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Actress Jayne Mansfield, right, feels the belly of pregnant reporter Gail Tabor in 1965 in Columbus, Ohio.

Actress Jayne Mansfield, right, feels the belly of pregnant reporter Gail Tabor in 1965 in Columbus, Ohio.


My dead mother is more successful on the Internet that I am. It happened Thursday.

She had a little help.

But that doesn’t lessen my bemusement. It only seems to show how capricious the online audience is and how difficult it can be for a writer to be heard in the digital cacophony of the Internet.

I should explain.

I’m a second-generation journalist. My mother, Gail Tabor, was a reporter for the Citizen-Journal in Columbus, Ohio, when she met my father, Steve Lucas, who was pursuing a PhD in business at Ohio State.

She kept reporting right up through her pregnancy with me. She left reporting when she had me, but 12 or 15 years later, after her divorce and a move to Phoenix, Arizona, she got a job at the Arizona Republic. She worked as a features reporter, fashion editor, gossip columnist and news reporter, in roughly that order, until being forced into early retirement in the mid-1990s.

At the time she left the newspaper, the Internet was barely a thing most people had even heard of, and like most people she didn’t own a computer.

A few years after she retired, I took a job in Richmond, Virginia, that among other things called for me to be a daily advocate to the company’s newspaper editors for adopting various “new media” practices – video, blogs, social media, and on and on. As part of that work, I started a blog nearly 10 years ago devoted to those things.

The original blog was behind a company firewall and couldn’t be viewed by the larger world of the Internet, but in 2011 I migrated it here to WordPress.

Despite my clearly brilliant insights, however, the blog has never gained much of an audience – except for one post in 2012 that called for media companies (including but not limited to newspapers) to recognize that the people who produce their “content” are their most valuable commodity and need to be paid like it. That post drew a favorable comment on Steve Buttry’s blog, which got it noticed and linked to by All Things D, and traffic to my blog spiked to an all-time high. Nothing else I wrote ever came close to achieving that kind of audience. (Despite that post’s popularity, no one ever adopted my recommendation. Journalists, and content-providers in general, remain paid like dirt.)

Earlier in 2012, my mother died. Among her things were a good many of her newspaper stories and columns. One was a column she wrote in 1983 about a candy treat called Buckeye balls, which are rolled peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate, but not totally covered in chocolate so they look like Ohio buckeye nuts. Making Buckeye balls was a fall tradition for my family, usually done on the day of the Ohio State-Michigan game.

I loved that column and typed it, in its entirety, into a post on my blog.

Over time, that post became the second-best-read item on my blog. Pretty much every day, at least a couple of people searched the Internet for “buckeye balls,” “buckeye candies” or some variation and followed a link to that post.

And then on Thursday a slideshow online called United States of Food: Official State Foods mentioned “buckeye candies” in its Ohio entry and linked to my mother’s column on my blog.

The traffic blew away my previous one-day record. So now my mother, who never blogged a day in her life, has both the best-read post on my blog and the biggest single-day audience. If it were anyone but Mom, I’d be upset.

My mother, who has been dead three years and never lived in Lenoir, received an offer in the mail at my house this week to get a free hearing exam.

“You have received this invitation today because you best represent the segment of the population which is most likely to experience hearing loss and tinnitus,” it said.

I would not have thought of the dead as the segment of the population most likely to suffer from hearing loss, but in hindsight I should have known better. If nothing else, all the dirt muffling sounds from the surface would make that person keenly aware of how much better his hearing could be.

Anyway, my mother was cremated. Surely that process cleared up any problems with her ears.

But as I thought about it I realized there are other possibilities.

What if the afterlife is more like the Catholics envision it, or used to (do they still believe in limbo and purgatory?), and when you die it isn’t a clear-cut case of going to heaven or hell? There could be intermediate steps. Maybe not limbo as the Catholic church described it, but something hung in the middle between heaven and hell.

My mother lived a good life and was kind to helpless animals, but she was no saint — she was a journalist, after all — so perhaps she escaped hell but is condemned to an eternity of tinnitus, a constant ringing sensation in the ears.

It would be like the afterlife was portrayed in the comedy-horror movie “An American Werewolf in London,” where the victims of a werewolf are cursed souls and must roam the earth as ghosts until the werewolf’s blood line is severed.

