Tag Archives: Gazette

Jader Brought Us to Our Feet, The Gazette Made Us Say “What?”

Jader Perez during his speech Friday.

Jader Perez during his speech Friday.

Jader Perez brought a whole gym full of people to their feet in a spontaneous standing ovation Friday.

Jader is a maintenance worker at Mount Mercy University. He spoke on behalf of staff at the inauguration of President Laurie Hamen, who began work in February, but was officially and ceremoniously installed in office during the Friday festivities that fittingly also capped Mercy and Mission Week.

An inaugural ceremony is usually full of applause anyway. But, I think Jader surprised himself and everyone else when his, one of a long line of “charges” to the new president, brought an intense reaction. You see, Jader first came to MMU as a student and to play baseball. But marriage, family—in short, life—got in the way and he dropped out. He continued working at the university as a custodian, but his mother asked him to promise her that he would someday go back and finish his college degree.


Choir sings at inauguration. They sound great this year–can’t wait to hear them at World War I finale Nov. 11.

After several years, Jader began attending classes again, this time in the “Advance” evening program, designed for working adults. And “someday” finally came this summer, with Jader earning his business bachelor’s degree.

His mother didn’t live to see it. He choked up a bit during his speech as he said that, but he noted that he still knows she is proud of him. He finished his charge to the president and walked back to his seat—and we all sprang to our feet with a spontaneous and enthusiastic ovation.

Jader showed his appreciation by looking down and patting his heart. It was indeed a heartwarming speech.

President Hamen speaks.

President Hamen speaks.

President Hamen, as would be expected, made extensive remarks. Her focus was on “courage” as she reminded the audience of the history of the Sisters of Mercy and the founding of Mount Mercy.

“These sisters were classic courageous entrepreneurs,” she noted. “The times were not good in 1928 for opening a college out of their little academy—as the Great Depression was already foreshadowed.”

Just as the sisters found a road forward in those harsh times and Mount Mercy grew and changed, it faces uncertain times again today. But Hamen reminded the audience that the education of the whole person—the growing of souls—is part of MMU’s continuing mission and reason it is still relevant. She referred to a recent book about the problem of this country’s elite colleges focusing too much on knowledge and skills and not enough on the whole person.

“Developing talent without the courage to build an integrated life prepares excellent sheep,” she said. “Followers, not leaders. Mount Mercy’s faculty and staff will have none of simply grooming students for success at work or learning isolated concepts without preparing students for such a purposeful life.”


The Mount Mercy “mace,” made by retired art professor Bob Naujoks from wood that was part of Warde Hall, MMU’s original building. Warde Hall still stands even without this wood in it, my office is 101 Warde Hall.

As Hamen drew to a close, she compared Mount Mercy now to when it was founded.

“Our first president, Sister Mary Ildephonse Holland, started with 21 undergraduate students in 1928 and one building. We start with nearly 1,800, two locations, residence halls and neighborhoods full of undergraduate students but also many non-traditional adults and graduate students. But the courageous heart of Mount Mercy is still the same.”

It was a fine, inspiring speech, delivered well despite the heat in the gym that also made it a perspiring speech.

I was feeling pretty good and I still do. But that feeling was slightly muted when the next event happened. My newspaper arrived on my doorstep Saturday.

On an inside page, under a nice photo of our new president, a Gazette reporter took 435 words to describe the inauguration. Except, to a large extent, the reporter didn’t actually cover the here and now—The Gazette was stuck 16 months in the past.

Of those 435 words, 205 were devoted to a rehash of the end of the previous president’s term. For another measure of the strange balance in the story, out of 13 paragraphs, fully six were centered on the subjects “Blake,” the previous president; or “Graham,” the previous provost.

Now, I suppose the Gazette can be grumpy about the full story of a change in leadership not being told by MMU. But, it was 16 months ago. Children born then can walk and talk now. The extensive focus on the past was odd.

It’s not the only odd reporting I’ve observed in The Gazette recently. On Sept. 16, it reported on fall enrollments at area colleges. That story was 25 paragraphs long. Paragraphs one through four were about Coe College, enrollment 1,340. Paragraphs five through seven were a roundup of various colleges. Paragraphs eight through 16 again centered on Coe. And finally, paragraphs 17 through 23—seven buried paragraphs in 25—described enrollment at Mount Mercy, with 1,762 students. Cornell, a college in Mount Vernon, got paragraphs 24 and 25.

Detail of paining by art professor Jose Clemente presented to Hamen at the ceremony.

Detail of painting by art professor Jose Clemente presented to Hamen at the ceremony.

