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Cloak of immunity

The Penn State scandal is unspeakably horrifying. The initial accusations against Jerry Sandusky were bad enough to oust not only the college president but also the legendary coach of the Nittany Lions, Joe Paterno. And we’re now hearing suggestions that we’ve only heard the tip of the iceberg of this story.

There’s multiple aspects to this story. One that I’ve been very interested in piecing together, especially from the perspective of a journalism student, are the reactions that people have had to this scandal, especially in Pennsylvania, my home state. They’re not the reactions one would initially expect.

I know this area; I grew up halfway between Pittsburgh and Johnstown, two of the most intensely dedicated football towns anywhere in the country. (There’s a reason All The Right Moves was filmed in Johnstown.)

In Western Pennsylvania, football is a religion. And if football is a religion, Joe Paterno was God. Or, at minimum, St. Peter.

Which leads me to the thing I find very, very curious: the cloak of innocence, the automatic benefit of the doubt, that’s granted to players and coaches when they get into legal trouble.

I wrote about this very topic a year ago in this blog. At that time, it was Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under the microscope for allegedly raping a girl in a bar. Michael Vick and OJ Simpson are two other notable cases where the reactions to the alleged crime, or perceptions about the accused, was tempered in some eyes by their athletic achievements.

The equation seems to be as follows: “[Insert suspect’s name here] is a great [coach/player/quarterback] so ergo, they must be innocent of [insert criminal act/inappropriate event here].” I don’t understand how that becomes the first response to an accusations, especially ones as heinous and horrifying as these ones.

I don’t condone the idiotic riots that happened after Paterno’s firing, but in some ways, I understand the kindling that made them catch fire. Football is a religion, after all. And PSU supporters were just told there is no God.

The conflicting tsunami of emotions that students and members of the community have felt aren’t in any way tidy, or structured. And I suppose it’s human nature that people can be both horrified and angry at someone and still respect or admire or love them; these are undoubtedly feelings that many are processing about Paterno.

The whole mess is beyond hideous, and I’m angry at the at the school, at Coach Paterno and at the rioters. More than anything or anyone, I’m furious at Sandusky and at a loss to understand why justice against him has taken so long.

But I still find it curious how, as with religion, some people have unshakeable faith in the people they follow. No matter how much evidence comes to light, no matter how bad or unflattering the facts are, it happens. I’m seeing it everywhere now: poor Joe Paterno. How can his career end this way? (Huh? How about the victims?)

Faith and facts have been struggling for thousands of years; I don’t suppose reconciling the two will be any simpler now.

Blogging for access: awareness is the first step

My friend and fellow writer Lana Nieves invited me to participate in the Blogging for Access day. Lana is part of the Independent Living Resource Center in San Francisco, an organization that works to advocate for people with disabilities. 

Today’s focus is on access for disabled people…..and my admission that, like many people, it’s a concept I hadn’t thought much about. 

Admit it – when you enter or leave a building, do you take a close look at the entry or exit doors? The door handles? Have you taken a good, long look at your office? The restrooms in the building? The pathway to your car or bike? What about the mass transit bus that stops right outside your door? The seats at the ball field?

Of course not. We take the infrastructure we live in, the conveniences we use, for granted. They are made for us, after all.

Most of us.

For people who are differently abled, who are living with a disability, there’s no taking those items for granted. Pathways must be planned. Complications must be considered.

I don’t think I’m a heartless guy, but I admit: I really hadn’t thought about this fact much before. I have long been aware of the American with Disabilities Act, and understand why it’s important. And certainly, there have been many improvements in providing access for people with disabilities. More accessible sidewalks, offices, and restrooms. More accessible, interactive public transit.

I remembered being a student at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, a school that has one of the leading programs in the country for students with disabilities. Edinboro had a great approach even those many years ago when I was an undergrad. There was no separate program for disabled students (as some institutions had) and students lived in the mainstream world. I had several friends and classmates who were wheelchair users. They lived in the same dorms (albeit on specially designated floors designed for their needs). We ate the same lunch, attended the same parties and suffered through the same hangovers!

