Sunday, September 27, 2009

Linking the present to the past

The shirt was part of my regular go-to clothes routine.
When you're a kid, two pairs of jeans and two or three shirts make up your weekly school wardrobe before your favorites get washed and thrown back into the rotation.
For me, a blue Michigan football "number shirt" as I called it then was one of my favorites.
It was blue with the word "Michigan" printed across the front and with a Number 1 prominently displayed on the front the back and on the sleeves.
In the world of recess and backyard Nerf football, Anthony Carter was the ultimate hero.
As young boys, we'd watch the Michigan receiver line up on Saturdays, making one spectacular catch after another.
We didn't consider he was only 19 or 20 at the time, but Carter was the player that all of us wanted to be when we grew up.
When we'd pick teams, we would also pick players. My group of friends was split right down the middle - half claiming Michigan as their favorites and the other half leaning toward Michigan State.
Depending on your position, you always had your favorite player. Mine was Anthony Carter.
After all, I was the only one at the time who had the No. 1 jersey.
We'd play football for hours, staining the knees of our jeans in the grass and running up remarkable scores like 52-48 before we'd call it quits.
On Monday mornings at school, we'd talk about the games our college heroes had played two days before, often starting sentences with the words, "Did you see....."
Now, all these years later, I have grown accustomed to talking to people associated with college sports. It's just what I do.
I haven't been star struck by interviews since my early days as a sports reporter, seeing my interview subjects as just everyday people who just happen to play sports.
But on Saturday, a little piece of my childhood came back to me as I stood on the sidelines at Michigan Stadium. Thirty years ago, Anthony Carter and Michigan quarterback John Wangler connected on a 45-yard touchdown pass to beat Indiana as time ran out.
I was 10 at the time.
But as I stood in the back of the end zone talking to Carter after he, Wangler and former Michigan running back Butch Woolfolk were recognized as honorary captains, I couldn't help but to think back to those backyard football games.
Carter, who is now almost 50, spoke of his days of playing for Michigan like they had just finished, never mentioning his days in the USFL with the Michigan Panthers or his brief stint in the NFL.
He spoke while 108,000 fans surrounded him, reliving the past glories of playing for the Wolverines while watching a team that is undefeated this season.
During a brief in-game ceremony, Carter was called "College Football's Original No. 1".
I knew what they were talking about because after all, I once had the shirt to prove it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Left turns, ear plugs and people watching

There's nothing quite like life around a race track.
It's hot. It's noisy. And most of all, it's loud. Painfully loud.
But on race day, it's passionately energetic.
Fans wearing baseball caps with numbers embroidered on them snake through large crowds, hoping to get a closer look at NASCAR's main event.
For those willing to pay, pit passes allow fanatics to maneuver through the garage area – a virtual backstage pass to the sport's biggest names. Fans carry digital cameras, snapping photos of cars and their drivers, hoping to get a glance at their favorite NASCAR characters.
Jeff Gordon. Jimmie Johnson. Dale, Jr.
In racing circles, drivers are known either by their first name or their numbers. In NASCAR parlance, drivers are identified by the number painted on the side of their cars.
"The 24 car just got loose on Turn 4," race announcers report.
And without any sort of master roster, fans know where to look and who's in trouble.
On steamy summer days, fans pack into seating that overlooks the main stage. They whoop and holler, cheering on their favorites.
At track level, the most passionate of fans walk around with earbuds blaring radio traffic into their ears, keeping track of communications between driver and their crew chief.
The reporters who cover NASCAR range in knowledge from veteran know-it-alls who have worked in each of the circuit's media rooms to newbies just trying to figure the sport out.
But spend time walking around the pits and around the garage area and one thing becomes abundantly clear: People who love NASCAR are among the most passionate sports fans that exist.
On some level, they connect with their heroes – whether it be by wearing the same number they do, drink the same beer they do or drive the same make of car they do. They are self-admitted rednecks, unashamed of their love for auto racing.
And there's nothing wrong with a little passion for something that gets your engine revved up.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A different perspective

