Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mangled math

I find it interesting that the soon-to-be passed "bi-partisan" jobs bill is being hailed as a victory for the unemployed. This bill is supposed to offer tax exemptions and incentives to companies that hire the unemployed, along with a grab bag of $250 bonus checks for "cash-strapped" seniors on Social Security and more highway dollars.

Unfortunately, I can't wrap my head around this $15 billion package that is supposed to send only 250,000 people back to work.

Get your abacus out while I run through a little math with you. First, take $15,000,000,000 and divide it by 250,000. What do you get? The answer is $60,000. That's how much money it takes to create each job. Sounds like an awfully expensive and wasteful package.

Now, I understand there is a lot of money in there for seniors and highways, but it still doesn't make sense. Why doesn't Congress just give me $60,000 a year to plow my elderly neighbor's driveway (which I've already done three times this winter) and I'll give him $250 for some pocket change to buy some groceries and hard candy.

That sounds like a jobs bill I can believe in.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Black Hole of Resumania

Just a few months ago, I blogged about being concerned that my resume wasn't even making it to a supervisor's desk for consideration. It's rare you receive a correspondence rejecting you, and it's bizarre that such a response would actually be relieving. Unfortunately, it seems this is the case for just about every unemployed worker out there.

CNN has immersed itself in the unemployment issue and followed a number of people who have been without a job for longer than six months. They are going through the same thing as us, and it's becoming increasingly frustrating as our resumes are being sucked into the Internet's black hole...

Ever applied to a job online only to have your résumé seemingly vanish into a void?

From crafting a winning cover letter to acing an interview, landing a job is tough enough in this market. But millions of job seekers can't even get a foot in the door as they apply to countless positions and seldom hear anything in response.

The story goes on to talk about how most employers are bombarded with e-mailed resumes and usually click through the first 20 or so before discarding the remaining 400. That's messed up. What's the point of trying to find work anymore? There really isn't a reason. Instead of searching for sustainable work, I think it's time to to start pulling job applications from Shop 'n Save, Home Depot and Kmart.

It seems there's no need to waste any more time looking for a job.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Web footprint

Less than two days after losing my job, this blog was flowing inside the tubes of Internet. With the ability to write, but nowhere to write, it gave me the ability to share my feelings about the newspaper industry and other topics. Apparently, I wasn't alone, as a New York Times op-ed pointed out this weekend. They took the words right out of my, well, blog...

Have keyboard, will travel

By SHEELAH KOLHATKAR
NY Times Op-Ed
Feb. 20, 2009

You can tell when a print journalist has lost his full-time job because of the digital markings that suddenly appear, like the tail of a fading comet. First, he joins Facebook. A Gmail address is promptly obtained. The Twitter account comes next, followed by the inevitable blog. Throw in a LinkedIn profile for good measure. This online coming-out is the first step in a daunting, and economically discouraging, transformation: from a member of a large institution to a would-be Internet “brand.”

Dozens of Web sites have correspondingly sprouted up, posting articles written for free or for a fraction of what a traditional magazine would have paid. Into this gaping maw have rushed enough authors to fill a hundred Roman Colosseums, all eager to write in exchange for “exposure.” Paul Smalera, a 29-year-old who was laid off from a magazine job in November 2008, is now competing with every one of them. And after months of furious blogging, tweeting and writing for Web sites, Paul has made a career of Internet journalism, sort of.

Read more...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Local doctor hits the slopes with Team USA

By Michael Jones
For the Tribune-Review
Jan. 28, 2010

Josh Szabo grew up dreaming of one day becoming an Olympic skier.

But while training for competitions a notch below the World Cup level in 1988, he suffered a severe knee injury that effectively ended his career.

So Szabo turned to orthopedic medicine, which has allowed him to remain close to the sport that he loves. Earlier this month, the 38-year-old Gibsonia resident found himself on the slopes in the French Alps working as a physician for the U.S. Ski Team.

