maybe that’s why I have a weird habit of recording the most mundane of activities. When I’m with friends and family – whether it be one of countless family BBQs, a standard girls’ nights on Karli’s couch, or an epic adventure in a faraway land with Lacey, I like to take a second to sit back and savor the moments just spent with my people. But even with all my vigilant watching and moment absorbing, things still slip by unnoticed. That is, until years later when I look back and finally realize how a series of seemingly small – and extremely annoying – events quietly helped build a friendship.

The year was 2007 and I was a college sophomore travelling to Washington, D.C., for the first time. I was there for a student media convention. I think I was supposed to attend more of the conference and see less of the city, but I still learned much and more. I had never been in any city except Cincinnati. There is no comparison. I was in awe of the Metro – how awesome is it to take the seemingly endless escalator underground at Dupont Circle, board a train and re-emerge across town just minutes later?! I paid for cabs (like a rookie) and frustrated the drivers by always forgetting to specify “Northwest” after “Connecticut Avenue.” And I absolutely got into a cab with no cash and had to ask to stop at an ATM.

I walked the Mall for the first time – comically mistaking the “National Mall” for a shopping mall when invited to join a group. Imagine my surprise when we exited the Metro station in the middle of a field with the Washington Monument looming over us. I saw the monuments for the first time late on a rainy night with mist rising from the earth. That is still my favorite way to see them. Of course, that rain persisted throughout the entire weekend we were there. But did I let that stop me when my quiet, photographer roommate asked me if I wanted to leave at 6 a.m. to go with her to work on a photo contest assignment? Absolutely not!

Back in those days I had been on staff at the student newspaper for only a few months. I only really knew two people and the photo editor wasn’t one of them. She was the girl in the other room – the fun, less stressful room farther away from the editor-in-chief. I knew the photo editor’s name was Lacey and she almost always wore Chucks and a Canon. I was the Newb and she was the only member of the creative staff there – and college newspaper workers can be incredibly cliquish – so we got roomed together. This meant that we were largely overlooked by the rest of the group, which was pretty all right by us. We’re both totally fine left to our own devices.

Knowing her now – and knowing myself – it shocks me that either of us was up and anywhere before noon, let alone at 6 a.m.  I still remember her saying I remind her of her mom because I got up super early to make sure I had time to blow dry my hair and put on makeup. Yes, just to go out in the rain. I used to care more about what I look like.

So with Lacey in a red hoodie and me in my favorite grey “Baseball Hall of Fame” hoodie, my kangaroo pocket stuffed full in lieu of carrying a bag, we hopped a cab and set off to enjoy the day. Not even when I stepped out of the cab into an ankle-deep puddle and not even when my head and shoulders were soaked and my feet ached from walking and were shriveled up from the water in my shoes, did my spirits dampen. We spent a great day walking around the city, unbothered by anyone and quietly getting to know each other.

And then I realized my phone was missing. Remember the Cherry Chocolate from LG?  A cute, little, red, brick-like phone that slid up to reveal a keypad and was designed to be a great music player? I loved that phone. It had these touch-sensitive “buttons” on the front that were just ultra-cool to me. When I realized it was gone, I just figured it was wrapped up in the blankets on the bed back at the hotel. Nothing to worry about.

Lacey completed her assignment; we stopped at McDonald’s – McDonald’s! in a great foodie city we got McDonald’s? – and got back to the hotel. As we were peeling of layers of rain-soaked clothes, the phone rings.

It’s my mom.

Now, I didn’t tell my mom what hotel we were staying in. So obviously she didn’t have my room number. So imagine my surprise when I hear a strong voice, tight with worry, “Cassie? Where have you been?”

“Uhhh…the Monuments? I left my phone at the hotel this morning.”

Tension still there: “No, you dropped it on the road and the police found it. They called me.”

“Huh?”

So while I was traipsing about DC, my parents were hoping and praying I hadn’t been abducted and sold into human trafficking. Mom, in the way that only mothers do, turned into some kind of crazy investigative reporter and found information on my desk that I didn’t even know was there, located the hotel and notified the police officer who found my phone in the same water puddle that I stepped into while exiting the cab outside the Washington Monument.

