des moines, Iowa, Media, News, Newspapers, TV

My first week in TV: Be careful with the grommets and know your vocabulary words

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, paragraph stacker, Des Moines, Iowa.

In the vernacular of Twitter cliche, which is the parlance of our times, if you had “Daniel Finney” takes a job in television news on your bingo card, you win 2020. The person who least expected to be working in television not just this year but any in his lifetime is the aforementioned, or, as I like to call myself in private, me.

The pace of TV is so much faster than the print newsrooms of my youth — and the assignments I’ve had the last eight or nine years — that I felt like I started the day three laps behind in a four-lap race.

My job title is assignment editor, which sounds like I’m handing work to other people. That’s sometimes true. Two people where shot last week, so I sent the night reporter out to get video and canvass neighbors. I gave out another story about an area Santa Claus who had a special story.

Usually, the reporters come up with most of their ideas for stories. Sometimes I might ask a question or make a suggestion about how to execute the story. All the reporters and photographers have a lot going on. Everybody is working on short-term stuff for that day’s broadcasts and long-term stuff for special packages and future evolutions of specific shows.

My job is like a traffic cop. I make sure everybody is heading in the right direction and all the lanes are moving smoothly. When I say “I,” I really mean a future version of me who knows what he’s doing. The first week the people who did this were the executive producer and the show producers I worked with.

They patiently explained to me everything from the vocabulary used in scripts for anchors to exactly where to put my cursor to on a screen to place a pink grommet. That’s not a joke. You can really mess something up by put a pink grommet in the wrong spot. You shouldn’t mess with the blue grommets either.

TV is like the military in this way: It comes with a blizzard of acronyms. There were so many that I had to ask my boss to write down the most common ones so I could study them. Don’t quiz me. I’d fail.

Print journalists often turn their noses up at TV journalists. I did. It’s a human weakness. People in competition need to believe their way is superior to the other ways. The reality is they’re just different. And it’s also true that the print culture felt a lot more like the broadcast culture at the end of my time at the newspaper.

After a week on the production side, I learned how little I know about the difficulty and skill involved in putting on a single 30-minute news broadcast. I’m thankful for the patient producers who helped me feel like I was contributing and not flailing helplessly like a child in the deep end without his water wings.

A new week dawns. Let’s see if we can do better.

Insert obscure pop culture reference and self-deprecating Daniel P. Finney caption here.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

comics, des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Media, Movies, Music, Newspapers, People, politics, Pop Culture, TV

HOT SHEET: The strange occurrence on 24th Street

Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Neighborhood Station, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONE: A faint knock on the door shook the typist out of a nap inspired by the late afternoon football game.

ITEM TWO: The typist found a blue-eyed boy with tousled brown hair clad in faded blue jeans, high-top basketball shoes and a faded replica Walter Payton jersey with a set of headphones with orange foam covering the speakers and a portable cassette player hanging from his belt.

ITEM THREE: The typist recognized the boy immediately: It was his younger self at about age 10.

ITEM FOUR: The child had become unstuck in time.

ITEM FIVE: Author Kurt Vonnegut made up the phrase “unstuck in time” for his famous novel “Slaughterhouse-Five.”

ITEM SIX: Dan-10, as the typist would call him, had not yet read that book, nor had he known the loss of his parents by age 14, understood the true weight of his struggle to survive while they lived and the profound sadnesses of the many failures and regrets carried by the typist, Dan-45 as he would call himself.

ITEM SEVEN: Dan-45 invited his younger self in for milk and cookies, except he had no cookies to offer the boy as Dan-45 is diabetic and such things were bad for him.

ITEM EIGHT: Dan-10 settled for a can of Cherry Pepsi, which he declared almost as good as the fountain cherry Cokes at Montross Pharmacy on the Winterset square.

ITEM NINE: The boy sipped the pop and walked around Dan-45’s apartment; He marveled at the collection of pop culture ephemera.

ITEM TEN: Dan-10 peppered his older self with questions. Many exchanges went like this:

Dan-10: “Who’s the lady in the poster?”

Dan-45: “Taylor Swift. She’s a singer. I like her.”

Dan-10: “Is she like Madonna?”

Dan-45: “Yes and no. She’s her own artist.”

Dan-10: “I have a crush on Madonna.”

Dan-45: “So do I.”

ITEM NINE: Dan-10 noted Dan-45 had a lot of toys. The boy asked his older self if he still played with them. Dan-45 said he did, but not as much as he used to. Dan-10 retrieved a few Transformers from a box by Dan-45’s desk and they had an adventure on the coffee table. The good guys won.

ITEM TEN: Dan-10 was curious about Dan-45’s TV. The middle-aged man turned on the TV and tried to explain how streaming services worked.

Dan-10: “You mean you can watch anything you want any time you want?”

Dan-45: “Well, almost.”

Dan-10: “Can we watch ‘Doctor Who’ with Tom Baker? Iowa Public Television is showing the Colin Baker ones right now and I don’t like them as much.”

Dan-45: “You bet we can, buddy.”

And so we watched “City of Death.”

Dan-10: “I have a crush on Romana.”

Dan-45: “I do, too.”

