Now that we’ve run out of homes to foreclose

Some actual good news on the economic front and in quality of life issues in my particular neck of the woods: Property values appear to be on an upward trend after a long slide that dovetailed with a huge spike in foreclosures on homes in Northeast Ohio. That giant sucking sound you heard in Cuyahoga County seems to be abating as property values climbed 4.2 percent in Cleveland from May to June, according to my friends at WCPN-FM, Cleveland’s NPR station.

My kids’ school, Miller South, scored Excellent with Distinction, the best you can get. The rest of Akron Public Schools didn’t fare as well, but public systems are often unfairly saddled with scores that must include kids who will never do well in tests or in school for a variety of socioeconomic reasons and because kids with learning disabilities are counted in those tests.

So we have a bright spot or two. But it ain’t all wine and roses just yet. Newspapers and other media continue to hemorrhage money, former media types (such as yours truly) still struggle to make a decent living in this new world, and I’m still seeing houses being foreclosed or selling at deep discounts. I’d give more serious thought to moving out of here if I could afford to sell the house. But I’m stuck, and the simple math is it’s cheaper to stay in the house than rent a similar sized house or even an apartment.

I’ve been lucky enough to fall in with one of the few local employers actually expanding locally, but I now face a huge crater of debt to climb out of. Can somebody throw me a rope?

I gotta say, the first decade of this millennium has pretty much sucked for a multitude of reasons, from terrorist attacks and disastrously mismanaged wars to magically disappearing careers to all those little things that drive me crazy. Maybe things are turning around. Finally.

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Farewell to Les Paul

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The great guitarist and inventor Les Paul

The inventor of the electric guitar has gone off to the great amplifier in the sky. Les Paul was 94.  The legendary guitarist remained active as a musician, guitar hero and will always be known by his namesake Gibson guitar, The Les Paul.

Paul had apparently already achieved a degree of fame as an accomplished musician when his desire to amplify guitars led to his innovation of wiring a microphone directly onto the body of a guitar and run that signal through an amplifier. Of all the innovators of the 1940s and ’50s who gave rise to the advent of rock ‘n’ roll, Les Paul certainly deserves a big pile of credit for making it possible.

Paul told his story to Spinner.com, including this excerpt”

“And there was no such thing as amplifiers, so I had to build my own — I took my mother’s radio and I turned it into one. I did the same thing with a guitar. I just took the guitar and said, ‘Hey, it’s not loud enough.’ I was playing a little barbecue stand halfway to Milwaukee and some critic that was sitting in the backseat of a car, ordering a sandwich, wrote a note that said, ‘You know, what you’re doing right out there is great, but your guitar is not loud enough.’ So I went home and told mom about it. She said, ‘You’ll figure it out, you’ll figure it out.’ What I figured out was how to make that guitar louder and better. First, I took an acoustical guitar and ended up filling it with Plaster of Paris. I tried everything, and it finally worked. I said, ‘I’m gonna make two guitars, one out of wood and one out of a big long piece of railroad track and make both of them identical.’ I used the same telephone for a pickup, the part that you listen to on the telephone, the magnet and the coil. I placed that under the string and I was just playing through my mother’s radio. Between the wooden guitar and the metal one, the railroad track was much better. I ran to my mother, saying, ‘I found it! I found it!’ My mother said, ‘The day you see a cowboy on a horse playing a railroad track,’ and she blew me right out of the water with that. I said, ‘It’s got to be wood. Okay, we’re gonna make it the most beautiful piece of dense wood that will be as close to that railroad track as we can get with that good sound.’ ”

Paul was clearly ahead of his time: “In 1930, I was already playing on the electric guitar, playing in a little bar in Cleveland, in Rochester, some state fairs.”

We’re so sorry, Uncle Walter

cronkiteThe journalist in me gets a little misty-eyed thinking about the passing of Walter Cronkite, long considered the Gold Standard Anchorman.

Americans so trusted him that he came to be known as Uncle Walter, the guy you could count on to find the truth and spell it out for you.

Uncle Walter is gone. His successor, Dan Rather, never quite found a comfortable fit in that chair as CBS’ anchor. I don’t think anchoring suited Rather. He seemed a little too tightly wired to be tethered to a studio chair.

And this is not a knock on Dan Rather. He just was better suited for the field. It’s where he thrived. I was a desk jockey. Copy editor for most of my career – not the investigative reporter digging up stuff. Could I do it? Well, yeah, but there are people better suited to that particular gig. We each had our fortes. There are far better reporters than me. Not a lot of better copy editors.