In the years since, however, I have to admit I just hadn’t thought much about access.

But it’s been on my mind in recent months. Someone in my family had a stroke in the last few years, and it was an eye opening experience to hear about his access issues. Having ADA access in public buildings is one thing, but how do you mandate ADA access for homes? It’s a challenge where you have no wheelchair ramp to get inside, and a difficult to access bathroom. Talk about taking things for granted!

I recently spent several weeks traveling, and on several occasions stayed in an ADA designated room. Sometimes the differences were noticeable. I heard the hotel guests next door complaining about their ADA room, and how the light switches were all out of reach, how oddly shaped the shower was, and how low the dressers were.

I thought: You’re lucky. You can go home and have regular access, and never have to think about this again. 

I respect the ILRC and the work they’re doing. We need to advocate for access for our disabled brothers and sisters, and continue to improve awareness, access and design. ADA compliance shouldn’t be a special fact needing an asterisk. It should be second nature.

Why libraries matter

I admit it: I am not objective when it comes to libraries. In my opinion, libraries are awesome. They’re great resources of information and very democratic resources (anyone can access them).

They have provided hours of entertainment (and sometimes, refuge) for me. And I love books and information – learning, reading and growing.

So I found it very sad recently when I heard that the main library in Gary, Indiana is closing. It’s sad on multiple levels.

After all, Gary is an area that’s struggling in a way that’s unparalleled in this country (outside of perhaps Detroit). They’ve lost over 50% of their residents and a huge chunk of available work. For them to lose their main library? Is knocking a man when he’s down.

I can understand why they have to – the money simply isn’t there, and Indiana’s current state government is yanking nearly all remaining funding. And you have to see Gary to understand the level of decay – in some sections of town, it looks positively post-apocalyptic.

But I want to tell you why having a library matters. It’s a part of a community’s identity. It’s a source of pride.

That’s not just empty lecturing. I can tell you, in a very genuine way, that libraries can make a difference. I can say that about the Gary Public Library. It was where I found some incredibly helpful information.

I’ve been doing my family tree research for about a year now. And I’d been researching my grandparents’ lives and tracing their family – their parents (my great grandparents) and their siblings. Between my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather, there were 25 siblings, so it’s been a big project!

I’d figured out where most of my gram’s siblings had ended up, and even connected with some of their descendants – my mom’s cousins and their children, from my generation.

But one great-aunt remained mysterious. I knew little about her. My grandmother and mom are both gone, so I couldn’t ask them, and my aunt was helpful, but I still had some gaps in information. None of her information was coming up online.

Online records indicated she was living in California, and I happened to be in California this past winter, so I checked in the local library for her obituary. No luck.

What we did determine, from the obituaries of my great-grandmother and great-grandfather, was that at the time of their deaths, she’d been living in Gary.

So it was decided that on our next trip to Michigan City, we’d stop in Gary. And one rainy, bleary day this past winter, we did.

The library was dark and clearly had seen better days. The staff was incredibly helpful – they’d verified ahead of time that they held the newspaper from 1981 that I’d wanted to check. We went to the Indiana Room – a bit chaotic and disorganized, but filled with information. The appropriate microfilm cartridge was located.

I only had the month, not the day. So I searched an entire month’s film. And there, on the very last day, was my great aunt. She’d gone by her middle name (I’d been looking for Myrtle, but she’d been known as Ann) but it was definitely her.

It may not seem like a big deal, but it was to me. I’d found a huge branch of the family tree less than an hour from where I lived. I learned that great-aunt Ann had 10 children, including a multi-award winning high school football coach in Indiana. I was able to solve the mystery of a few photos in our family photo collection with no names or only nicknames written.

