Category Archives: Work

Dear Hillary

My press pass from the first political rally I ever covered. I was busy trying to look professional and grown-up, so I didn't ask Hillary for an autograph, but after the event ended, her press secretary collected these from all of us and took them to her to sign, which struck me as a very cool gesture.
My press pass from the first political rally I ever covered. I was busy trying to look professional and grown-up, so I didn’t ask Hillary for an autograph, but after the event ended, her press secretary offered to collect all our press passes and take them to her to sign.

I voted for Hillary Clinton last week.

I mailed her a letter yesterday explaining why. One letter won’t make everything all better, but I’m sure she’s getting a flood of them, and I hope the outpouring of support makes her smile. Here’s the one I’m adding to the pile:

Dear Ms. Clinton,

The year was 1992. I was 17, a senior in high school, and I was feeling conflicted. After two months as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper — a position toward which I’d worked diligently for years — I was beginning to suspect the job was more trouble than it was worth. I’d already had run-ins with a condescending school superintendent who assumed I was incompetent simply because I was young, and with several friends who didn’t understand why I couldn’t adjust deadlines to suit their whims. I was tired, burned-out, and ready to walk away from the whole mess.

I awoke one cool October morning to hear my mom’s voice floating into my room: “The Southern Illinoisan says Hillary Clinton is coming to SIU for a rally on Saturday.”

After a moment or two of Kermit-flailing and incoherent fangirling, I pulled myself together, picked up the phone, and made arrangements to attend the rally and subsequent press conference.

That press conference was life-altering.

From the time I was little, all I’d wanted was to be treated like a grownup. As a young reporter, I was rarely afforded that courtesy; most adults talked down to me, pressured me to violate my ethical standards, or exchanged patronizing “isn’t-she-cute?” smiles over my head.

You didn’t do any of that. I wasn’t even old enough to vote, but when I asked you a question, you looked me in the eye and answered it in exactly the same tone you’d used with all the other reporters. You treated me like a grownup. You made me feel respected. You gave me confidence. And in that moment, you renewed my enthusiasm for journalism.

With the exception of a few years spent teaching high school in Oklahoma, I’ve been at it ever since.

Without our brief exchange, I’m not sure I’d have stuck with it. When deadlines get too hectic, or editors get on my nerves, or the economy hiccups and I wonder whether it’s worth the low pay and the constant uncertainty, I close my eyes and remember a sunny autumn afternoon when the most powerful woman in the United States saw a kid doing a grownup’s job and treated her with respect and courtesy.

I adored you for that. You became my personal hero; I wanted to be just like you when I grew up. I studied endless articles about you. I bought myself a green suit and matching headband “just like Hillary’s.” I even showed up for senior pictures in an “Elect Hillary’s Husband” button.

I have never been more proud of you than I was Wednesday, when you stood, resolute but gracious, and addressed your supporters, still on your feet despite the vicious sucker-punch you’d just absorbed for all of us: the Suffragettes; the Second Wave; the girls who grew up watching Geraldine Ferraro and dreaming; the little girls my niece’s age; my mom; my former students; and all the 17-year-old girls trying to be grownups in a world that prefers to treat women like perpetual children, whether we’re 17 or 41 or 69.

I’ve long since lost that green headband, but 24 years later, I still want to be just like you when I grow up.

Much love,

Emily

Reminiscing

I had occasion to call a former employer today and chat with one of my favorite editors ever. Long story, but a homicide investigation involving a victim from my area resulted in a couple of arrests in my old paper’s coverage area. I was having trouble sorting out some conflicting reports and putting my hands on a document I needed, so I called my old newsroom to see what I could rustle up.

Some things never change — like the fact that you absolutely cannot trust a St. Louis television station to get even the most basic information correct in a story about anything that happens on the east side of the Mississippi River. The fact that the public information officers in Illinois State Police District 11 are more helpful than the PIOs pretty much anywhere else in the state. And most of all, the fact that the editor who taught me to cover crime stories back in 1999 is still my favorite person to hear on the other end of the line when I’m chasing down details and trying to wrangle information out of reluctant sources.

I don’t miss that town’s ridiculous city ordinances. I don’t miss the corruption of its local government. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the incredibly talented people who populate the newsroom of its daily paper. That newsroom isn’t big, but the amount of talent it harbors is truly spectacular, and I’m awfully glad I got to spend my first few years as a full-time journalist there.

Emily

March madness

I have no idea why, but for as long as I can remember, the middle of March has been insanely busy.

I think it started with junior-high science fair, continued into high-school musical rehearsals, grew into magazine design projects of epic proportions, and snowballed from there.

This year, after the Oklahoma Route 66 Association president earned my undying loyalty and affection by constructing a beautiful, shimmering Somebody Else’s Problem shield around the Trip Guide for the first time in nine years, I assumed I’d get to find out what March looks like to normal people.

Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking, either. I know better than that.

