Archive for February, 2009

We all know that The Rocky Mountain News publishes its last edition and closes today, two months before its 150th anniversary as the oldest newspaper in Colorado.

After I sent him the RMN‘s article announcing the paper’s closure, my friend Darren asked what I would do if The New York Times ever “goes under.” I responded, with some facetiousness, “I WILL DIE.”

Seriously, though. I’ve already harped a little about where journalism is headed, but it’s becoming a more critical issue every week. One of my college friends secured a design internship at a good newspaper for this summer but learned yesterday that her internship has been cancelled due to budgetary constraints. I’m still receiving far more notifications of cancelled internship programs than actual, outright rejections. And now The Rocky Mountain News is folding — not for want of readers but for want of general revenue.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the cover package of The New Republic‘s latest issue (March 4 — see its watchdog-themed cover here) is a treatment of “the end of the press.” Below are the related articles:

Just reading the cover story’s first page (on the actual article Web page) upset me. The facts presented in the following paragraph made me actually physically shake. (Italicized, underlined emphasis is mine.)

Despite all the development of other media, the fact is that newspapers in recent years have continued to field the majority of reporters and to produce most of the original news stories in cities across the country. Drawing on studies conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, Tom Rosenstiel, the project’s director, says that as of 2006 a typical metropolitan paper ran seventy stories a day, counting the national, local, and business sections (adding in the sports and style sections would bring the total closer to a hundred), whereas a half-hour of television news included only ten to twelve. And while local TV news typically emphasizes crime, fires, and traffic tie-ups, newspapers provide most of the original coverage of public affairs. Studies of newspaper and broadcast journalism have repeatedly shown that broadcast news follows the agenda set by newspapers, often repeating the same items, albeit with less depth.

Then, on the second page:

As imperfect as they have been, newspapers have been the leading institutions sustaining the values of professional journalism. A financially compromised press is more likely to be ethically compromised.

And while the new digital environment is more open to “citizen journalism” and the free expression of opinions, it is also more open to bias, and to journalism for hire. Online there are few clear markers to distinguish blogs and other sites that are being financed to promote a viewpoint from news sites operated independently on the basis of professional rules of reporting. So the danger is not just more corruption of government and business–it is also more corruption of journalism itself.

I am inclined to agree.


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According to Politico, Jindal was set to face a tough audience:

Note to Bobby Jindal: They’re going to hate you.

When you deliver the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s address Tuesday night, the critics will fault your style and delivery. Your rhetoric will be panned as empty and partisan. Some in your party inevitably will question whether you were up to the job.

His style and delivery were unlike any I’ve recently heard coming from a major politician. As @gerik noted on Twitter, Jindal sounded like he was reading a bedtime story to the American audience. It was truly an interesting choice in tone and delivery. Perhaps Jindal was going for the comforting tone of voice — but dare I say it almost sounded patronizing?

I really don’t like to deliver my own opinion on political matters in a public forum — especially since this is supposed to be a journalism/photography blog — but I don’t think Jindal’s speech was extremely partisan. He wasn’t as outspoken as I’d kinda thought he’d be, based on his record and reputation as one of the most vocal opponents to at least certain parts of the stimulus package.

All in all, it seemed to be a very carefully thought-out, measured speech written with restraint. And, according to the Washington Post, Jindal himself wrote it.

  • 9:38 p.m. CST —

“Americans can do anything.” — Jindal

Following the train of “God bless (insert name),” Jindal concludes his speech in 12 minutes.


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According to CNN, Obama spoke for 52 minutes.

That’s nearly half an hour of trying to assure Americans and whomever else was watching that the federal stimulus package will jumpstart the economy, create jobs and start down the path of solving long-term problems in energy, education and health care. The rest of the speech addressed his promises of cutting the federal deficit by half and issuing tax breaks, as well as foreign policy issues.

And, of course, it ended on a note of bipartisanship.

Why wasn’t this the State of the Union address?