This would make being bitten by the journalism bug a curse similar to being bitten by a werewolf. (If you don’t think being a journalist is a curse, come spend a day with my boss.) I’m sure this idea would strike any journalist as uncomfortably familiar in the same way as looking into a mirror at a big, formal gathering and seeing yourself with a severe case of bedhead.

Except in the movie, the ghosts of the werewolf’s victims looked just like their physical corpses – bloodied and mauled, and gradually decaying.

In the case of the cursed journalist, the ghost would walk the earth forever, constantly sticking a finger in his ear and wiggling it, or lying in bed in the dark trying to ignore the ringing. And of course, the curse for a journalist is doubled because the dead can’t drink.

I can see it now, and probably will the next time I belly up to a bar. I’ll look down at the row of seats and imagine dead journalists at each one, all looking longingly at my beer while they wiggle an index finger in their ears. All except Mom. She was a scotch drinker.

This is a follow-up to the previous post and was written to run in the News-Topic.

It takes a special kind of jerk to respond to a young person’s exuberance with bitter cynicism and bile.

That would be the kind of person who, seeing a young boy cheerfully walking along with a helium balloon, pulls out something sharp. Best to pop the balloon and make the child cry – after all, life is hard, and you better get used to it.

There is a financial writer named Felix Salmon who is one of those people. He works for a website called Fusion, and last week he wrote an article with the headline To all the young journalists asking for advice ….” From the way the article starts, I take it that Salmon regularly receives email from young reporters asking for tips on how to get into the business, or into Fusion itself, and saying how much they would like to talk about it over coffee if they could. That’s the kind of thing that the job-networking website LinkedIn and other places that give job-hunting advice recommend that you try to do – reach out to someone working someplace that you would like to work, ask for advice, try to meet for coffee.

Salmon illustrates two pitfalls of that strategy. One is that the advice is now so widespread that anyone a young job-hunter may contact might just be tired of all the unsolicited attention and requests for advice and coffee. The other is that the person you email out of the clear blue may be a bitter, old fart who’s more likely to insult you than to try to help.

Salmon’s “advice” was discouraging, to say the least. Not only that, it was contradictory.

“In fact, life is not good for journalists. And while a couple of years ago I harbored hopes that things might improve, those hopes have now pretty much evaporated. Things are not only bad; they’re going to get worse,” he wrote, immediately after a paragraph that ended, “I think this is probably the greatest era for journalism that the world has ever seen. I also think that some of today’s fast-growing digital companies are going to become the media behemoths of tomorrow, making their owners extremely rich in the process.”

In other words, despite all the positive things he sees going on, his takeaway on the world of journalism is “Life stinks and then you die.”

Way to be a Debbie Downer, Felix.

Journalism is changing, which is true of a great many occupations – and always has been. Do you see any businesses around here that sell horse-drawn carts? That used to be one way to make a living. When cars came along, carts and buggies went away. But even cars aren’t constant. A couple of years ago I did an interview at a business that used to be a car dealership – for the Hudson Motor Car Co., a brand of car that most people now have never heard of. Remember when furniture companies started moving jobs to Asia? They’re never coming back, everyone said. Now a number of those jobs are coming back. Things change.

A lot of the upheaval affecting journalism and news organizations is related to the Internet. But the Internet is not a monolithic force. Things change there too. Remember Friendster? Probably not. It was Facebook before there was a Facebook. It got replaced by MySpace, which got replaced by Facebook.

How does the Internet come into your house? It used to be that the only way anyone got online was with a modem that dialed a phone number. Companies that made those modems have had to either quickly adapt as technology changes or go out of business.

Dell Computers built a production plant near Winston-Salem 10 or 15 years ago to make desktop computers – and within a few years it was obsolete because people started buying laptops instead.

Things change. What’s important is what you want to do. What do you like? What sort of work makes you feel creative or productive and fulfilled? In the case of those young people writing to Salmon, it is writing and reporting – telling stories. The technology of doing that is changing, so the details of doing the work is changing. The revenue of some parts of the business, such as newspapers, has declined, and maybe will keep declining – or it might stop. The things that make the work appeal to certain people haven’t changed that much. No one ever got into writing for the money.

