Thursday, November 21, 2013

5 words that changed us: 'The president has been shot.'

“This murder in broad daylight ... Everything changed,” says Oliver Stone, the Hill School graduate/boomer director who served in Vietnam and made a movie about it before turning his distinctively critical lens on the Kennedy assassination.
Because he knows what becomes clearer with each passing year: For better and for worse, it was the event that defined the generation that has defined the way we look at the world today.

That excerpt is from an essay by Associated Press national writer Ted Anthony that will be the centerpiece of a memoriam edition being planned for Friday, Nov. 22 editions of The Mercury.
Like so many others, I recall this defining moment from a school classroom. I was in fourth grade at Pine Forge Elementary School, I believe my teacher was Mrs. Levengood.
It was recess, and I was in the classroom alone with the teacher because I was recovering from an illness and on doctor's orders not to be outdoors.
Someone knocked on the door carrying a note. I remember that the note was not folded and I saw the message: "The president has been shot."
Another knock and another message a few minutes later: "President Kennedy is dead."
I felt, as a 9-year-old would, important and puzzled. This message seemed so large, so shattering that it seemed out of place, written in pencil on a small piece of paper.
The bearer hadn't even given it the dignity of folding to maintain secrecy.
After that, I vaguely recall Mrs. Levengood breaking the news to the class and bringing a television into the classroom so we could watch events in Dallas and Washington.
I remember days later being in front of the TV in the corner of our living room at home watching Lee Harvey Oswald being led by police officers down a hall, and the startling shot by Jack Ruby that killed him. I remember our shock as a family witnessing a man shot in real time on TV, just as the newscast announcers expressed their own incredulity.
The assassination first of the president and then of his accused killer was all we talked about for days. This was the biggest thing to happen in our lives up till then.
The Life magazine with the Zapruder photos was preserved in a crawl space of my parents' home, found decades later in 2005 when we were cleaning out the house for sale.
But nothing is as clear in my memory as the sight of those few words pencilled on paper held by another student in the doorway of my fourth grade class.
"The president has been shot." Five words that changed our history.
Fifty years later, my generation recalls that moment, wondering how our lives in this nation might have been different if John Kennedy lived.
Where were you when you learned the president had been shot? If you are part of the generation defined by that moment, you remember.
The questions of conspiracy also still linger. Will we ever know what really happened 50 years ago in Dallas? And, will we ever really know how those events changed us?


Friday, November 15, 2013

Joining forces for a louder voice

The Mercury, like most community newspapers its size, has not traditionally had an editorial board  of writers who determine and produce Opinion pieces for the paper and its related digital sites.
When people have called requesting an interview with "the editorial board," I tell them they're already talking to it.
Part of my job as editor is being a one-person editorial board. I write "Our View," sometimes after discussing it with a reporter or other editor.  Mostly, I write Opinion pieces that I believe reflect the tone and stance of our paper and that celebrate or ask for correction of a community issue.
We're not alone in this challenge. The Mercury is part of a larger network of media sites known as Digital First Media. That network includes papers as different from us as The Denver Post and as similar as The Times Herald in Norristown and Daily Local News in West Chester.
It allows us to share resources, including editorials which we have often published with a tag line showing authorship.
You may have noticed in recent weeks that those tag lines no longer appear.
That's because The Mercury is now part of a Digital First Media Pennsylvania Editorial Board. The editorial board contributions reflect a collective opinion of the nine newspapers that make up the board.
The newspapers are The Mercury, Times Herald, Daily Local News, Delaware County Daily Times, The (Lansdale) Reporter, York Daily Record, Chambersburg Public Opinion, Lebanon Daily News and Hanover Evening Sun.
The group "meets" by phone once a week to discuss common issues to Pennsylvania and the region. They decide on topics for editorials and on who will write them. Each contributor makes the editorial available to the group via email, but there is no obligation for an individual site to publish what's provided. We still write our own local views and can reject a regional edit if we don't agree with its stance.
The board hopes to become a regional and state voice in government and on issues of common importance like nuclear power plants and the environment. The board last week interviewed Barry Schoch, who heads PennDOT, about the need for legislation to fix Pennsylvania's roads and bridges.
We have in the past interviewed Gov. Tom Corbett and Sen. Pat Toomey, and we hope to do more of that in the future.
Working as a group gives us a louder voice on issues in state and county government.
By sharing, we can bring our best and brightest to the forefront in writing Opinion pieces. We are also utilizing the talents of cartoonist Alan MacBain to accompany many of our editorials.
This is an exciting step forward for The Mercury, amplifying our voice on statewide issues that affect our local communities. Not every "Our View" will be on a  regional or statewide issue; we will continue to write Opinion pieces on issues of purely local interest. And, Friday's "Roses and Thorns" continues as our local means of giving cheers and boos.
We're excited about this change and hope that you, our readers, are, too. We want our opinions to inspire action that benefits you.
Be assured: Property tax reform is at the top of our list.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Summer of learning

