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The Triwizard Tournament of collegiate journalism


Tom French calls the Hearst National Writing Championship “The Hunger Games of college journalism.” I think it’s more like the Triwizard Tournament.

Rather than simply violent, murderous chaos of Panem (although sometimes it appears that way) the championship in San Francisco this week was more organized, with well-defined tasks like Harry Potter’s Triwizard Tournament.

For me, it involved first-time reporting experiences which took me out of my comfort zone and into theoretically dangerous situations. It took me to the top of a hill whose peak was shrouded by the low-lying clouds of San Francisco. It took me to a city I had never thought I’d visit but immediately fell in love with.

I’m honored and blessed to be able to report that my hard work during the week paid off, as I won first place in the championship. I’m even more honored and thankful to mention all the people who helped me on the way. Tom, Kelley, Jim, Linda, Rachael, Yukari, Meredith, Kale, Steve and Jennifer, Trisha, David, Danielle, Biz, Caitlin, Claire, Katie, Matt, Michael, Larry, Tom, Alyssa, Mom, Dad, Maggie, Ruth, Ron and everyone else who took my frantic calls and have supported me on my way here: I owe you such a great debt.

I also am drowning in thanks to Nancy Streets-Lyons, who I wrote about this spring in the story that got me to San Francisco and the Hearst championships. It’s a story about the ever-present scars of racial tension. It’s a story about memory, identity, humility and peace. It’s a powerful story that has changed so much about how I report and how I live. I strongly believe it is a story that everyone at Indiana University should read and reflect on.

That story is what got me to San Francisco, but once there, I continued to learn so much as a reporter. A week out, we were assigned to profile California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and pull a news story from a group interview. The fist day we were allowed to report, I had decided to take a walk into the rough Tenderloin district in San Francisco to get scene and visit a homeless shelter, as Gavin Newsom had worked with homeless issues as mayor of the city.

What first shocked me about San Francisco was how quickly — literally within a block — things could change from a posh shopping-center with Bloomingdales and an Apple Store to a ghetto full of open-air drug deals and poverty. Within walking one block in the neighborhood by myself, I felt unsafe. I even had a beer can thrown at my head among obscenities about my nicer clothes.

It threw me for a loop, and I had to calm down before heading out again, this time to another park on Market Street where individuals experiencing homelessness were congregating. I found one man sitting alone and approached him to talk about his situation and Gavin Newsom. I’d never interviewed homeless individuals before, and growing up in the wealthy suburbs of Dallas, I hadn’t even had a lot of experience with them at all.

The man in the bushy beard and floppy hat sat under a tree in United Nations Plaza and pulled out the end of a cigarette he had lit at least once before.

“It’s tobacco,” he said. His brand: “Whatever I can get for free.”

About four years ago, Sean Sterling, 46, decided to sell his house and all his possessions and hit the streets.

The City of San Francisco says he’s homeless, but he says he’s just free.

“I’m out here because I don’t want to be locked in an office,” he said. “They think all of us are gaming the system, but not all of us are.”

Fair weather and a liberal climate full of free services make San Francisco attractive for homeless individuals. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, as many as 10,000 people experience homelessness in the city, and 3,000 to 5,000 of them are known as “chronic homeless,” refusing service for myriad reasons.

Instead, I met a man who was brilliant, who chose to be homelessness rather than working for corporate America. Turned out he was from Columbus, Ind., and had taken classes at IU. We had something in common, which allowed me to connect with Sean and chat with him about homelessness issues in northern California.

“I don’t know Gavin Newsom’s heart, but I know he’s a political animal,” Sterling said. “It always seems like someone in power will dream up some new service.”

Sterling said he would rather see politicians address the issues of mental illness in homeless populations than publicly fund easily accessible services.

“We are practicing socialism here by allowing people to draw on the system without doing anything to give back to the system,” Sterling said, smoke rolling out of his mouth. “It’s candy mountain out here.”

Next, we were given an on-the-spot reporting topic: “How does a young newcomer find a place to live in SF?” I started looking around on Craigslist and Googling how to find a place to live. At the crux of the topic was a conflict between available housing in the bay area and the tech boom of Palo Alto.

Silicon Valley’s tech boom has quickly become San Francisco’s housing crisis, and many intrepid young professionals are stuck without many options.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the city grew by 7,500 people but added only 200 units of living space in 2012. That means renters are stuck scrambling on Craigslist, AirBnB and other services, where rental costs have skyrocketed.

For some, the solution is a “hacker house” where a group of developers and coders live and work on innovative tech projects.

After some research I found a live/work community called Rise. I sent some emails, but hit the streets to find out more from people trying to find a place to live. After not much luck, I set up shop in a cafe and started doing some research on Rise.

Rise builds off that idea. Founded by entrepreneurs William Hsu and Lazlo Karafiath, Rise is a community of like-minded developers free to work collaboratively or individually on all kinds of start-up projects.

According to real estate site Zillow, the market value of the 6,800 square-foot mansion is $4,892,269. For a bed in the two-person bedrooms on the second floor, tenants pay $1,200 a month. The bunk beds in the basement are $1,050 apiece.

“The neighbors are all rich people,” Val Lafebvre says. “They don’t like us very much because we have parties.”

The house used to be known as The Glint, a more art-focused community of tech-minded young people. Chris Murphy, founder of online startup Zoomforth, lived in The Glint for four months last year. He said the appeal of a community like Rise or The Glint is not affordable housing, but the “sexy” factor of sharing living space with tech industry connections.

“It’s not cheap to live there,” he said. “It’s like 1,100 a month and you’re still sharing a room.”

With time running out, I decided to take what Google Maps said would be a 45-minute walk to the Rise house and knock on the door. I hadn’t expected I’d have to climb nearly 850-feet in the process, ending up higher than San Francisco’s Sutro Tower in the elite Clarendon Heights neighborhood.