Coe had record enrollment and MMU didn’t. But then again, why does the college with 1,340 students rate so much more space and attention than the university with 1,762 students? We’ve been bigger then Coe for a number of years, but it feels like The Gazette sometimes thinks of Mount Mercy as an afterthought. And when it does think of us, it sometimes would rather focus on its archives then cover what is happening now.

Mentioning Blake and Graham in the story of Hamen’s inauguration—and noting the cloudy circumstances under which both left simultaneously in 2013? That was factual, understandable and fair.

What’s odd is the focus—almost half of the story—on the rehash.

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Want to Report? Find The Sometimes Indirect Route

Zach Kucharski, senior manager of newsroom operations for The Gazette and KCRG, speaks to MMU students in the KCRG studio. Joe Winters turned the lights on for us.

Zach Kucharski, senior manager of newsroom operations for The Gazette and KCRG, speaks to MMU students in the KCRG studio. Joe Winters turned the lights on for us.

When Chelsea Keenan, a business reporter for The Gazette and Source Media, graduated from college in 2010, it was a cold, hard environment for college graduates in the shrinking communications-media world.

She was one of three journalists who shared some time this morning with my Introduction to Journalism class, and she noted that she filled in the gaps before employment with some internships, including one at NPR. There, she was placed on the business desk, a beat she had never considered covering.

For her, finding the right niche, one she was not aiming at, and leveraging it with internships allowed her to enter the working world of journalism.

It’s a point I often make with students—the importance of beyond-the-class experience, both with student media and with internships. “I think I did about five internships,” she said. In other words, students, you have to get out there and hunt down the opportunities to gain experience.

And don’t be surprised if you end up doing something that you didn’t consider on the way to doing what you really want to.

Diana Nollen, arts and entertainment writer; and Chelsea Keenan, business reporter, chat with students in a fancy conference room also known as "the lunch room" and "room formerly known as cramped TV studio."

Diana Nollen, arts and entertainment writer; and Chelsea Keenan, business reporter, chat with students in a fancy conference room also known as “the lunch room” and “room formerly known as cramped TV studio.”

For instance, Diana Nollen, a more familiar name to me as a Gazette reader, writes about arts and entertainment, which she says is her “dream job.” But, on the way to that dream job, she worked on all kinds of other beats and had various editing roles.

She said she’s been in her dream job for three years. “I had a 30-year career to get to that dream job,” Nollen noted. As she said, students, don’t expect to land your “perfect” job as your first.

And yes, even if you didn’t expect to write about it, you might end up doing something surprising, like covering business, something Keenan said she wasn’t keen on while she was in school.

Which promoted Nollen to state something in almost exactly the same words that I’ve used with students: “A reporter can cover anything.”

My first job way back in the 1980s was as a sports editor, which was ironic because I had studiously avoided athletics and athletes when I was growing up. I think it was a very minor regret of my dad’s—he had a passive interest in football, for example, and would have preferred to share that interest with his son. To his credit, he didn’t push me, and I ended up a high school star of the debate team.

Anyway, I got that sports gig because I had covered sports as a part-time writer for “The Quad City Times” while I was in college. I got out of sports as quickly as I could, but it was still valuable to me as the first rung in a media career ladder.

And so it goes. Zack Kucharski, senior manager of newsroom operations for both the Gazette and KCRG-TV, noted that he has expected to write three stories one summer for a Gazette internship, when a reporter suddenly left. “And I wrote three stories a day,” he says.

My class had an interesting tour of the joint news operations of The Gazette and KCRG. The tour always sparks interesting discussions in class. And it’s always nice to hear the messages that I’ve stated so often to students coming out of the mouths of those working in today’s media.

Other points made in our brief session this morning:

  • Have 10 questions ready for every interview. That is a piece of advice Nollen said she learned in a high school journalism class. I haven’t used that number before, and I will in the future—but having lots of questions at the ready is an important basic that I have mentioned, as is listening to answers and adjusting the interview rather than sticking to your script, which is, based on the anecdotes she shared, something I think Nollen would also agree with.
  • Go there. It’s OK, in fact it’s normal, to speak with sources on the phone, but you get better interviews, more information and thus better journalism, if you can be physically with the source in his or her environment. Kucharski noted how important it is to watch and be sensitive to a source’s reaction, his or her nonverbal communication—something that is hard to do over the phone.
  • Take notes. Use technology, but be ready for it to fail. You may not pick up the sounds you think you did, your digital device can fill with data, and—they didn’t make this point, but I’ve added it to the list in classroom discussions—good notes make it a lot easier for you to deal with and understand the recording so you don’t have to listen to the whole thing over and over as you’re trying to write.