ITEM ELEVEN: The two Dans spent some time reading comic books and eating lunch meat sandwiches with cheddar cheese and yellow mustard on a Hawaiian bun. The afternoon faded to evening and the sun set. The streetlights started to flicker on.

ITEM TWELVE: Dan-10 said he better be getting back home again. Dan-45 walked him to the door. The middle-aged man felt sad for the boy. He knew the next half-dozen years would be really hard on him and there would be many rough patches after that, like now. Dan-45 had told Dan-10 little of the future, but mentioned the virus and how people aren’t very nice to each other.

ITEM THIRTEEN: Dan-10 opened the door. Dan-45 felt like he should give his younger self some sort of wisdom, but the boy spoke first.

ITEM FOURTEEN: “You seem kind of sad, but you showed me your phone that can play video games, watch movies and TV and listen to any song you ever heard whenever you want,” Dan-10 said. “You said you wrote for a newspaper just like Clark Kent. You can drive a car, buy beer and vote. I bet nobody ever said ‘Adults need to be seen and not heard.’ You have friends that you can call long-distance for free. When I grow up, I hope I’m just like you.”

“You will be,” Dan-45 replied, “for better and worse.”

ITEM LAST: Dan-10 walked through the apartment door and seemed to fade in the bright hallway lights. He must have restuck in time. Dan-45 closed and locked the door, sat down in his big recliner and put on some more Tom Baker “Doctor Who.” Maybe the virus, the economy, politics and so many other things were just terrible. But through the eyes of his 10-year-old self, Dan-45 realized the simple pleasures of life were worth their weight in comfort.

Daniel P. Finney smells vaguely like a 1979 Strawberry Shortcake doll.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Iowa, Media, News, Newspapers, People, politics, Pop Culture

HOT SHEET: If you can figure out what this Hot Sheet is about, you could work for the CIA

Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Neighborhood Station, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONE: Remember when everyone thought COVID-19 could be defeated by hoarding toilet paper? The typist just cracked the plastic on the first roll of TP he bought in the hoarding phase in March. 

ITEM TWO: Vice President Mike Pence and challenger Kamala Harris will be separated by plexiglass for their debate Wednesday. This is the only way Pence is comfortable being in the same room with a woman who’s not his wife

ITEM THREE: The typist recently ate a breakfast sandwich from Starbucks. It made him rethink his maxim that the worst meal he ever had was wonderful. 

ITEM 4: Has been suspended for 81 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He was found curled up in tech support with a former Mets clubhouse boy and a Hy-Vee sack of Adderall. 

ITEM FIVE: The typist is amused when local radio stations proudly state they are “terrestrial” stations as opposed to those bastards in satellite radio. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker wants true extra-terrestrial radio. He, for one, wants to receive messages from the Vogons when they show up to destroy Earth to make way for another hyperspace throughway. 

ITEM SIX: The previous joke included a reference to Douglas Adams’ sci-fi comedy masterpiece “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” If you have not read it, stop reading the Hot Sheet, acquire a copy of the book and read it at once. The typist takes no responsibility if you laugh so much you pee your pants.

ITEM SEVEN: Two trains leave stations 60 miles apart at the same time heading toward one another on parallel tracks. Train A is traveling 30 miles per hour, while Train B is going 50 miles per hour. When do they pass each other?

ITEM EIGHT: The Hot Sheet has joked. The Hot Sheet has scolded. The Hot Sheet has begged. Now the typist is on the verge of giving in to despair. Congress and the White House have failed to act on a stimulus bill to help America’s unemployed and struggling, numbering at about 21 million nationwide. That number includes me, the ol’ Paragraph Stacker. He has faithfully searched for employment as he started graduate school to become a high school teacher, hoping that our political leaders could put aside their pettiness for the good of the American people and produce a package that enhanced unemployment benefits and gave a stimulus check. The latest news from CNBC quotes Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, as saying both sides remain far apart. The typist foolishly held to the notion that political leaders would act in the best interest of people, if not with everyday legislation, at least in crisis. The typist was wrong. The typist now firmly believes both Democrats and Republicans would rather let this matter fall apart, make Americans suffer and go home to their voters and say, “See, it’s those other jerks who are screwing this up. Vote in more people from my tribe.” Americans don’t trust their government and have grown weary of its impotence. This failure to negotiate in good faith and to reach compromise is a betrayal of the people our Congress serves at a core level. Our government does not have our backs. The typist doesn’t wish to encourage cynicism in advance of an election, but forgive the ol’ Paragraph Stacker if he feels like it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference who occupies those high offices, because in the end, we’re all screwed.

ITEM LAST: The typist is profoundly humbled by the many cards and letters he’s received by postal mail in support of this site and those who have donated money to support it. That money supports not only fees to keep this website independent, but also helps a middle-aged graduate student turn his life around and become a teacher. It embarrasses the typist to solicit money — and he would remind everyone that he thinks no less of those who can’t or choose not to — but if you wish to contribute, the information on how to send money can be found at this link: https://paragraphstacker.com/donations/. In addition, Daniel P. Finney can be found on Venmo and Zelle. The typist thanks all of you for your eyeballs and your kindness. When he lost his job at the local corporate news outlet store, he thought the time of people reading his words were over. You have given the typist new life. He remains humbled and honored.