"If you participate in their sport, there is a bond that is immediately established," said Szabo, who works for Tri Rivers Surgical Associates, headquartered in McCandless, in the North Hills. "I think I form a better relationship with them. I can ski with them, and it does provide some perspective with the athletes."

Szabo accompanied the ski team for three days while it competed in the World Cup at Les Contamines-Montjoie in France -- a competition that helped determine who will represent the United States in the Vancouver Winter Olympics next month.

He worked closely with the athletes competing in ski cross, a new Olympic event that involves four skiers racing down a course with jumps, bumps and banked turns. Lindsey Sine, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Ski Team based in Park City, Utah, said ski cross involves a lot of passing and even some bumping.

"It's an exciting head-to-head battle down the course," Sine said.

That battle can lead to tough injuries, Szabo said.

"They're big, strong athletes that can push each other off the course at any time," Szabo said. "People talk about football and soccer players being tough. When these guys get a bad injury, it's a horrific injury."

Read more about the new Olympic sport...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Jerking us around

When I thumb through the newspaper or search online job boards for openings, I'm beginning to wonder: Are they really hiring?

And that question is being raised by the shell game WDVE-FM played with its morning radio show. Three weeks ago, morning radio personality Randy Baumann mysteriously disappeared from the show. Hours later, Clear Channel Communications advertised an opening for his position, asking for resumes and demo tapes.

I wonder how many suckers actually applied for that job. It was all for naught, because Baumann returned to the show this morning. The reason for his departure apparently was over a contract dispute.

So it seems that anyone who sent their portfolio to Clear Channel was used as nothing more than a negotiating pawn by the radio station and Baumann in a contractual game of chicken. So how many of these companies are advertising job openings -- and wasting our time -- just because they have to?

I can't help but think that the majority of the resumes I send out are for positions being filled internally, or not at all. And that is just wrong.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not qualified?

I consider myself a professional in whatever task is handed to me. You want me to write a story? Just tell me the deadline. You want me to deliver important documents across town? When do they need to be there. You want me to perform as The Wild Thing? Well, OK, but I'm not doing the flip at the end of the Wild Thing Workout.

So it was just a little bit surprising when I received an e-mail this morning from the federal government saying I am not qualified to be... a secretary at Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Fayette County.

"This is to notify you that your score/rating was not within reach for referral. Therefore, your name will not be referred to the employing agency at this time."

My rating? I'm not a dishwasher being reviewed by Consumer Reports!

I can hardly say this is a major setback, but it does make me wonder what you have to do to get an interview for a job. On the other hand, at least they wrote me back to tell me I wouldn't be brewing coffee and recording meeting minutes just a few feet away from George Washington's only military surrender.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Censoring death

The news is often horrifying. We see awful images and hear about terrible stories each day. But it is a journalist's job to accurately portray life. Newspapers, it is said, are a mirror of society.

But there also should be some restraint in what we see. A news organization rarely will show a dead body lying in the middle of the road because that person's dignity should remain even in death.

So it was shocking to see the fatal crash involving a luger from the Republic of Georgia. The video of Nodar Kumaritashvili being launched from his sled and into a metal pole was chilling. It made me cringe when I saw it for the first time on the CBS Evening News. Then CBS showed it again. And then they showed it a third time, this time in slow motion.

I understand why the news organization decided to broadcast this horrifying moment, but did they have to show it three times? Once was more than enough.

Interestingly, England does not permit news organizations to broadcast images of death. Due to those restrictions, Jacquelin Magnay describes the crash for the UK Telegraph, including her own emotions upon seeing the video.

"I started shaking when I first saw the raw footage," she said.

She also asks the same question as me. Did we really need to see the terrifying last moments of this 21-year-old man's life over and over and over again?

UPDATE: Quite a few people have complained about the coverage.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The answer would be, "NO!"

Our memories fade rather quickly. Less than two years ago, President George W. Bush boasted a job approval rating in the 20s and had one foot out the Oval Office door waiting for retirement. With just a few months remaining in his presidency, the financial markets and our economy collapsed, leading to double-digit unemployment numbers (and inadvertently to this blog).

