newspaperI recently got the opportunity to go on Iowa Public Radio to talk about being a journalist, a job that was ranked “worst out of 200 professions on a website’s recent survey. I had a more positive take on things.

I walked away from the interview feeling really upbeat about how it went but also wondering if journalists who have found themselves less-than-happy with the industry’s dramatic turns might take issue with what I had to say.

I wasn’t speaking for anybody else, though, I was relaying my experience as a journalist, and it’s been pretty amazing.

I could have focused on the times that I had to work 10-hours days, or the daily grind that can sometimes result in tears and/or shouting matches with your significant other. I could have mentioned the election nights where I didn’t go home until 1 a.m., or the times dinner was an energy drink and a granola bar because I was writing on deadline.

There’s the pay that, at times, can be unsatisfying, and the crazy phone calls you get from people who are upset about one thing or another that has nothing to do with you. And I could have talked about all of that.

But I didn’t.

I tried to bring the same level of enthusiasm and energy that I try to bring to each day of my job. I’m not deluding myself, I’m just choosing to focus on the all the reasons that I’ve kept doing this work.

You can listen to my interview here. I come on during the last 15 minutes of the program, but the whole thing is worth a listen, really interesting to hear what other people’s jobs are like.


A few stories I’ve done lately:

photo1Ebony Jones overcame financial challenges and learning disabilities to be one of the more than 3,000 students who will graduate today from Iowa State University. Jones has landed a job in St. Louis as a program director for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri. Photo by Jessie L. Bonner/Ames Tribune

When Ebony Jones first came to Iowa State University, she felt like an alien.

She came to ISU from a historically black university in the South and didn’t know what to expect at a predominately white campus in central Iowa. She found she looked different. She talked different.

During a visit to the financial aid office, Jones was referred to as a “minority student,” she said. After being part of the majority on the Alabama campus, the term rubbed her the wrong way.

“That’s what when I realized, maybe things are going to be a little bit different here,” Jones said.

Read the rest of the story here

photo5Gilbert Community School District Superintendent Lindsey Beecher stands in front of the new high school’s most recognizable feature on Friday: Giant block letters spelling out the word “Gilbert” laid into the building’s concrete wall. Photo by Jessie Bonner/Ames Tribune

When the final class buzzer goes off at Gilbert High School next month, students eager to get started on their summer break no doubt will want to flee the building.

But first, they’ll be asked to help pack up.

The brick building on Mathews Drive will be emptied, not only of every student and teacher, but also of every chair, desk and instructional item as the high school prepares to move into a new home across the street.

Teachers will be instructed to load their possessions onto pallets that will be delivered to their classrooms on the last day of class, while each student will be asked to carry his or her desk and chair outside to a waiting semi-trailer.

“No one has to do this, but most of them will want to because they’re anxious to see the new digs,” said Johna Clancy, the Gilbert Community School District’s business manager.

Read the rest of the story here

It was a little challenging taking photo for this story. While juggling a notebook, backpack and camera, I realized I was still getting back into the swing of things…photo4This story was really fun, I love interviewing college kids sometimes, their energy and excitement about the future is contagious.adidas

If you happen to catch Derek Huenecke’s gaze, don’t be concerned: He’s just interested in your shoes.

The 22-year-old is an aspiring footwear designer and an avid shoe collector. In a few days, he’ll also be part of the first class to graduate from Iowa State University’s new industrial design program. A few days after that, he’ll head to Germany for a six-month internship with footwear maker adidas.

A video recently produced by the university’s marketing team featured Huenecke, who talked about his passion and his — at times — wandering eye when it comes to sneakers.

It happens a lot at the gym, he said.

“It’s weird because I’m afraid people are thinking I’m checking them out,” Huenecke said. “I’m just looking at your shoes.”

Read the rest of the story here


This last one is the most-read story I’ve done since I’ve started writing here. Ames is a university town, which is probably why it caught people’s attention.

You can read the story here


pig3Charlie Litchfield/Des Moines Register

I haven’t gotten a chance to post an update about about my new job, but after the events that transpired this weekend, I felt it was worth some reflection.

