Blues for Mai Cramer

Who I am

Sheila Lennon
Features & Interactive producer,
The website of The Providence Journal

Frontier days: Online since '90, a veteran of local free BBSes, I ran one (they called us Sysops) on a series of puny computers in my living room for years. A satellite dish on the roof of my Providence house brought in the Fidonet mail and file feed, which we gave away free to anybody else who'd give it away free.
Education: Bay View, Wellesley College and Brown Graduate School; living in Gambia, West Africa (thanks to India Imports of R.I.); the old Met Cafe. In 1985 I landed at the Sink or Swim School of Journalism, aka The Providence Journal night desk. I'd spent years as a features editor before moving in August 1999 to, where the learning curve never stops.
My place in history: The Electronic Frontier Foundation grabbed off the wire a paragraph from a 1994 essay, "The Global Village is Finally Wired," that I wrote for the late Rhode Islander magazine. In EFF's permanent database of quotes, I'm sandwiched between a Secret Service official and a Supreme Court justice. (The quote: "We empower each other by sharing information...We can create here, together, a society in which everyone has a voice, and everybody's ideas are heard."
Favorite quote: "‘Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one." -- A.J. Leibling






Google Search
Google Image Search
GooFresh: New pages

My brother's project
USS Saratoga Museum Foundation

My other sites
Subterranean Homepage News

Providence Newspaper Guild

Comments by
weblog commenting

The Reader
After-hours edition of Subterranean Homepage News
(Why"The Reader"?)

Sept. 28, 2002

Bloggers, NYT author weigh in
on interview transcript

Here's what happened right after I published the transcript of my interview with David F. Gallagher for his Sept. 24 NY Times story about journalist-bloggers. This was first posted on my projo blog. The interview is below -- this link will take you there.

Breaking new ground after the NYT story? Several bloggers have noted that my posting the transcript of my email interview with NY Times contributor David Gallagher was unusual. Dan Gillmor noted it -- he was also quoted in the NYT story -- and mentioned, "(My interview) was on the phone, so I can't post it."

Ken Layne blogged that I'd posted the transcript, and accurately guessed the reason:

Not for any "Gotcha!" reasons, just to get the long exchange out there and add context to her quotes in the paper.

As NYT contributor David Gallagher is himself a blogger, he won't be bothered by this. But I imagine certain reporters would be really pissed off to find their entire interview on the source's own site.

The point? None, really. It's just cool to have the whole article-generating process made public.

I added an explanatory comment to Ken's post:

I've been away from print for three years now, producing part of the site, so linking to sidebars on other sites is how I work. With this infinite newshole, the entire web is candidate for a role in a more complete story.

David asked fine questions, and I didn't wince when I read my answers, so it seemed a shame to waste the time and ideas in that sidebar.

I expect there'll be more of this in the future. Stories will be written with the Web in mind -- well-told, fact-packed tales supported by links to primary sources. Print could indeed become a portal to the Web.

Here in the land of "Digital Extras" -- the Journal's name for links added at the end of newspaper stories that point to media files or sites on the web -- it seemed natural to me to publish "the rest of the story" online for readers who might be interested.

But I hoped David Gallagher didn't think my "sidebar" was a swipe at his story, so I told him by email what I'd done. From his vacation spot in the U.K., Gallagher wrote,

That's great -- I was even going to suggest something like that.

Unfortunately I have limited Web/e-mail access here so I didn't even get a chance to put up extra related links on my site as I usually do when I write a story like this. Your answers were great so I'm glad they're out there.

Another happy ending...

Sept. 23, 2002

Interview with the New York Times

About a month ago, I agreed to an email interview with David F. Gallagher, a blogger who freelances for The New York Times. When his story ran today (Reporters Find New Outlet, and Concerns, in Web Logs - reg.req.), limitations of the news hole chopped what's below to one paragraph. This weblog gives me a site to put it on, so here's a remote sidebar to David's story, the entire email exchange:

NYT: Why do you have two weblogs?
My personal blog started as an experiment during a two-week vacation in July; I announced it, gave the link, and readers followed me there. I wanted to explore a less formal voice, put up some of my photos, write about personal friends and family without fully identifying them -- and not blog at all, if I chose. I also wanted a way to respond to events in the blogosphere without being tempted to drive downtown to do it.

When the call came that my mother had died at 3:15 a.m. on July 18, I spent a few minutes pacing, then sat down and fished out a photo I'd taken of her on Mother's Day, 2000, and put it up. Bloggers reported my mom's death, and strangers left comments. (The URL was also posted on the in-house Atex bulletin board at the Journal, and colleagues left messages.) Mom got a virtual wake and an afterlife on the Web. It was totally new use of the Web, for me, and I would not have chosen, or been able, to do that on the Journal site.
I have simulblogged as well, publishing something on my own blog on a weekend, and copying it to the projo blog on Monday.