Better advice was once given by David Carr, a prominent reporter for the New York Times who died Thursday:

“Being a journalist, I never feel bad talking to journalism students because it’s a grand, grand caper. You get to leave, go talk to strangers, ask them anything, come back, type up their stories, edit the tape. That’s not gonna retire your loans as quickly as it should, and it’s not going to turn you into a person who’s worried about what kind of car they should buy, but that’s kind of as it should be. I mean, it beats working.”

That’s the kind of advice young people deserve to hear.

UPDATE: Another good one to read on this topic. Sample: “I was disappointed about how I had been taken in by someone projecting his own feelings of discouragement onto a group of people younger than himself.”

I haven’t met Dylan Howlett, but I hope I will because his recent blog post, Advice for Felix Salmon: Stop giving advice, is very well written. In case you don’t have time right now to go read it (find the time eventually, please) or the piece it refers to, here’s a summary:

Salmon wrote an article, To all the young journalists asking for advice …, not only discouraging anyone from trying to pursue a career in journalism but insulting them for thinking of it. Howlett responded smartly and hilariously, calling out Salmon’s bitterness and the massive gaps in his argument.

Howlett aptly sums up why I stay in this business. It’s true that after I was laid off in 2012, I looked for an exit ramp to something else. My thoughts at the time were not as dark as Salmon expresses, but they were in that general path.

But my previous job in journalism wasn’t very rewarding, emotionally. The one I have now is. No surprise, I now work directly with reporters and their writing and do a fair amount of writing of my own. And you know what? It’s nice to be in love. It’s true of people and it’s true of whatever you do.

Also, this, from Salmon: “And while a couple of years ago I harbored hopes that things might improve, those hopes have now pretty much evaporated. Things are not only bad; they’re going to get worse.”

That reminds me of this: For more than 20 years, I worked for Media General. When I started, the company’s stock was trading somewhere in the $20- to $30-a-share range. At one point in the early 2000s it got to over $70 a share. But then much of the media world started getting “disrupted,” and the stock dropped. A few years ago it got down to around $1 a share. Along the way, a lot of people decided it was never going to get any better — prodded by some stock analysts who predicted the company was doomed — and they dumped all their stock. Today it’s trading for over $15. Obviously, $70 a share was ridiculous, but so was $1. Yes, Media General is now a TV company with no newspapers, but that’s the point: Who saw that coming? A point that Salmon, oddly enough, makes unintentionally by pointing out developments in journalism that came out of nowhere.

There’s a saying related to stock trading: Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

Salmon, despite his financial-reporting background, seems to believe otherwise — which is all the more puzzling, given that he admits “I’ve also never really had a career, in the sense of a planned-out sequence of jobs, each one slightly better than the last, working my way up towards some grand ideal position. I arrived where I am randomly, and I could not have replicated it if I tried.”

That pretty much sums up the career of almost everyone I have ever met.

Here’s my advice: If you fall in love, follow your heart.

When the news came out last week that NASCAR driver Kurt Busch testified in court that his ex-girlfriend was a trained assassin, and he cited the things that made him think so, like a lot of people I had one thought:

There are perfectly reasonable explanations for each of those things.

For instance, the time that his ex, Patricia Driscoll, came home wearing a trench coat over an evening gown that was covered in blood. The exact same thing happened to me. My wife had left our house, as Driscoll did, wearing camouflage gear, and she said she was going to meet some friends. Four or five hours later, I came out of the kitchen with a snack of microwaved hot wings, and suddenly Jane was standing there in the foyer, her hair mussed, wearing this stunning, off-the-shoulder, white dress that had large, red spatters all over the left side. I didn’t even hear her come in, which happens all the time – we joke that she moves like a ninja.

“I should have told you, it was an engagement party, but a few of us decided our group should arrive as just us girls, so we didn’t tell our husbands and changed clothes on the way,” she explained, and I was so relieved, because I get so bored with her friends’ talk of travel to places like Moscow and Baghdad and their midnight meetings in dark alleys.

And she said the red on the dress was just chocolate syrup with red food coloring, just like they use in movies for fake blood. The bride-to-be, she explained, loves red – it’s going to be a big color in the wedding – so there were red Kit Kats and red-velvet-cake bites on sticks that everyone could dip in this fountain of red chocolate, which someone who had way too many red mimosas fell into and knocked to the floor, and the chocolate spattered everywhere, and Jane happened to be standing fairly close it.