There were so many promises made, but so few details revealed — at least, about the questions I have. I hoped to hear more about stimulating the financial system and what the states specifically can do to promote growth in energy, education and health care, but to promise to find a cure for cancer and reform health care this year and deliver tax cuts to 95 percent of working Americans? Those were not the details I expected or wanted to hear.

Obama’s full, prepared remarks can be found HERE, courtesy of BreakingNewsOn.

Next up: live-blogging of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s response on behalf of the Republican Party.

  • 9:09 p.m. CST —

Obama ends his first Congressional address on a note of bipartisanship:

“I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

“And if we do – if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, “something worthy to be remembered.” Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.”


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This morning, Budget Director Linda Luebbering and the governor’s senior financial adviser Paul Wilson held a state budget overview with a few members of the State Capitol press corps.

I don’t intend for this blog to become a political news blog like The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Political Fix or The Kansas City Star’s Prime Buzz. That’s just silly — this blog doesn’t get nearly the readership that either of those does, and this is supposed to be a journalism/photography blog.

But in the interest of transparency, I do want to lay out a few details about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and its impact on Missouri’s state budget.

  • FOR FULL DETAILS: I scanned and PDF’ed the 13-page briefing the Budget Office provided to reporters today. I have no qualms with sharing this document on-line because the meeting was completely on the record. Click HERE for the 13-page briefing on the federal stimulus package and how it affects Missourians. (I apologize for the random notes and scribblings on several pages.)

In summary, the federal stimulus package will provide Missouri with at least $4 billion. Several more millions — if not billions — of dollars can be acquired through certain provisions of the stimulus package. I’ve outlined the package very loosely, below. Again, FULL DETAILS can be found in the 13-page document I scanned.

Funds from the stimulus package are channeled through three categories, plus two other components (which I’ve also listed as categories) that can benefit Missourians.

  • CATEGORY I: Budget Stabilization Funds

Made up of less than 10 percent of the entire stimulus package, this pot of money is one of the most controversial because of the many stipulations placed on the use of its funds. Basically, this fund is designed to help state governments avoid cutting from their education and Medicaid budgets.

A total of $2.171 billion has been allocated to Missouri for state stabilization purposes. $921 million is designated for education funding, with 81.1 percent ($753 million) specifically for direct education support and the remaining 18.2 percent ($168 million) for other expenditures such as renovations and public safety.

$1.25 billion has been designated for Medicaid reimbursements, but Missouri cannot use any of the funds if the state alters its Medicaid eligibility rules. No funds appropriated for FMAP (Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage) can be put into a reserve or rainy day fund.

  • CATEGORY II: Existing Federal Program Funds

Using pre-existing formulas and rules, the funds in this category will go almost directly from the federal government to existing federal programs. Examples include transportation (some of which is handled by local/municipal authorities), worker (re)training, law enforcement funding, food stamps, etc.

Federally, this category draws about 25 percent of the $787 billion in the stimulus package. For Missouri specifically, about $1.829 billion is allocated to this category. See the 13-page document (pgs. 3-5) for more details about which programs are listed and how much is appropriated to each.

  • CATEGORY III: Competitive Grants

This is where Missouri — and other states, for that matter — can really draw in the big bucks. The previous two categories are where the overall $4 billion number comes from. But this category, which occupies about 1/3 of the stimulus funds, allows states to compete for extensive grants in order to boost their economies.

These hundreds of billions of dollars available for whichever states are most competitive are the basis of Gov. Jay Nixon’s “Transform Missouri Initiative,” which he announced on Wednesday during a press conference.

  • CATEGORY IV: Tax Relief

A good chunk of the stimulus package is “committed to individual and business tax breaks” (pg. 8 of the 13-page overview document). This is to provide incentive for job creation, etc.

  • CATEGORY V: Enhanced Economic Recovery Financing Tools

This category addresses mostly larger businesses, by enhancing financial tools such as bonds and tax exemptions.

For further reading: Here’s my article from Thursday’s Columbia Missourian. It’s a general explanation of the above (with fewer details, because those details were not available until today) and includes some commentary from Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin; Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood; and Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.