Daniel P. Finney sleeps ion bedsheets with a pattern of buck-toothed red and blue sharks.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Iowa, Media, News, Newspapers

HOT SHEET: Bears survive, Old Man Brady falters, Northwood volleyball poster provokes and prayers for Grandma Lois

ITEM ONE: Behold the power of reverse psychology: Hot Sheet predicted doom for the Chicago Bears vs. the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford’s Field. Hark! T’was but a ruse! They typist’s faux bad juju produced a dramatic come-from-behind win for the Monsters of the Midway led by none other than the much-maligned Mitchell Trubisky. Hope bursts for this big-and-tall Bears backer. The joy lasted for the time it took an autumn leaf to unmore itself from tree branch and flutter to the ground. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker is not fooled. These are the cruel tricks the Windy City’s pro football team plays on its devoted throngs. We know — oh how we know — just how rapid the taste of victory washes from our mouth with the foul and fetid flavor of the screw cap wine that is a Bears’ season. The losses shall come, maybe next week. The Hot Sheet shall burn its Trubisky Funko Pop! figure in effigy in hopes of repeating the good vibes that clearly comes from this gloomy smack.

ITEM TWO: Tom Brady looked very much like a man too old to be playing pro football in his debut for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at New Orleans. He threw two interceptions — one a pick-six — and generally looked out of sync and frustrated. Brady threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, but he managed to complete two of three passes to his pal Rob Gronkowski, whom Brady coerced out of retirement. The typist admits fondness for Brady, who at 43, is two years younger than the ol’ Paragraph Stacker and still playing pro football. One gets to be the typist’s age and one starts to have fondness for middle-aged people pushing the sun up into the sky one more time. Hot Sheet isn’t ready to shovel the dirt on Old Man Brady just yet. Childhood hero Joe Montana had two productive seasons in 1993 and 1994 for the Kansas City Chiefs after leaving his longtime home with the San Francisco 49ers. Of course Old Man Joe was six years younger than Old Man Brady.

ITEM THREE: The Northwood-Kensett High School volleyball team created a poster of the girls’ volleyball team posing with local police under the headline “Back the Blue: Whatever It Takes.” The posters were made in August and sold as a way to raise money for the school’s post-prom, reports the Mason City Globe-Gazette. However, some argued the poster was in poor taste given the recent national unrest over police killings of Blacks and systemic racism. A taste of the backlash comes from this Twitter post: “First of all, I am appalled by the ignorance people have for the current environment of the US and second, wtf??” The photographer who took the photo decided not to sell the poster, then changed her mind and offered to obscure or digitally remove any players who didn’t want to be in the poster, per the Globe-Gazette. The poster was not created with district supervision, the Northwood-Kensett superintendent said in a statement. Stripped of context, the typist supposes someone could twist the meaning of the poster to be something more sinister than high school kids posing with their local cops. In context, “Back the Blue” refers to the school colors, which are blue, white and red, as well as the “blue” referring to law enforcement in general, though the cops in the poster are wearing khaki uniforms. “Whatever It Takes” is a longtime slogan of the volleyball team. I suppose in the twisted minds of radicals, this statement could be construed as endorsement of police violence, but the mental gymnastics it takes to get that point are so exhausting one wonders how tortured a mind must be to reach such a conclusion. Hot Sheet rejects the extremist notion that any support of police is akin to racism. It is entirely possible to support both Black Lives Matter and police. The “all-or-nothing” approach to any idea is a pathway to madness and self-destruction. If kids want to have their picture taken with local cops for post-prom, the ol’ Paragraph Stacker chooses to read that as community spirit unless proven otherwise.

ITEM FOUR: Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is quitting as U.S. Ambassador to China after three years, reports CNN. The Leland, Iowa, native was one of President Donald Trump’s first ambassadorial appointees. The New York Times writes: Branstad “found himself on the front lines of President Trump’s trade war and, by this year, a downward spiral of tensions that, to many, has heralded a new era of Cold War-like confrontation between the world’s two largest economies.” The Times goes on to note Branstad visited 26 of 34 provinces, including a visit to Tibet. Hot Sheet was never a big Branstad backer, but felt some sympathy for his fellow Iowan thrust into the madness of Trump’s erratic and irresponsible foreign policy. When Branstad took the gig, the typist was glad to be rid of him as Iowa governor. Still, the ol’ Paragraph Stacker remembers Branstad with some fondness. In decades earlier, we both had tickets to Drake University women’s basketball games and more than once stood in line for popcorn together. Hot Sheet doubts one can run into the former governor of New York in line for snacks at a women’s basketball game.

ITEM LAST: Hot Sheet asks for prayers and well wishes for the typist’s grandmother, Lois Newcomb, who is in the hospital with excessive water in her tissues and a heart ailment. Grandma Lois is the mother of the ol’ Paragraph Stacker’s Mom 2.0, Joyce Rogers, the kindly east Des Moines hairdresser who raised him after his first set of parents died. Lois is 93, a kind and accepting soul, who has seen a lot of social changes play out in her own family. She made special effort to welcome yours truly into the family nearly 30 years ago. For years, Parents 2.0 and the typist ate Wednesday dinner at Lois’ house. And until she moved to assisted living a year ago, Lois made sure to make oyster soup once a year for the typist, Aunt Janice and herself as we were the only three in the family who enjoyed the stuff. At present, Lois is resting and due to COVID-19, visiting is kaput.