Today I was on a crowded university campus, surrounded by strangers, gathering quotes for a story, and suddenly everything stopped. I found myself frozen, with my head craned at the sky, staring at a ginormous inflatable pig floating above me.

That’s right. I saw a pig fly.

I let the surreal-ness of the situation wash over me: I’m living in Iowa now. I’m covering a parade. And there is the ginormous inflatable pig floating above me.

I looked through the crowd, searching for my husband, a photographer who was also covering the event (he took the photo above). His job is the reason we moved to Iowa six months ago. Before we came here, I had been working for The Associated Press. There, I had the opportunity to cover big, national issues, and my work was published in news outlets all over the world.

Now, I write for a small newspaper in central Iowa. I cover parades and local school board meetings, and whatever else matters to the local community.

And I’m really happy.

My life is vastly different, but in going back to community journalism, where I started my career eight years ago, I am finding that it is mostly the work I love, not the prestige, and that didn’t change _ even now that I don’t get that big ego rush from seeing a story of mine get published in The Washington Post or some other big-name newspaper.

There’s been a lot written lately about people who choose journalism as a career, people like me. There’s been a lot of questions about how smart it is to pick a job where, given the current state of the industry, you may find yourself making less than you did when you started out, like this (now former) journalist did. It’s all true, but so is the good stuff, like what this journalist wrote about.

I recently caught up with one of my best friends and he told me about a photojournalist who shot for like, National Geographic or something, and then moved to Denmark to work for a small newspaper because he wanted to be part of one before they were gone (I’m probably butchering the details but that’s how I remember the story.)

I wish my reasons were as noble.

Honestly, after six months of looking for a job, I just wanted to write, I wanted to get out of the house, I wanted the main event of my day not to be an Ugly Betty marathon on Netflix or a 30-minute run on the treadmill at the local YMCA.

But mostly, I wanted to keep working in journalism.

And that’s what I’m doing. I’m working in journalism. I’m writing. I’m out every day exploring the world around me. That’s what I remind myself as I drive 30 minutes through farm fields to get to work each day. That’s what I tell myself on days where I wonder if this job still makes any sense.

And now, I think I’m going to have to remind myself about that ginormous inflatable pig, because when it floated by and got caught in a tree branch, and the crowd gasped collectively, I laughed so hard I almost cried.

I don’t know why people would mess with fiction when there’s real stuff that happens all around us, every day, that you can’t even make up.

I just read a magazine article that quoted Julia Louis-Dreyfus talking about her eighth-grade physics teacher and how he gave her advice that has stuck with her: Have fun at all costs.

Well, I had a lot of fun today.


I wanted to highlight a few examples of great writing I’ve come across lately. There’s really nothing better, if you love writing, than a really nice piece of prose to transport you somewhere else.

I’ll start with this story about a small Idaho town engulfed in controversy after some parents complained about how their students were being taught sex-ed. This story grabbed national headlines, but I thought this local reporter did a really good job taking a step back and telling the larger story.

I loved the introduction: “The first building to greet you in Dietrich is a small church with a tall white steeple. It sits on the bottom of a hill, shielding most of the town from the rest of the outside world.

At the back of 330-person Dietrich is its one and only school building. Inside those brick walls is a science instructor who became a household name.”

The writing here is cinematic, unfolding like the beginning of a movie. You can read the rest of Kimberlee Kruesi’s story here.

The next example comes from a somewhat unusual place.

I should just come right out and admit that I’m a fan of celebrity gossip sites, your Star Magazines, your Intouch Weeklies, I don’t discriminate, I love them all. It’s a habit that started early on in my career as a journalist, when I realized that breaking news can not only be fast-paced and exhilarating but also incredibly depressing. You can only take in so much of the misery before you need an outlet, some junk food for your brain, if you will.

So, a few years ago, I started to head toward the nearest newsstand on my way home from work on Fridays. The habit went online when the paper version got too expensive (i know, i know, i’m helping kill print media).