With a reporter out on maternity leave and staffing issues reaching critical levels, I volunteered to cover for a designer who’s out on vacation this week … right before my editor decided to move up the deadline on a largely hypothetical project that of course began spinning wildly out of control the second it became real … and just when I thought I might be able to reel that all in and keep things from getting too complicated, I remembered I had a murder trial to cover this week.

The upshot of all this is that by 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, I had already worked nearly 40 hours this week, and I’ve got another 40 or so ahead of me before the week is out.

After all these years, I’m not even pretending to worry about it, because an 80-hour week full of utter madness is as much a sign of spring as the crocus blooming next to the front porch, the flat of tomato plants growing in the dining room and the ballplayers warming up in Arizona and Florida. I don’t know why or how it happens, but I’d probably freak out if it didn’t.

As soon as I get through this week, I’m going to treat myself to some new lawn ornaments. I’ve got an utterly hilarious idea for a little garden tableau involving a handful of concrete angels and a lawn gnome in pinstripes and Chucks….

Emily

Mathematical misconceptions

As an old math teacher, I was more than a little concerned by some of the comments I saw on a stats-driven story we ran in the paper today. Because the misconceptions I saw in the comments are fairly common — and because some of my former students read this blog — I thought it might be worthwhile to address a couple of the more egregious examples here, for the benefit of anyone who has slept since freshman algebra.

Misconception 1: If you don’t have data for the full year, any conclusions you draw based on that data are statistically invalid.

Reality: Full-year stats are nice to have, but as long as you’re comparing apples to apples, you can draw meaningful conclusions without them. If I compared an 11-month period in one year to full-year data for another year, my conclusions would be invalid. But if I compare an 11-month period in one year to the same 11-month period for several preceding years, I can make valid comparisons even if I don’t have that twelfth month.

Misconception 2: If numbers look bigger, they are.

Reality: Not necessarily. Remember fractions? Ratios? Decimals? Let’s look at some examples:

1/2 is bigger than 1/3, and 1/3 is bigger than 1/4.

If your odds of something happening are 1 in 14 (which can also be expressed as 1:14 or 1/14), then that thing is more likely to occur than if your odds of it happening are 1 in 18 (1:18 or 1/18).

At least one reader didn’t understand that. He was convinced that even though the number of crimes in a given jurisdiction had gone down from one year to the next, the crime rate — expressed in the article and accompanying chart as a ratio of crimes to population, reduced to lowest terms — had gone up. I assume he drew this conclusion by looking at the second number in each ratio. Since that second number got bigger, he thought that meant the crime rate was going up.

These folks aren’t alone in their confusion. A lot of people don’t understand how stats work — which makes them easy targets for unscrupulous people who do.

You shouldn’t trust stats blindly, because they can be manipulated, and people can make mathematical errors. But you don’t have to be afraid of them, either. Statistical data can be incredibly useful, but it’s hard to use a tool if you don’t know how it works.

Emily

More dust

I really thought I’d have time to finish tinkering with the decorations and swapping out the wallpaper here by now, but I’ve been up to my teeth in homicides and kidnappings and insurance scams and cops and lawyers and unfortunate accidents and conspiracy theories and cold cases and bad coffee and editors and accident reports and fast-food wrappers and probable-cause statements and all of the ten thousand other details that make the life of a crime reporter unlike any other (and one I wouldn’t trade for anything).

Every now and then, I get a minute to catch my breath. I usually spend it listening to vinyl or sneaking up to Makanda for cappuccino on the Boardwalk. But I had a hand free tonight, so I sat down and worked up the photos I shot Sunday and put together what I think is a little more accurate representation of my world at the moment.

The background is a picture of downtown Cape. We have an awesome downtown full of historic buildings and interesting businesses. I love it. The new header is the Bill Emerson Bridge across the Mississippi River, which replaced an old through-truss gem that was demolished 10 years ago. I would like the record to show that I shot the photo in the header at 1/4 of a second without a tripod. Don’t act like you’re not impressed.

I’m going to pull another vanishing act for a few days, but I hope to be back with a bitchin’ new project to unveil and some photos to share soon. Stay tuned.

Emily

Decision

Sensory Overload (Interacting with Autism Project) from Miguel Jiron on Vimeo.

I worked with several kids with Asperger syndrome or other autism spectrum disorders during the course of my four years at Webster.

I adored those kids.

They don’t know it, but just by being part of my class, they gave Riggy a better mommy. That seems fair, since Scout gave them a better teacher. “The gift goes on,” as Sandi Patty says.

This video made me cry.

I am applying to grad school this week. For reasons.

Emily

Costume

So we’re throwing a Halloween party at work for all the local kids, and my boss informed me that I would be expected to wear a costume.

I hate wearing costumes.

Ron suggested I just show up in my bee suit, but I’m in charge of the popcorn, and I am pretty sure the health department would shut us down if an inspector walked in and saw me scooping popcorn in my pollen-and-propolis-stained gloves and honey-smeared suit.

This was what I came up with instead:

Janis Joplin costume

Janis Joplin. Or, as I like to call it, “Casual Friday.”

Emily