And best of all, I’ve connected with several members of my family and gotten to know them. And that’s a really nice feeling to bring that full circle. I think my mom, my grandma, and especially my great grandparents would be proud.

And of course, none of that would have been possible without the library – a library that is closing at years’ end.

For many of us, libraries have always been there. But in this evolving information age, we can’t assume they still will be.

Don’t take your local library for granted. Support them with your money* or your time. Let your local and state governments know how important they are.

You may not need a library every day. But invest in it and all of the information it holds. You never know when you’ll need it, or what door it will open.

*NOTE: I did donate money to the Gary Library for their help on my project. 

Does achievement have a gender?

Does achievement have a gender? That’s the question that kept nagging at me after I read an obituary of a well known and well respected journalist.

The obituary’s first line read: “Arguably, the best female reporter/writer in the history of Chicago journalism……”  And my first reaction was…..best female? Why the restriction? Why isn’t she just one of the best reporters?

The paper’s online ombudsman is on Twitter (it was his tweet that brought the obit to my attention) so I Tweeted a quick comment about my reaction. And his response was even more intriguing to me: “Give her the “female” as a badge of honor….one more hurdle to overcome in that era.”

I don’t disagree with him in principle. I know he and the author of the piece are great at their jobs and meant no disrespect. I just wondering if that’s an honor, or a limiting label – then, or now.

Do we still need to measure gender? Or for that matter, any other label? Do we only compare Asians to other Asians? How about LGBT people? Or differently abled people?

I don’t know how objective or important my opinion is on this one – I am a guy, after all, and have never had my gender limit the possibilities of what I could achieve in a job. In my career, I’ve worked almost exclusively for women, and with one Cruella de Vil-esque exception, they were all great managers and great leaders. The women I’ve worked for have had more consensus-based, flexible, results oriented management styles, and they were always more aware of a need for life/work balance.

If I think about it beyond that, however, I’d realize that all of those women reported to male managers or executives. The glass ceiling may be less obvious, but it seems to still be in place.

So….I’m thinking it IS still a matter of importance how we describe people – and how we describe their accomplishments.

Am I being too sensitive? I’m curious to know your thoughts. 

No answers here

The main job of any writer is to make sense of the world around them. In my work, I try to help my readers think about ideas and events in a different way. If I’m lucky, I can dig deep enough in a subject to provide context and really put things into perspective.

But even the most experienced writer can’t solve every puzzle, or resolve every question. And I have no rationale, no context to understand why, on a clear Sunday morning a month ago, my sister Shelle took her own life.

It’s usually so easy for me to write, but it’s been such a challenge to line up words in a sentence about her death. Suicide is such a final choice, and all of us who knew and loved my sister are still in shock.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours, awake and half asleep, talking with other family members, trying to replay the events in my mind and answer the unanswerable: why? I never thought I’d be saying goodbye to her so early. Or picking out music for her memorial service. Or reading a medical examiners’ report about someone who was so alive to me.

We can all try to get to WHY but the truth is, we’ll never know what led to that sequence of events. I know she was in significant physical pain; her liver had been damaged years ago and she’d been experiencing massive physical symptoms; she described the pain as someone “tightening a belt around my midsection and pulling.”

And when you lose your health, it devastates every single other aspect of your life – your relationships, your work, your family life. And so it was with my sister. The lightness we all need to have balance in our lives was blotted out for her. We offered our help and our love. Why did she make the choice she did?

I have regrets – did I do enough? Should I have known? My last text message exchange with her reads like a cry for help in retrospect, but at that moment, it was just like hundreds of other text messages she’d sent me.

I feel guilty. I wonder if I took the process for granted – that if she really, really needed help, she’d ask. We had a similar situation in our family where someone suffered from severe physical pain that drove them to a suicide attempt. But they got the help they needed – both mental and physical – and went on to a much better phase of their life.