But this brings us to the Daily Mail, the UK-based paper that has, arguably, the best celebrity news website ever. It both satisfies my celebrity news addication and allows me to indulge the anglophile in me as i come across phrases such as “using the loo” and “smoking a fag.”

Headlines include: “Snooki flaunts 40-pound weight loss” and “Model mom! Giselle walks around Manhattan in skinny jeans” and ‘I don’t speak to my parents anymore,” says troubled Amanda Bynes”

I know, pure stupidity.

But then, earlier this week, there was this jewel: A story about women trying on their wedding dresses years after their big day. I was struck by this woman, Shona Sibary, 41, who got married in August 1999.

“My wedding dress has been stowed under a bed for 14 years. The thought of retrieving it is to resurrect a part of me I’m not entirely sure still has a pulse.

Photographs from the day — and it was a glorious day — show me brimming with happiness.

I have no worry lines, no flab, no puffy bags. With Keith by my side, I look as if I can take on the world. Today, I haven’t got the energy to take on a pile of laundry, let alone the world.

Wow. That is some eloquent depression. She continues:

Putting it on again is an unsettling reminder that I am now a frumpy, middle-aged mother with three more children added to the brood and another stone-and-a-half added to the scales.

I expected to have a little trouble doing up the zip, but I am horrified to discover that the dress won’t come together at all.

The lovely halterneck that once complemented my young, sculpted shoulders and upper arms now accentuates my bingo wings and makes me feel as if someone is strangling me.

See what I mean? I don’t even know what “bingo wings” are but they can’t be good if they’re included in this assessment of herself. She ends with this:

“My wedding day was a brief moment in time when expectation exceeded reality. It would be impossible to look that good again. Even if I could do up the dress.”

I hope this woman finds a way to be happy, but more than that, I also hope she keeps writing.

And lastly, we end with the prolific writer, Roger Ebert.

Roy Peter Clark at the Poynter Institute offered up this touching homage to the now-deceased film critic’s writing. I loved this line from Roy’s take.

“What made Ebert a good writer?  Notice I am not using the word “great” because good is good enough, especially if you’ve been good for more than forty years.”


Early on in my career, I spent hours and hours pouring over stories, writing and re-writing leads before deciding they weren’t good enough and scrapping them altogether. I really can’t get to the rest of the story until I love the beginning, and even though some writers make it look easy, the process can be torture.

At my last job, I placed a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to be perfect. A colleague who was probably sick of watching me beat my head against the wall offered the following mantra: Perfect is the enemy of good.

It stuck, and I’m a better writer because of it.


a few things2A friend shared this video of David Brooks (nytimes columnist) speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival. There’s some really interesting theories discussed in here, but it really focuses on how we have  transformed from the JFK-ask-what-you-can-do-for-your-country type of society into one where we are predominantly focused on ourselves (facebook anyone?). You can watch the full video here.


Mary Tyler Moore1

Pioneers of Television: I don’t know if there’s ever a point in my life when I will be required to know which decade Betty White got her first acting job (1940s) or how many children Phyllis Diller had (6), but I really enjoyed this PBS show’s episode on female entertainers. I caught the end, where Tina Fey was describing how the Mary Tyler Moore show impacted her life. It reminded me a little of how I felt when reading about the struggles of early female journalists and how quickly we forget that we are almost always standing on someone’s shoulders.

Travel sites: My husband has never traveled internationally and we’ve been thinking a lot lately about where we would go first. I suggested Guatemala, where I lived for six months in 2007, or anywhere in Central America. You can see alot without spending a huge amount, depending where you go. I’d also love to see London, being  a total anglophile. His dream is to go to New Zealand, though he announced this right after we watched Peter Jackson’s latest movie, The Hobbit, so I’m not sure if this desire can be trusted. But it sure sounds as if the country is expecting us.

pinterestchecking out places to go on Pinterest

This photo project featured on shows how people sleep, over time. I am definitely a thrasher-use-the-entire-bed type of sleeper. To be fair, our dog, a 70-pound yellow lab, claimed our bed long ago and I’m really just trying to get comfortable. In this photo gallery, a German-born photographer who is really interested in sleep and what happens to the body and mind during this time, captured images of just that. It’s an ambitious idea and I love the title of his project: “The sleep of the Beloved.”


timessqareMy life has changed dramatically over the past year, and so it’s taken me some time to put together some resolutions for 2013. You know, the list of all the things you’re doing wrong and how  you plan to fix everything, a practice stolen from the ancient Babylonians, who marked the beginning of a new year by paying off debts and returning borrowed goods. I like the idea of some dude returning a shovel he borrowed from his neighbor hundreds of years ago and that simple act becoming a tradition that is now commemorated with pyrotechnics and a boost in gym memberships.