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For our second assignment in Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism, we shot portraits of a classmate in the studio. This was my first time configuring lights with a subject in a studio environment, and I must admit that I didn’t really enjoy it.

By no means was that my partner Calin‘s fault. Calin was a great partner — very patient and, even though he’d also never done studio work before, more knowledgeable about how to set up the lights according to the desired light ratio.

But before I delve more into why I didn’t enjoy the studio as much as I’d anticipated, here are the final three selects, of the 103 that I shot over two days.

Calin Ilea playfully swipes his hand across his face to the tune of imaginary music. Ilea, a graduate student from Romania, enjoys playing soccer in his free time. [Friday, Feb. 13]

Calin Ilea playfully swipes his hand across his face to the tune of imaginary music. Ilea, a graduate student from Romania, enjoys playing soccer in his free time. Friday, Feb. 13.

Ilea also enjoys the combination of pickles and mayonnaise, at least according to his friend and TA Catalin Abagiu. [Friday, Feb. 13]

Ilea also enjoys the combination of pickles and mayonnaise, at least according to his friend and TA Catalin Abagiu. Friday, Feb. 13.

Ilea sprawls out on the floor after nearly five hours in the studio on the second day of shooting. Ilea had already had a rough day before starting work in the studio at 9 p.m. [Tuesday, Feb. 17 -- but, technically, Wednesday, Feb. 18]]

Ilea sprawls out on the floor after nearly five hours in the studio on the second day of shooting. Ilea had already had a rough day before starting work in the studio at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17 -- but, technically, Wednesday, Feb. 18.


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President Barack Obama is to sign the federal economic stimulus bill into law at 2:30 p.m. CST in Denver, Colo. In my research of the bill (also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009), I’ve found a few valuable links definitely worth sharing.

For some of these (mostly the bill’s actual language), I’m a few days late. For others (mostly the later links via the National Conference of State Legislators), the information has just been posted online. Regardless of the timeliness of this influx of information, it’s valuable stuff and I hope it’s helpful.

First — the bill’s actual language is available on-line. If you care to sift or skim through more than 1,000 pages of legislative and economic lingo, here’s your heyday. I just hope these links, courtesy of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, will be permanent.

  • Official press release from office of Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) — contains the usual strong statements found in press releases
  • Summary overview of the stimulus bill — provides a quick and dirty breakdown of appropriations to various sectors/departments
  • Detailed summary of the stimulus bill — contains more language on various appropriations highlighted in the summary overview (previous link)
  • Accountability provisions — establishes all presets and oversight regulations of the bill
  • Bill Text: Division A — is the full, actual bill language of the accountability provisions and the purposes/principles
  • Bill Text: Division B — is the full, actual bill language on the tax provisions/incentives for businesses and programs and the tax relief for individuals and families
  • Joint Statement: Division A — is the full, actual language regarding the conference between the House and Senate on Division A of the bill text
  • Joint Statement: Division B — is the full, actual language regarding the conference between the House and Senate on Division B of the bill text

Also, here are some more federal government PDFs I found via the National Conference of State Legislators’ Web site. These are mostly summaries to show direct impact.

  • Full summary of provisions — reduces the bill lingo into common-sense terms, via the Senate Finance, House Ways and Means Committees; has information breakdown of the following topics:
    • tax relief for individuals/families
    • tax incentives for businesses
    • manufacturing recovery provisions
    • economic recovery tools
    • infrastructure financing tools
    • reinvestment in renewable energy
    • assistance for families and unemployed workers
    • health insurance assistance
    • state fiscal relief and medicaid
    • health information technology
    • trade provisions
    • debt limit
  • Detailed summary of energy and commerce provisions — reduces the bill lingo into common-sense terms, via the U.S. House; has information breakdown of the following topics:
    • provisions on Medicaid and the unemployed
    • health information technology
    • provisions on broadband infrastructure
    • provisions on energy
  • Congressional Budget Office’s estimate on the bill’s budgetary impact — includes the official letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as five pages of charts/tables detailing the estimated costs of the bill

Finally, here are some more links via NCSL. These are more information breakdowns intended to help state legislators and the general public read more into the bill’s language and impact.