I knocked on the door winded and covered in sweat — a very unprofessional look — but I was desperate for a story. I was invited in and asked for a glass of water. I explained what I was looking for and the tenants gave me a tour.

The Rise house is home to 16 young professionals. During the day, many of them work full-time jobs to afford the rent. When they come home every night, they set up shop on the second floor of the house, coding and collaborating on all sorts of Web services, mobile apps and other projects.

Lefebvre and two other developers — Rahul Swaminathan, 23, and Sohail Khanifar, 23 — stay home during the day, working on their start-ups.

“You can ask for help,” Khanifar said. “Everybody is good at something.”

“If it’s computer-related, software, anything,” Swaminathan said.

Swaminathan and Khanifar are currently working on a website that collects images and separates them into categories — a kind of Pinterest-meets-Tumblr. It’s called, and it’s one of a handful of start-up projects that have been created completely within the Rise house.

“This is a byproduct of this house,” Khanifar said. “I didn’t know Rahul before this house.”

Other than, the two are doing some client work to make extra money to help pay rent on the house.

“There are a lot of positives,” Khanifar said. “A, there are a lot of intelligent people.”

“B, look at this view,” Swaminathan said, pointing to the big windows looking out over San Francisco.

“Yeah, B is the view,” Khanifar said. “C, it makes you ambitious. It should keep you motivated.”

“All we’re missing is a pool,” Swaminathan said.

Val showed me his latest project, a very cool web-based consumer service called Blacklist. He says it “enables users to Blacklist brands and products they dislike or with which they had a bad experience.” It’s very cool. In beta now, check it out in the link above.

Val told me he had arrived at the door of Rise  much like I had, covered in sweat and tired from the long climb up the hill.

When Val Lefebvre arrived in San Francisco, he didn’t have a place to live.

The 20-year-old, who emigrated from his home in France in mid-April, was looking for somewhere he could continue to work on a web-based consumer service he had created called Blacklist, but between high rent costs and few open apartments, he hadn’t had much luck.

Based on a tip from a friend of a friend on Facebook, he got off the plane, took a CalTrain to the BART, then got on a bus that dropped him 10 minutes of steep hillside from a house full of other young people in the tech industry.

He arrived covered in sweat at the doorstep of Rise — a community of developers that live and work in the same space in the posh Clarendon Heights neighborhood.

He was welcomed to the four-story home by another tenant who showed him around. For $1,050 a month, he could live and collaborate with 15 other young professionals.

“Check out the place and if you like it,” Lefebvre remembers hearing that first day in San Francisco, “you can stay.”

He looked out the big glass windows with a breathtaking view of the city far below. It wasn’t a hard decision to make.

Once I finished that assignment, I was left with the profile interview of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. I had known from talking to some of his colleagues that he had a penchant for getting his hands dirty and walking rough neighborhoods himself to see the problems of different communities. So when Newsom mentioned we should walk though those neighborhoods with him, I called his bluff.

“You have time for a walk?” I asked on the final question of the press conference.

He smiled. He jumped up, loosening his tie and unbuttoning the top button of his white shirt and heading out the door, taking us on a walking tour of the Tenderloin and taking us up into the absolute squalor of single-residency occupancy hotels.

Cigarette smoke and urine thicken the air in the Tenderloin. It’s not the kind of place you’d expect to see a mayor who grew up around the likes of billionaire Gordon Getty and the Pelosi family.

And yet, Newsom is known to regularly walk through the neighborhood, usually with only one or two aides at his side.

A man in a dirty blue sweatshirt recognizes the former mayor that used to roam those streets every Friday.

“Hey,” he shouts, “it’s Gavin Newsom!”

“How you doin’, man?” Newsom asks.

“Not bad,” the man says. “We miss you.”

In [his new book] Citizenville, Newsom writes that the city’s alarming homelessness “defined my two terms as mayor.”

“It was the most obvious and visible expression of our city’s inability to solve problems,” Newsom writes, “and I desperately wanted to do something about it.”

The information played perfectly into the stories I was writing. Newsom’s passion for homelessness issues and willingness to hit the pavement were on full-color display for me, but I made a risky move that ultimately paid off. I decided that with only six hours before deadline, I would not try to rewrite scenes or add too much from the unique press conference. I’d instead work on polishing what I already had as much as possible, making it clean and easy to read.

I guess it ended up working, and I’m so incredibly grateful.

“Do I deserve all of this?” she asked herself… “Humility. Just humility.”

“I was a ghost.”

Last fall, Teresa White, School of Journalism faculty member and executive director of the Miss Indiana University pageant, was telling me about a special guest they were bringing in for this year’s pageant.

Nancy Streets-Lyons was the first and last black Miss IU, decades before a black woman would be named Miss America.

She is 73 now. Her eyebrows are thinner than they were in the old photos — her hair has turned gray. When she descends a staircase, she takes each step carefully. But there’s still a bob in her walk, and when she smiles, her cheeks break into the same dimples that charmed the pageant judges. She’s not afraid to speak her mind. She’s funny. She’s warm. Whenever she meets someone new, she offers a big hug.

“Oh, please,” she says. “Call me Nancy.”

I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but then I saw the documentary “When I Rise.” It tells the story of Barbara Smith Conrad, a University of Texas student who was stopped from starring in the school’s opera, but went on to be a world-renowned mezzo-soprano. Its one of those stories everyone, with ties to Texas or not, should see.

In hearing that story, I was struck by the similarities between Barbara’s story and Nancy’s. Nancy had also broken down a racial barrier, but was faced with inexplicable hurdles to vault. Nancy had also left the university where everything happened and not come back. They’d both pushed it aside and gone on to live full lives. Then, when they didn’t expect it, the university called them back.