So, in the name of borrowed shovels everywhere, here are a few of my resolutions:

Allow myself more hours in the day: I am a notorious bad riser in the morning, but lately I’ve been seeing articles EVERYWHERE about people who get up at ungodly hours and apparently conquer the world. This guy in particularly goes on at length about how much better off you by working it while everyone else is asleep.

Write more, write often: A former colleague, Monica Guzman, recently wrote a great post on her website about the need to write more. I thought it was a great subject, because at the top of the list of writer eccentricities out there, I find the pressure to produce more is constant, whether it’s coming from your job or from within.dyer book

Be positive: I started the year looking for a new job and I wrote a little here about how discouraging the process can seem at times. For anyone in a similar situation, whether a job search is the source of your anxiety or not, I highly recommend the book, Your Erroneous Zones, by Dr. Wayne Dyer. It was written in the 1970s but details principles that apply today, or in any day for that matter, about how to eradicate negative, unhelpful thinking. No matter the stressful situation, I keep going back to this.

Be brave: Sometimes the hardest thing is putting yourself out there, creating or writing and then putting it out their for everyone to judge. I have been working on building a thicker skin for 8 years, every since I made a huge error in a story for my college newspaper about dorm safety. I had interviewed this kid and when I asked him if there were fire escape plans posted in his hallway, he shrugged and said “I’ve never seen any.” Well, according to the angry letter his resident adviser wrote into our paper the next day, there are fire plans posted EVERYWHERE. I was too young to wade through the embarrassment and find the lesson there, but I do remember what one of my instructors told me after he saw me moping around the Journalism building: thick skin, Bonner, thick skin.


I have been applying for journalism jobs since moving to Des Moines a few months ago for my husband’s new gig. I’m increasingly eager to get back to work, but I’m also reminded of a conversation I had with my former boss in which we talked about what we would do if we won the lottery, which was around $300 million at the time. In a response inspired by Seinfeld, I answered, “nothing.” I would not set my alarm. I would read all day. I would write angry letters-to-the-editor into my local newspaper. My boss, unimpressed with my answer, countered: “But you would be so bored.”

Turns out, he was right.

Moving2783hard at work…

While I’m not exactly doing “nothing,” it does feel a bit like nothing compared to my previous job, which included stressful nine-hour shifts monitoring and reporting breaking news. Now, my days are mostly spent looking for jobs, updating my photo blog, going to the gym and looking after our dog, Buddy. Thanks to Netflix, I’ve also finished every episode of the sitcom “Frasier,” and while I’m loving Kelsey Grammer’s warmth and comedic timing, I just can’t bring myself to have “Cheers” in my recently watched queue. One of my closest friends has started to jokingly refer to me as a “lady of leisure.”

It’s a predicament that has turned a mundane question “What do you do?” into a panic-inducing ultimatum. The asker may simply be curious, “How do you spend your time?” while all I hear is “What do you have to show for yourself as a contributing member of our society?”

This questwork3ion has paralyzed me in a way I didn’t expect, mostly because I’ve never really been in this situation. I’ve had a job since I was 13 (awkward teenage photo to the left.)

There was a brief hiatus a few years ago when, at the age of 25, I spent half a year traveling through Central America, but I was also enrolled in an intense language course and was working as a bartender the entire time I was there.

