What's this blog really about?

You may notice a variety of topics here - from business, to charity promotion, even to local news, but the primary reason this blog was created was to alert readers to the hostile atmosphere and sexual harassment at The Danville Register & Bee. The readers and creator of this blog want a FULL FRONT PAGE apology in the Danville Register & Bee, plus the disciplining of those individuals involved. Until then, we'll continue to post regular updates. To tolerate THIS kind of behavior by a major media network is intolerable. And this isn't just ONE instance. Media General has been sued nationwide for racism and sexism, yet they CONTINUE to keep the offenders employed. Why? And why am I doing this? TRUTH compels me.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Homeless, not helpless - and my connection to Tim Russert

In 2006 I was homeless - by choice. My dad died and the newspaper I was at was in transition and I could not stand the 14 hour days and 7 day workweeks and a boss who literally screamed at me and the staff. So when my dad died I quit my $50,000 a year job and moved into a $750 van.

Why? Because before my dad died I asked him, "Do you have any regrets?" He said, "Just one. I regret working so much and not taking time to do all the things I dreamed about doing someday when I retired."

So when he died, I decided I was working way too hard and was way too miserable and wanted no regrets. But I had another reason. I wanted to finish the story...

The year prior to my dad's death with brain cancer I had written a story for Tim Russert's book, Wisdom of Our Fathers, Lessons from Sons and Daughters. It was selected out of the 60,000 entries and was published the same year my dad died - in 2006. My essay is on page 141 of Tim's book. My father was the son of a town drunk. His father committed suicide when my dad was 19, leaving seven children - of whom my father was the oldest. The youngest was still in diapers. He literally came from rags and went to what many considered riches - putting himself through college at age 30, then through dental school after that. He didn't even start his practice until he was 40 because he stayed in school for more training so he could specialize in children's dentistry. He was a fighter too. But we had been estranged for 15 years. He'd divorced my mother - married a woman who wanted nothing to do with children from his first marriage - so, for a lot of reasons we didn't talk for 15 years - until I found out he had brain cancer. My phone call to him was the thing that sparked my essay to Tim Russert. Tim said he loved it.

Over the few months my father had left I managed to have dinner or visit with him quite a few times. After he died I wanted to write about that experience and at the same time - grieve while doing all the things - travel and photography, that he never got to do. I didn't want regrets. So I quit my job, bought a van and moved into it. For the next year I alternated between "full-timer" camping and "homeless." It was quite a journey, riff with bullies and people who hated what I was doing - hated the fact I had the courage to pursue a dream I suppose - and who just thought everyone should be a white picket fence, new car, mortgage and kid kind of person.

I'm not. For the next year I dared to dream, dared to risk, dared to be different, dared to grieve, dared to face homelessness. At the end of that year I started working for another paper - one my father had known well - although I was not aware of it at the time I applied. The newspaper was in my father's hometown, one he had grown up with. My working there angered some of his family.

"When your grandfather killed himself that paper put it in big headlines, Father of 7 kills self" - my aunt told me. They were not happy I was working at a rag that trashed and humiliated the family. Within a few months I had written a series of articles on the death of a hometown boy - a man who died less than two weeks before he was scheduled to come back from Iraq. The series won both Tennessee State Press Association awards and a first place in the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award. I was living in my van at the time. I "couch-surfed" at the home of a former publisher friend of mine for a few months during that time as well. Something about covering the death of a soldier over Christmas and New Year's Eve seemed to release something in me and I decided to settle down and move back into an apartment.

A few weeks later there was a strike at a plant in that small town. I spent the first week of the strike freezing but sleeping in my van on the strike lines - talking to strikers. Then the strike turned violent. As I stood in the road with my camera and tape recorder I saw men trying to pull replacement workers - scabs - from their cars and beat them. I heard death threats. Then the strikers began throwing rocks through windshields, torching cars, shooting into homes where children lay sleeping...it was bad. I wrote about it and the paper started getting threats and calls. They decided to quit covering it or to give it neutral coverage because of the fear of violence. They abdicated their position as a newspaper and took a position of a business. That meant that the community wasn't served, but their business interests were. So I quit - took a job with Media General and moved to Danville.

I was still living in the van folks!! For the first month - until I found a place to rent, I stayed at a local campground until they decided they couldn't allow rottweilers - then I alternated between a hotel room and "wherever."

For the next three months or so - until that fateful day when I went to Gretna and met Fred Ingram....I was happy - doing well.

Why am I telling you all this? Because it's where I have come from and what I came through to get to where I am today. I'm not ashamed of it. I've endured and experienced a lot to get here and I'm not letting anyone turn my story against me - as Media General will eventually try to do. So now you know. I'm a fighter. I've always stood up for the underdog - for those beaten down by corporations, by injustice. Read the stories I wrote for The Danville Register & Bee- about folks in this area - from the homeless man living in a hotel and beaten up by teenagers; to the woman who lived for a year without electrical power and others. Why? Because journalism is about helping and defending the disenfranchised and those who don't have a voice. It's not about humiliating women in the newsroom, or plastering photo after photo of car wrecks and fires on the front page.

Journalism is about community - or should be. And that's the kind of journalist I am - and have always wanted to be. And if Media General wants to trash me - then go ahead. I'm ready. I've had a lifetime of dealing with scum and pigs like you and I'm not backing down now.

1 comment:

Amy said...

As a former Media General employee, one who was laid off last year, I want to say thank you.

Thank you for taking a stand. While I myself only experienced a small amount of the things you did, i.e., being over looked for positions that I was more than qualified to do, while the position was given to a temp, I commend you.

I can tell you from personal experience, and first hand knowledge, your blogs are making the rounds at the R&B. Keep up the good fight....