Category Archives: Work


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.


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….


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.


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.



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.



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.”




The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Women

NOTE: This entry was inspired by my increasing frustration with the tendency of many young women to embrace and pander to the kinds of stereotypes that ensure they will never be taken as seriously, paid as much, or treated as well as their male colleagues. Many of my former students will be starting their careers in the next few years, and I don’t want to see them fail. This riff is for them. I hope they will find it useful.

The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Women


Habit 1: Baby-talking around men. I realize we can’t all sound like Lauren Bacall, but when you deliberately talk from your soft palate instead of your larynx, you are sending the message that you are small, immature, and vulnerable. This could attract a knight in shining armor, but it’s more likely to attract a predator looking for a weak-willed woman he can control easily. If a guy finds your fake baby voice sexy, RUN, because you do NOT want him living under your roof when the FBI raids his computer.

Habit 2: Playing stupid around men. Every time I need a man to take me seriously, I have to start by proving I am not the idiot you pretend to be. Stop it. Real men are not intimidated by bright women. Behaving like an intelligent, responsible adult will not keep you from finding Mr. Right — but it might keep you from wasting time on Mr. Condescending, Mr. Insecure, and Mr. Insufferable.

Habit 3: Inappropriate attire. I started to write a long riff about this, but the bottom line is: Quit dressing like a hooker, and quit doing stupid crap like wearing stiletto heels to the ballpark. It doesn’t make you look hot. It makes you look like Snooki.

Habit 4: Duck face. JUST STOP IT. If you’re old enough to vote, you’re old enough to know that you look like a conceited bimbo when you purse your lips and leer into the camera. Your future employer is going to Google you. Do you really want this to be the hiring manager’s first impression of you?

Habit 5: Passive-aggressive behavior. If you have a problem with somebody, confront that person directly. If the problem isn’t important enough to merit a confrontation, it isn’t important. Period. There is no situation in which passive-aggressive behavior is acceptable. It is always immature, self-serving, dishonest, and cowardly — which is precisely how you will be perceived if you do it. Don’t.

Habit 6: Gossip and backstabbing. Ownership of a uterus does not obligate you to make up crap about your enemies, complain about your colleagues, or revel in other people’s misfortunes behind their back. You can damage an enemy’s reputation with gossip — but in the process, you reveal something about yourself, and it’s probably not something you want people to know.

Habit 7: Whining. If you are being asked to do something immoral or illegal, report it. If you are being asked to do something unpleasant or inconvenient, either suck it up or look for a new job. Either way, don’t whine. Whining doesn’t help. It just irritates potential allies and makes you look unprofessional.

— Emily