Blog Posts.

Back to school

Twice this month, I had the privilege of being asked to speak with college classes about my work.

I enjoy talking with college students and hearing their thoughts on journalism. (As I said to one group: “I talk with old people all the time. So I like hearing from young people.”)

Two days after the general election, my colleague/competitor Ron Snyder invited me to talk with his media ethics class at Towson University. (Ron and I worked together at the Capital-Gazette Newspapers, and now he’s a digital editor with WBAL-TV.)

I had planned to talk about ethical decision-making as a journalist and some of the steps I take to avoid ethical issues such as conflict of interest or showing bias. But with the surprising victory of President-elect Donald Trump, we threw that out the window and talked instead with students about media coverage of the campaign, where it fell short and how journalists can improve. The students were eager to talk about the election.

Then this week, I spoke to a political science class for the first time. Dr. Mileah Kromer invited me to talk with her introductory class at Goucher College.

For the Goucher class, I talked about the importance of the press as a watchdog on the government — especially as we enter a time with a Republican president, Republican-controlled Congress and a Supreme Court that’s likely soon to tilt conservative. I also talked about Baltimore County’s emerging role as a swing or bellweather county in Maryland politics. The students had lots of great questions for me.

Interestingly enough, the day that I spoke at Goucher started and ended on college campuses. My day started at 8 a.m. at Goucher in Towson and ended at 9 p.m. with the final session of a French class that I’ve been taking at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold.

Here I am with the Goucher students. Thanks to Dr. Kromer for the picture.

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Sunflowers, sunflowers, sunflowers.

I was recently reunited with my DSLR camera after sending it to Nikon to fix focusing issues that were driving me batty. I took my newly repaired camera out for a spin over the weekend to the McKee Breshers Wildlife Management Area in Poolesville, where the Maryland Department of Natural Resources plants sunflowers for their habitat benefits.

It’s a great spot to photograph sunflowers because it’s public property and so there’s no chance of trespassing and no chance of ruining someone’s crop. The sunflowers bloom in July, and you can check with the DNR for the exact dates and field locations each year. There is no entrance fee.

Here are some tips from my trip to McKee Breshers:

  • Even though it is HOT in July, wear long pants tucked into boots to avoid bug bites and to prevent scraping up your legs while walking through the fields.
  • Use bug spray and check for bugs. I found a tick crawling on my camera.
  • There are lots of bees, but they are all about the flowers. I shot for two hours and didn’t get any bee stings.
  • Bring a stepstool or small ladder if you want to shoot from above the sunflowers. Many of the plants were 6 feet tall.
  • There are other neat things to see there, too. I walked by some swampy areas that had cool plants and what sounded like bullfrogs.

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Here is DNR’s map of the 2016 sunflower fields. I shot in the field that’s second from the left:

McKee DNR map

Moving on …

For the past 14 (!) years, I’ve had the privilege of covering news in Anne Arundel County.

From a dialysis clinic in the basement of a state prison in Jessup to the top of the State House dome in Annapolis, my career has literally taken me all over the county.

Now I have a new adventure: Covering politics and government in Baltimore County, still with The Baltimore Sun.

I’m trading Gott’s garage for one in Towson; the Arundel Center and City Hall for the Historic Courthouse; I-97 for the Baltimore Beltway; WRNR for WTMD.

As I switch to Baltimore County, I hope my Anne Arundel readers stay tuned, as I have a few more Anne Arundel stories in the works in the coming weeks.

On the radio again

I was fortunate to be asked to appear on WYPR radio again this week. This time, I recorded an interview with Joel McCord for “Inside Maryland Politics,” a short segment that airs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during “Morning Edition.”

We talked about the 2014 race for county executive in Anne Arundel County, which so far features Republican County Executive Laura Neuman, Republican Del. Steve Schuh and Democrat Joanna Conti.

You can listen to it here.

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Discussing Naval Academy on the radio

I’ve been covering a case of alleged sexual assault involving Naval Academy midshipmen, and appeared on WYPR radio this week to discuss the case.

Here’s audio from my appearance on “Midday with Dan Rodricks” with my Baltimore Sun colleague Dan Rodricks, victims’ Imageadvocate and attorney Susan Burke, and Anne Kendzior, a former midshipman who is suing the Naval Academy.