Yet, a group of small business owners in Wyoming, Minn., paid for a billboard along Interstate 35 with the same message as the photo above. Of course, they had to use a snide photo of No. 43 waving to us with a sly grin.

But what exactly do they miss? Do they miss the disastrous decision to invade Iraq? Do they miss the illegal warrantless wiretaps on American citizens? Do they miss the abuse of foreign prisoners that tramples on everything we believe in as a people? Do they miss the stock market when it hovered at 6,000 points?

Sure, people will argue these issues and the reasons why they occurred, but how can even the most hardened conservative honestly say that the 2000s were positive and productive? When Bush left office in January 2009, unemployment figures stood at 7.6 percent (and reached a high of 10.2 percent under President Obama last October). A budget surplus near the end of the Clinton Adminstration turned into a towering deficit under Bush.

Obama obviously has not exceeded expectations during his first 13 months in office, although he does currently have a 51 percent job approval rating. He clearly has a lot more work to do and needs to start getting Republicans on board if he wants to get this country out of the ditch.

But coming from someone who does not have a job and does not have health insurance, I certainly do not miss W. holding down the fort in The White House.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A devastated city's redemption

As trivial as sports may be, I can't help but think that they help people in difficult times. A perfect example of that was the 2001 World Series when the New York Yankees played for a championship just weeks after 9/11.

I think Super Bowl XLIV is the same for New Orleans. The devastation to that city from Hurricane Katrina was/is immense, and the Saints obviously have lifted the spirits there. Less than five years ago, New Orleans was nothing more than a sunken disaster zone. Desperate people did whatever they had to do to survive.

In September 2005, the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail sent me to New Orleans to report on the evacuations by the West Virginia 130th Airlift Wing. I want to share one of those stories on this blog to remind us how far New Orleans has come from its lowest point to this triumphant moment.

Maj. David Lester carries bags for two evacuees preparing to leave Louis Armstrong International Airport in the aftermarth of Hurricane Katrina

"Our world just changed"

By Michael Jones
Daily Mail Staff
Sept. 4, 2005

NEW ORLEANS – Early Saturday morning, the crew of the 130th Airlift Wing landed in New Orleans and extracted numerous injured and sick patients to Ellington Air Force Base in Houston.

Less than four hours later, they did it again.

The 130th flew into Louis Armstrong International Airport with 10 medical evacuation members and a critical care transport team trained to care for patents while in the air.

The team was able to extricate a total of 48 people, mostly elderly, who were too sick to leave the flooded city on their own.

As the C-130 touched down to begin its first rescue mission at 12:50 a.m. local time, the only lights glimmering in New Orleans were from rescue boats, searching for survivors.

The medical and flight crews were unsure of what they would see upon their arrival at the airport. Maj. Kyle Adams, the flight commander warned the crew that the “terminal is turning into chaos.”

“We don’t know what to expect and that’s the most frustrating thing,” said Capt. Steven Lehr, a member of the critical care team. “We usually get a [casualty] report.”

Because of the unpredictable nature of severe weather and the rescues necessities soon after, decisions are made only hours before the operation begins.

An eerie feeling set over the aircraft as it taxied, most knowing the airport might have little use after the rescue missions are completed. Three C-130s from the 130th sat on the tarmac simultaneously, all shuttling survivors to different cities, including to Charleston. A large red and blue sign reading, “Welcome to New Orleans,” hung over the middle concourse, welcoming tourists before the monstrous Hurricane Katrina ripped through the region.

Just below it sat a luggage conveyor belt leading to a large white moving truck. Instead of transporting baggage, though, it was lowering bodies in white bags to the waiting truck. A temporary morgue was set up in a Continental Airlines gate labeled D1.

Medics moved their patients using baggage carts with two or three stretchers in each compartment. Lehr was taken aback after seeing all the people needing immediate medical attention.

“There’s a lot of sadness, tiredness, and total despair,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words.”