Catherine "Cat" Coyle recently completed a summer internship in our newsroom. A Boyertown grad from Gilbertsville, Cat is now a sophomore at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia studying English and international relations. She hopes to continue studying journalism and enter the field as a reporter specializing in foreign affairs or environmental science. 
 Cat brought to our newsroom enthusiasm, talent, and a willingness to tackle any aspect of our multi-tasking jobs that we threw at her. She learned by assisting us with page production, story assignments, social media updates and even transcribing Sound-Off.

When we asked her what she learned and what she loved here, she replied, "Everything!" Indeed, the feeling was mutual. 
Our thanks to Cat for sharing your love of journalism with us. We know you have a great future ahead of you. 

I asked Cat to write her perspective on the summer as a guest blog item. Here it is:

By Cat Coyle

Many people ask me why I would want to enter the field of journalism at a time like this. The business is going through changes like it has never seen before. The only way for a publication to survive and prosper today is to constantly adapt, and change is not easy.
But I know just how passionate and driven many journalists are to find a way to make it work. The world needs journalists, and I want to be one.

I had no idea what to expect as I walked up the street on my first day as The Mercury’s summer news intern. I never thought that in my three months here, I’d meet an Olympian, or fall into a creek while covering a summer camp event. I expected some of the skills and tools that I would learn to use, but not the great teachers that I would encounter in the newsroom.  I also certainly never thought that I would be as sad to go as I am.
However, I am excited to carry with me the many skills learned and friendships formed in the newsroom on the second floor of the North Hanover Street building that I was so nervous walking into on that first day.
On my first day, Mercury reporter Caroline Sweeney took me to the police station just down the road and introduced me to the chief. I watched with awe at her ease and humor as she chatted with everyone at the station. The number one lesson I learned from Caroline is to always be nice. If you are polite and courteous with people, they will want to talk to you, not avoid you. Having people avoid you is a classic journalist problem.
One big part of my job this summer was to assist with the Mercury’s social media presence. Online editor Eileen Faust good-naturedly taught me the tools of the trade, making me a (semi)expert of Facebook, Twitter, Storify, and, of course, photo galleries. It’s harder than it looks.
These are some of the skills that I can’t wait to bring to The Hawk this semester. To keep us competitive with other college newspapers, we must establish a stronger social media presence. A newspaper’s job is to keep a dialogue moving within their community. I think that the Mercury does an excellent job at interacting with their readers and keeping the conversation going.
As the community engagement editor, Diane Hoffman also makes this happen. Diane encouraged me to put together a big project that would interact with the community. For the month of July, I visited multiple summer camps, taking video and interviewing campers and counselors.
My project turned into a “day in the life of a camp counselor” article by the suggestion of Evan Brandt. Diane helped me realize how important it is to dedicate time to a project and be passionate about a subject - the story will always turn out the best that way. We also had lots of fun acting like children at summer camp. Well, that was mostly me.
Evan also helped me to cover my first municipal meeting. Afterward, he patiently sat down with me and helped me edit my story to make sure the important facts were always clear, but that the story stayed dynamic rather than static. He taught me that the “conflict is the story,” something that I have thought about every time I have sat down to write a story since.  His insight and writing tips will definitely not be forgotten, along with his sass and hilarious office readings of “The Onion”.
Another thing I am proud to take with me after this summer is the wider array of skills I have learned. In addition to writing feature, business, and police news stories, of which I had little to no previous experience, I learned to tackle layout.
Dubbed the “duchess of death,” by city editor Tony Phyrillas after successfully finishing the obituary page after multiple tries, I learned to really enjoy putting a page together and finding what art makes the most sense where. (Even if Donna Rovins had to help me sixteen times every day.) 
Cheryl Thornburg, features editor, assigned me engaging feature stories that have helped me learn that I like writing stories about people and their experiences.  Before The Mercury, I stuck with ‘hard’ news stories. I am so glad to have been given the chance to realize how great it is to tell someone else’s story.
From learning the joys of running the “Sound Off” column from Sue Klaus to mercilessly teasing Caroline about her birthplace with Evan and Frank Otto, the Mercury has taught me how important it is to fill the workplace with laughs. Every time Bill Coldren walks in the door and updates every one of the latest drama, no one can help but smile. I have always loved the energy of the newsroom of my university’s publication- I was relived and excited to find the same in a professional newsroom.
Lastly, I’d like to thank Editor Nancy March for the opportunity she gave me by letting me intern with The Mercury this summer. I was only just finishing my freshman year when I approached The Mercury, and I am incredibly lucky to have been given the chance to work here. Nancy encouraged me to work to my fullest potential and made sure that I experienced all aspects of the newsroom and life as a reporter. She is the kind of manager you want to work for and impress.
Not everyone wants to go into this field right now, but my experiences at The Mercury have only confirmed my belief that the world is always going to need people who are trying to find the truth, and I want to be one of them. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jobs that are no more