So the one connection Lacey and I had to the rest of our group was cut. We were on our own. Did we care? Nope. We went to a few more sessions at the conference and spent the rest of the time exploring the city and watching “Law and Order” reruns while trying to finish class assignments. She showed me how to navigate the Metro, helped me buy my first train pass and introduced me to Thai food.

Without realizing it, we had forged a friendship. When I think about it, that first trip to DC was a foreshadowing of things to come. We live to travel.  We’ve taken several trips together since then, and every time something crazy happens. In DC, I lost the only cell phone we had between us and we were left to our own devices for a weekend. In Montana, we got stranded on the side of the highway, hopeless but for the kindness of strangers.  We’ve set up camp on a flood plain, with the campground’s owner recounting how the spot we were pitching our tent was submerged just weeks before – but we left before the thunderstorms rolled in so we didn’t wake up floating in our tent down the Red River in Kentucky. Then we decided to trek downhill for an unknown number of miles at the Natural Bridge in Kentucky, thinking that we could get back down to our car that way. Then we ended up having to climb back up in a 110-degree heat index without any water and almost keeled over from heat exhaustion. And our friendship today has the same easy grace that it had when it began – even during my awful year when I didn’t know who my real friends were.

So after seven years of little adventures, the next logical step is to take one gigantic, huge, ginormous adventure, right? We’re both wrapping up our 20s and we’ve done our time in college, racked up the obligatory, financially-devastating student loan debt and been productive, cubicle-inhabiting members of society. I think I’m safe in admitting that neither of us is very satisfied with this arrangement. So, what are we going to do about it?

I’m glad you asked.

My number one bucket list goal has always been to visit all 50 states. Number two is to circle the world, starting with Europe for my thirtieth birthday, if I hadn’t made it before. Today, I’m 365 days away from that deadline and I’m itching to go.  And guess who has the same milestone birthday next year? That’s right: Lacey! Next year, we are planning a three-week trip to Europe, but we’re buying open-ended tickets. I think I’m safe in speaking for both of us when I say that we’re tired of living our lives at the mercy of someone or something else and we want to enjoy this life before we’re too old and decrepit to leave our wheelchairs. So my birthday present to myself is going to be freedom. My student loans will still be there waiting for me when I come back down.

Lacey and I have had separate blogs with differing purposes for the last several years. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be launching a joint travel blog. I haven’t been this excited about a project since I started my own little newsletter when I was a kid. (Yes, I’ve been an unabashed nerd my entire life.) We plan to start working together to chronicle our journeys, building up to the Grand European Adventure. Once we get on that plane next year, I’m going wherever the wind takes me, student loans be damned! I hope you will follow along with us on our adventures.

Reporter receives award for video confession

Well, even though I’m the worst blogger in the short history of bloggers I thought I’d try to get in here and post something.‬

After writing a story about the Naples Daily News staff’s coverage of the investigation into the violent murder of a mother and her five children, I’ve been following the case of Mesac Damas, husband and father of the victims and the man charged with their deaths.‬‪

In 2009, Stephen Beardsley, with camera rolling, simply asked Damas if he killed his wife and children. Surprisingly, Damas answered, “Yes, I did.” The confession was recorded as Damas was being extradited from Haiti, where he had fled after allegedly committing the crimes. Beardsley had followed the story to the island with fellow Daily News staffer, photographer  Lexey Swall.‬‪

Beardsley won a first place award for breaking news video in the 2010 Florida Society of News Editors journalism competition. The Naples staff won first place for online breaking news for its coverage of the Damas tragedy. Swall also won first place for a non-deadline video for an unrelated story.‬‪

You can read the background of how Beardsley obtained the confession from Damas here: http://escrippsnews.scrippsnet.com/articles/399-suspected-murderer-makes-confession-to-naples-pair (Apologies, my embedded links aren’t working today.) The Naples Daily News continues coverage of Damas’s case at naplesnews.com/damas.