While at least a dozen C-130s from various squads around the country carried people from the New Orleans, thousands waited for commercial jets to shuttle them to various U.S. cities. The airport has become the third major shelter since last Sunday.

City officials originally opened the Superdome for residents to ride out the storm, but unsanitary conditions and lawlessness forced its closure, leaving thousands without a place to stay.

Almost every person in the airport terminal looked tired and dismayed with little hope after a week of searching for food and shelter. They sat in metal chairs just waiting.

Others just slept. Either on the floor or luggage conveyor belts behind check-out counters.

In the morning, after just one day, the terminals were filled with garbage, yet many said it still did not compare to the hell of the Superdome. One man said he spent four days on an I-10 bridge waiting for transport to a shelter. He said he had lost his wife at the airport and believed she had already boarded a plane.

“I didn’t know something like this could happen in America,” the man said, looking at the thousands of people that surrounded him in one of the airport’s concourses. “It’s like a nightmare. I don’t know how to start all over again. Our world just changed.”

A couple looking for a working vending machine said they stayed at the Superdome for four days before conditions became unbearable. They said they witnessed a man commit suicide by throwing himself from the second tier of the sports arena.

Some, though, had harsh words for the federal government for not taking care of their needs sooner.

“They’ve forgot about us,” a woman said as her autistic son slept on the tile floor. “It’s been like this for a week and I’m losing my mind.”

The lack of communication has made it almost impossible for survivors to gather information about the relief effort. One woman blasted the mayor and governor while another woman’s anger was directed at the U.S. government.

While tensions were high, all stayed calm, unlike the riotous behavior by looters and vandals in downtown New Orleans.

After the crew of the C-130 brought their patients to a hangar at Ellington, they immediately prepared for a second trip to New Orleans. They first had to get approval to extend their shift.

Flight crews are only allowed to fly for 16 hours until they must take a break. If they wished to make another rescue mission, they would need to extend that time by two hours. Within minutes, they received approval, but were still racing against the clock to make that deadline.

"At [11 a.m.] we go either with air or butts in the seats,” Adams said, alluding to the time their C-130 and crew must depart New Orleans.

When they landed, it was a much different scene than the five hours earlier. Dozens of helicopters and commercial planes littered the runways and skies, creating a deafening whistle.

With daylight brought more help and that meant less survivors waiting in mile-long lines to leave. The floors were cleaner, spirits were mildly brighter, but the loss from the week still took its toll.

Maj. David Lester, a veteran of the second Iraq war, said what he saw overseas could not compare to the horror he saw at Louis Armstrong International.

Right before the final survivors were loaded on the C-130, a doctor came to Lester, thanking him and his crew for returning. The doctor told him two of the patients would have likely died had they not been airlifted to another city.

Just a day’s work for the crew from West Virginia. This afternoon, the 10 men of Charlie West will fly back to New Orleans and continue their mission.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Winter fiasco

I clearly made a huge blunder by underestimating this storm. At around 9:30 p.m. Friday, we lost power to the house, and it didn't return until shortly before 5 p.m. today. This was a major storm that even the most flamboyant meteorologists didn't predict. By noon, the neighborhood had received at least 19 inches of snow -- I measured the amount with a drum stick -- prompting us to begin the Big Dig. We placed our refrigerated groceries on the back porch so they didn't spoil. Below, I have included a few photos for your viewing pleasure.

The weather turned ugly around 5 p.m. Friday, but things got really nasty when we lost power around 9:30 p.m. With nothing else to do, we built a snowman, had a snowball fight and shoveled the driveway... three times. There was an eerie orange glow in the sky around 10 p.m., and the horizon flickered a number of times, which presumably was the result of exploding power line transformers.

Neighbors began The Big Dig early Saturday morning, but the snow plows were nowhere to be found. A plow made several runs last night, but we have yet to see another one today. That made for more than a few disgruntled diggers.