If she had the choice again, she wouldn’t pick IU. After everything she went through, she says, she wouldn’t attend such a large university. Five decades have come and gone since she left this place.

Civil rights legislation was passed and segregation became just a bad memory for generations. Photographs and history books are all that remain of the Little Rock Nine, the Selma and Montgomery marches, Rosa Parks and Malcolm X. A black man was named president of IU. Another was elected president of the United States.

Nancy was married, had three children and divorced. She worked as a sales representative and for a few years as an English and arithmetic teacher. She fought a rare type of throat cancer. Today she lives in Indianapolis, where she works as an in-home caregiver with Senior Home Companions of Indiana. She fixes meals for and watches over two elderly clients part-time, five days a week.

For years, she didn’t think about the institution that had lifted her up and then knocked her down. Then, last fall, the phone rang. IU wanted its queen to come home.


IDS — May 14, 1959

I started doing more research on the events of the 1959 Miss IU pageant. I spent time in the IU Archives and scrolling through microfilm in the Herman B Wells Library. I found out about Nancy’s pageant win and the national media storm that followed. She made the cover of Jet and was in the pages of Ebony.

A flashbulb popped. That image would end up in LIFE magazine, right next to an image of President Dwight Eisenhower and just above some of the first images of the Earth from space.

From those microfilms, I found out small details that made the difference. Her talent was a dance to “Harlem Nocturne.” Looking up that song put me into the moment without even talking to Nancy about her memories.

I started digging through Monroe County historical records and made calls to the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.

On April 13, 1962, three years after she was named Miss IU, Nancy and several of her friends heard that a Bloomington roller skating rink had turned someone away due to the color of their skin.

“So we got some people together,” Nancy says, “and we went there to integrate it.”

When Nancy arrived with two black friends and three white friends, owner Robert Jones told them it was a members-only club. He went to his office and came out with a handgun.

At the sight of the gun, the group decided to leave peacefully. A mob of white patrons followed them.

“We were very lucky we didn’t get shot,” Nancy says.

In the days and weeks after the incident, Nancy and her friends lodged a complaint with the newly-formed Indiana Civil Rights Commission. The case was heard in May 1962 in the Monroe County Courthouse to determine whether Jones’s rink was a private club and if not, had he denied access based on race. It was the first hearing of the ICRC, the first time the commission’s power to call a hearing was tested in practice.

Nancy and her co-defendants testified to the events of the night at the Roll-O-Rama. IU Dean of Students Robert Shaffer served as a character witness and testified that the students were “good citizens.” Other white students testified that the rink had never asked for a membership card before. Jones didn’t even show up.

The ICRC ruled that Jones was in violation of the state’s Public Accommodations Law, but the young commission had no power to charge him with a crime.

Nancy felt they never stood a chance of getting any real justice. It was just one more slap in the face to the black community at IU.

I even found letters written to and from Herman B Wells about the pageant in May 1959. For me, they were grossly, shockingly ugly and racist.

Nancy is intrigued. She wonders what the letters said.

“How vulgar were they?” she asks intently. “Tell me what they said.”

The letters are in the IU Archives. The worst was a five-page rant by a man from Raleigh, N.C., who called Nancy “a thicklipped, flat-nosed … negress.” Others called her title an “abomination,” that it was evidence of a “communist infestation” on campus.

Later, when she hears these things, Nancy laughs.

“I may be 73 years old,” she says. “But I’m pretty thick-skinned.”

She wants the IU Archives to scan the letters and make them available on their website. It’s like her Maya Angelou quote. People today need to know how awful that time of IU’s history truly was. Otherwise, how can we learn to be better?

“Put it all online,” she says.

Once I had time to really feel comfortable with primary sources to find out about what happened, I called Nancy and started interviewing her. I realized that the story was much more complicated than simply a historical event from 50 years ago. There’s a lot of emotion still there, after all this time, that is difficult to resolve.

When she came to IU, I followed her around campus and got to know her even better.

On the day after the 2013 pageant, a group of graying alumni sits in the Tudor Room of the Indiana Memorial Union, waiting for Nancy. She’s being honored at a luncheon for black alumni.

George Taliaferro, an IU alumnus and the first African-American to be drafted into the NFL, remembers not being allowed in the Tudor Room while he was a student. Two years before Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, Taliaferro was the star tailback for the Hoosiers and led the team to their only undefeated Big Ten championship to date.

“And I still couldn’t sit in this room when I was here,” he says.

As he and the other black alumni wait for Nancy, they think back to other memories from their college years. Remember going out to The Hole on the weekend for dancing, drinks and soul food? Remember when the Black Market, a hair salon and music store, was firebombed?

When Nancy arrives with Shannon, the group moves into the Coronation Room, surrounded by portraits of 19th-century white men. Nancy greets Taliaferro with one of her signature hugs, even though they’ve never met.

“Did you know Fitzhugh Lyons?” Nancy asks him.

Lyons was Nancy’s father-in-law and was one of the first football players for IU in the early 1930s. From the sidelines, fans called him “nigger.” He wasn’t allowed to eat with his fellow students, couldn’t stay with them, couldn’t join them at the movies.

“Remember,” Nancy says. “Fitzhugh was better at basketball, but …”

Taliaferro and Shannon finish the sentence with her. “… they weren’t going to let him play.”

As they eat, Nancy smiles, listens to the others’ stories and tells about the pageant. She talks about how there are still undercurrents of racism everywhere. The fight for equality doesn’t end at skin color, either, Nancy says. She finds the struggle for GLBT and women’s rights is reminiscent of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

She shares one of her favorite quotes, something from Maya Angelou:
“When you know better, you do better.”

MissIUClipI’ve never learned more than when I was working on this story. I learned how to write clearly and simply to tell a very powerful story. I learned to sort through documents and archival information. I learned how to be a fly on the wall and how to choose when to ask important questions while still observing important moments.

