Trick Questions

A Pulitzer-winning reporter is writing an in-depth piece – about you. What are the three questions you really hope she doesn’t ask you?

Here’s the original answer. Same question. Same answer. Different picture.

This must be the interview which celebrates my having won the Blogging Pulitzer, right? No? Has there been a mass shooting in town — and I’m the shooter? The Blackstone has angrily overflowed and washed my house away?


72-WNEX Radio_023The aliens have landed and are shacking up in the guest room? The aliens tried to land, but couldn’t find a suitable spot to set down, the driveway being full of cars?

The President is visiting us because he’s run out of foreign countries with which the U.S. is, was or will be at war?

Really — I’m past the age where I have anything left to hide. What could anyone ask about which I haven’t already written and published in a post?

So bring it on. We are media savvy in this household. Ain’t nothin’ you can ask that we can’t answer!



I remember discussions about news coverage more than 50 years ago.  My college radio colleagues and I thought the mainstream media outlets were sellouts, ignoring the real stories and covering their collective butts with government propaganda. Some of us vowed to seek employment with the CBC, The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation where we would have a greater chance to tell the truth.

skydivingLuck intervened and I landed a job with ABC Network News as a 20 something. ABC, coincidentally, was revamping its national and international news format. They wanted new blood. We were encouraged to be fresh and innovative. Newbie newsies like me leapfrogged over veterans from the advent of radio and TV news.

The late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were the new “golden era” for broadcast news. We had access to newsmakers in the highest places. We were emboldened to take chances even when threatened by power brokers. I always worked in the moment, never fearing the consequences of political windmills I might tilt.

It was a Camelot period for those of us who sought to report the truth. Then everything began to change.

Fast forward ahead to today and the proliferation of 24 hour cable news and social media. Camelot is dead. News — local and network — is controlled by corporate entertainment divisions.

Newbie newsies today don’t have the support or access I did half a century ago, but they still have a bully pulpit and should use it — if they have the courage and conviction to try to create change.


My husband was a news guy for more than 40 years. For 32 of those years, he was a reporter. You could watch him on television pretty much every day.

He covered breaking news. Murder, fires, disasters. Blizzards, hurricanes, politics. Riots. Court cases. Wherever something was happening, there he was. I knew the news from both sides. How it was made, how come some stories got on the air and others did not. What made a story “hot” and why. I have no illusions about the accuracy of media, but I also know how hard reporters work. How little the public appreciates the enormous amount of work that goes into one of those little reports you see every night.


Reporters don’t usually get to choose what to report. They can enterprise projects. Maybe get to do something they think is worthwhile. A reporter can request to be put on a particular story.

In the end, reporters are employees. They have bosses. They go where they are sent. If they don’t follow orders, they won’t be working long.

Like every other profession. Unless you own the company, you do your job. It’s not like the movies. Once upon a time reporters had more freedom to investigate, but not in recent decades.

Today, news is entertainment. It wasn’t always. Back in “the day,” it was public service. Maybe someday, it will be again. For now, though, the news has to make money. For television station owners, corporate and local owners. Sponsors. Advertisers.

Hopefully this isn’t a surprise to anyone. You all knew this, right?

This is not to say that reporters don’t work their butts off to do the best job they can. Some don’t, but most do. It’s a rough world. Highly competitive, long hours. Much of the time spent racing the clock through rain, wind, sleet, and bad traffic. Seeing the worst stuff imaginable. Murder, mayhem, and human  misery is the bread and butter of news.

Living with a reporter has not made me less skeptical of media than the average citizen. I know how little and how much I can trust what I see and hear. “Incompetent” media is that way because news directors think that’s what you want. If you want it, you will watch it . It will have high ratings which will sell advertising minutes. It’s all about the bottom line. News is a business. Big business. Not a holy cause.

We expect a lot from reporters. We expect them to be better than us. To be fairer. To search for the truth on our behalf. We hold them to a higher standard than we hold ourselves because …

Well, because …

75-Emmy-3Okay, why do we feel that way? We don’t necessary seek the truth. Many of us choose to believe obvious lies and don’t ever check to see if there’s any evidence to support our position.

Reporters are people, some better than others. We are all responsible for seeking truth. If you believe in God, then you believe He gave us free will to figure out stuff. To not believe the snake.

If you don’t believe in God, then you still believe in free will … and that we should not believe the snake oil salesmen.