They're both just me writing; they're not competing publications. That's like asking a reporter what section her piece is going in -- she may not know what pigeonhole it will end up in.

NYT: Are there things you would write in one that you wouldn't write in the other?

My personal blog has links to the Providence Newspaper Guild site, which I maintain, and to my brother's project to bring the USS Saratoga to Quonset as a museum.

Neither is appropriate on the Journal blog.

I've also talked about geezer sex, hormone replacement therapy (I didn't choose it, an anonymous friend who did got breast cancer), and the after-hours bar we patronized in my early days on the the night news desk. I might experiment with fiction or song lyrics there, if I ever have the leisure to write some. The personal blog can be "offbeat," in both senses of that word.

But if I'm going to report on a major issue, such as the current "First Congressional candidate with a blog," I'll do that formally on the newspaper site, with lots of quotes and attribution, and background links to both the candidate and her opponent. Some bloggers linked to that as The Providence Journal website reporting on it, rather than, "Sheila says... ."

NYT: Is your weblog on edited by anyone? Do you feel weblogs like this should be edited?

My editor, Sean Polay, and I have a very relaxed relationship: He isn't a censor, he catches typos, makes occasional suggestions and gives an opinion if I ask for one.

If I'm going to do something unusual -- like blogging a byline strike that the newspaper is not reporting, which I did -- I alert him.

Newspaper culture says everyone is subject to editing, and by having this relationship, neither of us is left exposed. I've been an editor myself for 17 years, so I'm used to it. But I couldn't file every 20 minutes if I felt like it -- although I have filed early because I wanted to give other bloggers a chance to link to it while the issue was hot, and told my editor I'd add "Web wire editor" links later in the day.

What I can't do is blog at 3:30 a.m., as I did when Mom died.

So in that sense the personal blog is a bolthole, too.

NYT: Why have a weblog on a newspaper site?

When I blog on the projo site, the resources of The Providence Journal are available to me -- photos, stories and, most importantly, access: If I call the White House, they'll call me back.

Answering that question from another angle, there are readers who come to the newspaper site, and to Dallas News and some other Belo sites that syndicate my weblog, who wouldn't go out into the Wild Web. So there's a built-in readership available to me.

NYT: Is this something you would recommend to other papers and journalists?

Absolutely. We're educating and involving readers in the decisions that will affect their future. The feedback is instantaneous, and the stories advance cooperatively. It's exciting and stimulating to be a part of, with one foot in the newsroom and the other in the "blogosphere."

The newspaper doesn't cover the Web and how-to technology; it writes about tech companies, and publishes tech columns, but there's no daily in-depth reporting, because they're addressing an offline readership.

On the site, we know everyone is online and interested in that medium, its issues and the tools to negotiate it. What I write about and point to is likely to be new, newsworthy and, I hope, useful to them. Since about half the site's readers come from AOL, I try to explain tech issues in terms of how they might affect us, and I translate deep-geek jargon into common language when necessary.

NYT: What kind of policy should media outlets have toward personal sites created by their employees? Is it any of their business if a reporter wants to spout off on his or her personal weblog?

Our union contract language, which addresses freelancing and probably applies to blogs, says if the publisher feels your outside activity hurts the paper's business interests you can be asked to stop. Then it's subject to the grievance process.

That's pretty broad, actually, and I can live with it.
As a journalist there are things I can't do without compromising my objectivity -- sign political petitions, lobby, serve on (corporate) boards. I don't belong to a political party. And I don't publish every thought I have on my personal weblog.


* * *

August 6 - A heretic in the Church of Bob
August 4
August 3

July 18 - Mom died.
July 17
July 12 - 14
July 11
July 10
July 9
July 8
July 6-7
July 5
July 4
July 3 - Day One: Happy birthday to me; Jamaica photos


See it and say it

Tuberoses, bent by tonight's rain (detail; click image to see photo)

Some favorite blog items

4.8 & 9.02
Blogging from Amsterdam

Is Deep Throat a potted plant... or Diane Sawyer?

NETSTOCK The global village is finally wired
(originally published Aug. 7, 1994)

Anticipating Bob


Dylan at Newport
Heretic in the Church of Bob

Eargazm radio

Woodstock: Aug. 15, 16 & 17, 1969

Intelligent crop circles? A reader analyzes the images and suggests they're a textbook.

My first days online

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DOGMA 2000
The point :-->
The manifesto :-->
The dogma :-->

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the rule is only in YOUR head
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Photos by Sheila Lennon unless they're credited to someone else

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