I also learned the importance of inspiration. Along with “When I Rise,” I kept going back to two texts that kept me in the moment. I read and re-read “To Kill A Mockingbird.” I’m so lucky my parents introduced me to Harper Lee’s brilliant writing so early in my life, and every time I look at it I realize how brilliant it is.

This quote jumped out at me when writing about Nancy’s heartbreaking experiences. “There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.” 

Nancy’s insistence on making the Herman B Wells letters public and in keeping the profanity intact brought me back to this one. “Baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name.”

And this one just sums up everything about Nancy’s trial, her character and her perseverance. “Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

Pages from 0000-Bi2023993863.pdfBecause of Nancy’s Maya Angelou quote, I read a lot of Maya Angelou. This is “Phenomenally Woman.”

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

The title of “When I Rise” comes from Anglou’s poem, “Still I Rise.” It was an inspiration for me as well

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Read the story here. Tell me what you think. I hope it can be a spark for a larger conversation about the history of race relations at IU and, just maybe, get people talking about how race still plays a role on campus.

What I’ve been up to…

People have been asking what I’ve been up to since ending my semester as EIC. There’s been a lot of Zelda playing, lots of reading and studying for class, I’m working at the Scripps-Howard Digital Imaging Lab again and I’m working on a few projects on IU basketball for IU Student Media.

I’m also working on enterprise stories like this one that came out last week. Bob Knight recently sold much of his IU memorabilia including his championship rings. I used that story as an opportunity to look at Knight’s legacy and his relationship with the university.

Some excerpts…

Knight2In his home in the dusty flatland of West Texas, the aging legend was surrounded by memories of his victories and his defeats.

The artifacts included the red sweaters and ties he wore across three decades of goading, swearing and winning at Assembly Hall. Also included were the chairs where he had presided courtside during his trio of national championships, plotting domination over Michigan, North Carolina and Syracuse. Even the championship rings he had earned with those victories were part of this collection of memorabilia.

One of the most revered and most infamous coaches in history, Bob Knight decided last fall to clean house, putting pieces of his legacy up for sale. Hundreds of items were to be auctioned online through a sports memorabilia firm.

Knight told the Associated Press he was selling the rings and the other artifacts to raise money for his grandchildren’s college fund. But here in Indiana, it was hard not to wonder. After a lifetime as a coach and an analyst for ESPN, it seemed unlikely that he was strapped for cash. Was it a coincidence that the auction would begin as the Hoosiers entered the season ranked No. 1 for the first time since he left?

The coach’s messy departure from IU — the firing, the lawsuits, the riot — was almost as legendary as his winning record. Since then, the university had repeatedly tried to reach out to him, inviting him to be honored at public rituals of commemoration. But the answer was always no.

Now, when the Hoosiers were back on top, Knight was selling off emblems of collective memory, even the ring symbolizing the unmatched perfection of 1976.

Was he just being a good granddad? Or was he telling IU that all those years together meant nothing?


…At the beginning of this season, only a few weeks into the auction of Knight’s rings, the Hoosiers went to Brooklyn for the Progressive Legends Classic. The game against Georgia was broadcast on ESPN and called by Knight. What happened next was chronicled in a series of nine photos by Herald-Times photographer Chris Howell.

After the game, Crean walked toward the broadcast table but play-by-play analyst Dan Shulman stepped in front of him. Shulman and Crean shook hands, but Crean moved past Shulman and extended a hand to Knight.

Shulman kept a hand on Crean’s shoulder and Knight, hands full with jacket and coffee, did not make eye contact.

Crean continued to speak to Knight, Shulman continued to speak to Crean and Knight continued to look away. He allowed Crean to shake his hand but walked forward, eyes ahead.

Finally, Knight stopped for a moment and Crean was able to say a few words to his predecessor, who responded with a scowl.

In the series of photos, Knight didn’t make eye contact with Crean until the end of the encounter. Crean later said Knight wished him good luck.

In the final frame, Shulman was still standing between the two coaches. Crean had turned away as well, a smile on his face. Knight was looking away, expressionless…


When the auctions started, Knight said he doesn’t wear rings. But when he was coach of the Hoosiers, he was often photographed with a large ring emblazoned with an IU on his left hand.

It’s not certain from the photographs, but it looks like the ring from the undefeated 1976 season.

Courtside, while he coached his players and screamed at referees in Assembly Hall, he wore an IU ring.

Carrying a bullwhip on the sidelines in a practice at the NCAA tournament in 1992, he wore an IU ring. When he tossed a chair across the free-throw line during a 1985 loss to Purdue, he wore an IU ring.

Even in the hours after he was fired from IU, when he calmed his rioting supporters and told them to go home, he wore an IU ring.

Through the good and the bad, he wore a ring. Then he stopped.

Highlights from fall 2012 at the IDS

I haven’t curated the blog here too much lately due because I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants in a fantastic run as editor-in-chief of the Indiana Daily Student.

This week my staff and I finished up our last full week of production, giving me a chance to look back at what all we’ve accomplished. We sure did a helluva lot and it was hard narrowing down to the highlights.

  • Early in the semester, we realized we were reporting on a lot of sexual assaults and rapes. I don’t believe it was any more than any other semester, but we had made an unspoken decision to put all reports of sexual assaults and rapes on the top of the front page. One day, we came back after a long weekend and had four sexual assaults to report on. In discussing what to do with all four stories, we decided the only appropriate thing was to run each of the briefs side-by-side with an editor’s note. This was one of the most important moments of the semester. The fact that it was early in the semester showed that we as a staff were having really important journalism conversations every day on how best to serve our readers.


Editor’s note: Since returning to daily publication in August, we’ve covered 10 rapes and sexual assaults on campus and in Bloomington. It is our job to inform the public on issues that are critical to our community. We believe rape and sexual assault are at the top of that list. We will continue to cover reported rapes and sexual assaults on the front page of the Indiana Daily Student as they are pertinent to a safe campus and a safe community.