Nobody could get away with making stuff up, and presenting it as truth (and news) if we were not eager to believe it.

In the end, we will only get accountability and accuracy from media if we demand it.  As long as corporate owners believe their audience wants rumor, innuendo, and outright lies … and will believe anything without corroboration or concern for truth? That’s exactly what they provide.


Overload Alert – “Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” — Gertrude Stein

There is a lot of noise out there in the world. Television, radio, social media, newspapers.

Thing is, you don’t have to pay it any mind. I don’t. Much — most — of what passes for “information” barely fits the criteria for gossip, much less news. It’s ranting. Bullshit.

Facebook especially is full of unfounded opinions, innuendos, stuff that has been passed around so much everyone assumes it must be true, but hardly anyone bothers to check if it is fact or nonsense.


When I’ve taken the time to track down these Internet “stories,” I’ve found them to be without basis in fact. If there are facts in the mix, they are out of context and liberally mixed with someone’s opinion. The most lethal kind of misinformation is a mix of fact and fiction which sounds authoritative, but is all smoke and mirrors.

I don’t watch the news. Really, I don’t. Unless there’s something specific going on that I need to know about. It has to be important: a hurricane coming our way, a natural disaster, a major political or international event, a war. I don’t need to know about the “crime du jour” or the latest celebrity scandal. I read book reviews. Movie reviews. When there’s a big election, I like to know the positions of the candidates. We watch at least one presidential debate every four years. And we vote.

Otherwise, if someone wants to tell me what’s going on in their life or wants to know about mine? They can call me, email me. Read my blog.

I am retired. Truly retired. I don’t want to know about, worry about, deal with all the crap in the world. If I don’t turn on the TV or follow it in social media, I don’t need to know. The crisis can proceed without me.

Life is far more relaxing without the constant hysteria of media.

Try it. It’s amazing how peaceful life can be if you don’t pay attention to the nonsense spouted and touted on the airwaves and Internet.


He wanted to be a movie star, on the silver screen. I wanted to be an author. Somehow on our way to our dreams, we found our way to the college radio station. A puny thing, just 10 watts when Garry and I met in the tiny studios under the Little Theater. I was 17, Garry 22. He was a little older than most of the undergrads because at 17, he’d enlisted in the Marines and by the time he got out, a few years had passed.

Garry Clean Harbors-SMALLWe found the radio station by accident, but it fit. Garry stayed and became its Program Director. I hung around and began dating the Station Manager, who coincidentally was Garry’s best friend. Which is where our personal history gets a bit tangled and hard to explain, so I won’t. I was the Chief Announcer. Even though I knew I wanted to be in print, not electronic media, the radio station was a great place to try out new skills. There were scripts to be written, newsletters to create. And I had my own radio show and a whole bunch of great friends, most of whom are still great friends.

We were all oddballs. Creative and talented. Almost all of us went on to careers in media and the arts. We turned out a couple of authors, audio engineers, talk show hosts, DJs, TV and radio producers, news directors, commercial writers, college professors and Garry, a reporter whose career spanned 45 years, 31 at Channel 7 in Boston.

Surprisingly little footage of Garry’s on the air career  survived and until someone found this clip, we had nothing from his years at ABC Network. An old friend of Garry’s sent us this footage from 1969, the last year Garry was at ABC before he jumped to television. It’s a promotional piece for ABC News and features faces and voices from the past … and one young up and coming fellow, Garry Armstrong.

Let us return to those days of yesteryear, when television cameras used film and there was a war raging in Vietnam. 1969, the year my son was born, the year of Woodstock, the end of an era, the beginning of everything else.

Look at the equipment circa 1969. Antiquated by today’s technical standards, but the standards by which the news itself was gathered and reported were incomparably higher than what passes for news reportage today.


I don’t get it. I’ve been listening to arguments against gun control since I was a child. When I was six, I didn’t understand why anyone would not want guns regulated. I do not understand it today when I am 66.

Our family has a Red Ryder Daisy BB rifle with which we shoot paper targets. My son inherited his father’s target 22. It’s a pretty thing. Holds a single shell and is intended for competition target shooting. My son keeps it clean, oiled, and unloaded. I assume it works, though no one has used it in a long time.

Red Ryder BB gun

I like target shooting and I’m a good shot. I’ve never killed anything, not counting bugs … and you won’t get any apologies from me on that score. If insects stay outside, that’s okay with me. In my domain? Bugs get as dead as I can squash them.

