Inside the Newsroom

News, commentary, insight on local happenings and fun from the staff of The Saline Reporter and Milan News-Leader.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

And then I met a man who had no feet

Many moons ago, I was perusing a gift shop after dinner in a nearby restaurant.

The walls of the shop were filled with corny aphorisms on plaques or plates that are at times amusing, sometimes even trenchant, but just as often cause you to wince at the sometimes-cloying sentiments for sale.

One that I have remembered, and likely will always remember as a reminder to impose perspective on the importance of events in one’s life, went as follows: “I felt sorry that I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

A brief search on the Internet suggests it is a Jewish proverb.

I was reminded of the saying late Sunday morning, as my wife and I watched CNBC on television, in which the survivors of those who had perished on Sept. 11, 2011 read the names of the deceased.

Just a few hours earlier, I was in a foul mood late Saturday night into early Sunday morning, and woke up on Sunday still out of sorts, as a result of a football game.

My beloved Fighting Irish, with a 17-point lead going into the final quarter, allowed Michigan to score 28 points in a single quarter of football, enabling them to win the game 35-31.
Let me congratulate my friends who are Michigan fans, as my son Matthew did in a Facebook post on Sunday.

It was a weird, improbable victory, but it’s the only thing that matters in these contests, especially as your team is 0-2 as the season begins.

But it’s a game, right? Easy to say, and the intellect recognizes the wisdom of the saying, but it’s hard to forget a discouraging, frustrating loss in a contest over which you have no control.
Like the scene in the television show Seinfeld where someone runs up to Jerry and says, “We won, we won!”

To which Jerry Seinfeld replies, “No. They won. You watched.”

How true.

So, as Jan and I watched the unspeakably sad, tragic ceremony in New York City in which the names of the victims were read, I was reminded yet again of just how lucky I’ve been in my 60 years walking this earth, and the memory of a lost football game receded. What emerged in its place was thankfulness and gratitude, and more than a little embarrassment at my small-mindedness and skewed priorities.

I’m working on it. And maybe, depending on the context, it helps to laugh at yourself a bit.
Like the late comedian George Carlin’s edgy take on the proverb: “I felt sorry that I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

“I took his shoes. Now I feel better.”

Gerald LaVaute is a staff writer for Heritage Newspapers. He can be reached at or call 1-734-429-7380. Check out our staff blog at

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New smart phone is changing how I gather information

Since I was in my teens, I have enjoyed reading newspapers.

One of my jobs during high school was at the Syracuse Post Standard newspaper, Syracuse’s morning daily.

I was a copyboy, probably the low man on the totem pole at a newspaper. One of our duties was to get coffee for the editors, but it was a great experience.

The large, brightly lit newsroom just outside the tiny, dimly lit room in which we worked was filled with bright, energetic people. It seemed as if the air that surrounded these busy, smart people in the newsroom was charged with electricity.

I developed a taste for reading the Sunday New York Times, and, combined with reading dozens of books over the next several years as I completed high school and went to college, I developed a deep affection for good writing.

When I moved to Michigan, I brought with me the affection for reading good writing and the daily pleasure of a morning newspaper over coffee, and subscribed to the Detroit Free Press for many years.

And I continued to go out each Sunday morning to get a copy of the Times. At times, I would have to travel as far as Canton, and pay $4 or $5 for the privilege. The current price for a copy of the Sunday Times is $6.

In the last decade or two, newspapers across the country began to struggle as the world changed around them. The Free Press cut back its home delivery to three days each week, on Thursday, Friday and Sunday. It wasn’t the same, and when I was able to resume daily home delivery I jumped at the chance.

But then, a few weeks ago, I got a smart phone, and things really began to change.

I had been thinking about a smart phone for the last two or three years. My children had long since begun to use them, and I was increasingly surrounded by them at work and in daily life.

I thought, it would make me more productive. That thought process, combined with a generous gift card from my family for my birthday, pushed me over the edge. I now gather news using the phone, from any of a plethora of news and opinion websites. I think that there’s a bit less depth in my news gathering, but it is satisfying, and I’ve learned more about how to substitute Internet news resources for the information formerly provided by the Free Press.

USA Today, for example, has an Internet site that enables you to find out what football games are being played that weekend, when and on what television channel. It was one of the things I most looked forward to with the Free Press each Wednesday.

And if I want to keep up with Notre Dame football (admittedly an alloyed blessing, after the loss to USF), I’ve bookmarked a Google search on “Notre Dame football,” and can read several stories about the Irish each day, published in newspapers or magazines across the country.