My girlfriend, Tiffany, and roommate, Fielder, skip merrily up the main road. We took a half-hour walk around the block to see the damage, and found a lot of people attempting to get out of the mess.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say this guy is probably waiting for an epic thaw before moving his car. Most of our vehicles looked like this, and it meant that a broom was a better tool than an ice scraper.

By 3 p.m., we had shoveled our driveway and were able to get around. Unfortunately, the plows neglected our main roads, meaning the only people leaving our development were driving sport-utility vehicles or pickup trucks.

And finally, I offer a majestic view of the snow from my bedroom window. Despite the inconvenience of the blizzard, it offers a beautiful winter scene. Feel free to offer your own winter storm stories in the comments section.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Live Blog: The Storm

It is predictable that local news stations would be blowing up this winter weather with constant coverage and meteorologists offering numerous predictions. What I didn't expect is WTAE-TV to offer up-to-the-minute blogging of the storm. And while I would love to rip the news station for pushing such an idea, I honestly wish I thought of it first. So here goes my Live Blog of the Blizzard of 2010...

12:09 p.m. - Flurries begin to fall in Allegheny County. I pull a blanket over myself so as not to contract frostbite.

12:30 p.m. - I leave for my local grocery store to fight the masses. The shopping trip is needed to buy buffalo wings, chips and dip for this weekend's Super Bowl. Although I have plenty of milk and toilet paper in the house, I briefly consider buying out the store, then scalping the items in a little stand outside the Shop 'n Save.

2:03 p.m. - Well, that was a mess. As expected, hundreds of shoppers crowded the super market in a last ditch effort to buy stuff they probably already have. As I checked out, the cashier commented that it appeared I was preparing more for the Super Bowl than the storm. "You seem to be the only one," she said. "It's those weathermen and their four-letter word that creates all this fuss."

3:05 p.m. - A light dusting has covered the road passing by my house. Although it's hardly a heavy snow total, I'm sure the driving will be somewhat treacherous for evening commuters. In fact, the carpool lanes through Pittsburgh have been closed due to the weather. Still, you'd think PennDOT would've kept them open until after 7 p.m. today.

4:16 p.m. - The snow ain't stopping and the secondary roads are slick. There has been no hint of a salt truck on these lesser used roads, but main thoroughfares like Interstate 79 and Washington Pike near Bridgeville are clear. Walked by a man in my neighborhood while he was sweeping his sidewalk, and he told me the forecasters are now predicting up to 10 inches in the area. That shouldn't come as a surprise considering the enormous train of precipitation coming from the south.

4:46 p.m. - Rut roh, it's the heavy stuff. Just finished shoveling the inch or so on my driveway, and it's soggy snow. Might be wise for the working folks to do a once-over upon getting home. Tomorrow will be a bear after we get our total amount and have to dig out.

5:09 p.m. - Some people just don't know how to drive -- or park -- in the snow. My girlfriend, Tiffany, had a little trouble pulling into the driveway while coming over for dinner. Although she plowed into my yard, it did make for a very nice artistic design.

TRAFFIC ALERT: As Scott Beveridge mentioned in the comments section, Jim Lokay of KDKA is updating his Twitter account about the weather and traffic problems. I usually don't think news can be tweeted effectively, but Lokay seems to be doing a pretty good job. Click here to check out his traffic updates on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The elephant in the newsroom

"Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love and then for a few close friends, and then for money." -Moliere

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

Please forgive me for starting with background, but sometimes it’s difficult to start a story at the beginning:

At the circus, after the trapeze artists had completed their leaps of daring, the clowns re-entered their tiny cars and the elephants were ushered away, an old man toiled where the large beasts had been paraded -- swearing under his breath.

He complained about the pay and the hours and the disrespect. A passerby couldn’t help but wonder at the man, whose intensity while scooping and piling the elephant dung was incongruent to the gentleman’s disgruntled tale of woe.

So he finally approached the man, ready to give a piece of advice -- perhaps instill a bit of hope. And he said, "Sir, I couldn’t help but hear your copious complaints about your job. If you get paid so little, you work such long hours and you get so little respect, simply quit."