  • Our political coverage was absolutely top notch, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fantastic team of editors, reporters and photographers that helped out. The #IDSChat on Twitter was a great way for us to get around paid chat systems and allowed us to explore new ways to engage audiences during debates and the conventions. In everything we did we tried to reach out to our audiences in ways that no one else could. We told stories that mattered to neighbors and friends. We ignored national headlines and looked for local implications for larger trends. We put together an election guide for students with profiles of every local candidate on the Monroe County ballot.


  • BGuideAlong with the election, we had another big story to continually cover in the later part of the semester: #IUBB. The Hoosiers were ranked No. 1, Cody Zeller was ranked No. 1; everything about the preseason meant that we had to be on top of our game to hook the Hoosier basketball audience for the rest of the season. All of our basketball reporters continue to do a fantastic job tweeting, blogging and writing about the team. The basketball guide was our pièce de résistance with 16 pages of content that paid homage to decades of Hoosier basketball history while still talking about the hype of the 2012-2013 team.

    121127IndianaDailyStudentFrontAlong with the guide, we also introduced new four-page wraps that will preview big games, especially home Big Ten games. We also had one for the game against the University of North Carolina. To show respect for the storied programs of both schools, we found historic images that ended up getting a lot of attention from EPSN and national media. A solid way to introduce how we’ll be covering the team all year.



  • Another one of the most important stories we covered was the year and a half anniversary of the disappearance of Lauren Spierer. We wanted to use the day as an opportunity to bring other missing persons case to light. In reporting we found out that there is no statewide database for missing persons cases. We put together a list of 101 cases in the state of Indiana, but some state agencies estimate that there are dozens of not hundreds more cases that go unreported.


  • I also had the opportunity of running some beautifully crafted stories. Four of my favorites.

Strip“Power play also seen in strip club” BY WISEMAN — TAMPA, Fla. — In a darkened corner, a dancer, who goes by the stage name Star, approached a potential customer. The black light picked up white patches in the delegate’s credentials that hung from his neck.

Star had just finished a private dance and was pulling her T-shirt back on over a leopard print bra.  Her platform stilettos, the only other item of clothing on her body, gave her height and brought her level with the delegate.

She was selling him a lap dance. It could make her $20 to $30 but the delegate wasn’t interested.

“You hear ‘no’ a thousand times, and you’re naked,” said Star, whose real name is Christine. “So it makes you feel awful.”


Neil“Godspeed, Neil” BY MAJCHROWICZ — WAPAKONETA, Ohio — The Bradings were the last owners of Rhine and Brading Drug Store before it closed and became the salon.

In the 1940s, a young man named Neil Armstrong worked in the Rhine and Brading Drug Store, too.

He was saving money for flying lessons.


Vets“A different kind of battle” BY CONTRERA — The staff sergeant sits, like always, with his back to the wall. Second chair from the door.

Since he returned from Baghdad, he needs to have the entrances and exits always in sight. Ready for anything.

The slides projected on the Ballantine Hall classroom wall switch every time his introductory Spanish class lazily answers the professor’s question. Freshman Adam Argenti knows every answer almost every time, but he rarely participates unless called upon.

“Name the month each symbol represents,” the professor says. “In español, please.”

A decorated evergreen tree appears on the screen.

“Diciembre,” the class answers.

A jack-o’-lantern.


A turkey.


An American flag with a cross.

No answer.

Memorial Day, Adam thinks to himself. May.

“Anybody?” the professor asks.

No answer.

Memorial Day, Adam says, but only in his mind.

The professor reaches for his clicker.

“Moving on.”

Adam leans back in his chair, closes his eyes and waits for patience. After everything he’s been through, he can’t help but find it hard to believe that so few people would ever know what it means to have gone to war.


REL“A Crooked Odyssey” BY KENNEY — When the phone rang, Dana Jones was at his desk at the mission. The caller was from Indiana parole.

“Do you take murderers?” the man asked, off-hand.

“Yes,” Jones said. “We have before.”

Cutters Brewing story in DRAFT Magazine

Last spring, I did a lot of reporting on Cutters Brewing Company, the nanobrewery here in Bloomington that is a little more than a year old.

This week, the story ran online in DRAFT Magazine.

Here’s an excerpt:

The birds pecking at spent grains in the parking lot are a clue you’re in the right spot, and the sweet smell of a mash tun means you’re getting closer. The sound of AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock” echoing across the lot and the empty carboys outside unit No. 1 is a dead giveaway.

The lot is in an industrial park on the west side of Bloomington, Ind., a college town home to Indiana University. It’s also home to one of the state’s newest and smallest craft breweries: Cutters Brewing Co., owned by best friends, longtime homebrewers and local boys Chris Inman and Monte Speicher.

During the week, Speicher works for a local marketing firm, and Inman is an aerospace engineer. Every weekend, however, they go to the industrial park, listen to ’80s rock, drink and make beer. They are the quintessential nanobrewery: two guys passionate about their product making small batches for a mostly local clientele.

“This is our weekends, man. Good thing we love it,” Speicher says. “This is basically homebrewing on steroids.”

The story goes on to talk about the trials and tribulations of opening a small brewery. Monte and Chris and their co-owners Emma Inman and Amanda Speicher were kind enough to let me and my photographer partner, Amelia Chong (who took a whole series of photos that weren’t able to run online), follow them around to beer festivals, on bottling and brewing days and get a glimpse of the big leap from homebrewing to professional beer making.

It also comes at a great time, as Cutters recently expanded to a new 30 bbl system in Avon, Ind., where they’ll be making beer for the whole state of Indiana soon. I’m excited to see what comes out of their brewery next.

