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Citizen journalism in the age of Trump

February 26, 2017

These are anxious times for free media. We have a president who systematically and deliberately delegitimizes the press, fears the truth, and views the First Amendment as a threat. At the same time, many newsrooms are lean and have limited resources.

There is hope, though. Thanks to social media, the Internet, and the proliferation of media outlets, there is an opportunity for anyone to become a citizen journalist – engaging, informing, and educating others.

Like it or not, we are the truth-tellers now. And this is how to do it.

  • Work a beat

It’s too easy to become overwhelmed by outrage fatigue. Instead, find one or two issues that you are passionate about, whether it’s gun violence, climate change, immigration, healthcare, LGBTQ equality, religious freedom, etc. Research those issues, and channel your energy in that direction. Become your own expert.

  • Be persistent

This is particularly important when confronting members of Congress who don’t value the voices of their constituents. When the voicemail is full, fax them. When the email goes unanswered, go to their office and knock on the door. Remember: When someone is evasive, that means you’re on the right track.

  • Greet the news with skepticism

Don’t be an impulse buyer of news. Read beyond the headlines. Find primary sources. Question numbers. Read transcripts in their entirety.

  • Be accurate with the news you spread

Confirm numbers. Look up facts. Make sure quotes are in context. Spreading falsehoods ruins your credibility, and other people will no longer take you seriously.

  • Demand answers

If you’re talking to an elected official, assert your power. They work for you. If you receive a response that isn’t adequate, call them on it. Ask what they’re going to do about the problem, how will they accomplish this, and when you can expect results.

  • Be clear

Communicate your message in a clear, concise way. We’re often talking about complex issues with a lot of nuance – we must cut through the noise to help people understand what is important and how it affects them.

  • Listen

A lot of people don’t post their politics on Facebook, tweet their issues, or write letters to the editor. They make their voices heard at the ballot box. It’s imperative we listen to their concerns now so we know how to best address them. We don’t want a surprise in 2018.

  • Ask questions

Find out why your friend, neighbor, or relative voted the way they did. Ask what they are looking for and what they hope to achieve. Why do they feel what they feel? Give up trying to find common ground; just find their ground.

  • Amplify the voices that aren’t being heard

The people who are loudest have an agenda, and their voices are already well represented. Find those who aren’t being heard and lift them up.

  • Look for new entry points into the conversation

I love novels because fiction allows us to address important issues at an angle. Fictional characters offer a distance we don’t get with the news, and it opens up valuable entry points for conversation. Find books, movies, TV shows that allow you to have difficult talks with other people.

  • Use the tools of storytelling

Legislation isn’t just a dusty document in some Congressperson’s office. These decisions affect real people, real families, maybe even you. Find the human story, as well as the significance and meaning of the story, and make the connection that policy is personal. Form a compelling narrative. Explain why this story matters.

Top 5 Faves in Magical, Mellow Yellow Springs

August 4, 2012

I grew up down the road from Yellow Springs, Ohio. My household was fairly conservative and military, so Yellow Springs was always referred to as That Place.

That Place with the hippies.

That Place with the freaks.

That Place where people write poetry and eat tofu and smoke the pot.

As a kid I went to That Place a few times, mostly field trips and a sixth-grade trip to the nature preserve. Whenever I returned home, my parents examined me for signs of corruption by That Place, the same way they scrutinized my dog for ticks every time she wandered off too far in the woods.

But, of course, my parents couldn’t see what That Place had done to me. They didn’t know my stomach grew tingly and warm each time I reached village limits. They couldn’t see the way Yellow Springs made both my head and my heart expand. Over the years, my strong love for the place only increased the more time I spent there.

I won’t go so far as to say Yellow Springs is perfect. But it was perfect for me. It is a challenging, creative place, and I found my way there during the most impressionable time of my life. I don’t know if I would be the same person today if I hadn’t grown up seeing so many politically-active, socially-progressive, intelligent, artistic and fun people, all living together in 1.9 gorgeous square miles.