I got my first job the summer before I started high school. That was when my mother drove me to the nearest town and enrolled me in a government employment program for teenagers (and yes, I realized this may sound like something out of the Dust Bowl-era but this was northern Idaho in the 1990s). I spent that summer working as, what amounted to, an underage janitor at a public school in Weippe, a prairie town best known as the site where Lewis and Clark encountered the Nez Perce. Instead of cleaning I was instructed to just add more paint to the smudge-covered walls. I wiped down windows. I waxed and buffed gym floors. It is the only time in my life I can remember actually listening to country music because, with the crummy reception, the only alternative was Rush Limbaugh and being a product of the seen-and-not-heard style of parenting, Rush’s bellowing voice and frequent yelling put me on edge.work4

I think the work program was just my mother’s way of preparing me for the horrors that awaited me in high school, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I wasn’t cool enough to be offered any drugs or invitations to the, what I assume were “raging,” parties held in the nearby forests.

(sadly, things did not get better, as shown in this photo of me,in striped socks, performing in our high school’s production of “candyland.”)

Whatever my mother’s intent, I loved it. I loved being busy. I loved ticking off the hours until I could stop breathing in the horrible cleaning fumes and go home. I loved earning my own money.

After two summers in the government work program, I explored the hospitality industry, which means I spent two summers trudging from my sister’s home in Post Falls, Idaho to a nearby Sleep Inn, where I was the youngest person on the  housekeeping staff by about 20 years. The head housekeeper was a woman named Sarah who took her hourly smoke break with military precision and had a laugh that could rival a diesel engine. She was also so kind to me, I didn’t care that most of her teeth were missing.

I cleaned around a dozen rooms on an average day, racing from bed to bed as a soap opera blared from the television. Other girls my age were probably at the mall or listening to music in their bedrooms. I was scrubbing down bathroom floors and wondering if Cassie on One Life to Live was ever going to end up with Kevin Buchanan. I was 15. I convinced my sister Debbi to join me the following summer, though I forgot to tell her about the lower back aches that came in the afternoon. I think she felt particularly duped when we returned to our cleaning cart one afternoon to find a note reading: “Toilet clogged in room 211, please fix.”

work5In college, I worked nights and weekends at a department store in the local mall. I was stationed in the department store’s “intimates” section and typically refer to this as the time I was a bra fitter. Because that’s what I did, or at least what I was trained to do during a six-hour course in Seattle, of which, the only thing I remember is being told that we were the real specialists and those ladies at Victoria Secret with the pink measuring tape around their neck were, in a word, frauds.

(I have no idea why this photo of me working at said department store exists, if only to prove that I actually worked there.)

What they did not tell me was most of my job would entail of trying to keep teenagers from stealing the new Calvin Klein underwear by taking them into the dressing room, tearing off the tags, and wearing them home. Yes, our loss and prevention guy had his work cut out for him, walking that delicate line between trying to stop actual theft and being accused of sexual harassment.

And then, finally, my first job in journalism, a summer internship at a small newspaper in Lewiston, Idaho. I covered mostly parades and Lewis and Clark re-enactments, but I was hooked. I didn’t want to do anything else.

my first letter from a reader …

There were a couple other odd jobs, a stint at a Starbucks that I’m probably banned from after I quit by leaving my boss a Post-it note. It was a move stolen from the Sex in the City episode where Carrie’s boyfriend Jack Berger dumps her by leaving behind a Post-it that read: “I’m sorry, I can’t. Don’t hate me.” In the case of the Starbucks boss, I was pretty sure he was going to hate me no matter how I left, and the feeling was mutual. This was a guy who once told me that my latte foam needed to be able to hold a quarter, A QUARTER.

It’s been eight years since I first called myself a journalist, and I’m still hooked, and like I said, eager to continue on my path, even if it looks much different than it did when I started. Then, I couldn’t imagine not working for a daily newspaper, but I’ve since worked for two different news wire services and in my most recent job, I wrote mostly for online news outlets.

I have to fight back discouragement as I come to terms with the fact that there are more of us now, fighting for fewer positions, all of us trying to show how useful we are in this brave new technology-driven world.

