Rancorous rhetoric set the stage for newspaper shootings

Despite what you may have heard, “The Media” isn’t a thing. There are individual journalists working for news outlets of varying sizes and quality all over the country. They don’t all know each other. They don’t all think the same way. They didn’t all get the same kind of education.

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During my time as a reporter and editor at three different community newspapers, I was paid so poorly that I often used credit cards to put gas in my car. I worked Tuesday through Saturday at night and just about every holiday.

There was very little glamour in it. We wore wrinkly khakis purchased at Target and subsisted on graying food from infrequently serviced vending machines. When you made a mistake, your bosses yelled at you, readers called you up to tell you that you were an idiot and you promised yourself you’d never repeat the error. The sexism was so rampant and awful it made me shake at times. And you’d better believe that the newsrooms were racist as hell, too.

The work we did at those papers was sometimes exciting and often important. We held elected officials accountable, watched court cases unfold and investigated the quality of the air and water. We documented job losses and athletic victories, academic achievements and horrific crimes.

I wrote obituaries that chronicled the lives of people who made these towns better places to live. I spent time with a family whose child was dying of cancer. A guy chased me off his property at gunpoint. I helped publish an extra edition after the 9/11 attacks.

I stayed as long as I did because I thought of journalism as a community service as well as a calling. It taught me to ask good questions and really listen to the answers. It taught me to write quickly and think even faster.

The people who continue to work in American newsrooms are there in spite of a host of practical and existential challenges. They’ve survived layoffs and endured mockery and harassment from business and political leaders. They sit through long city council meetings and dry court cases so we don’t have to. The journalists who died this week in Maryland lost their lives at the intersection of our national obsession with guns and an epidemic of misogyny. Rancorous rhetoric didn’t kill them, but it sure did set the stage for the attack.

I’ve been out of journalism longer than I was in it. I won’t pretend that daily newspapers are perfect or that every single reporter operates with integrity and intelligence. But if we don’t return to a place where we treat journalists with respect, we stand to lose a vital part of our democracy. And with so much of that democracy in shambles already, we can’t afford to lose that, too.

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The 7 best books I read this year

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I read. A lot. This year, seven books earned five-star reviews from me on Goodreads. I know 2017 isn’t over yet, but I’m seeing a lot of year-end lists already, so I thought I’d get going on mine.

These aren’t necessarily the best books of 2017, as many were published earlier. Rather, these are the best books I read this year. They include nonfiction titles as well as some spectacular fiction.

Here they are, in alphabetical order by author. Click on the link to see my brief review:

  1. And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman
  2. We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  3. Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
  4. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
  5. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  6. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
  7. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

If you’re only going to read one of these, make it the Coates. If you have time for two, then add Ward’s novel, which just won the National Book Award.

 

Sophie becomes a bat mitzvah!

Sophie became a bat mitzvah on June 24, 2017, at Temple Concord in Binghamton, N.Y. Here are a few highlights of the Shabbat service that she led with help from Rabbi Barbara Goldman-Wartell and cantorial soloist Joshua Wallenstein:

Torah service:

Sophie’s speech, reflecting on that week’s portion, Korach:

Eric’s speech, honoring Sophie’s accomplishments and talking about why we think she is going to make a difference in the world:

Party with Percy

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percyinviteWhen Charlotte turned 10, she was as into Percy Jackson (a half-god/half-mortal character featured in a series of books by Rick Riordan) as some kids are into Harry Potter. We took inspiration from the books’ basis in Greek mythology for her birthday party.

We invited Charlotte’s friends to join us at Camp Halfblood (the camp Percy and other kids who have one godly parent attend), where they received a special message that assigned them to one of four cabins. Activities included a race to get dressed in a toga and laurel crown, a trivia contest, an opportunity to make your own shield and sword fighting (with foam swords). At the Demeter cabin, the kids planted sunflowers.

We enjoyed a variety of blue foods, too, since those are a favorite of Percy himself!

 

Go visit our Year in Review!

october_10Our Year in Review is ready!

Pop on over for a 2016 update on our little family as well as the usual pop cultural picks. Curious about Charlotte’s taste in movies? Want to know what our resident tween is watching over on YouTube? If you’re looking for Eric’s music recommendations and a few book suggestions from Rachel, you’ll find those, too!