I wanted that so much for Shelle, and I am deeply sad she couldn’t be here for it. My heart hurts for her husband and my nephews, her two sons, both of who are still school age boys.

I don’t know that I will ever understand why. And perhaps it’s not for me to know. It reminds me of the lyrics from “I Don’t Like Mondays”:  They can see no reasons / ‘Cause there are no reasons / What reason do you need to be shown?  No “reason” can ever really be an answer. A dear cousin told me something that made so much sense to me. She learned it from the teachings of Catholicism but I think it’s a universal thought: The moment that someone leaves life, or goes to their God, is an intensely private one, and a sacred moment.

I will never understand what prevented her from making another choice. But ultimately, I need to learn to let go, to forgive her (which I already have – as if I was ever mad), and to honor her memory. I love my sister so much, and I don’t want the way her life ended to define in any way the person she was before that.

I want people to remember how sweet and tenderhearted Shelle was, how shy she was as a child. How loyal she was to all of us. I want everyone to know what a great big sister she was, spending hours with me when I was a kid and carting me around with her once she was old enough to drive. She was 7 years older than me, and as soon as she had wheels, she had to take me to my weekly allergy shots, but she never complained once.

I want people to know what an amazing nurse she was, and how she was such a perfect combination of my parents – my dad’s perseverance and work ethic, and my mom’s heart and empathy for others. My other sister reminded me how funny and silly Shelle could be – like my mother, she never met a camera she couldn’t make a face at!  I want people to remember what a great friend my sister was, and how our house was filled with her friends.

We no longer have that family home, but when I close my eyes and think of my sister, it’s there I see her: in our game room watching TV, in her bedroom with the seizure-inducingly loud wallpaper, playing her Bay City Rollers (and later, Styx and REO Speedwagon) records with her friends, at our kitchen table with our Mom, in our backyard splashing around in our swimming pool.

And she’s home now, both there in my mind’s eye, and home with my mother, both of them resting high in the hills of Cambria County. I have to pray she is finally at peace, and pray that all of us who loved her can move forward in healing and reconciliation.

Blame the drugs

I may define myself as a writer and a journalist, but I consider myself an armchair advertising executive. No, not because of Mad Men, but because I find advertising and media really fascinating.

And one particular type of advertising is especially fascinating: the ads for prescription drugs.

It’s been 14 years since direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medication became legal in this country. It’s undoubtedly changed how patients become aware of medications, as well as how doctors prescribe them.

And also? It’s made for some very, very odd commercials.

At first, it was easy to make lighthearted fun of some of these commercials. The list of “side effects” was often longer than the list of benefits. And it was hard to focus on benefits when, say, “fecal urgency” is listed as a side effect.

I didn’t think much of them at first, but I have to say: I’ve become increasingly creeped out by the commercials I see on TV.

First: Have you noticed that many of the ads don’t actually feature identifiable people? That’s kinda, sorta, very creepy. There’s talking human silhouettes without faces. Cartoon characters galore. The walking water pipes in that commercial about urination. (It creeps me out so much I don’t know if it’s for people who can’t pee or people who pee too much.)

I mean, anti-depression is represented by….a bouncing orb? A cloud? Don’t think complicated thoughts, folks, just pick up the Happy Bubble!

But the newest commercials are the ones that really concern me. The worst has been a series of commercials for a drug called Niaspan, which is intended to reduce cholesterol and other plaque in arteries.

Why am I wiggy about this ad? Because it’s sounding a lot like the subject of the ad is shaming their loved one into taking it. As if someone with (a) basic common sense and (b) a prescription from their doctor wouldn’t be taking said drug, anyway, on the recommendation of their physician.

NOTE: When I started to compose this post, I hadn’t found the YouTube posting. Clearly, I’m not the only one creeped out by this ad.

We know the topic of medical care and reform is a very touchy subject in this country. But it makes me sad that these companies are marketing these drugs like they market Captain Crunch….or worse yet, trying to build on fear and shame to get someone to pay attention to their pitches.