But the whole gun thing. The fascination with guns, the passion for them. The belief that we need to have them because if not, “they” will take away our freedom? Who are “they” and what exactly do they want? I don’t know about you, but I don’t have anything much that anyone would want. Frankly, if you want it that badly, geez, just take it. I’m not going to die for anything I own. They’re just things.


At the risk of asking a stupid question, what freedom are “they” coming to take away? My right to have a blog? Is this blog so important that someone is going to bring the swat-mobile to stop me from posting? How about my right to take photographs? Does anyone care that much? The right to pay my bills? You can have that freedom. Please, take it. No guns required. My right to own a car? That’s pretty well-regulated already. Watch TV? Charter Communications owns me. Feel free to take Charter Communications, however. Just leave me WiFi.

How about phone calls? I’m in thrall to the cable company and AT&T already. Could the government be worse? I tend to doubt it. My calls — and yours — are already monitored by the NSA. Seriously, exactly what freedoms are “they” going to take and why would “they” bother?

Virtually every aspect of life is regulated. You can’t cut hair or sell insurance without a license. You can’t own or drive a car without a license, registration and insurance. Most places, you need to get a license to build an extension on your house, change the wiring, remodel your kitchen or put up a new roof. You need a license for your dogs and cats.

We aren’t connected to town water or sewage, so we pay whatever it costs to keep our well healthy and our septic functional. If they ever put in city water and sewer, I’m sure we’ll be required to hook up and pay some ridiculous amount of money to do it.  With all the perils, I prefer my own water. As of this writing, the air is free. If someone figures out how to regulate it, I’m sure they will. And sin. That’s free, but there’s always (heh) syntax.


So what is such a big deal about requiring gun licensing and registration? We control and limit citizens’ access to pretty much everything. Why are guns sacred? Don’t talk to me about the Constitution. We have reinterpreted the constitution to align with the realities of modern life over and over again. There is no reason guns can’t be treated the same way as anything else.

The arguments against sensible gun control are stupid. If we control who can drive a car and how that car can be driven and there are a staggering number of traffic regulations enforced with considerable vigor, why can’t we exert at least as much control over weapons? You can’t drive drunk, how come you can walk around drunk with a gun? To whom does this make sense? Not me. I’m flummoxed by the illogic.

I would never want to limit my right — or yours —  to own a car, unless there’s good reason. Such as eyesight so poor you are not able to safely operate a vehicle. Or your having been arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or being unable to pay for at least minimal insurance and registration. Or you can’t pass the driver’s test. It would be irresponsible to give licenses to blind, drunk, or incapable drivers, wouldn’t it? How could equivalent oversight not be appropriate for guns? Seriously?

Butch Cassidy’s gun sold for $175,000.


To own a gun, you have to pass a test to make sure you know how to shoot and care for a weapon. You become obligated to keep it out of the wrong hands. You need to be able to see well enough to properly aim a gun and be able to hit a target. You need pass a background check so we know you aren’t a felon or a dangerous wacko.

You have to register your guns. All of them. You must know where they are and you may not lend them to anyone. If a gun is lost or stolen, you must report it. You need gun liability insurance on every weapon you own that contains a firing pin. If a weapon registered to you gets used in an illegal act, causes harm to others — with or without your consent — you are responsible for damages. If you don’t go to jail, you can still wind up in court.


The nation, as well as individual states and counties can tax your weapons and refuse to license weapons deemed inappropriate for private owners. If you want a weapon that is considered unsuitable, you will have to get a different license, not to mention provide an explanation.

Simple, isn’t it? We license cars because cars are potentially dangerous; you can kill someone with a car. All this regulation doesn’t mean we don’t own cars. Obviously we own a lot of cars. We simply try to control who is allowed to drive and keep track of who owns what. It doesn’t mean we can keep every drunk off the road, prevent all accidents or stop joy-riding kids, but we do the best we can.

I have yet to hear a coherent argument against this plan — probably because there isn’t any. Guns should be regulated like every other dangerous thing.



It seems to me the importance of whatever is going on in the world has an inverse relationship to the amount of attention it gets in the press. By “press,” I’m referring to newspapers, radio, television and other traditional news outlets, newer stuff like social networks, websites and blogs. Plus even newer sources of information such as newsletters and email. “Press” is the collective dissemination of information from a wide variety of perspectives and mediums. These days, it’s a free-for-all. If you care about truth and facts, you will need to do some independent reality checking.