Now that I live in California, I make a point of visiting Yellow Springs every time I return to Ohio. I still toy with the idea that I’ll end up with a home in Yellow Springs one day. Or maybe a simple cabin. Or a little artists’ retreat. Something. Anything.

Of course, I always come up with this plan in the summer, when Ohio winters still seem like a romantic notion. The reality of living there with slick streets, snowstorms and bone-freezing weather might not be that great.

That said, if you’re making a trip through Southwest Ohio — at any time of year — I highly recommend stopping by Yellow Springs. It’s by far my favorite place in the Midwest and ranks among my happiest places on earth.

Here are the five best things about it:

1. A bike path that promotes health and helps the environment. The Little Miami Scenic Trail, which runs from Yellow Springs to Xenia, is part of an 80-mile trail network that extends from eastern Cincinnati to Buck Creek State Park near Springfield. That means you can see a lot of Ohio on zero gas!


2. Beautiful local businesses. Yellow Springs makes a point to cultivate beauty in their community, which includes a network of unique shops and artisans you won’t find anywhere else.


3. Art is integrated into a way of life. Buildings are colorful, flowers are plentiful and yarnbombing is a way of life!


Check out some of the yarnbombers here.


4. Places where you can really get away from it all. Nature lovers can get their fix at Glen Helen Nature Reserve and John Bryan State Park. Both places are perfect for walking, wandering, getting lost and getting found.

If you spend too much time in front of a computer, here’s your antidote.


5. A variety of flavors are represented and respected. Where else can you get samosas, lomo saltado  and vegan soft serve ice cream — all within one block?


World-class architecture in … Columbus, IN.?

July 20, 2012

I first heard about Columbus, Indiana from a boyfriend. He said it was the greatest non-city he’d ever seen — a rural town stocked with extraordinary architecture, fantastic public art and some very cool shops. However, that boyfriend also snacked on dried cuttlefish, had a pill-popping habit and stretched out my skirts by wearing them while I was at work. We really didn’t have all that much in common, other than that we both liked sleeping with men. When the relationship dropped off my radar, so did Columbus, Indiana.

That was years ago.

This summer, I traveled to Indianapolis with The Husband, a man who doesn’t eat any variety of dried fish or delve into my closet. Looking for fun things to do with him and my mother-in-law, I suddenly remembered Columbus and suggested a day trip.

“Why Columbus?” The Husband said. It was the same tone of voice someone might use to say, “Why eat deep-fried horse poop?”

Since he grew up in Indianapolis, sure, he’d heard of Columbus before. But he’d never actually gone there, and he certainly didn’t know it was supposed to be something remarkable.

I rattled off the facts about the place: Columbus has a population of just 44,000 but is ranked sixth in the nation by the American Institute of Architects for innovative building designs. Only Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Boston and Washington D.C. rank higher. “National Geographic Traveler” magazine ranked Columbus as number 11 on their list of 109 great historic destinations in the world. And it was less than one hour from where we were standing.

For our day trip, we didn’t create an itinerary, do any intense research or sign up for the official bus tour, though I’m sure it’s very nice. We simply hopped on the highway and drove straight to the Columbus Area Visitors Center, 506 Fifth St., located in downtown Columbus.

There we got a map, downloaded the Columbus tourism iPhone app and put the two together to create our own custom tour. First stop was the Large Arch by sculptor Henry Moore. It stands immediately in front of the Bartholomew County Library, designed by I.M. Pei, the same architect who created the glass pyramid in front of the Louvre.


Across the street was First Christian Church, 531 Fifth St., a buff brick and limestone structure designed by Eliel Saarinen in 1942. The light hit it in the most perfect way.


The Bartholomew County Veterans Memorial, 200 Washington St., is one of the most effective memorials I’ve ever seen. Twenty-five limestone columns, rising 40 feet into the air, are engraved with the names of those who gave their lives — along with excerpts of selected correspondence.


Walking through the pillars is a meditative, intimate experience.


The Second Street Bridge, designed by J. Muller International, was completed in 1999 and is the first of its kind in North America.