Even in this digital age, the digits that have flesh and bone are often the most useful to journalists—take notes.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the tour. Thank you, Zack, Diana and Chelsea for your words of wisdom. Thank you, Zack, for arranging and hosting the informative tour. And thanks to all the other Source Media people who were so helpful and kind to us—even the bald lab rat who was doing everyone else’s laundry.

We had a blast. I hope you enjoyed it, too.

CO 120 students in a meeting with Gazette journalists. We got to sit in on the morning KCRG-Gazette-web news session and then chat with three journalists. I enjoyed it and I think the students did, too.

CO 120 students in a meeting with Gazette journalists. We got to sit in on the morning KCRG-Gazette-web news session and then chat with three journalists. I enjoyed it and I think the students did, too.

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Writing Advice From Gazette’s Rick Smith

Rick Smith

Rick Smith, reporter for the Gazette. He reported that he has resisted being on TV, I hope exposure on a blog is OK.

Rick Smith, a long-time Gazette reporter who has covered City Hall in Cedar Rapids for more than a decade, visited one of my classes this morning.

Students in CO 281: Newspaper Reporting will cover a Cedar Rapids City Council meeting later this month, and Smith was kind enough to give students some suggestions.

The resulting conversation was wide-ranging and open-ended. Rick just opened up and shared anecdotes and context for city issues, and I didn’t see any reason to reign him in. In fact, I felt a bit guilty glancing at the clock, because he thought I might be done with him. Nope—please carry on, Mr. Smith.

Anyway, as often seems to be the case, what he told my students shouldn’t have been new or news to them—but it’s always useful for students to hear how another journalist articulates basically the same advice I give them.

For example, Rick emphasized the importance of the story lead—the first sentence.

On this blog post, I don’t have a particularly good example, although to be fair, this isn’t a news story, either, so there. Anyway, getting a good lead—recognizing what salient point will serve as the theme of the news story and summing up that main point in a compelling and interesting sentence that both communicates the main news and yet still motivates the reader to carry on—well, that’s a big part of the battle.

Especially in a City Council meeting which offers so many false data alleys and information dead ends. I like that Rick had prompted students to look at the city’s web site for agendas and minutes—something the class did as a group on Wednesday, and that I will expect them to do individually before the meeting they cover.

Anyway, what else do I hope students will recall from Rick Smith’s visit?

  • What happens at a meeting is always part of a larger story. For example, he spoke about a new development in the works for the corner of Edgewood Road and Blair’s Ferry. The policy question is whether the city should provide tax incentives to the developer. Those incentives traditionally were given to manufacturing companies, but a decade ago the city used them to help persuade HyVee to go ahead with plans for a new store in an economically poor neighborhood—and now someone wants them for a swanky new shopping and office complex in an upscale area of town. The city’s materials explain what the tax incentive is, but don’t tie this decision to the context of earlier decisions—and that context is what a journalist provides. The rule is bigger than just this topic—on any beat for virtually any story, a journalist needs to seek the context and deliver that valued insight. I think that’s increasingly the role of the profession, tying the news of the minute to the larger saga, as events themselves are more universally experienced without information intermediaries.
  • A meeting is partially a public performance. TV, even small-audience local cable TV, changes whatever it pays attention to. There used to be five members of the Cedar Rapids City Council—now, with nine, when something important happens, “you have to listen to nine speeches.” I suspect those speeches are for the benefit of the home audience of potential voters.
  • Brevity is one of the keys to good news writing. If he were professor, Rick says, part of the assignment would be: “See how short you can make it.” Students, Rick isn’t the professor and I’m going to want you to cover the full meeting…but “covering” does mean recognizing what’s important (and writing about it) and what’s not (and leaving it out). And whatever you report, if you’re a journalist, always try to use a few words effectively rather than deploy too many for the job. Write short.

Anyway, much of the talk was Rick telling stories that I think give students some context to try to understand what will happen before them later this month. He gave students and me a lot to think about, along with good advice, and I’m grateful he was willing to speak with my class.

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MMU Tour Tops News Today In Cedar Rapids

Lyle Muller

Lyle Muller, editor of The Gazette and a darn fine G, too.

CEDAR RAPIDS—Six visitors from Mount Mercy University toured the Gazette and KCRG-TV today, escorted by Editor Lyle Muller.

OK, that headline and lead would be used on a slow news day indeed. During a morning mostly-TV news meeting at the offices of The Gazette, my students and I overheard many ideas pitched as news—our visit not among them. Which is as it should be.

The Group

CO 120 students shiver in the cold before entering The Gazette for tour.

My Introduction to Journalism class visited The Gazette this morning, and Muller kindly led us on our tour.

