Thank the Lord for the people I have found

Tom Abate, also known as MiniMediaGuy; drawing by Dan Kelly

Let me pause today to thank the people who have helped me spell out the problems with professional news-gathering and suggest the blog- and people-centred approach that makes better ethical and business sense.

The professional journalist of the 21st Century will not be a gatekeeper but rather a connector — connecting people to ideas, to other people, and to products or services. The old journalist shouted, “Coups and Earthquakes,” to quote the title of Associated Press writer Mort Rosenblum’s famous if dated book. People sill want to see and hear about great events but the first reports are now more likely to be uploaded by someone on-scene with a camera phone and Web access. The professional journalist will provide context and connections to help the audience react to the news. The Web is an interactive medium. The audience is not passive. Professionals must get interactive or get left behind.

But I needed help to present that argument and a place to work, and both were provided in unexpected ways, starting with the friendship and technical assistance of Charlotte Yee, a former statistician and public information officer for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Charlotte has created the Feds Hall of Shame site for federal whistleblowers — those who disclose official mistreatment or misdeeds to find that the system regards them with hostility. Charlotte completly overhauled the look of my blog and was wise and funny as I worked through the mental gymnastics that helped me take my stand. I owe Charlotte a debt which I intend to pay by helping her to encourage whistleblowing.

Network provider Scot (Birdhouse) Hacker held my hand at critical moments when my primitive understanding of Web technologies made me fear that e-gremlins were conspiring against me. Scot updated my WordPress blog platform the day before I began publishing — which either changed or broke most of my familiar publishing tools. I visited Scot in a panic and left with a tutorial and a workaround to an as-yet unsolved glitch involving Internet Explorer. Thank you for your patience Scot, and blessings to Mary Hodder who aimed me at you some years ago.

Tim Bishop helped with key edits early in the series that helped me set the tone. My kin and lifelong communicant, Deep Cuz, aka The Cuzzola, fed me several very useful links — an astonishing act of mind-reading as I don’t know that I broadcast a message of intent. Yet The Cuzzola discerned my direction and fed me links. May the blessings of Kahoutek be upon him!

Artist and comic novel publisher Doug Millison created the series of illustrations that added a thought-provoking visual dimension (see Mario). Doug is a friend from my UC Berkeley days and his son, Watson, who turned 21 the other day, is the first child of one of my friends who I ever held in my arms. Doug and I will be working together on future visuals around the theme of media reform.

I began writing these posts at the Starbucks in Yucca Valley, California. It offered a wireless hotspot near Joshua Treet National Park where I attended a group campout with my 15-year-old son. The campout was sponsored by the HomeSchool Association of California (HSC). Flailing at the keyboard by day and singing around the campfire at night was how I stayed sane. Or what passes for sane in my context.

I met some great people at that Starbucks starting with Dan Kelly, the artist who created the caricature of me, above. Dan, a retired Lockheed engineer, is a regular at that coffee house and his artworks — of native animals with mythic themes — adorn the walls. He sketched this piece at my request.

I had fun introducing people to each other and it was in playing this yenta role that helped crystallize the notion of the journalist as connector — in this case on a personal level. For instance in separate conversations one day I met Evelyn Bornstein, a retired Los Angeleno, and Carole, a woman of working age who asked that I not use her last name. Both were relative newcomers to that rural locale and we had separate conversations lamenting their cultural deprivation. The next day they happened to come in at the same time and I introduced them. Not bad for a stranger.

Yucca Flats is just west of 29 Palms the site of a gigantic Marine Corps base and I met HM3 Keith Parmalee, a Navy corpsman, the day before he shipped out with a Marine unit for Iraq. May the God bless you and bring you home safe to your lovely wife! ( I will mail out that book I promised to send you later today.)

Susanne Kern, the German tourist traveling with friend, Thomas, thank you for allowing this stranger to accost you with tales of the truly beautiful northern stretch of California. I mentioned Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (about 320 miles north of San Francisco) a magical place where you can hike through cathedral redwoods to the Pacific Ocean. If you visit there you may find a special treat at Rolf’s Park Motel and Restaurant along Highway 101. If Rolf is still there he is a Bavarian chef who makes an awesome Wiener schnitzel.

Mike and Kathy Culwell of Corona allowed me to use their home office for two days at the end of our camping trip. I hope to see you guys at the next HSC campout. I know Aeneas is ready!

After a week in the desert and vicinity I flew to New York City where I got an incredible series of assists from my extended family in the New York metropolitan area. How great is it to have a sister and a brother-in-law who are never home except in the evenings to feed and entertain me while I worked all day, polishing the ideas that I had dreamed up in the desert. I’ll tell everyone I know about the Dolly Inn, where the fabric softener is included with the service.

During the two days I spent at my J-school reunion at Columbia I had a safehouse in Harlem just a stone’s throw from the Cotton Club. What blessings!

Thanks to all, including last but not least, my immediate family who are stuck me in my worst moments.