News is loosely defined as whatever news people say it is. Whether or not this actually is news is subjective. The control of news content is not, as many people think, in the hands of reporters or even editors and publishers. Whatever controls exist are defined in corporate boardrooms run by guys like Rupert Murdoch who have no vested interest in keeping us well-informed. The news biz is about power, politics and money. Mostly money. It’s business, not public service.

That would, in theory, make “independent” sources — bloggers, for example — more “honest” … but don’t bet on it. Everybody’s got an agenda. Independence doesn’t equate to accuracy or honesty. They may not be beholden to a corporation or sponsors, but that doesn’t make them neutral or fair. They may be … but then again, maybe not. I’ve read blogs so blatantly lacking in any kind of journalistic ethics it shocked me. I am not easily shocked.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Pri...

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin acknowledge applause during a Joint Session of Congress in which President Jimmy Carter announced the results of the Camp David Accords. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure exactly when news stopped being stories about important stuff going on in the world and became whatever will generate a big audience likely buy the sponsors’ products. Money has always driven the news to some degree, but not like today. Now, everything seems to be driven by the bottom-line. It hasn’t improved the quality of the news. Once upon a time, important issues and stories got a free pass, an exemption from needing to have “sex appeal.” Significant news got on the air even if it wasn’t sexy or likely to sell products. Not true any more.

For a brief shining period from World War II through the early 196os and perhaps a bit beyond, the “Ed Murrow” effect was a powerful influence in American news. Reporters were invigorated by getting respect for their work and tried to be “journalists” rather than muckrakers.

When I was growing up, Walter Cronkite was The Man. He carried such an aura of integrity and authority I thought he should be president not merely of the U.S., but of the world. Who would argue with Walter Cronkite? He sat next to God in the newsroom and some of us had a sneaking suspicion God personally told him what was important. If Walter said it was true, we believed. Thus when Cronkite became the guy to get Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat to sit down and talk — the beginning of the Camp David Accords — it seemed natural and right. Who was more trustworthy than Uncle Walter? Who carried more authority? He walked in the glow of righteousness.


He always made my mother giggle. It was not Walter, the reporter or man who made her laugh. It was his name. “Cronkite” in Yiddish means ailment, so every time his name was announced, my mother, who had a wild and zany sense of humor, was reduced to incoherent choking laughter. It was a nightly event. Eventually she got herself under control sufficiently to watch the news, but the sound of her barely contained merriment did nothing to improve the gravity I felt should surround the news.

To this day, the first thing I think of when I hear Walter Cronkite’s name — something that less and less frequently as the younger generations forget everything that happened before Facebook — is the sound of my mother’s laughter. That’s not entirely bad, come to think of it.

Walter was one of Ed Murrow’s boys, his hand-picked crew at CBS News.


I can only wonder what the chances are of any of us living to see a return to news presented as news and not as entertainment. Where reporters and anchors check and doublecheck sources before broadcasting a story. Today, Jon Stewart’s comedy news The Daily Show gives us more accurate news than does the supposed “real” news, I like Stewart, but I don’t think this is the way it’s supposed to be.

For a look at the how we got from there to here, two movies spring instantly to mind : Network — a 1976 American satirical film written by the great Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet starring Faye DunawayWilliam HoldenPeter Finch, and Robert Duvall. Its dark vision of the future of news has turned out to be very close to reality. Too close for comfort.

The other, for veterans of the TV wars, is Broadcast News, a 1987 comedy-drama film written, produced and directed by James L. Brooks. The film concerns a virtuoso television news producer (Holly Hunter), who has daily emotional breakdowns, a brilliant yet prickly reporter (Albert Brooks) and his charismatic but far less seasoned rival (William Hurt). When it first came out, it was almost too painful to watch.

And finally, Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom …the HBO series that gives the most realistic look at how it works and sometimes, how it fails … and why it matters.

The world goes on. We think we can’t survive without this or that. We think the world will go completely to Hell without real news and serious reporters but we survive. Maybe the worse for wear, but trucking along. Nonetheless, I’d like real news back on the air. I’d like to see a return to fact-based reporting. I know how old-fashioned that is, but I wish I could believe what I read, what I see, what I hear. I miss being able to trust the information I get. I would like to be less cynical or at the least, discover my cynicism was misplaced.

Just saying.

Daily Prompt: If you feel successful, you are.