If you’re in Bloomington, buy a bottle of Cutters. Always drink local even if you’re not in town.

Read the story and tell me what you think in the comments below.

Five reasons to be excited about fall at the IDS

The summer is just about halfway over, and I’ve been talking with a lot of folks from IU who are really excited about getting back to Bloomington and starting back at the IDS. From London to Reno to Tampa to Rochester, Ind., we have reporters in internships who are learning and growing as journalists, ready to bring their talents back to the Daily Student. We’ve got a month before fall workshops and our first week of production and our management team has a lot of plans and great ideas for when we hit the ground in August.

This is not meant to take away from the summer staff. I’m always blown away by the amazing content that our summer staff churns out with a small group of folks. They are running some amazing long-form features with stellar visuals that exemplify our quality storytelling. In the fall, we are going to build on that and continue to cultivate great stories in all lengths and varieties. Which brings me to the first thing to be excited about for August.

We will have strategically planned news and feature content that show off our very best. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the biggest strength of the Indiana Daily Student is our long-form writing. Director of Student Media Ron Johnson has called it a “narrative Renaissance” and Hoosier journalists are at the center of it. We will continue to produce the best features and enterprise stories in the country with some of the best student journalists in the nation (nay, the world). But to be a great newspaper we must go beyond 2000-word centerpieces. Our short-form and rapid-fire journalism must also be top notch. We have a quality group of editors, managers and reporters that will be able to churn out quality copy that informs readers quickly and completely. Features will run, as they always have, but they’ll be accompanied by hard news stories that matter to Bloomington and Indiana University.

We will also ensure consistent quality in design to make our stories pop off the page and into the hands of our readers. We’ll be entering in the sixth semester of “the redesign” when we get to Bloomington in August. As a whole staff, we’ve grown accustomed to it and we’ve learned a lot about ASFs, above-the-fold design and compelling packages that help our readers get the story. We’ll be continuing this and improving as always. Our art director, Matt Callahan, has a lot of brilliant ideas to help us define our style and keep our readers engaged. He’ll be working with every desk to make sure that we not only increase pickups, but draw the attention of the reader to inside pages. You’ll remember in the spring that we used four-page wraps for basketball games that were huge successes. Those will be coming back in the fall for basketball games. Those wraps, along with other above-the-fold design that we’ll work on every day, will keep our pickups high and our readers happy.

We love pickups, but we also will be re-working how we look at to make sure our readers are served properly online. We are in the process of a web redesign, but while the new site is in production, we can still improve the way we work on I’ll have more on this at fall workshops (Aug. 11-12), but we will be instituting rolling deadlines for desks to get stories in and on the web quickly and with proper edits. Stories won’t be sitting in K4 at layout for hours anymore, content will go right up online so our readers can see our product. We’ll also be working on increasing interactivity through graphics and a strong multimedia team. We’ll be training new visual reporters with still and video cameras, so they’ll be prepared to tell stories in new and interesting ways. We’ll revitalize our social media with targeted strategy to engage our community on the Web, including live-tweeting events from both official and reporters accounts.

Online journalism will also be crucial to our political coverage, a cornerstone of our fall news planning. If you don’t already, follow the latest IDS Twitter account, @IDSPolitics. That will be a place for our strong election team to get political coverage information to you quickly and accurately. They’ll be covering the 2012 election from Charlotte, N.C. and Tampa, Fla. for the political conventions and from Bloomington on election night. We’ll also be using Cover-It-Live chats during the political conventions and on election night to keep readers informed. Of course we don’t expect to be the number-one stop for readers to get national headlines, but we can offer something that they cannot get anywhere else: local analysis and reaction from the Bloomington community on the national discussion of the day. This will be our biggest goal in every story we do next semester. We will make sure that we are producing content that is of the highest priority for our readership.

Most importantly, this and other projects will help our readers “own the news.” You’ll notice that our marketing team has a new readership campaign: “Own the News: Be a part of Hoosier Nation with the Indiana Daily Student.” They’re right. Our readers can own the news because we are producing it exclusively for them. We are creating content that our readers will care about. We’ll be bringing them important news, gripping features, thoughtful analysis and quality visuals both online and in print. The management staff has been talking about projects and we can’t wait to get started on them with you. We’ll have some big stories this fall: a national election, a highly-anticipated basketball team, the Mayan apocalypse in December. We’ll have an influx of brand new students on campus in August, alongside longtime Hoosiers ready for another year. This is our time, and I simply cannot wait to own the news with you.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.


New Americans, Old Americans

I’ve covered flag-covered celebrations the night that Osama bin Laden was killed. I’ve seen congressmen help restitch the flag damaged at the World Trade Center. I’ve talked to the quarrymen who rebuilt the Pentagon after 9/11.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to cover one of the most patriotic stories of my career.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano administers the Oath of Allegiance to the United States to 25 active duty service members Wednesday at the White House. SHFWire photo by Charles Scudder

WASHINGTON – They walked into the White House East Room on Wednesday as defenders of the United States.

They walked out as citizens.

A group of 25 active duty service members took the oath of allegiance to the United States in the White House on Independence Day.

A naturalization ceremony alone is a moving experience, especially on the Fourth of July. When you add the fact that it took place at the White House and was specifically for men and women who joined the armed forces before even becoming citizens, it becomes very special.

My ancestors came over on the Mayflower or shortly after. I’m directly related to Gov. William Bradford of the Plymouth colony on my mother’s side. On my father’s side, I’m related to Nathaniel Scudder, a doctor-turned-patriot from New Jersey who served in the Revolutionary War and as a member of the Continental Congress. He was the only member of the Congress to die in that war.