He’s a good speaker and said many things that I’ve stated in my courses. Among his points:

  • An education in journalism can aid students in a variety of careers. A journalist is trained to gather accurate information, to pay attention to details, to format that information in a way that communicates it clearly and quickly and to understand an ethos of openness. Students seems a bit cool to the idea of studying journalism now—not a surprise when the newspaper industry has contracted so publicly—but I think it’s a good time to study journalism, partly because supply and demand are cyclical and “new” skills count for a lot, but also because many journalism students never did enter the newspaper industry anyway. Muller made the valid point that the skills of journalism are flexible and fit a variety of career paths.
  • Students who want a communication career should blog. So true—blog now, blog often.  As Muller said, “you can build your following.” Blogging is like jogging—a runner runs all the time, not just in races. A writer writes all the time, not just in the paper or an essay or other formal setting. Blogging also puts a student in a “writer” frame of mind. I don’t blog daily, but probably average one post a day between the two blogs I maintain (this one and CR Biker). A writer needs to learn that she never runs out of material if she just pays attention to life, and that, to me, is one of the key reasons students should blog. There is a risk to blogging—whatever you say on the internet is public and permanent—but despite that downside, blogging is a key writing experience and a way to self publish now.
  • Newspapers remain the “first draft of history.” Even in this information age, accuracy is key, because papers aren’t just here and gone—they get preserved and become a key tool that those in the future will look back on. When you’re writing history, make it accurate.

Besides those points, another lesson I hope students tuned into is how journalism these days means knowing how to format information for many media. If you aspire to be a TV news anchor, learn to write and blog. If you aspire to be a sports journalism for The Gazette, learn to shoot and edit video, take photos, speak in public—and, by the way, write well, write fast and write accurately. The “basics” are still important, but flexibility of platform is the way the world is moving.

I’ll be interested in debriefing with the students, which won’t happen for a week. But I’ll assert right now that Muller is an excellent tour host—and a fine ambassador for the profession of journalism.


Lyle Muller shows MMU students the news set at KCRG. Its always startling how "neat" it all looks on camera, and what a backstage look there is to everything not on camera.

JR Ogden

Who shot JR? Bet hes never heard that one, but it was me in this case. JR Ogden, sports editor of The Gazette, talks with our group.

Lyle Muller

Lyle Muller talks a little history with original Gazette behind him.

Lyle Muller and Pulitzer

Lyle Muller explains The Gazettes Pulitzer Prize of years ago.

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And The Winners Are …

Mondo, Andy and Gretchen. Not a big surprise, although I though Michael C would make it instead of Andy—the green dress saved Andy, I guess.

Oh, wait. I didn’t mean to blog about Project Runway. I meant the winners among my photos …


Katydid (yes, she did!) on my bike tire, Sept. 30--oft heard, seldom seen early fall insect.

I technically could have continued to shoot for a while, entries were not due until Nov. 1, but I picked three of my fall photos to submit to the Gazette fall contest—the Katydid that landed on my bike tire Sept. 30, a picture of brown oak leaves against a green grass background taken at the MMU Grotto on Oct. 1, and an Oct. 14 picture of a black maple leaf from George Wyth State Park.

That makes my tulip tree, which is just starting to turn yellow, ineligible this year. Too bad. But, I think I’ll photograph some of its giant tulip-shaped leaves anyway, if I get good weekend weather before the leaves are all gone.

MMU Grotto

Oak leaves at Mount Mercy Our Lady of Sorrows Grotto, Oct. 1. I like how the leaves are very brown, but the blurred background grass still very green.

If I win the Gazette contest? Already promised Audrey a date night meal. If I lose?

Well, I don’t think I’ll quite lose it, Michael C style. Don’t mean to sound snarky, though. Those designers were near exhaustion, at the limits of their endurance, and to work so hard and fall just short of the final round of competition …

Well. Not sure I would handle it well, either.

I don’t have as much riding on this fall photo contest. It’s not my dream or my future on the line. I am only slightly bummed out that I can only enter three photos–I have several other fall ones that I quite fond of.  But, I picked my best three and we’ll see what happens.

If I lose, I don’t expect a big meltdown.  On the other hand, photo gods of the Gazette, we can always avoid the risk that I won’t handle rejection well … just pick one of my photos as the winner, pretty please!

Black maple tree

It's either a sugar maple or black maple, but it looks a bit more like a black maple leaf to me. Anyway, maple leaf seen during an Oct. 14 hike at George Wyth State Park, Waterloo.

If you want to give me competition, shame on you, but here is a link to the Gazette’s fall “Call of the Colors” photo contest.