There’s always a reasonable explanation.

Again, take the testimony by Richard Andrew Sniffen, a friend of Busch’s who is a Christian music minister, that after Busch broke up with Driscoll, she said to Sniffen that she would take Busch down.

“I will destroy him,” Sniffen said Driscoll told him.

That reminded me of one night recently when I thought Jane was really mad with me after I yelled at her for having left her Bushmaster Carbon 15 with collapsible stock and red-dot sight leaning up against the bed, where I tripped over it.

“I’ll murder you,” I thought I heard her mutter.

“Did you say, ‘I’ll murder you’?” I asked.

“What? No,” she said, smiling. “No, I said, ‘I’m really sorry.’” She came over to me and caressed my face. “You’re so silly,” she said as she tugged a lock of my hair. She tugged it a little too roughly, really. It hurt. She’s stronger than she looks, I keep reminding her, and I have the bruises to prove it.

But she kissed me, picked up her rifle and went to the study to finish reading this month’s “Soldier of Fortune.”

If I hadn’t asked what she really said, think of the misunderstanding and hurt feelings that could have resulted.

Really, it’s obvious why Busch and Driscoll broke up. Clear communication and understanding are the cornerstones of any serious relationship.

Nice column by the L.A. Times’ Michael Hiltzik about the breathless greeting every billionaire who buys a newspaper company receives. Summed up:

“Why do we keep getting taken in? Partially it’s the recognition that the economics of news-gathering are daunting in the modern age, solutions hard to come by, and the success of everything that’s been tried is still uncertain at best.”

I wrote something similar the summer of last year after Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post, but I hadn’t revisited any of the cases I raised there. Hiltzik’s column saves me the work on Bezos (“The Washington Post has done superb work under its new owner,” he writes, and I would add that while it’s still early to judge the financial performance, things appear encouraging) and Aaron Kushner’s Orange County Register (“the Register is staggering financially”), plus adds a couple of new cases of billionaires jumping into journalism (though not newspapers).

But I still like my post’s ending better.

My heart ached as the sixth-graders walked one by one to the microphone at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center, gave their first name and said what they want to be when they grow up.

Most appeared nervous. In some, that translated into a stiff gait, gaze locked forward. Some walked as if they were on a high wire, so conscious of the eyes on them that they perhaps feared tripping or stumbling. One skinny, gangly girl’s nerves made her long limbs jiggle as she walked, and she flashed a broad, self-conscious smile.

Some, like that girl, had begun the physical growth spurt that soon will make their parents feel suddenly much older. But most, even the taller ones, still had a child’s voice.

As each one, still brimming with a child’s energy but not yet a teenager’s bravado, spoke into the microphone, that child’s voice announcing a career ambition stabbed at the place in my heart where I keep sentimentality locked away.

“I want to be a technology designer,” a boy said, and the sweet earnestness bored into me.

These 41 children were this year’s recipients of Dream Awards from the Foundation of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. They were nominated by their teachers and guidance counselors because they show great potential to achieve these goals – or others that may replace them in the coming years.

“I want to be a paleontologist, vet or author,” a girl said, and the broad range of options she is considering swept me along like a river. She believes in these, I saw it in her eyes, she believes she can do it, and hearing that child’s voice speaking it, I wanted to pick her up and help her along.

These are all children who could become the first members of their families to attend college. Sixth-graders surely don’t realize what a barrier that is, but it is one, as adults come to understand. The understanding is part of what creates the ache when you look into a young face full of life and energy and dreams. An adult knows how many obstacles will come along.

A lack of money to pay tuition may be the least of the problems a child will confront before graduating high school, but unlike so many of those problems, it’s one that is easily addressed.

Not easily enough, of course. The 41 recipients of this year’s awards are not the only students who would be worthy of this attention. The money the foundation has raised goes only so far.

“I want to be a pediatrician,” a girl said, and I thought how many other girls might have said that but weren’t lucky enough to be chosen and brought to this room.

During their 25 years the Dream Awards have helped hundreds of students take a critical step closer to achieving their dreams.

It’s not enough. It’s not nearly enough.

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