To that, the struggling elephant dung scooper responded: "What? And leave show business?"

Having just surpassed my seventh month in the breadline, I feel more and more like this elephant dung guy everyday. And this past week, it was harder than it has been since I first got that pink slip. It was hardest then, not just because of the shock but because I felt like I had been officially excommunicated from the Church of Journalism and Latter Day Scribes. And I think my initial response was typical: I cried and moaned and felt sorry for myself.

Then I started to try to get my name back out there. I remembered what my Pap taught me: It matters if you work hard every time. It matters if you have heart and confidence. And above all things, he taught me, you never give up.

Not ever.

And while I had some setbacks over these last few months, I never had that feeling that I no longer belonged with those brave souls who, despite news of furloughs and bankruptcies, go into the office everyday to tell a story that wouldn’t otherwise be told. These days, I work mostly for $50 a story. Sometimes I write as many as three stories a week. I try not to think about how some of the full-time reporters I know make hundreds of dollars more a week for the same (or less) copy output.

I do this because of a deep-seated belief that journalism isn’t about the money. To me, it’s about the truths and checks and balances. I never stopped believing that journalism can change the world. So, despite not being a full-time member of the local media society, I still clung to those ideals. I felt that they were not only commonplace among my fellows, but a necessary quality in the best of us.

Then last Friday I ran into a few of my favorite Pittsburgh reporters in a local watering hole. Three of the gentlemen were college mentors -- men I looked up to not only because of their undeniable talent and passion, but because at one point or another they each told me during some dark hour: You can do this. And you can’t put a value on that -- or the fact that your professional hero believes in you at a time when your belief in yourself was waning.

At some point that Friday, an argument seemed eminent and I stepped in between one of my heroes and one of my best friends and said, "Let’s not argue tonight. We’re all professionals here."

The hero? He laughed at me.

The man looked at me and laughed in my face as if "Amanda B. Gillooly" and "professional" in the same sentence was the funniest damn thing he’d ever heard. And I wish I could tell you I laughed it off. I wish I could tell you I bought a fresh beer, dumped it in his lap and told him that actions such as those would come from someone who wasn’t a professional.

But I was too hurt. Working for $50 a story is tough enough. You don’t need your heroes making you feel like nothing more than a newspaper whore.

So I find myself feeling much like the elephant dung guy as I sit here pondering my future. And despite everything, I keep coming back to the same thing...

"What? And leave journalism?"

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for The Innocence Institute of Point Park University and PittsburghMom.com. She can be reached by e-mail at amandabgillooly@gmail.com

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

When deadlines implode

One year ago today, I was in a Tampa, Fla., hotel room celebrating the Steelers' sixth Lombardi Trophy. My father and I somehow found tickets to Super Bowl XLIII, and I wrote a few stories for the Observer-Reporter in exchange for getting a couple days off without using any vacation time. Just about four hours before kickoff, I was propped against a red cooler, tapping out my story on the tailgate of our SUV and sipping a cold brew.

The funny thing about that story is I had to write it long before the winner would be crowned. So, I wrote my lede with a to-be-determined Steeler hoisting the trophy in front of the crowd. But as we all know, the Arizona Cardinals took the lead with 2:35 left in the game, meaning my story and lede were in doubt. With little cell phone reception out of Raymond James Stadium, I frantically pondered what a Steelers loss would mean for Pittsburgh... and my story.

Thankfully, Santonio Holmes toe-tapped in the endzone, salvaging my story and the nutgraf. Candace Wolf, the editor on duty that night, quickly punched in Holmes' name and sent the copy off to the printers. The rest is history...


Steelers Nation fan-tastic in Fla.

By Michael Jones
Staff writer
mjones@observer-reporter.com

TAMPA, Fla. - Terrible Towels twirled and Raymond James Stadium rocked as the Steelers rolled Sunday night to a victory in Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals.

But hours before Santonio Holmes hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, anticipation swelled at tailgates near the stadium as game time approached.

Read more...