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Hope for Future from 10-year-olds

Students were Gazette editors, but not this Gazette ...

When I went to a school called “Sacred Heart,” we had to wear blue shirts and blue bow ties.

The students at Sacred Heart in Monticello don’t have uniforms, a fact that is mildly surprising to Mrs. Kent, their teacher.

That’s a pretty small difference between “then” and “now,” and there are larger differences. I went to Monticello Wednesday to do a news activity with the 4th, 5th and 6th grade classes at Sacred Heart, and noticed a lot has changed in the 42 years since I was in 4th grade.

The classroom itself is probably about the size of the room I had 4th grade in.

The “look” and feel of the room, however, are totally different. When I was in 4th grade at Sacred Heart in Clinton, Iowa, the desks stood in rigid attention, all lined up for a military parade, all facing a black (actually, green) slate board that covered most of one wall, with a bit of space on either side for a bulletin board.

The only “flair” in the room was those bulletin boards. Otherwise, the room had the charm, feel and look of a POW barracks from a WWII movie, if the POWs had slept on small desks rather than bunk beds.

Mrs. Kent’s room featured a desk area where the students face each other, and other “zones,” including a cozy looking area with pillows for sprawling and reading.

I know that not all changes in education in the past 4 decades have been good, and there is something to say for the order and structure of the “old” days, but darn. I really missed out on 4th grade. Mrs. Kent’s room seemed like a much more relaxed, friendly place.

Not an unruly place. The children were all diligently working at their desks, and when Mrs. Kent had to direct them as a group or individually, they seemed to give her instant, instinctive obedience. There is an art to controlling a set of unruly mammals, and Mrs. Kent has it. I can praise Mrs. Kent freely, because not only is she a great 4th grade teacher, she is also my daughter, Theresa.

And, to be honest, I really didn’t care for school in the good old days. I was a 4.0 student in high school and college, but not in elementary school, where I got a fair number of Ds. Elementary school seemed like sheer tedium and torture to me.

How did the visit and activity go? Very well. The children were interested in what I had to say, and, although a few asked off-the-wall questions that I didn’t always understand, by and large we got along and communicated nicely.

It gives me some hope for the future of journalism. Newspapers have not found the way forward in an on-line world, and our democracy only functions when the nooks and crannies of government are exposed to the light by journalists. Without newspapers, there would have been no Watergate scandal. An occasional exposé and scandal are important checks on the darker instincts of the powerful.

The 4th graders seemed to show they still hunger for news. There is some comfort in that.

Mrs. Kent had her students inscribe some thank-you cards. One student noted that “no offense,” but he still plans to be a scientists, composer and artist, although he did say he was more interested in journalism as a result of my talk. (No offense taken. Good luck with the techno science beats and blots). A girl in the classes noted that “Mrs. Kent teaches us she is the best teacher.” I suppose she intended to state that “Mrs. Kent teaches us, and she is the best teacher,” but the line is cuter without the punctuation or conjunction. It sounds like Mrs. Kent is indoctrinating followers.

What was the exercise? It was a “budget meeting,” the daily session held at every city newspaper where editors decide what news to feature in their paper.

I wrote up a little budget summary and told the 9 to 12 year olds that they were editors of the Gazette and they had to choose four of the following stories to be on the front page:

1) Iran Announces it has Atomic Bomb (nuclear test confirmed)
2) Winter Storm Strands Thousands in Britain (Heathrow closed by 6-inches of snow)
3) Cap’n Crunch Quaker Oats Plant to Add 600 Jobs (my favorite cereal rescues CR economy)
4) Xavier Girls Win State Basketball Title (includes picture of lead scorer hugging her coach/father while holding title trophy)
5) Ex-President Breaks Leg in Cedar Rapids Spill (Jimmy Carter was working on the roof of a Habitat for Humanity house)
6) Obama’s Daughters Successfully Lobby for First Cat (Sasha adopts a stray)

A cat but not news

Photo of a cat. Cute, but probably not front-page news ...

They had more information (including notes on photos) for each story. They were were in about six groups and each had a “managing editor” who reported back on what the group had decided. A few picks were eclectic—one group selected the cat story, which was clearly on the list to not be selected–but the classes overall were able to apply news criteria and did come up with what I had considered the “main” news stories (numbers 1, 3, 4 and 5 with the dominant news story being the Iran A-bomb.)

The kids heard and applied the traditional news criteria—timeliness, impact, proximity, conflict, human interest, novelty—and referred to them in their thank-you notes. One student noted that “I didn’t know all those words existed.”

Well, they do. With your help, kid, I hope they continue to exist and shape news budget meetings for a long time.

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