So. Those are all the resources I found from the federal government and a very trustworthy NGO (i.e., NCSL) regarding the U.S.’s biggest stimulus package since World War II. Happy reading!

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Late last week, I had two rolls of film developed. One was a roll of Fuji 400 that I’d taken over winter break. The other was a roll of Fuji Superia 200 that Jeff and I shot last weekend when we went on a 10-mile walk with Esten on the MKT trail (beginning at Flat Branch Park). Now that the rolls are finally developed, scanned and edited, I am proud to present the following to the world.

[Note: All photos were shot on my OM-1. It’s old.]

  • This photo was shot out of a moving car on I-40 at the beginning of winter break. In all technical respects, this photo is horrible and disgusting. It’s out of focus, terribly grainy and overall blech-y. But I still love it. All the bad technical aspects kind of add up to make it almost dreamlike. [Fuji 400, 35mm]

  • The interior of one of the Anheuser-Busch brewing facilities. This and the stablehouse were the most architecturally fascinating in the general complex. [Fuji 400, 35mm]

  • Chelsea’s little sister Abbi, in their living room and ready for the family portrait. This negative is horribly scratchy and the exposure is grainy as all out, but somehow I still like this shot. [Fuji 400, 50mm]

  • This is at the beginning of our 10-mile walk last weekend. Here I am, with ridiculous sunglasses on my face and a ridiculous apple in my mouth and a ridiculous knapsack on my shoulders. [Fuji Superia 200, 35mm, photo by Jeff Lautenberger]

  • Some long stalks of grass in a field we found after going off the MKT trail, via a smaller side trail. The field belongs to the MU Conservation Department, or something like that. [Fuji Superia 200, 135mm]

  • The MKT trail as we began to head back. This was probably somewhere between the 3.75- and 3.5-mile marks. Love the way the sun hits the trees. Love the dynamic range. Love the light at magic hour. [Fuji Superia 200, 35mm]

  • Both Jeff and Esten questioned why I took this photo when I took this photo. I think I liked the way the trail forked off. And the way there was a lone, bare tree in the middle of it all. [Fuji Superia 200, 35mm]

  • Here’s Esten with his Leica. Lucky. [Fuji Superia 200, 135mm]

And that concludes this first official photo blog post. Hopefully this will be a regular thing — that is, shooting photos for fun. Unfortunately, my schedule doesn’t often allow for photo adventures, but this is something I’d like to do at least once a month. We shall see!

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Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all! On a loving note, here are a couple of V-Day links I’ve scored up via Twitter:

As a visual journalist, I’m especially a fan of this one from the second link:

Things that I’ve been doing over the past few days (some of which are still works in progress):

  • Working on my application for the Washington Program. I’ll be turning it in on Monday.
  • Not checking Twitter for almost three days. This is due mostly to an economics exam (Money, Banking and Financial Institutions), about which I do not feel good about. The worst part is, this class is not required for my degree: I’m taking it purely out of my own interest in the current economic recession and want to learn background on it.
  • Consolidating all my reading schedules for four classes into one document.
  • Scanning film taken last weekend. I’ll be posting the best photos here, later this weekend.

On the side, I’ve been reading a lot about the journalism industry. I think the Time cover story by Walter Isaacson has fueled a lot of discussion, some of which I’ve been reading via links on Twitter. The variety of responses is stark. One of the most poignant and personal is this: NYU’s paper published a piece by its former editor-in-chief, who begins the feature with “I want someone to tell me I will be unemployed if I stay in journalism.” It’s a good but frightening read.

Other articles/pieces I’ve read regarding our industry, somewhat in response to the Time cover story and definitely in response to the economic crisis facing the media:

I’ve at least skimmed all of these, and still have more reading to do — that is, a dozen or so articles about the federal economic stimulus package. Now that it’s passed and on its way to Obama’s desk, I’m hoping that next week in Jefferson City will be far busier and more productive than the past two weeks have been. I feel like everyone from the legislators to the budget officers have been waiting for some closure on the stimulus package before pressing forward with their own agendas.