Say what you want about Sally Field and her Boniva, but at least she’s a person with a face who actually takes the drug she’s talking about. Those commercials may seem cheeseball with their “one body and one life” tag line, but beyond that, the ad is actually doing its job: defining its purpose and the intended audience. Not much to ask for, is it?

Changing the channel, career edition

A week ago, I did something really, really crazy. 

I gave notice at my job.

And you know what? It was EXHILARATING. It’s also insane, and a little scary. OK, a LOT scary. But it was also exciting and empowering.

For anyone who knows me, or has read my blog for a while, you know that just a little over two years ago, I was in a tailspin because I’d just been laid off.

Then? Just landing a job was such a focus for me. I discovered that having someone take your job from you really shakes your professional identity (and your personal one too).

But getting to change the channel on your own and take a new pathway? Is a really amazing feeling.

The job I’m leaving is a fine job with a company that I’ll forever be grateful to for giving me an opportunity and for letting me get back on the horse, so to speak. I’ve met great people and learned a lot.

But I want to explore other things. And the focus of those things? Is education. This fall, I’ll be returning to school full-time.

It’s exciting, and scary. I still have to worry about the basics, my savings, health insurance. I can’t completely give up on making money, but will have to think of different ways to do it (hello, freelancing!)

And it’s been….well, let’s just say it’s been a while since I’ve been in college. (I think Clinton was in office when I was last in a true classroom!) It’s going to be a challenge and a whole new way of looking at things for me.

And I can’t wait.

Food carts in Chicago

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Chicago-specific post. I’ll spare you any discussion of the mayoral election or the performance of our sports teams, and talk about a controversy that’s been building for a while – street food carts in Chicago.

What’s the big deal? Well, a lot of people want food carts. Many entrepreneurs and restauranteurs would love to have a food cart.

But just as many people have concerns and objections. They worry about the safety of food prepared on carts, about the competition for space between dueling cart owners, about the mobile kitchens stealing business from existing brick and mortar restaurants.

Carts on Library Mall (near University of Wisconsin) in Madison

And those are all valid concerns, to be sure. Many true “food carts” in the city now are illegal and are cooking food on the premises, which isn’t permitted. That food isn’t regulated, and neither are the people running them. No one is checking whether food is being refrigerated or heated at the appropriate temperatures, which can result in serious health issues.

There are a limited number of regulated food carts in the city right now, but they are featuring food that was prepared in a regulated restaurant or shop and is being sold cold or at room temperature.

I’ve heard lots of pros and cons, but few people have mentioned my old hometown of Madison, Wisconsin when they talk about this issue. They should, because Madison has one of the best organized, best run, and plain yummiest selection of food carts. And somehow, no one has died and people have made money. Imagine!

What Madison does that works well:

Carts are assigned spots. The whole will-someone-poach-my-spot issue never comes into play. (Then again, this is a town that seems to always be in the midst of a dibs war, so who knows if other cart owners would respect someone’s spot?) They’re mainly in public areas near the state capitol and the university.

Carts are generally limited in the hours they sell food. Most of the carts were open during the day and during weekdays. And many of them were within 500 feet of existing restaurants. But they didn’t seem to poach each other’s business. In fact, the concentration of healthy, delicious food brings more people to that area. The only thing carts competed with in Madison – and affected – was fast food. Because who wants to go to stale ol’ Subway if a tasty taco cart or falafel wagon is nearby?

Hey, look: A cart for Illinois residents! (FIB = notorious acronym that Skonnies use to describe people from Illinois.)

There are 40 to 50 carts in the downtown Madison area, and they’re some of the most popular places to go.

But Madison is a quarter of a million people. Could it work in a city of three million plus?

Sure. There would need to be adjustments. Assigning spaces in public areas would be a start, but allowing some carts to be mobile and stop in several areas – as some of the current carts do (hello, cupcake wagon) should be allowed.