Ironically, the new phone has enabled better, more timely information for an interest sometimes associated with older people – information about the weather forecast.

I now have at my fingertips instant information about the weather forecast, and can find information by the hour if needs be – when will it begin raining later today, for example?

After the excitement over the new, admittedly amazing technology quells a bit, I hope that I will revert to a hybrid way of gathering info, in which print and digital information sources combine to give me the best of both worlds.

But for now, having a world of continually updated information at my fingertips is a heady, exciting experience. It’s truly an amazing thing.

Gerald LaVaute is a staff writer for Heritage Newspapers. He can be reached at or call 1-734-429-7380. Check out our staff blog at

Recalling 9/11 via interviews

I'm often emotionally detached from an issue, including when I write a news story. In fact, many years ago in supervisor training at Ford, I was criticized in a role-playing exercise for not appearing sufficiently empathetic to a subordinate's problem. I realized afterward that my critics were right, but it took some time for me to come around. I was genuinely surprised by the feedback.

It's not that I don't care; better, I think, to approach the issue analytically, in order to resolve it most effectively.

For a recent story on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I interviewed seven people over the phone, recorded the conversations on iPadio software, and published a two-part story.

Part of the fun of writing the story was weaving together the disparate stories, identifying common ground while highlighting the uniqueness of each person's experience.

As I listened to them tell their stories, I was emotionally affected, although I was surprised by it. Parts of their stories responated with me, because I too faced that awful day almost ten years ago. I am grateful to my interview subjects for sharing their stories with me, and for helping to bring yet another new satisfaction with my new career to life.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Saline Fair Helping Kids Learn About Agriculture

While I was at the fair this past week, there was one recurring thought that kept coming up in my conversations with people. They wanted the kids in the area to be aware of farm life and agriculture.

I can perfectly understand where they are coming from. During the Miss Saline Pageant one of the contestants was asked why she was active in clubs especially 4H and she responded in length but the part that stuck out to me was, "Saline used to be a farm town." I grew up in Okemos, a town similar to Saline in many ways. One of those ways is that well before I was around on this Earth, Okemos too was a farming community. Until the 70's and 80's that's basically all Okemos was. However, by now, there is scant a farm within the district lines of Okemos. Right when i moved away, the big farm located across the street from Okemos high School was sold so that more subdivisions could be built. AS far as I'm aware the only farm left is Cook's where my family has been buying our sweet corn since I was eight.

This caused problems. Being a nice community, still surrounded by farm communities (sans East Lansing) I see more similarities to Saline, another nice community (granted there is still more farming in Saline and Pittsfield) surrounded by more agriculturally oriented communities (sans Ann Arbor). When I was in high school, some of the more elitist and socially harsh kids would make fun of the neighboring communities for being, "hicks" or farm kids. This is just mean. I obviously don't know the inner-workings of Saline High School, and whether this kind of taunting exists, but i would not be too surprised I guess. Again, growing up I was, and similarly neither were my classmates, schooled in agriculture even though we lived 10 minutes away from one of the biggest agricultural schools in the region. I can't speak for those hurtful kids, but I feel as though if they had truly understood the benefits of agriculture and farming and such, then possibly they would not have been so cruel.

Besides all of that, it just makes sense for kids to be aware of where their food comes from, especially in these times. So much processed and unnatural food is being served to our nation's children, if they knew that they could be supporting local families and neighbors by buying different foods that not only support people, but is actually better for them, who's to say they wouldn't? We need to have faith in our children, and teach them things like this. I know for one, that after high school, I became much more interested in learning where the food I put in my body came from. How hard would it have been to take a field trip in elementary and middle school to a local farm to teach kids that? Not very. Plus, kids are impressionable, and some love to take what they learned at school, and especially on field trips and tell their parents everything they learned.

Parents are also a root cause of this problem, and with enough insistence from their children who knows what differences we could see. The one positive aspect out of all of this that I have noticed in the last few years in the growing trend of non-farm oriented small communities with farmers' markets popping up. That's great in my mind. You can't know where your food is coming from any better than if you're buying it from the person who grew or raised it.

I talked to the fair President Kevin Ernst at the end of the fair and he said thanks in part to the baby animal exhibit and the fact school had not started, they had much more interest and excitement from area children. I asked him if they talked at all with the school district to help promote and he said they had talked with Superintendent Scot Graden. However, since school had not started yet it makes it hard for the schools to help promote the event.

Basically, it seems important to me that kids in areas not focused on farming learn more about it and where there food comes from. Not only from a healthy eating perspective but also from a community building and knowledge perspective.

Labels: ,

Powered by Blogger

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]