OK, let’s close the book on this one. Go forth this week, my friends. Remember to drop a donation if you can. And, as always, behave and be kind.

Daniel P. Finney has a Runza on his hat and you should, too.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way poking fun at the passing parade.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Iowa, Media, Movies, News, Newspapers, People, Pop Culture

HOT SHEET: Everybody out of the pool, Long John Silver’s nostalgia, Twitter loves Kamala Harris’ casual footwear and genderless Sue the T. Rex returns to Des Moines

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Station:

ITEM ONE: Monday marks Labor Day, a day when most Americans are released from work to honor the successes of the labor movement. Unions’ hardscrabble battles against power brokers in the 19th and 20th centuries won more than niceties such as paid holidays, vacation and the 40-hour work week. It helped manufacture the American middle class. Today, the paradigm slashes back across the throats of the middle and working classes. The 10% wealthiest people own about 70% of the nation’s net wealth, a figure that’s on the rise, per the Pew Center. Meanwhile, with 68% of Americans with at least some involvement in the stock market, corporations face America’s collective greed. Companies led by soulless hustlers snuff out jobs, extend workdays and squeeze benefits. Perhaps Labor Day should be less a day to remember yesteryear and more a time to reassert our value as workers for the future.

ITEM TWO: Deflate your rubber duckies and tuck away your floaters and noodles, the pools — the ones that bothered to open in the pandemic — are closed. Your typist notes this with sadness in extremis. The year 2020 has already seemed like a long, dark winter. The unofficial end of summer starts the actual long, dark winter. In the words of Mike Pauly, former Des Moines Register news editor, who closed each night’s final edition with the declaration: “Everybody out of the pool.”

ITEM THREE: Unavailable due to Labor Day holiday.

ITEM FOUR: Nostalgia plays a powerful role in the ol’ Paragraph Stacker’s life — sometimes to his detriment. Autumnal thoughts turned to late Grandma Rogers, who often accompanied the typist to Long John Silver’s for “fish and chips” when Parents 2.0 took their annual fall vacation. The typist sampled said fast fish but any hope of an endorphin boost shattered like rose-colored glasses once the gastronomical abomination reached the stomach. Be advised: Any cheerful recollections of LJS should be tempered against the grisly reality. To misquote the Bard: “Out, damned grease!”

ITEM FIVE: Some Twitter users worked themselves up into a frothy lather when Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris wore low-cut Converse Chuck Taylors at a campaign event Monday. This kind of substantive observation is why Twitter is such an excellent medium on which to follow the decline and fall of the American democracy. Forget what Harris’ policy views are. She wears sneakers just like regular folks. A woke warrior might note that comments on women’s fashion in the political sphere trends toward sexist, but those rules tend only to apply to conservatives who make said observations. Worst of all, Converse Chuck Taylors offer almost no arch and heel support, which means a potential veep risks Achilles tendinitis every time she slides on her Chucks. For shame all around.

ITEM SIX: Update on #OldManStudent. As previously noted, the ol’ Paragraph Stacker returned to Drake University to finish his master’s degree and earn teacher certification at age 45. Times change and so too did the back-to-school experience of young Finney before kindergarten in 1980 vs. the middle-aged typist’s return in 2020. The latest example: In school days of yore, it was entirely likely my younger self would have dashed off to school and forgot his lunch. These days, it’s more likely that I’ll fire up my Zoom class meeting without having taken my pills.

ITEM SEVEN: Sue: The T. Rex Experience, a travelling exhibit about the history of prehistoric giant lizards, has returned to the Science Center of Iowa, WHO-TV reports. The report also notes that Sue’s pronouns will use the they/their pronoun alignment because there’s no evidence the fossil construct was male or female. The typist recognizes there is no comment he would make here that won’t result in hues and cries of rage and anguish from at least one group of extremists. So, Hot Sheet says only this: “You’ve given me a lot to think about and I think I’ll stay home and quietly ponder it.”

ITEM EIGHT: Speaking of sues, or lawsuits to be more precise, the Science Center is suing their insurance company over its failure to pay up after a 2018 flash flood destroyed the museum’s IMAX theater. Until repairs are made, Iowans continue to watch boring nature films on Iowa PBS.

ITEM LAST: In response to some reader questions, let’s define terms: A “roll call” is how cops begin shifts — also called watches — every eight to 10 hours. Roll call is also how teachers used to take attendance by calling the name of each student. The 1980s classic cop drama “Hill Street Blues” opened most shows with a roll call. A recent reviewing of all seven seasons by your typist inspired this series of columns. “Typist” and “the ol’ Paragraph Stacker” all refer to yours truly, Daniel P. Finney. I am the one and only author on this site. I am not a true sergeant of any kind, but the “sergeant of the watch” is another term for desk sergeant or the officer who handles the administrative tasks of the officers on patrol that shift. “Roll Call” is officially rechristened “Hot Sheet,” another old cop term for a list of active cases, wanted persons and other topics patrol offers are ordered to keep in mind as they work the streets. Hot Sheet seemed a better name since we weren’t truly taking attendance, but offering items of note. Hot Sheet will not be the only kind of column that appears on paragraphstacker.com. The typist explores writing styles as he learns to teach writing.