One of the greatest aspects of my journalism career is the people I meet.
At times in the past while rushing to chase after the biggest paper and the best beat, I neglected to truly tell stories of the people I met, satisfied to take them at first blush.
Sam Meija is different.
I met Sam this week in the offices of a Washtenaw County social services agency that serves the area's homeless population.
I had read briefly about his story on and in the Detroit Free Press, chronicling a journey that started in North Carolina and that continues at the University of Michigan. In between, Sam - who is 35 – endured being homeless, often spending nights in the woods behind the University of Michigan hospital.
In the woods, Sam felt safe, creating a barrier between himself and the cruel stares of those who judge people like him.
Until you get to know him, Sam is quiet and unassuming. But as his personality begins to blossom in front of you, you come to meet a man determined not to be defined by the hand life has dealt him.
At one stage of his homeless existence, Sam decided that for some reason, he had been cast into this life. But after examining what is inside of him, he found that life's circumstances wouldn't keep him from reaching his full potential.
He started by completing his GED. He enrolled at a local community college and then transferred to Michigan. He is now studying mechanical engineering – a year after Sara Silvennoinen discovered him in an Ann Arbor homeless shelter.
Like Sara, I am amazed at the turnabout Sam has brought in his life. Undeterred by his hardships, Sam is determined to make a life for himself – all the while overcoming the odds that have been stacked against him for much of his life.
So Sam, thanks for the life lesson and thanks for teaching me the valuable lesson that people are often so much more than they first appear.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The new adventure begins

Today, I turn 40.
So far, I have gotten one humorous birthday card reminding me of how things were when I was younger. I have gotten my share of Facebook greetings referring to me as Old Man. My favorite came from a college roommate who simply wrote, "Good Lord, you're old."
It's all good.
I am sure I pestered friends older than I when they turned the dreaded 4-0. Turnabout is fair play.
For the past year now, I wondered what my big great adventure would be. One of my college friends climbed Mt. Everest when he turned 40. This summer, he was planning to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and invited me along.
I'm not sure he ever made it. Obviously, I did not. But the thought of traveling to Africa to climb a mountain was romantic to think about, leaving me to live vicariousy through my friend Nathan, who traved to Africa to make his own great climb only to discover a much bigger adventure.
In one of our discussions, Nathan told me not to worry, I would get to Africa one day.
My Africa, it turns out - at least for now - is finding that my adventure isn't so much a destination, but the greater story discovered on the way.
In the past few weeks, I have watched my newspaper close, I have begun a new venture at and have considered doing some freelance public relations work for friends. I have also been asked to consider working part-time at our church, helping new members become engaged in our congregation by using their gifts to serve the greater good.
My new adventure includes a change in priorities. After years of defining myself by my journalism career, I have learned that work – while still a passion – can no longer be my identity. There are greater sources of happiness and a greater purpose.
I will no longer choose to find complete satisfaction in marquee assignments or high-profile bylines. There is more inside of me that is begging to be used to serve a higher purpose.
The journey to the top of my mountain won't be a short one. Nor will it be completed overnight. But my recent first step into my 40s has reminded me that it's OK to stop and take a glimpse of what's around me rather than focusing solely on the final destination.
Next stop, Africa.
And yes, Nathan, one day I will get there.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Not a bad day at the office

Part of getting used to the new gig is learning to live without deadlines.
As a 24-hour news cycle, Ann thrives on having new stories each time readers log on. So when my editor sent me up to the Buick Open Pro-Am today to see Ann Arbor native Bob Seger play golf with Tiger Woods, I figured it would be an interesting day.
After finding Woods' group on the 8th hole, I started following them inside the ropes thanks to the media passes the PGA Tour offers reporters.
Inside the ropes gives reporters access to more of the small talk and informal moments of a round of golf. While much of a country club's decor stands up during a pro-am, players tend to be a bit more relaxed.
Seger - who was inducted into the Rock &Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, spent much of the day grinding around the course. Before teeing off, he'd often toke on one of the eight cigarettes he smoked during the first 12 holes.
He played to the large gallery following the group, taking time to sign autographs and joke with fans as he played with the world's No. 1 golfer.
Three holes after I, along with an Associated Press intern started following Woods' group, Tiger used a small waiting period to come chat.
It was nothing special - just small talk with a surprisingly laid-back golfer who has the reputation of sending F-bombs to photographers who interrupt his golf swing with their clicking cameras.
We talked about how Seger was playing and he offered up a hilarious Pro-Am story that is best saved for talk over beers.
Woods' group ended up shooting 11-under par. I huddled into a cramped interview space to record Tiger's thoughts of coming back for what may be the final Buick Open. He spoke of a lot of joke-telling and story-telling during his Pro-Am round and talked of how being a father has changed his perspective on his line of work.
From there, it was on to Seger's press conference, which included a lot more laughs and his thoughts of getting his 64-year-old body to last 18 holes of golf.
On the days when this business offers a less than desirable assignment or an unhappy reader that calls to offer up his option of my latest work, I will think back on this day.
There's an old analogy which claims that your worst day on the golf course is better than your best day at work.
Today, I combined the two and enjoyed every minute of it.
Our little 5-minute chat with Tiger was just the icing on the cake.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Starting off