In the case I’ve been covering, three male midshipmen were facing possible charges related to an off-campus party in April 2012, where a female classmate has testified that they may have engaged in sexual activities without her consent. Following an eight-day preliminary hearing called and Article 32 hearing and a review by the academy superintendent, two are being formally charged and charges were dropped against the third.

We learned that off-campus party houses have long been an issue for the Naval Academy. And advocates who want changes in the military justice system are using the case as an example in their arguments.

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Busy. Crazy. And busy some more.

I’ve been at The Baltimore Sun for nearly six weeks now, and it’s been a very busy blur. I’ve had to get comfortable with all of the new systems (e-mail, budgeting stories, filing stories, requesting photos, etc.) while covering lots and lots of news.

I’m covering Annapolis and Anne Arundel County — mainly government, but also a little bit of everything. And Anne Arundel County has no shortage of news.

In  my first week, I managed to land stories on A1 twice — first, when the county executive vetoed a stormwater fee and second, when I wrote a quick-turnaround profile of the state’s corrections secretary.

A few other stories I’ve liked: A co-written, in-depth look at safety concerns in obstacle/mud runs; a feature on the county’s foster parents of the year and a bit of a spat between the former county executive and the new county executive.

Don’t believe everything you read in a press release, and other odds and ends

It should go without saying that reporters need to check information in press releases.

I had two examples of this recently. In one case, a press release about a political candidate turned out to be a hoax. And in another case, a press release didn’t tell the full story.

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I ended up helping out with coverage of Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly.

I didn’t plan to cover Sine Die, but there was a last-minute push to roll back a bill (the “rain tax” or stormwater fee) that had passed the year before. So I covered that push — which failed — and wrote a story wrapping up that and other environmental issues.

This year’s Sine Die was amazingly calm compared to last year, when lawmakers adjourned without passing a proper budget. The day was filled with impromptu press conferences and partisan maneuvering.

A quick iPhone photo of Gov. Martin O'Malley talking to reporters on Sine Die, the last day of the 90-day General Assembly session.
A quick iPhone photo of Gov. Martin O’Malley talking to reporters on Sine Die, the last day of the 90-day General Assembly session.

This year, I managed to tag along with a group of staffers and lobbyists on a tour of the State House dome! Needless to say, that was pretty awesome.

Atop the State House dome in Annapolis on Sine Die, 2013. Yes, it was windy! Thanks to Susan O'Brien for taking the photo.
Atop the State House dome in Annapolis on Sine Die, 2013. Yes, it was windy! Thanks to Susan O’Brien for taking the photo.

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A few days after Sine Die, I appeared on WYPR radio on “Midday on the Bay” with Dan Rodricks and Rona Kobell. We talked about the environmental bills that were considered during the 90-day session.

You can listen to the recording here. (Warning, it’s a full hour.)

WYPR studio in Baltimore.
WYPR studio in Baltimore.

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I recently left The Capital newspaper after almost exactly 10 years there, and nearly three years before that at a sister paper, the Maryland Gazette.

Here’s the last bylined story I wrote for the paper, about a grant that was awarded to help rebuild Annapolis City Dock. And the last story of mine to actually appear in print (it held for several days) was about prisoners growing American chestnut trees.

The Patuxent Institution in Jessup -- I'm glad I'm on this side of the fence, and not the other side.
The Patuxent Institution in Jessup — I’m glad I’m on this side of the fence, and not the other side.

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In cleaning out my desk at The Capital, I found some interesting things.

I found a file folder full of thank you cards and also some nasty-grams. (“Take those carbon credits and shove them up your a—, you liberal scum” is a favorite.)

For some reason, I have a big pile of press passes and badges. I have no idea what many of them are for, but the ones issued by the White House (for covering Naval Academy graduation) are pretty cool. I’ll keep those.

Here’s perhaps the most poignant thing I found. I found the first issue of the Our Bay section that was started while I was at The Capital. Here it is, side-by-side with the final Our Bay section from earlier this month.

The first and last Our Bay sections from The Capital. I wrote for and coordinated the section from 2006 until 2013.
The first and last Our Bay sections from The Capital. I wrote for and coordinated the section from 2006 until 2013.