Finally, paragraphstacker.com remains free, but at-will donations are welcome and encouraged. See the bottom notation for the link.

That’s it, my friends. Let’s roll.

And, as always, be kind and behave.

Daniel P. Finney once ate a sandwich that was THIS big.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Iowa, Media, News, Newspapers, sports, Unemployment

ROLL CALL: Pandemic makes fools of Iowa’s top officials

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake University Station:

ITEM ONE: Iowa State University reversed it’s dunderheaded plan to have 25,000 fans at the Cyclone’s opening football game next Saturday in Ames during the COVID-19 pandemic. ISU President Wendy Wintersteen punted after “receiving feedback from the community.” No word on whether the Center for Disease Control plans to release news that one of the symptoms of coronavirus is making public officials look foolish.

ITEM TWO: Speaking of public officials who continue to look poorly prepared in the pandemic, President Donald Trump issued an executive order for an extra $300 to those unemployed because of COVID-19. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the Hawkeye State up for the bonus, but nearly a month later the beneficiaries bank accounts are as empty as Trump’s unconstitutional order.

ITEM THREE: Iowa is one of the hottest spots in the nation for coronavirus spikes. COVID-19 cases are up 81% in the last week, per the Washington Post. The state trails only South Dakota in per capita increase over the same period. Reynolds responded by closing bars and nightclubs. But restaurants that serve booze are still open. Can the good governor explain what magic ingredient in food keeps the coronavirus away from restaurants? The ol’ Paragraph Stacker suspects that the said additive is the powerful lobby of the Iowa Restaurant Association. This is not to say the desk wishes restaurants and bars shuttered. Lord knows those businesses and their employees have suffered enough in this rancid year. Rather, the desk advocates public policy that makes sense and feels less willy-nilly.

ITEM FOUR: The White House coronavirus task force dubbed Iowa a “hot spot” for COVID-19 outbreaks and encouraged a statewide mask mandate, according to the local Gannett Outlet Store. This column previously poked fun at Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie’s citywide mask mandate, but we now admit we were wrong in the face of this new data. Reynolds should issue the order. Her coronavirus policy largely appears to be moves to placate her buddy Trump and a pathological inability to admit her errors. Some might tell her that the White House task force on the coronavirus works for Trump. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker worries she might not know that.

ITEM FIVE: School districts continue to grapple with the Iowa Legislature’s back-to-in-person-school mandate. A friend tells the ol’ Paragraph Stacker that Carlisle started the year with seven teachers on coronavirus quarantine the first day. Ames, in COVID-19 slathered Story County, is online only. West Des Moines and several other districts went with a hybrid model. Des Moines lost a longtime teacher to the virus, per KCCI, though a reader wisely notes the teacher had not been with students for some time. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker reminds parents that they all have the option of taking their kids online only and right now, that seems like a damn good idea if you have the resources to make it work. Don’t expect any help from your state government, which has neutered local control of schools and kowtow to Trump’s high body count, low common sense style.

ITEM SIX: Sen. Joni “Empty Suit” Ernst continues to prove her mettle as a Trump backup singer. At a campaign stop in Waterloo, Senator Do Nothing babbled a conspiracy theory that the U.S. pandemic death toll was inflated, per the Washington Post. But experts — smart people who use actual data — say the death toll likely is underreported because the largest cities lacked the ability to count their dead. Here’s hoping Iowa’s Dollar Store Sarah Palin receives irrefutable data from the ballot box in November so she can go back to her favorite pastime: pig castration.

ITEM LAST: This column is more political, and decidedly more leftist, than the usual paragraphs issued from this desk. Don’t be fooled. Your friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker has not joined anybody’s team. The desk opposes stupidity and ignorance regardless of its form. This collection of sentence slinging might please the overzealous lefties who suggested I supported white supremacy a few weeks back. But this column shall surely elicit at least one “cuckold” comment from the irascible righty rage machine. So it goes. I will say this in response to all extremists inclined to such chatter: Honorable people disagree.

The desk is clear. Let’s roll.

Behave and be kind, my friends.

Daniel P. Finney covers novelty stocking caps for ParagraphStacker.com.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, Iowa, Media, mental health, News, Newspapers, People

How an episode of ‘Black Mirror’ explained the end of my career in journalism

My friend Mandy Stadtmiller suggested I watch an episode of the British TV series “Black Mirror.” She told me the show is an “anthology of dystopias.” Mandy is an author. That’s the kind of thing authors say.

She explained it was kind of like “The Twilight Zone,” only more depressing.

I avoid depressing things for entertainment. I live with depression. I feel no need to pour it in my brain through my eyes and ears.

I don’t listen to Coldplay or Morrisey. I saw “Schindler’s List” just once. I prefer fantasies where the good guys win and the lines of good and evil are clearly delineated.

Still, Mandy is very smart. I trust her recommendations. So, I watched the first episode of the third series, called “Nosedive.”

The story takes place in a not-too-distant future where people’s value is determined by their social rating. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Lacie, a young woman desperate to raise her 4.2 rating to 4.5 to get a discount on an apartment.