Talk about equal opportunity.
On my first day at, I walked into a room that looked nothing like a newsroom (by design) and found my seat in a sports department that looked nothing like a sports department.
I had all of two hours of training on the software we would write in and enough Apple store training classes to know what I was doing with a flip camera and an editing program.
I had 17 years of reporting experience to fall back on, but I quickly discovered something unique.
On my first day, pretty much everyone else knew just as much as I did.
For better or for worse, we were all equals. In it together. Come what may.
Sink or swim.
My first week's worth of assignments have been pretty basic. An interview with a college football coach. Covering a local golf tournament. Interviewing Michigan basketball players. Writing stories.
Our site launched four days ago. We made it through step one.
For better for worse. Come what may. Sink or swim.
We were all in it together.
But blocks away, my friends and colleagues I had left behind were living through Black Thursday. The day we all had dreaded for months was upon our community - both inside and outside of the paper's walls.
I couldn't bare to drive into work that day. I wrote from home, finishing up a story and a freelance project. Photos and Facebook updates alerted me to what was happening and who had drank how much.
There were parties and after-parties - a wake for a newspaper that had just been confirmed dead. I thought of my friends, but left the day to them, unsure what I would say if I saw them.
There were T-shirts that read, "No News is Bad News." So true.
Now, four days after the final edition ran off the presses, our new journalism venture continues to find its way.
There are people who like us and those who curse us. Those willing to try us and those who will go their separate ways.
But we're all in it together. For better or for worse. Come what may. Sink or swim.

Catching up

Three weeks ago, I faced an uncertain future.
Now, it has begun to take shape.
If even for a short time.
For months now, I allowed the talk of - the new media company replacing The Ann Arbor News - to go on without me. I was determined that I wouldn't be part of an outfit that drove myself and so many of my friends out of work.
But as time passed and no definite employment opportunities in front of me, I gave in to the talk. I began to pay attention to what was going on with the company. I heard a sales pitch of why I should join the team. I created a mental pros and cons list. I wrestled with the idea of becoming a digital journalist.
A digital journalist? I am a journalist, period.
But as I went back and forth whether I would become part of the new venture, I came to a conclusion.
I still want to impact the world with my work. Even if it's working as a sports digital journalist. There are stories left I can tell. The site would offer me new ways to tell them. I could shoot and edit video. I would learn to blog. I would Tweet on Twitter.
So two weeks before the paper was to close, I accepted a job with the as it has become known among my Ann Arbor journalism friends.
I cleaned out my desk at the paper and moved my belongings to our new work space a few blocks away. I said my goodbyes at one office and my hellos at another.
I am thinking this is only the beginning of my great new adventure.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Crunch time

In three weeks, The Ann Arbor News will cease to exist.
For many of us, I'm not sure the finality of the event has completely sunk in. But in the last week, the seriousness of the situation has hit me.
As of right now, I have no full-time work lined up after July 23. Both of the employment options I thought were in place have fallen through. I have spent the past five days reaching out to everyone I can, inquiring about possible openings in their media organizations.
So far, nothing.
There are good days and bad. On the days when I find stories to work on, I am energized by the profession I still love. On days when there is little work, my mind starts to creep into the realm of the uncertain.
The questions are everyone.
What are you going to do?
Are you going back to school?
Will you keep writing?
Those around me are optimistic.
"Oh, you will be fine," they tell me.
"You're too good not to be working as a journalist."
"I'm sure you will land on your feet."
So far, nothing has presented itself to let me know that is true.
My faith is being stretched like silly putty. I know this is where God wants me. My career is not my own. Things happen in His time, not mine.
I must be patient. But that - especially when it comes to my career and contributing to covering our bills - is tough. I waver from self-confident to doubtful. My emotions run from hopeful to angry.
I tell myself not to worry. I try to let go. But then all at once, everything comes rushing back.
Three weeks. Twenty-one days. Crunch time.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Making it official

