OK, I’ll say it. TV needs more “Men”

So “Men of a Certain Age” got canned, which is sad, but not for the reason most people think. Is it Was it a viable contender for “best show you’re not watching on TV,” (and since “Friday Night Lights” has retired, that title is up for grabs)? Indeed.

Did it deserve another shot because of poor marketing and bungled scheduling. Yes.

Was it a well acted, written and directed drama on a cable network still looking to create an identity for itself with scripted shows? Sure.

Was it a chance to see a new side of Ray Ramano and a reminder of all the things we love about Andre Braugher, and – yes, yes! – Scott Bakula? Absolutely.

But none of this has anything to do with why I think it was awful to see “Men of a Certain Age” go away. I’ll miss it because it was one of the few shows on TV today to offer up compelling and, more importantly, relatable characters. To put it plainly: Ray Ramano and Mike Royce made a great show about what its like to be a guy, and TV could use more of that.

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On the subject of Father’s Day and cards

It’s Father’s Day, and I’m worried. Mostly because I’m not sure if the card I put in the mail to my uncle will get to Minneapolis on time. In fact, I’m almost sure it won’t. Not that it will matter, I’ll still call him, we’ll chat about life, the Twins standings, and whether, after yet another Boston championship since the time I’ve relocated to New England, my sports allegiance has finally turned (Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics were an unequivocal “no.” Bruins? That could be another story).

We BS in the classic tradition of all fathers and sons, because, well, that’s who my uncle’s been to me for my 31 years. It’s why he’s getting a card that should have been mailed earlier, but sat in my bag before I remembered to put a stamp on it.

In more ways than he may care to recognize, my Uncle (Al, if you’re curious. “Skipper” if you were my grandmother. Again, another story), is partially responsible for me being the man I am today (though I’m sure it’s completely transparent to my aunt and mother. Also, these two women, as well as my grandmother, have equal shares of the blame. Still another story). My uncle is the reason I got into Star Wars – he saw Episode IV in the theater somewhere numbering in the double digits, as he tells it, and thus was one reason I saw Phantom Menace multiple times in the theater (Maybe he shouldn’t get credit for that one). He’s the reason I’ve been a Star Trek fan since the first time I saw Kirk, Spock and Bones beam down to a planet. My love of bacon? He surpasses it. Gets fresh – meat market fresh – bacon and sausage, and has for years. And as an old family folklore goes: My first beer was his. A stolen Blatz when I was a toddler.
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All Good Things: Why you should come out to “It’s not you, it’s ME,” a bon voyage party

It's not You, it's ME

Invitation design courtesy of Sean Wilkinson

Relocation is never easy, no matter what’s waiting on the other end. It is a stone solid fact that apartment hunting, packing and moving are among the worst of man’s creations.

Still, as I’ve become accustom to saying over the years I’m a fortunate man. Fortunate in this case that what awaits is a fantastic new job at Harvard (though technically I guess it’s not waiting since I’ve been working there almost 2 months), but that I won’t be going alone. Amy, Pal, Turk and I are packing up and ready to get our Clampett on as we head to our new home in Somerville (Cambridge’s not as high-maintence cousin.)

But before we do that we’re going out with a bang. Or, a bowl, so to speak. Sorry, the pun was too good to pass up.

On Nov. 26 we’re throwing a bon voyage party at Bayside Bowl in Portland starting at 8 p.m. We’re going to have music, food, surprises, and yes, if you so desire, bowling. We’re thankful to Bayside for hosting and excited for what should be a great night. Great, that is, if all of you show up.

So why should you come out?

1.) We’d love to see your smiling face

2.) Bayside Bowl is an outstanding venue, fun for hanging out just as much as league nights

3.) Dance, Dance, DANCE!

4.) It’s the day after Thanksgiving, don’t you deserve a break from family and shopping?

5.) The eye patch thing will finally be explained.

6.) A three-hour retrospective on Italian Greyhounds in Popular Culture, narrated by James Van der Beek.

Look, it’s gonna be a good time. That I can promise. There’s countless friends and family in Maine we’re grateful for, so please stop by and say Hi, have a cocktail and be ready to dance. If you’re on Facebook go ahead and RSVP.

The Future of Journalism (and my career) is in Cambridge

About six months ago I took a big leap, leaving a good job, stable paycheck and measure of security behind me. When I left the Press Herald I didn’t know what I’d wind up doing next, or where.

Well now I know. This story starts with an email I received while sipping a margarita on a beach in Florida in May and ends today. I’ll save you the unabridged version and get to the point.

To paraphrase one of the more disastrous job announcements in recent history:

“This fall I’m taking my talents to Cambridge and joining the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Jim Gray: “Nieman Journalism Lab, that was the conclusion you woke up with this morning?”

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How exactly do reader comments fit into journalism

While there are plenty of lessons from the Press Herald Apology (or “Apologygate if you’re looking for a hashtag), one that stuck out to me is what exactly is the role of reader comments in the editorial process?

One of my complaints about the whole affair is that by issuing an apology, particularly to all those voicing their anger over Facebook, Twitter, email and online comments, the Press Herald had “cede(ed) editorial control to the crowd.”

But how should newspapers use reader comments when it comes to making decisions on coverage, story placement or even the reporting process?

(For the moment let’s set aside the other debates on comments, meaning we won’t talk about whether they’re worthwhile or how to improve them. Though former Press Herald colleague Carl Natale has a good idea on how to try and make them civil`.)

The easiest answer is tips and story ideas, as evidenced by this blog post. In the previous post on L’Affair de Press Herald, a commenter said something that stuck in my head:

“And I disagree with you, in that in our web 2.0 world with all of its new interactions between big institutions and their constituents, in a world of declining circulation, and in a world of crowdsourcing, that all newspapers are missing the boat here by retaining 100% control over what stories are reported.”