Lacie receives an invitation to the wedding of her childhood friend, who rates a 4.8 and has a guestlist of highly rated luminaries.

Lacie believes if she can just nail her maid-of-honor speech she will collect enough positive ratings to improve her social status.

Perhaps predictably, things break bad for Lacie as she travels to the wedding and her social rating plummets so far that she’s disinvited from the wedding.

Lacie shows up anyway and melts down in front of the crowd. The crowd decimates her social rating and she’s arrested.

In jail, cut off from the social rating system, Lacie and another prisoner playfully trade profanities and insults free from the worry of losing any status.

The episode is funny in parts. Cherry Jones plays a truckdriver with a downhome, who-gives-a-fuck mentality that brightens what is otherwise a terrifying look at how desperately we crave approval through social media.

The episode is good speculative fiction. It pushes the present slightly forward and only a bit askew.

I found the episode revelatory in how well it portrayed the tremendous burden social media places on people.

As I continue to detoxify from a career in journalism, I start to realize how much anxiety and depression the final years of my career produced.

Allow me to preface this: What I went through at my former shop is a story repeated in scores of newsrooms across the nation as the trade copes with staggering and likely catastrophic changes.

I hold no specific grudges against my former employer. How things ended for me there could have easily been repeated at any other newspaper in any other city. It only hurt more because this was my hometown paper.

The industry changed so drastically in the second decade of my career that I barely recognized my trade. I did not make the adjustment quickly enough to survive. I’m not sure survival was even possible. So it goes.

It just came to pass that the thing I wanted to do since I was a boy was not a thing that existed in the modern world. I was a village blacksmith wandering through town looking for an anvil while the cars zoomed by.

For a while, there was a TV screen in the middle of the newsroom that displayed individual reporter’s social media rankings.

It felt as if “Mean Girls” created a stock market ticker for my worth as a writer.

We lived and died by metrics — basically how many people clicked on your stories and how long they read them.

The bosses gave reporters quarterly metrics goals. The goals increased each quarter. I rarely made my goal.

Sports stories always scored well. Salacious crime drew eyeballs. Entertainment such as frou-frou food and craft beer lit up the board.

My column? Not so much.

I cracked up twice under this system. I took time away to recover from bouts of major depression during which I was suicidal.

Why couldn’t I connect with readers? Why wasn’t I good enough? Why was I failing?

I became bitter and cold. I hated my job. I hated the people I worked with. I hated other reporters who somehow figured out how to get the metrics pinball machine to light up when I could not.

And I hated myself for not being strong enough to separate my identity from my job.

Most of all, I hated myself for not having the guts to quit.

Eventually the bosses took my column away and made me a storyteller. That’s corporate journalism terminology for “reporter who writes long stories.”

Sometimes those stories did well. They often did not. The trouble with long stories is they take even longer to report and write.

When a big story flopped, I felt even more pressure to make the next story a big metrics winner.

I felt like mob hitmen pressed .45s into each of my temples while they fitted my feet for cement shoes.

My mental and physical health deteriorated.

And, finally, my job was cut.

I was devastated.

But it’s been four months now.

I see how my life mirrored the “Black Mirror” episode. I was Lacie — desperate for better ratings. I stopped being myself and tried to be what people wanted.

The experience nearly broke me.

But now things are better.

I’m free to write about whatever I want. I don’t fight the metrics machine anymore. My friend Memphis Paul and I make podcasts once a week. About 50 people download it. Great!

We record because it’s fun for two old friends to crack jokes and chat. I learned how to do basic podcast editing; a skill that might come in handy.

I keep writing my column in this blog. People like it. (Financial contributions welcome and appreciated!)

I’m broke. So what? I scrape by on unemployment. I attend graduate school.

I am going to be a teacher, English and journalism.

What I endured the last few years informs how I will approach my relationship with my students.

They will never be just a collection of numbers — test scores and gradebook points — to me. They will always be fellow humans engaged in the daily struggle to survive a world desperate to rate everyone on everything.

I will always treat them with love, dignity and respect.

That’s the only metric that matters.

Daniel P. Finney has a head that is too small for the rest of his body.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, Media, News, Newspapers, sports

Thoughts on teaching journalistic writing

My friend Ken Fuson, the greatest writer in the history of the Des Moines Register, died in January. I wrote the news obituary about his death. My first paragraph: “Ken Fuson would have written this better.”

I feel the same way as I explore my thoughts about writing and teaching writing as I study at Drake University to earn my master’s degree and teacher certification.

I hope to teach writing and journalism. I hope to spark that creative flame in others the way Carol Liechty at Winterset Elementary and Middle schools and Chris Madison did for me at Winterset High School.

Bob Woodward, my mentor, teacher and friend at Drake when I was an undergraduate, shaped and directed my passion. It led to a 23-year career in journalism. I wrote Woodward’s obituary the same day I did Fuson’s.

I remember people often asked Fuson for writing advice. It seemed as if they wanted some poetry or a magic trick. He had neither.

I can do no better, except to offer some thoughts. This is how I prefer to write. These are the stories I prefer to read. There are many styles. There are many ways. There are many ideas.

These are mine.

Writing is work. It is damned hard work for which most of us who do this for a living are paid a pittance by people who’ve never composed a paragraph worth reading.