I learned something from each of these jobs I’ve mentioned, and chief among them is that strange little word that means so much right now in our profession: Versatility. You can no longer just be a writer, you need to be able to shoot photo, and video, and do it all at once. You need to be hungry to learn and quick to catch on, because standing right behind you is a recent graduate who has been well-schooled in multimedia and has a lot less to choose from than you did when scouring for postings.

Yes, it can be hard to stay positive, but I also have to think that a former janitor-housekeeper-bra fitter-barista has enough versatility to put themselves over the edge.


My final story for The Associated Press bureau in Boise ran over the weekend and was about a former NFL player’s bid to unseat a Republican congressman in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District. I covered politics off and on while working for the AP in Idaho, but I wasn’t prepared at all for the barrage of political ads that awaited us in Des Moines when we arrived here a month ago.

Just one more week to go!

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — When Jimmy Farris first came back to Idaho to run for Congress, he was best known for his career as a professional football player. But beyond his home state’s borders, Farris is likely better known for races having nothing to do with politics, the federal deficit and defense spending.

To locals in Missoula, Mont., where Farris who starred on the University of Montana football team, they might remember the time he took a rancher’s bet to race a horse — and won. Farris also beams when he recounts a 2005 wager with famed NFL receiver Terrell Owens, who also finished second to Farris in a sprint while they were training together in Atlanta.

In the early days of his first political race, the 34-year-old Democrat from Lewiston says he imagined incorporating those feats into his campaign speeches or a television ad. The ad’s tagline, he says, would go something like this: “Jimmy Farris once ran against a horse and won. He ran against one of the world’s greatest athletes and won. Labrador you’re next.”

But now, with election just days away and very little money to spend on television spots, Farris is focused on sharpening the choice for voters in Idaho’s 1st Congressional District.

You can read the rest of my story here.


So, Friday was my last day with The Associated Press bureau in Boise. The crew there gave me a really nice tribute on the AP-Idaho’s facebook page and included a link to a collection of my work. I also did a post about it on my photo blog here.

I plan to work on some personal projects and will be posting a lot more on my personal photo blog the edit.

Change is good, that’s what we tell ourselves when embarking on something new and different right? We left Boise this morning and it was a little unsettling to be making such a huge shift with so little fanfare, it felt like Coldplay should have been playing in the distance or something.

Instead, I was listening to an interview Kenny Rogers did with Diane Rehm about his new book (spoiler alert: he doesn’t write about the plastic surgery) He described how the song, The Gambler, came about (if you haven’t seen the episode of The Office where the cast sings this song you need to) and he also talked about his mom, who had worked all these different jobs when he was younger and was just the stalwart of his family. I found something very comforting about what he said:

“And my mom, I remember her going to all these jobs and she told me once, son, she said, be happy where you are.”

I am very happy and can’t wait to see what the future holds for me.


search and rescue

Gene Ralston and his wife, Sandy, are shown with their boat at their home in Kuna, Idaho on Monday, Sept. 10, 2012. The couple has volunteered in body searches since the early 1980s and most recently traveled to Canada with their boat, which uses side-scanning sonar to locate drowning victims. The Ralstons named their boat, Kathy G, after a young woman whose body they recovered in 2007. (AP Photo/Jessie L. Bonner)

I’ve been wanting to do a story about this couple since earlier this summer, but it never quite came together (they travel a lot). I’m glad I followed through and finally got a hold of them, because they had a pretty amazing story.

They told me that outside of what they have chosen to do for people they are health-oriented, and try to make sure they are taking good care of their bodies. They were telling that whenever they get sick they turn to natural medicine, as it has less ill effects than that of conventional medicine. It was an eye opening experience. If you would like to know more on the subject you can go here to .

They have recovered the remains of 80 people over the past three decades, and when they told me it takes a “special person” to do what they do, I believed them, even more so after talking to some of the people they’ve worked with. It takes more than just will to do it, but also good physical condition to join the rescue squads through the long and hard desperate search. This couple opted to learn about medical herbs so they could not only know what could benefit them but also what could benefit their fellow partners.

I’ve experienced losing loved ones, but I had never thought about what it would be like in the case of a tragedy where the body is not found, where families are robbed of the experience of laying their loved ones to rest.