Monday, November 01, 2010

Multimedia Reporting

When I tell people I'm a multimedia editor I usually feel compelled to explain what that means because the definition of multimedia morphs every couple of months into something different.

Not long ago I was invited to speak to a college journalism class about multimedia reporting. The presentation came about a week after a big breaking news story here in Baltimore in which a man had shot a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital, then killed his mother (a patient at the hospital), and finally turned the gun on himself. A horrible, fast-breaking story that for one afternoon in September had the attention of all the local media and the cable news networks. I started to sketch out how we covered the story that afternoon and ended up with the doodle at the top of this post. It pretty neatly sums up how we do what we do.

The events started to come to our attention the afternoon of Thursday, September 16. Our email tip line started buzzing with scant reports about a shooting at the hospital. Then we started seeing Twitter tweets about the same.

After a couple of calls to the police to confirm that something was up, we immediately dispatched a team of reporters, led by Justin Fenton, to the hospital.

Fenton, a crime reporter who is very savvy with his use of social media, started checking the many tweets that were coming in about the incident and trying to confirm what he was reading. He was also sending out his own, confirmed tweets about what was going on. We were picking up his Twitter feed on our website, At the same time, other news organizations, CNN, FoxNews and ABC were starting to follow Justin's tweets and calling us to get phone access to him for on-the-scene reports.

Fenton, using his iPhone, took a photo of a police sniper positioned behind a column and posted that to Twitpic. That photo ended up on and was also picked up by the news networks.

At one point, an hour or so into the situation, I got a call from a CNN producer who I had put in touch with Fenton for a phone interview. This time, instead of asking for something, she was actually calling to alert us that Fenton's cellphone had died, so that we could run a replacement phone to him. (Thanks, CNN!)

Also on site at Hopkins was another Sun reporter, Erica Green. While Fenton was doing phoners with the national networks, Green was doing interviews for our local television partner, WJZ.

The media interviews are a great way to get our brand stamped on the event and the idea is that hopefully many of the people seeing the interview on TV will come to our website or newspaper for more information.

Of course, Fenton and Green were doing their primary reporting for us. The tweets and story dispatches they were filing were delivering up-to-the-minute information to That information was also automatically populating our mobile site so that people could also follow the event on their phones. In addition to the story reporting, we were also getting photos and video from our staff, and picking up a live video feed from our TV partner, WJZ, as well as embedding their packaged reports on the story.

As the situation reached it's unfortunate conclusion, we wound down our breaking-news coverage and started to turn our attention to packaging the story for the next day's paper. That's when we took a step-back look at what happened, and tried to add some additional context into how and why such an event could take place.

So, what is multimedia? As of this writing, it's using all the tools current technology has provided us, mixing it with good old urgency and accuracy that have been hallmarks of our business for years, to bring our audiences reliable information they need to know, when they want it, where they want it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hillbillies in a Haunted House

This year's Halloween bonus is this ditty from the great Austin Lounge Lizards. There's also a movie - Hillbillys in a Haunted House - a real Hollywood classic starring Ferlin Husky, Joi Lansing and a guy in a gorilla suit.

I guess the lesson here is that anything combining hillbillies and haunted houses is probably well worth your investment in time.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The way-better-but-completely-made-up Legend of the Mandy Tree

Back in 2007 I posted a brief story that talks about the legend of the Mandy Tree. It involves a woman named Mandy Holloman, a gardener who was shot to death in her home sometime in the 1920s. Several years later, to the astonishment of the good citizens of Madisonville, the foliage of a tree Mandy had planted out on West Broadway suddenly began to take the shape of her profile. Sometime during the late 1940s or early 1950s, the tree died.

It's an amazing photo and a legend with a lot of potential. But on the whole, I've always felt that what little I've been able to find about the story of the Mandy Tree was pretty dang skimpy. So, in the spirit of Halloween, I've taken the root of the tale and liberally infused it with a heaping helping of bull to embellish the Legend of the Mandy Tree.

In the mid-1920s a man named Sam lived in a shack on the far western side of Madisonville. Sam was a blacksmith who specialized in horseshoes. The location of his shop was no accident. He picked the spot because it gave him equal access to the people in town and to travelers passing through. But also figuring into his decision was a broad oak tree that cast a shadow over the shack, offering some relief from his blacksmith's furnace.

It was hard making a living selling horseshoes at a time when automobiles were starting to outnumber horses. However, it was also a time when men who wanted a sip of alcohol couldn't come by one legally, and Sam soon found that he could use his furnace to heat a still for making moonshine.