Madison is a town of mostly small business owners, and Chicago’s carts should be populated to talented local chefs and bakers making great food with sustainable materials. We shouldn’t have giant Lettuce Entertain You carts all over Chicago. (They can park that one at Navy Pier.)

There would have to be a real effort to regulate carts not just in the Loop but everywhere. And that would require a very multicultural approach to this project, since so many neighborhoods have their own cultural culinary strengths. Neighborhood organizations should be able to decide where carts can sell, so it doesn’t impact their homes, neighborhoods or businesses.

I think the weakest part of this idea is not the carts themselves, but the ability of the city government to inspect and regulate them. They barely sustain the restaurant inspections they’re required to do now, and they’ve shown a lack of respect in the past for new food communities and entrepreneurs (they’ve tossed out months of work in raw food establishments).

I really hope Chicago can pull it together, though. Food carts are a great experience, a great combination of old and new ideas.

The eccentric genealogist?

This tree is only going as far back as great grandparents? Sheesh. Amatuers!

I’ve been working on my family tree for close to a year now, and as you can tell by my previous entries (or my Facebook photo and news feed) I’ve really taken an interest in genealogy.

It’s a really fun, interesting project for me and I am glad for all it’s brought me: connections to some new-to-me family members, a better understanding of where we came from, and a peek into life as it was years ago.

But if you’re researching your family tree? Prepare to become a bit of an oddball….or at least be perceived as one.

This hit me as I was reading a newsletter for a genealogical society I belong to. One of the board members described a mentor who inspired her to do research: “All we knew was that my uncle was an oddball who took photos at cemeteries.”

I mean, it IS kinda weird if you think about it, if you’re looking from the outside in. (Now I understand those odd looks my family’s given me!)

Some things must look odd to non-genealogical types:

Obituaries. I don’t know how to say this any plainer: I collect obituaries.

Why? Well, obituaries are (outside of the Census) the easiest documentation to get regarding a relative or ancestor. With some research and a little knowledge about where to look, you can find obituaries dating back to the mid-1800s. (More official documents, like birth and death certificates, require more substantial proof from you that you’re related….which is often what you’re looking to prove with the document you’re ordering!)

They’re not always 100% accurate – it’s only as accurate as the source that provided the information – but it’s often a great place to start building a framework.

I am totally NOT doing this.

I’m certainly not celebrating anyone’s death, and I wish I would have met or been able to talk to these folks. But I’m really happy when I find this information.

I recently found an obituary on a great-aunt that I’d spent months trying to locate. That ONE obit literally brought down an entire brick wall to reveal the names of her children, and I learned about an entire family I didn’t even know existed before. Two libraries helped me find that obituary and other related articles to complete the picture.

NOTE: That’s one of a million reasons that all of us should support our local libraries – not just with dusty old books from your basement, but some cash dollars to help sustain them and all of the wonderful work they do for the WHOLE community!

Graveyards. Yeah, cemeteries are certainly not Party Central. Most people want to stay away from them (we’re all headed there someday) and only go when needed or obligated.

I’m a bit queasy about it myself. But I have to admit: Sites like FindAGrave.com have been really valuable in helping me bridge a gap when obituaries haven’t been available or easy to find. Knowing a date of death or where someone died is really helpful – to find out about them, as well as finding out more about their ancestors or descendants.

Also not doing this.

History geek. I admit it; I’ve become more of a history geek than I ever was before. I used to roll my eyes at those people who would do Civil War reenactments. But truth be told, I’m only a few degrees away from there!

I did well enough in my History classes at high school and in college. But I was always the 70s and 80s pop culture kid; out with the old and in with the new. So this is quite a 180 for me in my thinking. I’ve become interested not only in my own history and my family history, but also about how that fits into a bigger context (our state and our country).