In 1777, that Congress was debating the Articles of Confederation, our first government. It had many holes. It put too much power in the hands of individual states. It hurt small states like New Jersey, which Dr. Scudder represented. But it was a form of government; it was a start. Dr. Scudder had instructions not to sign the Articles, but wrote an impassioned letter to John Hart — fellow New Jersey politician who signed the Declaration of Independence — advocating for the framework government.

The obtaining an admission of several [objections] would doubtless be of great local advantage to this state but every state must expect to be subjected to considerable local disadvantages in general confederation. Indeed upon the whole I am fully [of] opinion that no plan can or will ever be adopted more equal less generally injurious to the confederating states than the present.

In other words, the success of the American nation in the face of anarchy in a post-Colonial reality was more important than bickering over specific provisions of the Articles. Dr. Scudder signed the Articles on November 26, 1779 and died on October 17, 1781.

Needless to say, my family has been here a while, but they are still immigrants. President Barack Obama talked about this in his remarks at the naturalization ceremony yesterday.

Immigrants signed their names to our Declaration and helped win our independence.  Immigrants helped lay the railroads and build our cities, calloused hand by calloused hand.  Immigrants took up arms to preserve our union, to defeat fascism, and to win a Cold War.  Immigrants and their descendants helped pioneer new industries and fuel our Information Age, from Google to the iPhone.  So the story of immigrants in America isn’t a story of “them,” it’s a story of “us.”  It’s who we are…

Because the lesson of these 236 years is clear — immigration makes America stronger.  Immigration makes us more prosperous.  And immigration positions America to lead in the 21st century.  And these young men and women are testaments to that.  No other nation in the world welcomes so many new arrivals.  No other nation constantly renews itself, refreshes itself with the hopes, and the drive, and the optimism, and the dynamism of each new generation of immigrants.  You are all one of the reasons that America is exceptional.  You’re one of the reasons why, even after two centuries, America is always young, always looking to the future, always confident that our greatest days are still to come.

At the most basic level, this is what America is all about. It is about the group of men like Dr. Scudder who stood up against tyranny in the late 1700s. It’s about the men and women who signed up to defend a country that was not theirs but finally became American citizens yesterday. We say it a lot, but America really is a melting pot. It is an exchange of cultures, ideas and beliefs. It’s the ability to dream that we can be all that and more.

I don’t buy 100-percent into “American Exceptionalism” but when standing on the banks of the Tidal Basin watching fireworks explode over the National Mall it is hard not to think there is something exceptional about this country. As an avid Sorkin-ite, I guess I subscribe to the Will McAvoy way of thinking.

If this clip doesn’t give you chills, you’re not a true American.

Congratulations to the new Americans, and happy Independence Day to all!

What the hell happened at SCOTUS yesterday?

Tea Party Members carry American and Gadsden flags in front of the Supreme Court on Thursday. Republicans promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act after the November elections. (SHFWire photos by Maddie Meyer)

Well, a lot happened at SCOTUS yesterday.

Even in the Scripps newsroom, everyone was rapt in anticipation of the high court’s decision. The interns of the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire listened to the coverage on CNN and followed updates on Twitter. Then CNN got it wrong.

I caught it first in the newsroom. In other big news announcements, the first tweet from a news organization is generally followed by a slew of confirming tweets from other organizations. The tweet from CNN announcing that the bill was struck down, however, was followed by silence on the twitter-verse. Then I saw Mike Tackett of Bloomberg tweet to the contrary.

Then it started to get a little muddy. Responses came from every direction on every different side.

“I love it when this happens,” my colleague Matt Wettengel said with a laugh.

As has now been well reported, CNN and Fox News jumped the gun by reading the first page of the 193-page decision and reporting on it. This is the problem with fast-paced breaking reporting in the age of 140-character Twitter updates. It’s not made for complex litigation and constitutional commentary.

Everyone in the media — including myself — expected the decision to come down to the court’s interpretation of the commerce clause. In other words, does Congress have the right to compel Americans to make a purchase through its ability to regulate commerce? In the first paragraphs of the decision — and throughout the decision — the court said “no.” News organizations jumped on that and forgot to read on to the court’s big “… however …” on page two. The justices changed the discussion and ruled the bill constitutional under the ability of Congress to regulate taxes, an unexpected move that get-it-fast organizations weren’t ready for.

I wasn’t at the court yesterday, but I was there on Monday for the court’s ruling on the controversial Arizona immigration law. I do have a pretty good idea on the atmosphere based on what colleagues Maddie Meyer and Emily Siner said after returning from the court.

A journalist sprints across the Supreme Court steps with the decision in hand. (SHFWire photos by Maddie Meyer)

While court is in session, reporters have two options. They can go to the courtroom — where they cannot tweet, record, take photos or leave the room until court is no longer in session — or they can go to a room to receive the paper decision. They still cannot tweet, record or take photos, but they can leave as soon as it the paper copy is passed out. Most reporters on the breaking news side did this yesterday, running the opinion outside to broadcasters and analysts to properly disseminate the decision. (You can read about the mood outside the building from Maddie’s story and photo slideshow and see her photos on this post. You can read about the decision from inside the courtroom in Emily’s story on the SHFWire.)

Poynter Online has said plenty about the subject and has done a much better analysis than I could, but nonetheless the folly of Fox and CNN becomes a good lesson in quick and complete storytelling.

June 29, 2012 New York Times, courtesy of the Newseum

Ultimately, it’s best to take a tip from SCOTUS’s mascot — the turtle. It represents the slow and wise decision-making process of the judiciary, and can be found hidden in various parts of the architecture of the court building.

Although the discussion of the mass-media’s folly in initial reporting, I also find the historical discussion of the decision equally compelling. It’s clear that the decision completely changed the tenor of the debate for the November election — and would have if the decision had been struck down — and both Democrats and Republicans have snagged it as evidence for an imminent win. The more intriguing discussion, I find, is how this decision defined the Roberts Court. Chief Justice John Roberts, as the swing-vote in the decision,  put himself in headlines as a strong chief who is both unpredictable and a strong-willed leader.  This decision said a lot about the kind of chief Roberts is and the kind of court he runs and what kind of bench he is going to lead during his tenure. I’m interested to see how history will look back on this one.