With six weeks left before the closing of the paper, I signed documents today, officially accepting a severance from The Ann Arbor News.
The exercise was painless, lasting all of five minutes.
I signed my name twice and wrote in a date of the latest I will be paid. I slid the papers across to a notary who stamped them and put my forms in a pile with the others.
I returned to my desk and went back to the story I had begun working on a few hours earlier.
And just like that, the last step of my departure - other than cleaning out my desk - was complete.
Every day, the closing of the paper gets a little more real. People ask me what I am going to do and what's going to replace the newspaper.
I answer the questions politely, knowing it's not their fault that the paper that has served Ann Arbor for the past 174 years is closing.
In the next six weeks, I will stay busy. I have to. It's my way of putting off the reality of not knowing what lays ahead.
I have a couple of stories I am really excited about. I know they will demand my time and full attention – two things I am happy to surrender while I wait to learn of where I will be next.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What are you fighting for?

I understand the question. I really do.
Those who have heard about the Ann Arbor News closing have asked me if I am going to do something new.
It's a fair question. One of I have considered hundreds of times.
At times, it seems logical that I would move on to a new career, leaving behind 17 years of wonderful memories of stories I've written, places I have visited.
I think back to my first job. A courts and cops reporting job that threw me into the world of reporting head-first.
I remember sitting in a small courtroom in a historic courthouse, sitting through a week-long rape trial. 
Every I story I wrote was re-written by an editor who knew the area better and had the luxury of knowing the history of the case.
As frustrated as I was having my work torn apart, it pushed me to get to the point where editors changed words or punctuation marks. Not sentences or complete paragraphs.
Seventeen years later, I am still learning. Still yearning to write stories that people remember. To tell stories in ways people will talk about the next day at work. 
I read other people's work and see what is possible when words and reporting come together the right way.
So am I ready to give up the fight? Not in the least.
Not when I am getting closer to the goal I have always held for myself.

Signing on the dotted line

I knew this day was coming.
The email arrived almost two weeks ago, alerting Ann Arbor News employees that, within the next day or two, a letter containing the details of our severance package would be coming in the mail.
Two days later, two envelopes – one containing a letter from publisher Laurel Champion, the other holding the terms of my severance – came in the Saturday mail.
There, in contract form, where the specifics of my departure from the newspaper where I have spent nearly the past five years of my career.
In previous weeks, I had done my best to focus on life after The Ann Arbor News. What would I do? Where would I work? Where would money come from?
But as I read through the contents of the two envelopes, one thing came to mind. 
This was a short-term fix. Short-term meaning a matter of weeks that I could expect to continue receiving money from the newspaper.
Within five weeks, the money would stop, the benefits would disappear and if, I hadn't found my next career stop, we would be on our own.
Earlier this week, I sat in an hour-long meeting. My co-workers and I sat in a large conference room having our severance packages explained to us by the publisher and head of human resources.
There were questions. Concerns. Frustrations.
Ah, to be right in the middle of limbo once again.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Just starting out

So maybe 12:30 a.m. isn't the best time to start a blog.
But for nearly two months - ever since the publisher of my newspaper walked into a conference room on a Monday morning and announced that come July, our 174-year-old paper would cease to exist – this has been on my mind.
For much of my adult existence, newspaper has been my life.
Started on cops and courts. Moved onto general assignment. Jumped to sports. Moved to California. Stayed in sports, took a break from the business, jumped back into sports and reached what I thought was the place I wanted to be.
But after 1 1/2 years of working for a bureau of the L.A. Times, something happened that changed the way I looked at my career and where I was going.
More on that later.
So I moved again. This time to Tennessee, where I worked as in sports. Moved to Missouri to go to toughen up as an investigative reporter. Got married and moved back to Michigan, where my career had begun some 12 years before.
Nearly five years later, I am about to turn 40 with the industry I love in serious jeopardy. Most of my friends have bailed from what, on days, appears to be a sinking ship.
But I choose to stay on deck, listening to the band play, "Nearer My God to Thee."
What is ahead isn't quite clear.
So if you are up for the ride, climb on board and follow me into the next chapter of my life.
Who knows, riding out the story could prove to be the adventure of a lifetime.