I’ve posted before about the working conditions that my ancestors lived through. Enough men on both sides of my family died in the mills and mines to have started their own union. One man had his head crushed by the claws on a crane. That’s enough to put your stuck-in-traffic, bad Monday morning into some SERIOUS perspective.

So, yeah, OK. I get it. It’s all a bit odd. But only just a little bit. There are far stranger and more socially awkward things to do. You’ve seen Hoarders, right?

Kitty Kelley, journalism and our information feed

I’m about to say something I never thought I’d be saying aloud: I’ve come to respect Kitty Kelley, and I think she’s engaged in a valuable conversation about modern journalism.

WHAT?

Yeah, I know. She’s queen of the unauthorized biography. In the gilded halls of literature, “unauthorized” translates to “trashy beach read.” Her prose can be bulky and clumsy, and the narrative tone in her books often takes the tone of the “psssssssst!” style of gossip.

So how can I mention Kelley and journalism ethics in the same sentence? Because she’s made an excellent point in recent interviews and essays: Good journalism should, to some degree, be unauthorized. That’s how we get the real story.

Her recent essay for American Scholar mentions a case where CBS reporter Lara Logan (a veteran foreign correspondent) admitted on a CNN panel discussion that she avoided asking potentially controversial questions to the leaders of the American military in Iraq. Why? So she could sustain ongoing access and, she may have assumed, “candid” comments from the generals there.

The problem with that theory, of course, that another journalist (Michael Hastings from Rolling Stone) did ask those questions, and the end result of the release of that interview was the firing of General Stanley McChrystal.

Kelley may have said it best in her essay: I do not relish living in a world where information is authorized, sanitized, and homogenized. I read banned books, I applaud whistleblowers, and I reject any suppression by church or state. To me, the unauthorized biography, which requires a combination of scholarly research and investigative reporting, is best directed at those figures, still alive and able to defend themselves, who exercise power over our lives.

So where do we draw those lines when we’re reporting stories? You can’t find a better or more timely example of this than WikiLeaks. As a country that declares freedom of the press in our Constitution, we should be defending the utter freedom of information. But is WikiLeaks a brave stand for that sort of transparency, or an unethical unearthing of information that jeopardizes our safety?

No matter where you stand on the ethics or lack thereof regarding WikiLeaks, I think it’s incredibly curious that criminal charges (charges that are in some cases hard to definitively prove) has derailed Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ leader. It’s also curious to me that the next big revelation from WikiLeaks was supposed to be about a large financial institution. (The lines between our government and our corporations seem to get fuzzier all the time.)

I remember a few years ago reading an academic essay that called much of today’s journalism “Us vs. Them” journalism, particularly print journalism. Few reporters map out all the aspects of a story. Increasingly, as a way to engage the reader/audience, news stories are written as if they were feature stories. Reporters find the main point of interest to write about, and then in an attempt to offer “balance,” they find someone or something representing the polar opposite and include that in their story as a “counterpoint.”  It’s no wonder we seem to be so polarized in this country – our information feed certainly is!

The us vs. them mentality is everywhere, and it’s probably due to a number of factors: decreasing budgets for print, TV and radio news; a perceived shortening of our collective attention span; the need to tie every story into a bow and resolve it as if it was some sort of 1980s sitcom, with hugs and lessons at the end.

I’m not sure Kelley’s books have ever had the same impact as the WikiLeaks documents; knowing who Frank Sinatra slept with, or that Prince Philip has a short temper, is hardly equivalent. But while we can pass judgement on the importance of her work, I can’t deny that she’s exhaustively researched her subjects – and gets verification from sources.

The bigger lesson from Kelley is her willingness to look beyond the surface and dodge the spoon-fed stream of PR chatter to find the real story. It’s a reminder to me that when I’m trying to sketch out an outline of a story I’m writing, I also need to make that sketch (metaphorically speaking) in pencil, so that I can let the story tell itself and shape itself.