You can’t write about success  without defining the term. Success is relative, after all. When I started blogging, success was ten hits in a day, five of which were no doubt my husband. Then, as numbers rose, I  began to get the hang of it. The election kicked into high gear and a monster storm battered the east coast. I wrote about them and began to see pretty large numbers. My expectations rose accordingly, while simultaneously, my definition of success subtly altered.

September 8, 2012

September 8, 2012

Driving home last night from the Cape, I began thinking about where I am these day with my blog. I passed 90,000, close to 91,000 now. When it gets to 100,000 … I’ll celebrate. Maybe. Or when my followers, now at 476 (more or less, last I checked) hit 500.

The thing is, my numbers have slowed. Or maybe stabilized … sort of. I could push to speed them up … but I don’t want to. Because that would mean I’d have to write about things only to pull people in rather than what I feel like writing about. If I do that, I won’t have so much fun. My readership seems more or less steady. I’ve got friends out there. Maybe that is success.

My most popular all time post was written during a five-minute commercial interruption of the 2012 première episode of Criminal Minds. Over a thousand hits came pouring in for it in about an hour plus another few hundred over the next few days and many more in the months since. It remains my highest drawing post. When the season première came around in England, I got 1400 hits in one hour. It’s time has, I think, finally expired. I used to get a steady 50 or more hits a day from it, but it no longer makes the top 10. Just as well. It was a false statistic and only obscured the more important numbers.

I always know when the episode is playing somewhere because each time it shows, anywhere on earth, in rerun or as a new series, I get another thousand or so hits. The last time was the middle of June when a rerun of the episode was on cable and I got just under 900 hits in about an hour and another 300 the next day. Sure does goose up those stats, eh?

June 2013

June 2013

What have I learned from this? If you want to be popular, write about television shows. Be lucky. It helps if Google has you at the top — or near — of the search results. I wrote a little piece quickly, published it within a couple of minutes. It accounts for 10,111 total hits: The FBI can’t do a simple Google search?

In second position for all time hits, with a solid showing of 5,043 hits is a joke about cell phones and Albert Einstein. I copied and pasted it from Facebook: The man who saw the future …

Other very successful posts (in a viral kind of way) include reblogs, tech reviews, and photo galleries. The pictures never go “viral” like writing can, but good pictures get looked at. Nice and steady.

August 2012

August 2012

And well-written articles get read. Not as much as pictures get looked at, though. In the grand scheme of things, probably 75% of my followers come for photography. Which is okay. I make pretty pictures. Photography has been an important hobby for more than 40 years, though writing and editing has been my profession. I’ll bet a lot of people who follow me don’t think of me as a writer at all, but as a photographer.

We have, some of us, many lives. I have one friend who still thinks of me as a musician. When we were closest, back in college, we were both musicians. He stayed a musician, or at least, music has remained the center of his world, even if performing is no longer how he earns his daily bread. Me? I didn’t entirely abandon music, but I went back to writing — my first love, nearest and dearest to my heart. And stayed there for nearly 50 years. I took pictures too. But never professionally.

December 2012

December 2012

The thing is, I write about what I love and many of them, being books, are not my most popular posts. I also write about history and love those articles because ferreting out obscure historical stuff is fun. Doing it makes me feel like “The Time Detective.” If only numbers counted as success, these not-so-popular posts would disappear. Sure, I wish more people read them but I don’t write just for numbers. If that were the single reason to keep blogging, it would be work.

Blogging would stop being fun — and I would stop blogging. I would be poorer for my loss and maybe, here and there, a few others would note my disappearance.

Fortunately, there are times and areas where high interest (on the public side) and my interest (on the writing end) coincide. That’s when things get a little “hot.” Comments and hits roll and it’s fun, but I know the curve will continue to roll up and down and I have to live with that or become something I don’t want to be.

The real bottom line success is I love writing, love the interchange with readers. Love the conversations, pictures, life stories, new relationships. I love reviewing new books, even though they are my least popular posts.

The Best Moment Award - April 2013 from Mike Smith

The Best Moment Award – April 2013 from Mike Smith.

I am mad about books and being even a tangential part of that world makes me happy. That IS success, though there’s no statistical way to compile it.

I’m not a one-subject, focused blogger. When big events or issues are in the news, I write about them and reap a statistical bump from them. I enjoy it when it happens and if I can tie in news and other trendy stuff to this blog, I do. But I won’t force the issue.

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