A few recent stories, it’s been a surprisingly busy couple of weeks considering things usually slow down in the summer…

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PHOTO1U.S. Senate hopeful Matt Whitaker shakes hands after speaking at the Ames Area Conservative Breakfast hosted by the Story County Republican Party on Thursday. Photo by Jessie L. Bonner/Ames Tribune

U.S. Senate hopeful Matt Whitaker highlighted his humble beginnings and local roots while decrying the federal deficit and taking shots at President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul during a Republican gathering in Ames.

Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney who grew up in Ankeny and played football at the University of Iowa, was ribbed only a little about being a Hawkeye, though he was quick to point out his mother’s alma mater.

“My mom’s an Iowa State grad, so I’ve always felt safe in Ames,” he said.

Whitaker, whose past campaign experience includes a failed bid for state treasurer in 2002, addressed the Ames Area Conservative Breakfast early Thursday, speaking to a crowd of about 30.

A few days after formally announcing he would seek Iowa’s first open Senate seat in three decades, Whitaker joked that his campaign was being headquartered in the back of a Ford Explorer.

Read the rest of this story here.

 

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PHOTO-ONEStudents graduating from Gilbert High School lined up outside the school on Friday while practicing for the ceremony. This year’s graduates reflected on the recession that marked the start of their high school careers and how it impacted their plans for the future. Photo by Jessie L. Bonner/Ames Tribune

Most journalists have covered a high school graduation at some point in their career. It can be a tedious part of the job, covering these types of events year in and year out. I wanted to do something a little different with this story, so I started thinking about what the world was like when these kids were starting high school.

Turns out, they were reaching this pivotal moment at a time when the world was a pretty scary place. The story of the recession has been told through so many lenses, businesses, government, out-of-work employees. I wanted to hear from these kids, what was it like from their perspective, and how has it shaped what they plan to do with their lives.

PHOTO-FOURErick Estrada works in the front office at Ames High School on Thursday, May 16, 2013. (Jessie L. Bonner/Ames Tribune)

I was really impressed with the students I talked to, they had really thoughtful answers to my questions and even though some hadn’t been directly impacted by the financial downturn, it had made an impact on them.

Here’s my story:

When Christopher Grice started high school four years ago, he was feeling the same pressures facing every other freshman, stresses about whether he’d fit in or be able to handle his classes.

But then, for Grice, there was other stuff.

With the nation trying to crawl out of the most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression, Grice recalls how the economic downturn hit home for him in central Iowa as both of his parents took pay cuts.

“My family had always struggled with money,” said Grice, adding that their situation only worsened when his parents both lost hours at their jobs.

Grice, 18, now a senior at Ballard High School, will be among the hundreds of local students graduating during ceremonies today and next weekend.

As students don their caps and gowns and cross the stage to receive their diplomas, they’ll probably wear giant smiles as they’re cheered on by proud relatives.

But don’t be fooled by the celebration: These teenagers have worked hard to prepare themselves for the so-called real world. They’ve thought a lot about their future. They couldn’t help it, not after witnessing — and in some cases experiencing — the fallout from the economic downturn.

You can read the rest of it here

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So, if you’ve been to my site before you’re probably wondering: what’s with the new look?

I’ve decided to try something new, I’m calling it whimsical-with-a-dash-of-zippity-pow. I haven’t decided if I’m totally sold yet, but I also wanted to explain why I made the switch. My previous website wasn’t mobile friendly, so while it looked fine when brought up on a regular computer, it looked a little weird when brought up on an iPad or a smart phone.

I’ve been using wordpress for a couple of years and I’m pretty happy with it so far, so I decided to stay with them and check out some of their mobile friendly themes. I’m liking how with this theme, the images come up nice and big on the iPad, and my site no longer looks like it was made with Microsoft Word when you bring it up on an iPhone.

I don’t like that you have to scroll all the way to the bottom to reach my twitter feed, but we’ll see how it goes.

Thanks for stopping by!

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.”

Indeed.

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.

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