When Mercury staff writer Caroline Sweeney started work on the series, "Jobs I never had," tackling summer jobs she had never tried, we started talking in the newsroom about the summer jobs that no longer exist.
As it turns out, none of the summer jobs I worked are an option these days. 
Back in the '70s, the region's factories provided the most lucrative employment. I worked for a time at the former Kooly Kupps plant outside Boyertown as a Styrofoam cup inspector. The job involved white cups going by on a conveyor belt with a light shining from below. If the light was visible through a spot in the cup, we discarded that cup.
By the end of a shift, we were covered in white Styrofoam and surrounded by damaged cups.
My second factory job was at the former Gudebrod plant, the one on Old Reading Pike near Flagg's. I worked third shift on a thread spooling machine, paid by the number of spools produced in a shift.
The musty building was hot, even from11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and I walked non-stop from one end of the spooling machine to the other packing spools of various colored threads as they came off the machine.
Neither of those jobs, nor those buildings exist. Thread isn't spooled and Kooly Kupps aren't manufactured around here anymore.
But my best summer job that no longer exists was selling Wonder Ware, the cookware designed to make great cooks out of unsuspecting young people as they graduated from high school or college.
"We're visiting ALL the girls ..." was the first line of our sales pitch.  In other words, if you didn't have an eager college student pitching pots and pans in your living room, well, you just weren't part of the crowd.
I worked for American Future Systems, lugging pans in a faded blue suitcase in and out of houses in the Pottstown area. We prospected sales leads through high school yearbooks and then worked referrals from one girl to the next.
The competition was tough: If another company's salesperson got to a school population first, I had no chance. I made a few sales in Pottstown and Owen J. Roberts, but I hit roadblocks with households already visited. Then I started in Phoenixville, where I quickly learned I was the first salesperson in town.
For July and the first half of August, I schlepped up and down the North Side, the East End and what is now the business district, giving my pitch and selling pans.
I learned how to cold-call, how to talk my way inside the door of a house, how to overcome objections and how to close a sale.
I delicately stood on pans to prove their durability and aptly explained the heat conduction advantages of three-layered copper, stainless steel construction.
I navigated the slumps and peaks salespeople come to know, and I kept going through nights when the car overheated and days when I would rather have gone to the beach than pound the pavement.
As it turns out, I'm pretty good at sales. I made more than $3,000 in six weeks, a small fortune in 1975 dollars; won a sales-incentive bonus of a weeklong trip to Bermuda, and even got a plaque as the fourth salesperson in the company.
I was the top sales rep in the Philadelphia region.
That's a job that is no more. No one is selling teens $330 sets of cookware for their future.
Caroline's "jobs she never had" won't include Kooly Kupp inspector, third-shift spooler or cookware sales. That's a shame.  There were lessons in those three endeavors that have served me well.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Don Seeley remembered: Our eulogy