Reporting high school basketball in Indiana

I’ve got a strange identity crisis in that I’m Hoosier by blood but Texan by raising. I grew up spending autumn evenings under the Friday night lights of north Texas football. I always heard stories from my parents about the equally stunning spirit of Indiana high school basketball.

The 1986 film “Hoosiers”, based of the 1954 Milan, Ind. team shows the culture spot-on. In those days, one state-wide tournament selected the state champion. In the late 1990s, the Indiana High School Athletics Association (IHSAA) made a move to change to a multi-class tournament, in which small schools play small schools and big schools play big schools.

Needless to say it has caused some controversy. Fans have since debated back and forth on the topic of class ball. In January, State Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, introduced legislation to ban multi-class tournaments for high school basketball.

This is where I got involved. I decided to write a story about the bill, as it was gaining attention from media around the state. When the bill was quickly dropped in committee due to a deal struck with IHSAA, I pushed to make it a feature.

I started by calling up IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox.

“This issue comes up every five years,” Cox said. “It’s always a basketball issue, no one asks about a single-class softball tournament or a single-class baseball tournament. The tournament changed. The decision to go to class was made by educators.”

We talked about the history of the tournament, how an overwhelming majority of school principals voted for the measure in 1996 and how he and the senator would be going on an 11-school road trip to host town hall meetings in April and May on the issue.

That pushed back my deadline quite a bit. So I decided to go to a basketball game to get some scene.

I settled on Loogoootee High School in Loogootee, Ind. at the recommendation of my managing editor, Jake New. (Full disclosure: Jake is a LHS grad, class of 2007.)

The main attraction was a decades-old rivalry between the Loogootee High School Lions and the Jasper High School Wildcats from down U.S. Highway 231.

Jasper boys’ basketball plays in the Indiana High School Athletics Association’s Class 3A conference, the second-largest, while Loogootee plays Class A, the smallest.

A game like this, between a tiny school with only a couple hundred students, and a large-class school with more than a thousand students, is rare these days to say the least. Ever since the IHSAA transferred from a single tournament — in which every school had a shot at the state title game — to a class system, games between big schools and small schools are increasingly rare.

The atmosphere was wild. It was everything I remember from Texas football and then some. Fans young and old were wholly invested in the team, living and dying with their successes and failures.

The focus of my story changed. I reorganized, focusing my story in on Loogootee and having them illustrate the bigger problem of multi-class basketball.

I talked with Loogootee’s coach Mike Wagoner, who played for legendary coach Jack Butcher in the 1970s. He just about lost his job last season, when a movement from the superintendent, principal and fans almost forced him out. Now, he’s moved on, keeping his team focused on winning in the single-A class.

“I’m ok with both, just that the current players will never know the excitement that the one class system had. Although the current class system is just as exciting around here anyway, that’s all they know now.”

As I waited for the IHSAA meeting, I followed the Loogootee season.

The Lions swept past in-class sectional rivals Barr-Reeve High School and Shoals High School, moved on from Evansville Day School and Orleans High School on their way to the semi-state game, pushed by Edinburgh High School and finally made it to the state championship game against the Rockville High School Rox on March 24 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

For the third time in school history, the team had made it to the state championship. My second Indiana high school basketball game was at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the 1A state championship.

With two minutes left in the game, Indiana state troopers and IHSAA officials lined up behind the basket with the championship trophy and medals, awaiting the end of the game.

With less than a minute to play, Rockville made a few lucky shots, tying the game at 50 points. Loogootee and Rockville fans were on their feet, hands were clenched, fingers crossed…

18 seconds: Loogootee junior Will Nonte responded, making it 54-52.

4.3 seconds: Ackerman was fouled and taken to the line again, putting his team up by five.

The Lions were roaring. They knew it was finished. They knew the boys in gold had finally brought home the state title, and they could not be more proud…

That afternoon the Lions headed home, all 98 and nine-tenths miles from the massive Bankers Life Fieldhouse to the miniscule Jack Butcher Arena.

Fans, players and coaches came down U.S. Highway 50, windows down, standing in the back of pick-up trucks, shouting and cheering in an impromptu victory parade once they reached Loogootee.

In the shadow of the Loogootee water tower, painted like a basketball, Ackerman held the trophy for the crowd to see, the net through which he dropped the winning shot draped around his neck.

They were living legends, their spot forever reserved in the trophy case of memory.

Weeks later, one of the IHSAA meetings took place in Seymour, Ind. The crowd was 40 to 50 old men. Some coaches, mostly elderly fans who played in the 1970s or even earlier. No players attended the meeting.

“I don’t wanna be rude, but I think the decision to go to the multi-class tournament was the worst decision in the history of the State of Indiana,” said Vaughn Winslow, a self-identified Kokomo High School Wildcats fan. “These small schools, I see where they come from, but I don’t see where the fairness is today.”

Cox said he’d relay the results to area principals, who ultimately make the decision on the fate of the tournament. Chances are, nothing will change. The system has been in place too long, with too much success to force a change. The older generation is wrapped up in nostalgic memories of the old tournament, but they provide little more of substantial evidence against multiple classes.

I’d also like to point out that this isn’t a “do or die” issue. There are multiple ideas that fans and sportswriters around the state have to make the best of both worlds. Bloomington Herald-Times columnist Andy Graham wrote to me after the story about his “Big Dance Compromise”, which I think is a pretty solid solution.

This was my first foray into sports journalism, and I had a great time. I enjoyed reporting on this story more than any other this year. I’m going to have to try my hand at more sports features in the future for sure.