(Thanks to the commenter who wrote that…but next time think about leaving your name for credit! Also, can we not use the phrase Web 2.0? Please?)

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Journalism Fail: Why the Portland Press Herald’s apology for covering Ramadan is wrong

How exactly did “A show of faith and forgiveness” turn into an apology? Gutlessness.

Readers of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram may have been surprised to find an open letter from Publisher Richard Conner yesterday (and today), offering an apology for a story that appeared in print and online.

Was it a grossly inaccurate story? A clear violation of the paper’s standards and practices? Did it perpetrate a crime against the community?

No. They published a story and photos on Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan. And thanks to the date, Sept. 11, that drove some people into hysterics.

In his letter Connor apologized to readers for showing a lack of sensitivity and not balancing their coverage with 9/11 events.

Unfortunately what Connor’s done is created a self-inflicted wound to his newspaper. By apologizing for a factual story portraying part of the community it covers, the Press Herald has damaged its ability to educate, betrayed the journalists who work there, alienated a part of their audience and shown that editorial control can be won by the power of the mob.

In offering the apology, Connor was taking a reactionary stance to an outcry from readers, over email, phone calls, Facebook and Twitter. Since I’ve never sat in the big seat reserved for publishers, this may be guesswork, but taking flak for (and defending) stories is part of the job. As he outlines in his letter, the work of assigning, editing and placing stories is a serious one that involves a large group of people, all of whom just got thrown under the bus in favor of the commenting class.

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Frequently Asked Questions about The Meat Raffle

Why The Meat Raffle?

Because a good name is half the battle, right? Would you read this blog if I called it “half-baked stories from a Midwestern transplant in the New England.” Actually that’s not bad.
Meat Raffles are fun and surprising, a pastime that brings people together in a simple, familiar way. But they’re also a little weird, right? (You WIN! Here’s some brisket!) Also, in Minnesota it’s not uncommon for groups to throw together a meat raffle to raise a little money or awareness for something.
I’m not a VFW (and I don’t need your money…yet), but I thought it was time to raise a little awareness of my writing since I call myself a writer. And some of the best advice I ever got from an editor is to write every day, no matter what the subject.

Also, it’s a scientific fact that meat raffles are more fun with a few beers in you. So crack a few before you read here. Trust me, it’ll go down smoother.

OK, so how do Meat Raffles work?

You buy a ticket, the wheel is spun and if your number is called you’re going home with a very lucky slab of raw meat. That simple.

Right, so what’s this blog about?

Are you familiar with the term Polymath? No? Oh you poor thing, have a cookie. A Polymath is someone who is knowledgable on a great many things in this universe! String theory! Nano Technology! Animal Husbandry! Impressionist art! Excessive use of exclamation points!

Yeah I’m not that guy. I know about the finer points of cake baking, the history of Yacht Rock music, the weaknesses of Green Lantern’s power ring and the correct proportions for a tasty manhattan.
But I’m also a trained (I swear) journalist curious about many things related to pop culture, news, technology and cuisine. Also sports. Did I mention I like sports?

Which is to say this blog is about all of the above. Keep reading.

I feel you’re not taking me seriously.

Maybe if you weren’t wearing that stupid hat.

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5 Things I’ve learned in unemployment

List blogs are hot, and, unfortunately, so is unemployment. I figured it was about time to sit down and write up my “what I did on  my summer vacation” (we went to the Vineyard, I met a sea captain, I milked an Alpaca!), but instead break it down into digestible hits.

1.) The news is damn depressing

Funny how stories about unemployment figures, the jobless rate and the stagnant pace of growth in the economy are background noise (albeit sad background noise, like a Sarah McLaughlin album) when you have a job. Now that I’m a free agent (my preferred term thank you), all that news seems to do is sucker punch you. That’s the best case scenario, worst case is it depresses the hell out of you, making the job hunt that much harder. As a reader of news I know you can’t easily stop those stories no more than you can stop the causes behind them, but still, NYT, could you take it easy on the fun-loving headlines using phrases like “jobless have only desperation?”

2.) You’ve got a lot of time with your thoughts

And depending on how much you like yourself, that could be a good thing…or not. Over a long enough period of time your brain can turn into that annoying roommate who never gets off the couch and leaves a thimble-full of milk left in the fridge. When your days consist of looking for work, evaluating (and re-evaluating) your worth and making a case for your potential, that’s just opening the gates to some self-debasement. At the same time, you’ve got ample opportunities for your mind to wander and discover that repressed ADD inside you. This is problematic only because when you should be looking for a gig you end up losing hours contemplating things like “whatever happened to that Mustang Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt.” (Answer: It is believed to be hiding in a barn somewhere in the Ohio River Valley.)

3.) Finding that “book in you” is a lot harder than you think

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Don’t quit on online comments just yet

No one ever likes the kid who stomps his feet and says “I’m taking my ball and going home.”

But somehow newspapers have become that kid, especially when it comes to online comments on their website.

Sure, that may be too simplistic an explanation, but consider this: Newspapers made the decision a while ago set comments loose and when they didn’t turn out the way they like they started threatening to end the whole game.

Sound familiar?

It’s no secret that online comments on news sites can be a babbling pool of filth, ignorance and bad grammar, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that some are considering doing away with comments or drastically changing how they handle them.

In a recent article in the American Journalism Review Rem Rieder argues that it’s long past time to end comments permanently.

The crux of his argument is this: Newspapers don’t have the resources or the time, and comments have proven to be nothing but trouble anyway.

But Rieder and others looking to shut down comments seem to miss one point, which is that comments are lowest impact way for newspapers to offer the community a way to interact with them. And if you shut that off you’re making a conscious decision to walk away from connecting with readers.

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