Moonshining gave Sam a small but steady income for a time. But before long, Sam became his own best customer. The more he drank, the meaner he became. And the meaner he became, the fewer people would come to buy his liquor. So day after day, Sam would sit drinking in his shed, growing ever more bitter and discouraged, shouting at the heavens and anyone who happened to pass by.

Among those who did pass by several times a week was a young woman named Mandy. Mandy and her family lived nearby. They, too, were feeling the hard times and her job was to fetch water at the spring. Sam knew Mandy and her family. He had watched through the years as she had grown from a little girl who used to walk to the spring with her mother, into a fine young woman. A beautiful young woman, Sam thought.

One hot summer day a drunken Sam saw Mandy approaching as she made her way to the spring. A combination of the heat, alcohol and wanton lust triggered Sam to yell out, "Come over here, girl!" The shout startled Mandy and she stopped. But when she recognized that Sam was drunk, she began to hurry away. But Sam was determined to get the girl. He jumped up and started moving, unsteadily, toward her. Mandy started to run, but caught her foot on a fallen branch and fell. Before she could get up, Sam was on top of her. She struggled, then started screaming. With one hand, Sam covered the young girl's mouth, and with the other he clutched her throat. And he squeezed. He squeezed until her screams - and her breathing - stopped. Then Sam passed out.

It was dark when he came to and saw what he had done. He knew he had to hide the body, so Sam carried Mandy up to the shed, grabbed a shovel and dug a hole beside the oak tree. He pushed Mandy's body into the hole and covered it with dirt.

A day later, a group of men came searching for the girl. Sam told the men that he'd seen her. She had come by, asking if he knew where she could get a horse. He asked her why and he said she told him she wanted to leave town to start a new life. He said he told Mandy she was foolish and the should go back to her home. The group believed what Sam told them. Soon the search for Mandy stopped, with everyone assuming she had just run away from home.

When autumn came, leaves from the oak tree fell and blanketed the grave for the cold winter. When winter gave way to spring, leaves started to reappear on the tree's limbs. As the tree took on full foliage, Sam noticed one moonlit night that it had grown out into a familiar-looking profile. The more the tree began to look like Mandy, the more Sam drank.

One mid-summer night a tremendous storm was developing and the winds were growing. Sam, drinking again, had fallen into alcohol-fogged sleep in the shed. As the winds grew stronger and stronger, what Sam thought was a voice startled him awake. "Ssssaaaammm." He could swear he hear someone whisper his name through the wind. "Ssssaaammm," he heard again.

"Who's calling my name?" Sam shouted. "Who's out there?"

"SSSAAAMMM!," he heard the wind cry.

Sam ran outside and saw the Mandy Tree bending in the wind. "SSSAAAAMMM," he heard through the rustling of the tree's leaves.

"What do you want from me girl?!" he screamed up to the tree.

The wind blew harder. As Sam swayed from drink, he looked up just as the tree bowed over, with the mouth of Mandy's profile opened wide, and came down on him and swallowed him in a great gulp.

The next morning, the sun came up. As the townspeople in Madisonville came out to inspect the damage from the storm, someone noticed that Sam's shack had been toppled, along with the great oak tree that once stood beside it. They searched the rubble, but no trace of Sam was ever found.

The tree was taken to a local lumberyard and cut up. Boards from the tree were later used in the building of several houses that still stand in Madisonville to this day. If your house is one of them you'll know. When the wind blows strong in the dead of the night, listen closely. What you might once have thought were creaks and groans are actually the muted screams and whispers of Sam and Mandy.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Marketing Mensch

The remarkable Marcy has decided to take the plunge into blogging (what's next, podcasting?), by launching her "Marketing Mensch" blog.

I've been encouraging her to do this for some time. She's a brilliant marketing professional and has some very insightful tips and observations that she can now share with others.

I hope you'll show some support and drop by and see what you think.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ribs It Is

It's been at least 20 years since I barbecued ribs. Hard to believe. Back when we lived in Columbus, I used to do baby back's from time to time, but was never satisfied with the results. When we lived in Chicago, one of the world's great rib joints, Robinson's #1 Ribs, was just around the corner and it was simply easier to go there, or to our fall-back joint, Russell's, and grab a rack.

My daddy used to do ribs all the time on his pit and in all likelihood, ribs were the first bbq I ever had. But over the years I've grown partial to pulled pork, brisket and chicken, so I simply never had the urge to do my own ribs.

