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Category Archives: Tribune

Covering the Fred Phelps gang


A little more than a month ago, the Westboro group came to Columbia, Mo, on a weekend I was working.

That’s where I stopped writing this blog post in November 2009. For whatever reason, I didn’t want to keep writing about the “Westboro group stops here again,” Columbia Daily Tribune.

But I’ve kept coming back to my website and kept seeing this unfinished draft, so, to avoid this post smelling worse than it does, I’ll briefly finish what I started.

We all know the Phelps crew. And we probably all dislike the Phelps crew. They stomp on our flags. They say ludicrous things at sensitive times. And they do not care what we say or think about them.

We all know that. What struck me about the Phelps gang is how well they understand the game, how well they know what they doing. To the news reporters covering them, the Phelps crew was as kind as can be.

To the people shouting at them, the ones arguing and cussing to no end, the Phelps crew shouted back, unwilling to take such insults without a comeback.

We bother them because they bother us; their actions appall the good in all of us. But when we shout and pay attention to them instead of blocking their access or getting in their way like the successful anti-protesters, we play their game, the one they’ve been playing for years and the one they know better than us: the game of insults.

And we lose every time.

CDT: Cemetery vandals topple tombstones

Sometimes, the most boring stories can make for the most interesting writing. The really talented writers have a saying for this, the less intense the topic, the more dramatic the writing and vice versa, or something like that. The following is a serious topic but I still wanted turn the story into a reader rather than a police blotter item.

CDT: Cemetery vandals topple tombstones

HARTSBURG — Silas Hickam lived longer than his wife, Harriet, but earlier this week, Harriet was the more fortunate one.

CDT: Driving Forward Development

Before I stopped covering schools for the Columbia Daily Tribune, I wrote this piece, Driving Forward Development, one of my favorite stories I did at the Tribune. It’s a story about timing, panicking and bureaucracies. It’s also a story about a new high school for kids.

I now work as the night cops reporter at the Omaha World-Herald. I started Aug. 2. It’s a good gig.

Remembering George

I last saw George about two weeks ago.

On a muggy July afternoon in Columbia, Mo., George, a tall, slender man with gray hair, didn’t sit in his favorite brown, leather recliner – ALS had restricted his movement in his hips, making it tough for him to get out of comfortable recliners. Instead, George rolled across the living room’s wooden floors in a wheelchair. Marcia plopped down in the chair.

Our talk with George lasted about an hour. He chuckled about the year in which he was the one-man Fulton Sun sports department. He smiled about the new wheelchair ramp that had been installed in front of his home off N. Garth Ave. And he shook his head about all the stories he had been telling his visitors, including the one about the day that changed his life 16 years ago.

George was about 40 years old at the time, working as a cops reporter at the Columbia Daily Tribune. Jim Robertson, the paper’s managing editor, called George into his office. “Your attitude is poisoning the newsroom,” Robertson told him.

George admitted as much at his house. He always came up with a snarky response, but that’s what good reporters did, wasn’t it? Weren’t they always quick to respond? Or were they?

George thought about his life, about his attitude and about everything he had, such as his wonderful wife, his beautiful 1-year-old daughter and his great job. I’ve been blessed, George said he thought. It was time to count his blessings rather than tally his disappointments, he decided.

From that day on, George gave thanks to God for his family, for their ability to raise a child and for the home they could afford. “Count your blessings,” he told Marcia and I.

In this way, and in his life, George was old school. During the weekends I worked with him at the Tribune, he regretted the Internet’s affect on newspapers and the shortage of reporters in newsrooms everywhere. He favored the days of print products, of less video clips and more written words.

About two weeks ago, the best podmate ever and I had no idea we were seeing George for the last time. He, himself, expected to live another two years until the ripe age of 58. Age 29 is hardly middle-aged.

It’s strange seeing a man who is so close to death even though none of us knew it. George died on Saturday, a 56-year-old father of one and long-time newspaper reporter and editor.

His byline is above hundreds of stories and his editing pen marked up hundreds of others, but I will always remember George for the line that changed his life:

“Count your blessings.”

CDT: Teens turn page on high school

I think weddings and the birth of a child might be the best things in life. I am speaking as an observer, of course, as I am not married nor do I have any children. But I can only imagine that the joy felt at weddings and when new life enters the world at least quadruples when you’re directly involved, so I’m going to assume they’re still the best things ever.

On a more depressing note, divorce (sometimes) and death might be the saddest things we have in society. Two sad endings that bring conclusion to something that began with so much joy. But, for whatever reason or reasons, the person’s life had to end and the couple was better off without one another, a thought unimaginable when they gazed into each other’s eyes however many years ago on their wedding day.

I didn’t write about weddings, divorce or babies being born last weekend. That leaves death.

CDT: Teens turn page on high school

CDT: A matter of size

Projects rule. Reporting and writing projects, that is.

In Sunday’s story, I tried to tackle the following question: How big of a deal is the number of kids in a classroom?

CDT: A matter of size

CDT: Author shares story of inspiration

On Saturday, I had the privilege of listening to Manuel Scott, a man who has endured far more than anyone I know.

Manuel Scott

Scott spoke to a group of Columbia teenagers about determining your own fate, not letting yourself become a victim of what you have been given or of how your parents have raised you. He was a dynamic speaker, somehow finding laughter in between talking about how his friend was strangled with guitar wire or how his stepdad was an alcoholic and beat Manuel’s mom.

It’s a story worth sharing and reading. Enjoy.

CDT: Author shares story of determination

CDT: Gone Too Soon

I love telling a feel-good story. A story about people who work hard and finally get what they deserve. And everything is as it appears. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think journalists love seeing or covering the faltering of human beings. We’re not evil people; we have emotions just like everyone else.

So, when I got the chance to talk to a woman who had three miscarriages, but then went on to have two children of her own, I was excited. I knew it would be a fun, happy story to tell, which is always a welcome change from covering a shooting at Wal-Mart, as I did a few weeks ago….Check out the happy story below.

Columbia Daily Tribune: Service to focus on children lost, page 1 @ PDFReady ( CDT  10-26-2009 )