Just tell the story. Stay out of the way. Keep your judgements to yourself. Let the reader decide based on the volume of facts you provide.

Journalism is not advocacy. Your work should be easily distinguishable from advocacy. Just tell people what is going on.

Journalism is also not fiction. The late, longtime New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell is quoted as saying, “A newspaper can have no greater nuisance than a reporter trying to make literature.”

I agree. Report. Ask people what is going on. Follow the money. Check the documents. Let facts, stated simply and clearly, dominate your story. Leave artistic flourishes to middle school poets.   

Read. Read a lot. Read often. Keep a book by your favorite chair. Keep magazines or another book in your bathroom. Keep another one by your bed. Read things you admire. Read writers you hate.

Read about what you know, but especially read about what you don’t know.

Example: Don’t like sports? Read one sports story a week or a sports biography a year. We don’t stack paragraphs for ourselves.

We write for the masses. The masses like sports. They like sports better than politics. Learn about them. Learn about TV and other crap, too.

Remember: This is journalism. You can’t afford to be a dummy about anything.

Think while you read. Interview the text. Why did the writer choose this detail? How would I get these facts? How would I structure this sentence?

Teach the voice in your head to speak slowly and clearly, but don’t write like you talk. Write like you wished you spoke: with grace, elegance and clarity.

Your writing can only be as good as your reporting. Never say you’re a better writer than a reporter. There is an old story about baseball pitchers who can’t field their position. They are destined for mediocrity. A writer who can’t report won’t even be that good.

Avoid adjectives and adverbs. They make sentences longer and are seldom objective. They are never as telling as you think they are.

Avoid gerunds. If you don’t know what a gerund is, look it up. Then avoid it. A sentence can almost always be rewritten to avoid a gerund.

Favor verbs. To be or not to be may be the question. It is not the only verb. Verbs are the engines of language. Without verbs, your sentence is dead.

Use words everyone can understand.

This is not original to me: The reader does not need an excuse to stop reading.

Short sentences are better than long ones. The same is true of paragraphs.

Use bad assignments to practice things you’re not good at.

Keep quotes short. You’re probably a better writer than your source is a talker. Boil it down. Treat it like fractions in math: simplify.

Avoid “color.” Color is adding facts that don’t matter. Does it matter if the candidate ate vanilla or chocolate ice cream? Does it matter if he or she was eating at all?

Don’t write about the weather unless it’s a weather story or the weather is part of the story. It’s hot in July and August. It’s only interesting if the candidate dies of heat stroke or people pass out in the audience. Otherwise you’re just whining.

Stick to the point. Avoid clutter.

Ask: How did you come to know this? Never, ever write faux facts.  

If you say the truck roared down a road with a diesel rumble, you damned well better have heard it or seen it. If not, attribute it to the person who told you.

On second thought, does the diesel rumble matter? Remember, avoid clutter.

You might get away with flowery faux facts, but you’re making up stuff. You’re lying to the reader about what you know to manipulate them emotionally.

Knock it off. The readers are lied to and manipulated enough.

Ask: What does it mean to the reader? Don’t impress me. Don’t impress yourself. Don’t impress the boss. Just tell people what the hell is going on. Do that effectively and consistently. That will be impressive.

Admit it when you don’t know something. If you don’t, at best you’ll seem like a jerk. At worst, you’ll be a liar.

Work fast. Think faster. Favor facts. Keep it simple.

That’s all I have. Ask other people. They are probably better at this than me.

Daniel P. Finney searches for his brain inspection hatch at ParagraphStacker.com.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Iowa, News, Newspapers, People, Podcasts

Back to school at 45: Differences between 1980 and 2020

I popped out of bed and hustled to get dressed. The first day of school had finally arrived.

I rushed to the kitchen and poured my cereal and milk.

I scraped the last scoop and drank the milk.

Every schoolchild knows breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

I hustled to brush my teeth and put on my new school outfit. I shrugged on my favorite Yankees T-shirt and a pair of cool new athletic shorts. I slipped on my tennis shoes and rushed out the front door.

And then … I turned around and went back inside to my bedroom. I sat down at my desk and clicked a button on my browser to join a Zoom call for my first class of graduate school.

The last time I was in a classroom as a student was 15 years ago, when my attempt at graduate school was put on hold to return to newspapers.

A lot has changed since my first real day of school, fall 1980 kindergarten at Woodlawn Elementary School on Des Moines’ northwest side.

1980: Mom helped me get dressed.

2020: With arthritis in my knees and back, I wouldn’t say no to a helper to get me dressed.

1980: Tied my own shoes by myself including double knot.

2020: I use elastic laces that turn every shoe into a slip on.

1980: Breakfast was Lucky Charms in whole milk.

2020: Breakfast was Grape Nuts in ultra-filtered skim milk with added protein.

1980: My backpack was filled with new folders, notebooks, pens and a badass set of NFL pencils with the team’s name etched into one side.

2020: I’m using pens and notebooks I stole from my former employer after they laid me off.

1980: They would let you go down to the library to play “Oregon Trail” for computer time.

2020: The whole class is on a computer and I take it in my bedroom, which is loaded with toys.

1980: We enjoyed a nice midday snack of apples and milk.