Eulogy offered at funeral for former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley, July 1, 2013: 

I would like to thank Don’s family for inviting us at The Mercury to have a voice here. We know the difficulties of being the wife and children of a newspaperman. We’re honored you asked us to share in this tribute to his life.

Several years ago, I had the privilege of sharing a podium with Don at the 2007 Pottstown Relay for Life. We were the speakers for the luminaria ceremony. Relay was giving an award to The Mercury that year for our support. Don was supposed to say a few words introducing me, and I was supposed to say a few words in acceptance.
But when Don started to speak, he went vintage Don Seeley. He made an amazing speech about the newsroom’s support during his battle with cancer, and he ended with the stadium crowd hushed and me in tears.
As I tried to collect myself, I said to him, “You are certainly a tough act to follow.”
That’s how I feel today. 
If Don were speaking here, he’d have this crowd in the palm of his hand. He’d make you laugh. He’d make you cry. He’d inspire you and have you believe that you can beat cancer, that student-athletes are our future salvation and that sports is a game of dreams and miracles.
As great a speaker as he was, Don was an even better writer. He covered sports with an obsession for stats and accuracy, an eye for personality and an intuitive ability to discover the inspiration inside the story.
In a Mercury story about Don's passing last week, Gary DeRenzo said, “Don always found the silver lining and celebrated it.”
His longtime friend Mickey McDaniel said, “The guy had an impact I don’t think he ever really knew or understood.”
Don was always a little incredulous at the reaction to his stories. 
He fussed and fretted a lot when he was writing a story about someone. He took this craft so seriously, and he worried about failing the young athletes he wrote about.
A few years ago, when Pottsgrove football standout Terrell Chestnut was being recruited by Division I schools, Don interviewed him for a feature about the hardships Chestnut overcame.  He said it was such a great story he was afraid he wouldn’t do it justice.
He was the same way last December when Pottstown native Navy Seals Commander Job Price died. Don worried he wouldn’t adequately convey the character and courage of Price’s life.
In his retirement column a few months ago, he was worried he would forget to mention someone. Well, I edited that column and there were so many names in it, I don’t think he forgot anybody. 
Don was also, as you all know, quite the comedian. He would hold court in the newsroom, at social gatherings at Brookside Restaurant or the Elks, on the golf course or the sidelines of a game – telling stories, some of them appropriate and some of them not.
When he went missing sometimes at work, we would find him downstairs entertaining the first floor, or outside in the alley, Wawa coffee cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other, everyone around him laughing at something outrageous he had said.
In closing, I have just one anecdote I would like to share.
Don stopped in the newsroom a few weeks ago for a visit, and he noticed our summer intern sitting at his desk.  You can imagine the Papa Bear routine that followed:  “Young lady – do you know where you’re sitting?”
He then introduced himself, asked her where she went to school and if she was majoring in journalism.
I expected to then hear from across the room a diatribe about long hours, low pay, things not being what they used to be and the erosion of print. 
Instead, this is what I heard:
“Great career choice. 
"I just retired after 37 years in this business and I loved every day. I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else. Journalism is great work, and it’s been good to me. Good luck to you.”
He had that backward. It’s not that journalism was good to Don Seeley; Don Seeley was good to journalism.
When Don retired, we said the newsroom would never be the same. I have a feeling that after today, heaven will never be the same either.
Don was truly one of a kind.   
And we were truly blessed that he was one of us.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Damaged newsroom