And on that note, I’m going to continue with my “to do” list for the weekend and hopefully have some scanned film posted by tomorrow afternoon! Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

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I began following Rick Dunham on Twitter yesterday, just in time to follow his tweets about Pres. Barack Obama’s first prime-time press conference.

(Is that an obnoxious number of hyperlinks for a first sentence? Probably. Oh well.)

Dunham is the D.C. bureau chief for The Houston Chronicle, which is my hometown newspaper and a former staple of my daily life. He and several other Chronicle reporters operate the paper’s “Texas on the Potomac” blog, which is where I today read several posts that made me newly and keenly aware of several ideological/political differences between Texan reporters/readers and national publications — that is, in light of Obama’s press conference last night.

First, some context:

  • According to The New York Times, “the White House decided in advance which reporters would be selected” to ask questions of Obama.
  • Prior to the conference, Dunham asked readers to submit questions for him to ask Obama. He and the other bureau reporters chose 15 questions that they thought should be asked — none of which, according to Dunham, were even touched upon by any of the 13 reporters whom the White House selected.

Now, for the meat of this post.

I read the Chronicle blog’s analysis (“Press corps asks about big issues but ignores little people”) of Obama’s methodology and the flow of the press conference. What caught my attention was the “ignores little people” part of the headline. (Being from Texas, I never considered Texans to be “little people” — either physically or ideologically.) So I read it — and was surprised by how surprised I was by how different priorities are for Texan reporters/readers as opposed to nationally published reporters.

An article by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post has a different approach. I’m comparing and contrasting two points brought up by the Chronicle and the Post, below. Emphasis (underlined) is mine.


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Today, Wes Pippert held an information session about the Washington Program, which he has directed since the 1980s. The semester-long program essentially places graduate or undergraduate students in professional newsrooms, firms, agencies and other such journalism/communication workplaces, where the students work alongside professionals in completing their chosen/designated professional project.

Pippert emphasized the “professional project” aspect of the program and, wihin the first five minutes of the session, was vocal about distinguishing that from an “internship.” He highlighted a few participants whose newsrooms/what-have-you placed them in prominent stories. For example, one student who backed out of the program at the last minute was slated to be a Washington correspondent for a Spokane, Wash., newspaper. What the student didn’t know was, his editor had already signed him up to cover Obama’s inauguration and gotten credentials and everything set up.

I’m not sure yet what would qualify as a professional project. Therefore, I don’t know what I would want to do — although, it’d probably be something that would incorporate both reporting and photojournalism. I also don’t know for which semester I’d apply: fall or spring? Either semester I choose, I’d a) have to find a subleaser and b) push back my graduation by one semester.

But I’m definitely interested. The potential benefits are numerous:

  • I’d be working in a professional environment.
  • I’d be working in Washington, D.C.
  • I’d be learning, networking and building my portfolio all at the same time.
  • I’d get to exert a large degree of control/direction over what I’d be doing (which would not necessarily happen in a traditional internship program).
  • I’d be working in Washington, D.C.
  • I’d be earning college credit while I’m at it.
  • I’d get a discount on a membership to the National Press Club.
  • I’d get to expand my journalistic and political horizons from the local and state level to the federal level.
  • Did I mention I’d be working in Washington, D.C.?


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Today, via Twitter, I came across this NPR article about how journalism students are “uneasy about job prospects.” Featured very prominently is the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism (which I attend) and several people with whom I’ve interacted this semester — namely, Missourian executive editor Tom Warhover, masters student Emily Younker and senior undergraduate student Chad Day.

Perhaps the most frightening and dramatic component of this article is the following graf:

Right now, the economy is especially bad news for these students. When they graduate, they’ll head into an industry that shed a staggering 15,000 jobs in the newspaper sector alone last year.

Intimidating? Rather! Maybe that’s why I’ve received three times as many notifications of internship program cancellations as actual rejections.


Previous, related blog entries:

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For my Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism class, we were to photograph two types of images: one whose lighting configuration we couldn’t figure out easily and one whose lighting enhanced the image’s overall mood.