Until last Friday. Not sure what it was. Maybe I needed the challenge. I've been on the grill a lot this summer, but mostly for quick hits on burgers, sausages, dogs and chicken. But something was telling me it was time to test my grillmanship and burn a rack.

Off to the store on Saturday morning where I picked up a nice slab of spareribs. After trimming, I poured a couple of cups of apple cider vinegar and the juice of one lemon over them and stuck them in the fridge for a couple of hours while I prepared a rub and a sauce.

Here's the basic rub I threw together:

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup paprika
3 1/2 Tbl coarse salt
3 Tbl black pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp celery seeds
1 tsp cayenne

After makinig the rub, it was onto the sauce. Again, just a basic, ketchup-based sweet sauce:

2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbl molasses
2 Tbl mustard
1 Tbl hot sauce
1 Tbl of the rub
2 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 tsp black pepper

Over a medium heat, bring to a slow boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

I also decided to make a cauliflower salad as a side. It's basically potato salad recipe using cauliflower instead of the potatoes to cut down on the carbs.

1 head of cauliflower
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 red chili pepper, chopped

Cut the cauliflower into florets and steam until soft (but not squishy). Let them cool to room temperature. Once cooled, chop the florets into bite-sized pieces and add to a bowl with the other ingredients.

Make a dressing of:
1 cup mayo
2 Tbl vinegar
2 tsp dry mustard

Mix the dressing in with the veggies and sprinkle some paprika on top. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and put in the fridge for a couple of hours. It's not a dead ringer for potato salad, but is very tasty.

It was finally time to set up the grill for indirect heating. I placed an aluminum drip pan in the center, and when the coals were hot, placed an equal amount on either side of the pan and a cup of soaked hickory chips on each side.

I pulled the ribs from the fridge, rubbed 'em up real good and put them in the center of the grill, over the drip pan.

My first check came about 30 minutes in. I sprayed the ribs with some of the marinade to keep them moist, and I also put some foil under the tips because it appeared they were getting a little burned.

After an hour, I added a few more coals and chips to each side, plus gave the ribs another squirt from the sprayer.

I repeated the routine every 30 minutes while the ribs were on the grill.

After about an hour and 45 minutes, the meat was pulled back from the tips of the ribs. I gave the top a good brushing with the sauce and put the lid back on the grill for a final 20 minutes of cooking.

The shot at the top of the page was taken just before the ribs came in the house. There was more than enough to share with the other meat eaters who were home at the time. And even the cauliflower salad got solid reviews.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Earli Jimi on Night Train

Growing up in Madisonville, Kentucky in the 1960s, we were at the mercy of whichever TV signals could swim upstream far enough to reach our antennas. We received all the stations from Evansville, Indiana, which was 50 miles due north. And we received all the Nashville stations from 100 miles south. The Nashville stations I remember better because they produced a healthy slate of local programming.

No surprise that much of the local programming coming out of Nashville was music related. There were country music shows, gospel shows and there was the R&B showcase, Night Train from WLAC, Channel 5. I remember Night Train aired on Saturday nights, hosted by Nobel Blackwell. I was a pre-teen when I first saw the show, introduced to it by Brother Dave. We used to watch in particular whenever Ironing Board Sam was on. I was likely more attracted to the name than the music at the time.

A little while back I went on YouTube to try to find some clips of Ironing Board Sam. There are some clips, but what also turned up was the nugget above from Night Train. It features a duo named Buddy & Stacy performing a faithful version of Junior Walker's "Shotgun." But the highlight of the clip is a young Jimi Hendrix, in the background on the left, playing guitar.

This is reportedly Jimi's first recorded TV appearance. He had been stationed in the Army at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and after his discharge, he played in a number of bands in nearby Nashville. He left the area and played in New York, but returned to Nashville and, playing as "Maurice James" was a member of The Royal Company this night in 1965 when the show was recorded. He would have been 22 or 23 at the time.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Steven Raichlen comes home

Baltimore guy and grill god Steven Raichlen was in town today to talk about his new book, "Planet Barbecue," and the new season of his PBS show, "Primal Grill." The show is produced by my pals at Maryland Public Television.

Here's a video done by my colleagues Rob Kasper and Ken Lam, where Raichlen talks about his experiences (or lack of them) with barbecue growing up in Baltimore, and about a recipe for bbq ice cream that you'll find in his new book.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Remember Bosco?

Nothing like a little Bosco in your vodka.