We have a saying here at The Mercury, or at least among those of us who've been around a few decades. "There's something in the walls ..."
We use it to describe our penchant for odd news, our conglomeration of interesting personalities, and even our two Pulitzers.
For a newspaper this ordinary in a town this small to behave in the extraordinary ways we do sometimes ... well, it must be something in the walls.
On Wednesday morning about 11 a.m., that special something took a direct hit.
Our beloved recently retired sports editor Don Seeley died after being stricken while playing golf.
Seeley, who was 62, retired in March after 32 years covering sports at The Mercury, the past 14 years as sports editor. He continued to write for us as a free-lancer covering girls softball this spring and on Tuesday night, covering alongside current sports editor Austin Hertzog the first PAC-10 Boys Lacrosse Senior Bowl game.
It was the last event Seeley would cover.
An avid golfer, Seeley was at a regular Wednesday morning game with friends when he became ill around 10:30 a.m. He died a short time later at Grand View Hospital.
At about the same time, the newsroom was being stricken as well.
Editors here describe that about 11 a.m. they heard a "popping" noise and sizzling coming from inside the walls. A burning smell came next, and the desktop computers went blank -- on the side of the room and just behind the desk which Seeley occupied for years and which remains vacant.
I was out of town when these two incidents coincided, and upon returning here Wednesday night to edit and supervise the putting together of stories and photos paying tribute to my dear friend, I saw the wall ripped open just behind his former desk, the wiring inside exposed and damaged.
When Seeley retired, I was glad his words would remain with our readers, as he was continuing to write for us. I was glad, too, that he still had plenty of reasons to pester me about one thing or another. My sadness at the loss of both is profound.
I am not usually looking for hidden meanings when odd things happen, but today's message was pretty clear.
Something inside the walls of this newsroom was damaged today. We lost one of our own, one of our best.
RIP Don Seeley

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ready to Rumble

If there was ever a time to come out and support the Pottstown Rumble, this is it.
The Rumble is an annual grass tournament in Pottstown started more than 20 years ago by a group of volleyball enthusiasts.
The group, led by by Ken Kaas, worked tirelessly to grow the tournament, starting with some nets in Memorial Park to become the largest grass tournament on the East Coast.
Kaas and his cadre of volunteers got business sponsors to make the pot of prize money attractive to some of the best volleyball players in the country, some from other countries as well.

The women’s and men’s doubles teams compete to a crowd of their supporters; they patronize local businesses, stay in local hotels and campgrounds, and put on an event that’s entertaining both for the competition and the atmosphere.
Kaas takes pride in the fact that the tournament takes care of itself -- volunteers cleaning up after the June weekend competition each year so that no trash is left behind. In addition, the Rumble regularly donates to the Pottstown Fourth of July celebration and other events, giving back to its host community.
But for all that energy to bring a good thing to Pottstown, the Rumble has historically not generated a lot of local excitement. It’s one of those well-kept secrets in Pottstown that happens every year, and people outside the immediate area don’t even know about it.
This year, the Rumble hits the big time with a visit from Olympic gold medalist Misty May-Treanor.
May-Treanor is coming to Pottstown as a stop on her Dream in Gold tour sponsored by Spalding. The visit will include a clinic for youth volleyball players Thursday at Memorial Park and a meet-and-greet Friday at Smith Family Plaza downtown. A planned exhibition match has been cancelled because of injury.

The volleyball star power exhibited by May-Treanor proves that the Rumble is on the radar for volleyball enthusiasts around the nation.
Her visit is expanding the Rumble from two days to four days, Thursday through Sunday, June 20-23.
Memorial Park will be abuzz with volleyball action throughout the weekend, and vendors will offer food in the park for those enjoying the action. Pottstown-brewed Sly Fox beer will be on tap in the beer tent.
The event showcases Memorial Park and makes Pottstown a destination. With May-Treanor coming to town, the Rumble becomes even better this year.
If you have never been to the Rumble, this is the year.
Support this event that has for 22 years supported Pottstown.