2020: My bladder can’t hold a can of Diet Mountain Dew for an entire 90-minute course.

1980: There was a midday nap.

2020: Same.

I could go on, but my drummer thew out his shoulder doing rimshots.

In all seriousness, today was the best day I’ve had in a long time.

I looked for a job for four months. I didn’t find one. I felt impotent and small. I felt useless. I lacked purpose and drive. I was depressed and anxious.

Before class started, I worried I would be overwhelmed or out-of-place. I wasn’t. It was class, the same as class has always been most of my life.

Today was a purposeful day. I took one step toward a new future. At long last, I got momentum.

That’s about the best you can ask from a day.

Daniel P. Finney covers head scratching and bug bite itch for ParagraphStacker.com.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, Media, mental health, News, Newspapers, People, sports

On a divided America: We’re doing everything we can to make our time the worst it can be

I used to ask retired Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy if the times we’re living in were as divided and troubled as when he was a young man.

McCarthy served as a Marine in Vietnam. He came up as a Des Moines police officer in a time when the city had as many as 30 homicides a year.

He was chief of detectives when a man shot and killed two managers at the Drake Diner in cold blood the day after Thanksgiving in 1992 and led the manhunt to bring the killer to justice.

McCarthy eventually served as police chief and was later elected sheriff. The man saw a lot of the worst of the world and Des Moines.

McCarthy retired to Florida with his wife two years ago. I didn’t have the heart to call him again to ask the same question I’ve asked over the years: Is this the worst it’s ever been?

McCarthy’s answer was always no.

He believed Americans were at each other’s throats more in the 1960s and 70s than today.

But Friday, Des Moines schools sued the Iowa Department of Education over start times during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I hope that school districts have the best interest of their students at heart, just as I hope the state’s education department has the best interests of schools at heart.

But this feels like another battle between blues and reds for the soul of America, though the school district is allegedly non-partisan.

I don’t know who is right in that situation, but for sure it’s going to cost taxpayers a lot of money.

Parents of University of Iowa football players planned to protest the Big Ten’s decision not to play football this fall because of pandemic concerns.

It’s hard to decide which conclusion is worse: Football is that important or that parents are that disconnected from what is important. (Hint: It’s not your son making the NFL.)

I talked about the football issue with my friends at KXNO’s Sports Fanatics on Thursday afternoon.

I said a lot of the Big Ten schools had medical schools. One hopes they consulted their own experts. You’ve got to respect the advice of doctors who are skilled enough to teach other doctors, I suggested.

Host Chris Williams countered he thought if you lined up eight different doctors you would get eight different stories.

I don’t know if that’s specifically correct, but I understand what he means.

It seems as if nobody has definitive facts anymore. I attribute some of this confusion to the “he said, she said” style of journalism that gives equal weight to inequal ideas.

“Two plus two equals four,” said mathematician Fred Calculator.

“Well, I say two plus two equals five and Fred Calculator is a communist,” replied Jane Armpit, an area woman who drinks potato water.

There are more news outlets than when I was a boy, though they are staffed by people I trust far less.

Stories are chosen not based on their importance to the reader or viewer but based on how likely it is someone will click on the link or watch a few seconds longer.

This means little things like school boards, city councils and county government are regularly and consistently ignored.

You can’t fault news outlets there. People don’t care about the local government and schools.

They say they do, but the news outlets have the hard data. They care about college sports and salacious crime. They’ll fall for the occasional emotionally manipulative story, but when it comes to doing the work of democracy, Americans don’t give a damn.

When something like a pandemic comes along, people just pick the narrative that best fits their preconceived ideas. It’s called confirmation bias. America is drunk on it.

In fact, if objective truth and confirmation bias were blood and alcohol, America would be in a coma hovering close to death.

Everything is a cage match in an underground prison fighting league. No one is paying attention. They’re busy debating who is a better basketball player: LeBron James or Michael Jordan.

  1. Who cares?
  2. It’s Jordan.

It feels like the nation is in the middle of the O.J. Simpson trial. A scientist presents DNA evidence for the prosecution. The defense calls a witness to say DNA evidence is bunk. The jury decides to ignore reams of evidence and decides based on race.

Race, or rather racism, remains a central problem for our nation. I would talk more about that, but I’m afraid anything I say will lead to me being labeled a white nationalist.

McCarthy always told me that things were more violent in his time. That’s true. There are fewer homicides in the capital to be sure.

He was a Marine in the Vietnam War.

At least there’s not a war on now.

Oh, wait. There is a war on now. Two, actually. We’ve been at war in Afghanistan for 19 years this fall. We’ve been at war in Iraq since 2003.

I heard an NPR story about Iraq wanting the rest of U.S. troops out of their country. That’s more than 17 years after then-President George W. Bush declared the mission accomplished.

They call the Korean War the “forgotten war.” There’s some truth to that, too. But we’ve forgotten two wars while they’re still ongoing.

I digress.

The truth is it doesn’t really matter if things were better or worse in 1968. The reality is we can only live now.

And our now is a strange and mean time. I don’t know if it’s the worst ever, but it’s sure as hell the worst now I can imagine.

Daniel P. Finney covers farts and armpit noises for ParagraphStacker.com.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.