The local newspaper, The Republic, has this gorgeous office building at 333 Second St. It was designed by Myron Goldsmith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1971, specifically for the newspaper. I love the openness and transparency of the building — just perfect for an office of communications.


This whimsical door (photobombed by The Husband) was at the Children’s Museum, 309 Washington St.


Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St., has cantilevered arms to frame the two-story, semi-circular window wall of glass.


Even the Bartholomew County Jail, 543 Second St., is rather pretty. It fits right into the downtown structure and design.


First Baptist Church, designed by Harry Weese and completed in 1965, is covered in hand-laid slate, drawing attention to the dramatic, non-dimensional bell tower. Located at 3300 Fairlawn Dr.


This minimalist showpiece is First Financial Bank, 707 Creekview Dr. “Dwell” magazine said, “It may be the most refined bank branch in the world.”


Another First Financial Bank, 2580 Eastbrook Plaza. Another Harry Weese design. This one isn’t really my style, but it does nicely blend with nearby bridges and businesses.


And this is my favorite thing of all — North Christian Church, 850 Tipton Lane. I’m told locals call it The Oil Can Church. Designed by Eero Saarinen and completed in 1964, this church has a six-sided building, a sloping roof and a slender 192-foot spire, topped by a teeny-tiny cross. If the Jetsons were regular churchgoers, they would probably go here.


I absolutely fell head over heels for Columbus, and our day there was decidedly too short. I only saw about half the things I wanted to see. It actually made me regret not going there many years ago with the ex-boyfriend.

Though it was the architecture that drew me there, what hooked me went well beyond the bricks and buildings. Columbus just does so many things right, from plentiful, free wifi to chic bike racks all over town. It is a place that values creativity, art and originality, which is rare to find in many cities of any size, let along a small, Midwestern town.


Columbus has a small-town, friendly feel with many modern touches. Somehow they’ve managed to respect the past while continually moving forward. I can’t wait to go back.

Road trip: Hitting America’s hot spots – with air conditioning

June 20, 2012

I don’t mind the heat so much. I live in a desert. Warm weather comes with the territory.

What bothers me is that my car has no air conditioning. This isn’t a problem most of the year. But in summer months — when the sun is blazing and temperatures climb above 110 degrees — it is torture.

It makes me think of when I was little, and my pastor gave ominous sermons about what awaited unrepentant sinners in hell. None of it frightened me until he got to the Lake of Fire part, which is downright terrifying. This is a lake … made of FIRE. As someone scared of both drowning and burning, it is the worst possible scenario.


What I didn’t expect was that my car would become my own personal lake of fire. My hand is scorched by the steering wheel, even through the fabric that covers it. Sweat rolls down my eyelids and pools in the bottom of my sunglasses. I once made the mistake of leaving some coins on the seat — I now have Abraham Lincoln permanently branded to the back of my thigh.

Rolling down the windows brings little relief. It’s merely opening the doors to the blast furnace. The breeze feels more like I’m holding a hair dryer to my face. I arrive at my destination exhausted, dehydrated, red-faced and soaked with sweat. I am drowning and burning, simultaneously.

And the worst part is that I’m still here on earth, racking up sins. I’m not supposed to feel like I’m in hell yet.


Thankfully, The Husband and I are buying a new-to-us car. We found a fantastic, affordable 2010 Honda Accord WITH AIR CONDITIONING! I am so grateful and so happy.

The only minor setback is that this vehicle is in Ohio, so we’re making a little vacation out of it. We’re flying home to spend time with our loved ones in the Midwest, then we’ll pick up the car and drive it back to California.

On our way back, we’re doing a mini version of the Great American Road Trip — even though it’s more like The Teeny-Weeny American Road Trip, Southern Fried With Gravy on Top.


Here’s our itinerary:

Flying: 2,106 miles

Driving: 2,804 miles

Stops: Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans, Houston, El Paso.

Along the way: Family. Friends. A former crush. Two editors. A brother-in-law. An adorable niece. Graceland. BBQ. Bourbon. Tacos.

Have any suggestions for what to see, do and eat along this route? Send them my way!