I found these two images in Fall 2008 issue of PDNedu.

This is a vertical crop of a horizontal photo. I cropped it in-camera. Not sure why I chose to do that. It appears that a softbox was aimed at each child’s head — but I can’t figure out exactly how.


This photo is of two children playing in a wrecked building in Kabul. It was photographed by Lana Slezic, and is the photo I chose for its lighting and its impact on mood.


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As of this week, I have entered a strange place in my life/mental state. That is, I’ve begun to question exactly what I’m doing in journalism.

It all started when I had to present my goals for this semester to my editor Phill Brooks, as a component of my Advanced Reporting class. After discussing my goals with him, I was to e-mail him and my class instructor a memo recapping the discussion.

Initially, my goals were enterprise, in-depth analysis and connecting with the reader — all of which I’d outlined in a previous blog entry. But when I told Phill, he laughed and said my real goal should be figuring why I am still working — and with gusto — in the bureau when, as a photojournalism major, this class is not a required component for acquiring my degree.

The following is the memo I sent to Phill and my instructor last night.


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Today in the statehouse bureau, I learned there is no shame in apologizing.

First, some background. This might take a while.

As soon as I arrived at the bureau at 11:50 a.m., my editor Phill Brooks told me to report on a Senate bill sponsored by Senate Democratic Floor Leader Victor Callahan

This quickly became the article that almost never happened. (But it happened, and you can read it here.)

None of my sources responded to me. The governor’s communications director said he hadn’t heard of the bill but would get back to me after looking around (he didn’t). Budget Director Linda Luebbering’s aide said Luebbering was at a meeting. Callahan’s aide said he wouldn’t be in until 3 or 4 p.m. (Senate would convene at 4 p.m.)

I returned to Callahan’s office at 3 and again at 3:45 p.m. His aide — a former state representative — said Callahan would be on the floor of the Senate chamber at 4 p.m. and advised me not to try to pull Callahan off the floor for an interview. I reported this to Phill, who promptly told me to disregard that and ask the doormen to pull Callahan from the floor. Callahan refused. I told Phill. He told me to try again. I did. Callahan refused. Again.

By this point, it was about 5:30 p.m. Phill said he wanted a story even though all I had was Callahan’s Senate bill text and an interview from another senator about an unrelated resolution regarding MOHELA. Anticipating a 10-inch story at most, I began writing.

At 6 p.m., Phill said he’d just talked to Callahan’s aide, whom he reported was frustrated about the persistent reporter who kept trying to get the senator off the floor during a tumultuous debate about allowing laptops in the Senate chamber. Phill then suggested that I apologize to the aide — not that I’d done anything wrong, but just to apologize for the confusion and unnecessary anxiety.

So, without agenda (i.e., without a recorder or my reporter’s pad), I went to Callahan’s office to apologize to the aide. Upon knocking on and opening the office door, I ran into Callahan himself, who correctly assumed I was that persistent reporter.

He took me out into the hall, where he interrupted my apology by saying there was no need to apologize — and did I want to ask him a few questions now?

I was stunned.

“Well, actually my recorder and notepad are downstairs in the bureau,” I said. “Should I run down and grab them, or would you want to come to the bureau?”

Much to my surprise, he came down to the bureau, told Phill there was nothing to apologize for and gave me my interview.

Lesson learned: you never know where an apology can get you.

I need to emphasize that I went to Callahan’s office solely to apologize to the aide. I had no hope or expectation to see the senator tonight, much less get to talk to him any time soon. I simply wanted to follow through on Phill’s recommendation and try to make amends with someone whom I had no intentions of frustrating. But had I not done this, I wouldn’t have gotten the interview and, therefore, wouldn’t have gotten the story.

That said, I certainly don’t advocate groveling to sources. My point is simply that having a little humility and wanting to mend fences never did any harm.

P.S. Ten minutes later, I sat down and began writing. At 7 p.m., Luebbering herself called the office and said she had a few minutes to talk to me. My story became so much better because another dimension was added. And you can read all 27ish inches of it here.

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