I still get oddly amused at the bizarre attack on Rather in the street and the song it inspired, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” (R.E.M.’s Monster). But I digress. Again.

Ahem. Walter Cronkite. Yes. He was Old School. Never tried to be hip or cool. Twitter? Cronkite? Please. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong or bad about Twitter, I’m just saying, Not Walter. He was a news guy, pure and simple. And when he made his opinion known, which wasn’t often (“News” shouting heads everywhere, are you listening?), it counted. When he said the Vietnam War couldn’t be won, it meant the war could not be won. Period.

I had already decided to pursue a career in journalism by the time Cronkite was pushed to the sidelines by the deep thinkers at CBS, but even then it didn’t seem right. The universe made sense with Cronkite in the studio and Rather in the field dodging bullets. It was in some ways a grand symbiotic relationship: Dan in the foxhole, Walter back in New York, the two of them (and a then-vast CBS news staff) making sense of it all. Dan seemed a little lost without Walter. Maybe I’m imagining things. Maybe it’s scenes from Broadcast News (Jack Nicholson as The Anchor, William Hurt as the Vacuous Young Correspondent – roles later perfected on the Daily News/Colbert Report – and Holly Hunter as the Beleaguered And Slightly Neurotic Producer) that I recall. Whatever.

Of course, many things have developed in the interim. CNN. Fox News. The explosion of the Internet and its bazillions of bloggers and news aggregators that have sucked the life right out of “old” media. Two wars in Iraq. Terrorist attacks, mass hysteria, 10-second attention spans. Too long? Sorry.

Things change. I can deal with that. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Fare thee well, Ed

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Heeeeeere's ED!

Ed McMahon, perhaps television history’s greatest second fiddle, has shuffled off to the great soundstage in the sky. All those dead TV guys could put on a heckuva shoe up thar. McMahon last made the news by nearly losing his home to foreclosure last year as the real estate/mortgage/credit crisis went ballistic. (If all this is news to you, you might want to reconsider your news consumption habits.)

This is no longer breaking news, but I think he rates a mention. I’m gonna miss the big guy. We’ll still have commemorative DVDs of the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (the first fiddle) and fond memories of him schlepping the ol’ Publishers Sweepstakes thing.

“Look! It’s Ed McMahon! Quick! Hide before they try to sell us magazine subscriptions!”

He had plenty of other gigs along the way. For proof, hit the link above to the Washington Post. No doubt there are plenty of other credible and worthy news sources such as CNN, Associated Press, etc. You won’t get it from Knight Ridder anymore, but you could from its successor, McClatchy.

Twitter: the 800-pound canary

iran.protest.woman.getty.galIran continues to teeter on the brink of, well, something, as the world Tweets away. Tehran is trying to go all Tiananmen Square on the anti-Ahmadinejad protesters but Twitter is making it hard to keep a lid on what’s going on.  CNN, hoping to stay relevant with the hipster TweetyBook crowd, is all agog over the events and how Twitter is at the center of it all.

So even as we mock some of Twitter’s more inane aspects (“Dave is pondering navel lint at the moment”), when the state departments asks Twitter to postpone routine maintenance to keep the events unfolding in Iran before the public eye, you know they are onto SOMETHING. Wish I’d thought of it first!

The new old media

The Associated Press just announced that it is distributing investigative reports by four nonprofit journalism operations including ProPublica and the Center for Investigative Reporting. AP, itself a not-for-profit organization, will begin making the investigative reports available to members of the news cooperative next month.

BNet blogger (and CIR co-founder) David Weir sees this as a huge opportunity to leverage AP’s vast distribution system to get those stories out. It could fill a huge gap in newspaper investigative coverage, which used to be the hallmark of great American newspapers.

As news media struggle to survive in what used to be a lucrative business, the nonprofit or not-for-profit model is becoming ever more attractive as a viable business model – as opposed to the cash-bleeding model currently in use throughout much of the traditional media (See Times, New York, or Globe, Boston).

One of the great worries as newsrooms have cut back on staffing and coverage over the last decade is that nobody will carry on with the tradition of public journalism; nobody’s keeping an eye on the hen house. You may recall that “fake news” guy Jon Stewart skewered CNBC for its cheerleading of the go-go business world even as the insurance-banking-real-estate complex was imploding. And I wonder if some watchdogs in the press (or even, God forbid, the guvmint!) had sniffed something suspicious and made some noise in a timely manner, maybe, just maybe, we might not have experienced this financial meltdown – or at least it might be less severe.

Does it seem a little odd that a late-night comedian has more credibility than a supposedly “mainstream” media outlet?