Better late than never ….

If I was a reporter covering breaking news and the Northern Kentucky Forum was my assignment, my editor would have fired me last Thursday. Between work and midterms and class assignments, my blog got neglected. But I’m back now.

I went to the Northern Kentucky Forum at NKU last Thursday evening, “News in the Information Age: What happens to democracy if the presses stop?” According to displaced journalist Dr. Sam Schulhofer-Wohl, now of Princeton University, several things happen: overall voter turnout decreases, incumbents are re-elected easier, fewer candidates run and candidates spend less on their campaigns.

However, his research wasn’t well received by the audience. One problem was with the narrow scope of the study.

Schulhofer-Wohl said he used information from the 2004 and 2006 elections as a baseline to compare with 2008 election data. Based on this information, Schulhofer-Wohl said there was less voter turnout in the suburbs, but added that they were not able to study every community. He also only used one election to study the effect of going to a one-newspaper town. Critics of the study agreed that in about 10 years, with a few more elections post the Post, the study would gain more credibility.

After Schulhofer-Wohl finished his opening comments, Rich Boehne, the CEO of The E. W. Scripps Company, Schulhofer-Wohl’s former employer, was immediately called out to defend his company’s decision to close the Post at the end of 2007.

After calling himself chum, the bait thrown out behind ships to attract the sharks, Boehne agreed with the 44 percent of the audience who said they are less informed after the Post’s closing, but added that “more than one thing can be true at the same time.”

As the second truth, Boehne cited the malady today’s newspapers face: running a financially successful newspaper while supporting enterprise reporting with decreased income.

“Since WW2, classified ads have fueled newspapers,” Boehne said. “The Internet killed that.”

Referring to how difficult it is to harness the power of the Internet, Dennis Hetzel, NKY.com manager for Enquirer Media, said, “The web it like trying to wrestle a rhino that is running like a cheetah.”

Despite the obviously negative financial affect the Internet has had on newspapers, none of the panelists seemed ready to condemn it.

Jacque Steinberg, a New York Times media reporter turned education blogger, said its “exciting to be in a job that didn’t exist 20 years ago.” He added that readers are better served with the niche reporting that new media, such as blogs, provide.

Hetzel cited the interaction that the Internet brings to readers. When Hetzel tried blogging on for size, he said a short, three-paragraph blog entry sparked more reader interaction than any 25-inch editorial he had written.

The final audience poll of the evening asked the participants what was their preferred source of local news. Nearly half the audience answered with newspapers and their Web sites, 25 percent said they use television news stations and their Web sites and 16 percent said they use online news sites. Only one percent said they use bloggers to get their news. However, the poll was not clear if the category included news organization-employed bloggers or just unaffiliated writers.

With that quirk about the poll addressed, the panelists agreed that the poll showed that readers were moving toward getting their information from multiple Web sources.

Hetzel stressed the need for newspapers to “unshackle from one platform” and use multiple methods to tell a story.

Steinberg said he still likes to think that the news is based on good, shoe-leather reporting. Despite how someone decides to tell the story, Steinberg said the media “will still rise or fall based on content.”

To view Schulhofer-Wohl’s study in its entirety, click here.

Intimidation

You know the scrawny kid in “Little Giants” who uses an alka seltzer tablet to foam at the mouth? That’s what I think of when I think of the word “intimidation.” And intimidating is exactly what blogging does to me.

I’m not sure why blogging is so difficult for me. Usually I can churn out words easily, whether it be a quick news story or an essay for an international politics class. I think it might have something to do with writing about me and what I think rather than something that’s happening and what other people think about it.

So, without actually doing anything rememberable (yes, I know that’s not a word) in this my first blog entry, I’ll leave you with a little video from youtube. And maybe next time I’ll go off some more on how much plagiarism annoys me, I’ll rejoice that a student newspaper won an open records lawsuit against their college, or I’ll get into the extent of Twitter’s ridiculousity. (In answer to the question at the end of the story, I choose the latter option.)