Thursday, March 27, 2008

Speech of substance

When Bill Clinton was making his bid for the presidency, I was not enthralled. I failed to see the charisma or to identify with him, as many of my generation, particularly women, did.

I have felt the same about Hillary for the most part. While I agree with many of her positions, I just don't feel inspired or awed by the Clinton mystique.

One of my reasons for wanting to see the former president in person in Pottstown today was to see if the live speaker had a different effect than the televised version. And, he did, but not because of charisma or dynamics. President Clinton's speech at Pottstown High School this morning was impressive, more because of content than delivery and m0re because of substance than sparkle.

That says more for Bill Clinton and the future of the Democratic party, I believe, than the beckoning call to go back to the peace and prosperity of the '90s.

Clinton spoke for 50 minutes -- that in itself says something about the tone of this campaign. Many expected 15 minutes of glitz and hand-shaking glamour, inviting Pottstown residents to join him in giving Hillary Clinton a chance to change the world. Campaign speeches, especially on road trips as ambitious as Clinton undertook today with five stops from Pottstown to State College, are cheerleading expeditions more than they are insightful looks at a candidate's positions.

But he offered the students and local residents jammed into the school gym specifics on health care, economic stimulus plans, alternative energy and affordable education. What's more, he did so in an intelligent manner that engaged the audience. Of the 900-some high school students crammed in the gym, I saw only a handful of yawns. Most were listening intently as Clinton went from a means to provide affordable health care for all citizens to how an energy-saving program could reduce pollution while creating "green-collar jobs."

He didn't patronize the students with strong-armed attempts to identify with their woes, but he offered enough references to flat incomes and rising costs and the danger of dropping out of college when loan costs get too high to let the kids know he understands their pain.

His message resonated with the audience, which included 90-year-old and nine-month-olds, who answered him with affirming nods more often than rousing cheers.

Bill Clinton was impressive in the scope of specifics he told, referring always to his wife's plans and proposals, not to the shortcomings of others. He spoke with the air of a statesman, not a politician, and reminded listeners that the lofty office of U.S. President is a heady place to be, demonstrating with that acknowledgement the humility people hunger for in an age of arrogant officeholders.

I left the Bill Clinton speech no more convinced that he is the ultimate charismatic leader of our times. But I left impressed. Perhaps, that is what his charisma is after all.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Texting from heaven

If someone told me 10 years ago that young people would embrace as their favored method of communication typing out messages on their cell phones, I would not have believed it -- or even been able to imagine how this could work. I'm a pretty fast typist, but on a cell phone keypad? I don't think so.
Yet here we are, everyone texting non-stop with their BFFs. I am continually amazed by it all. My two 18-year-old children conduct entire friendships and relationships in text, barely talking to the people involved for days at a time.
Last week, our police reporter Brandie Kessler related a message on the Facebook (another phenomenon that I never saw coming) of a young car-crash victim. One of her friends wrote, "I wish you could take your cell to heaven, so you could text me and tell me what it's like."
I think that says it all.


So here's the thing about writing a blog ... it's like keeping a journal. The days and weeks when life is full to the brim, you have a lot to write about and no time to do it. Last week was one of those times.
The staff at The Mercury was busy putting together "Intros," a 64-page section on businesses in the area, including some stories about our news-gathering business. We are also working on a contest to pick the "Top Dog" in the upcoming canine Relay for Life. Here at The Mercury, we are putting together a pie-in-the-face contest to raise money for Dreams for Donna, the Relay for Life team in memory of Donna Pitchford, who died of cancer a year ago. Donna was the wife of our Sunday editor Chuck Pitchford, and a friend of many of us here, so we are participating on the Pitchford family team to raise money for cancer research.
Our pie-in-the-face fundraiser invites employees to vote with contributions to Relay for their "favorite" manager to get pied. The top three vote-getters will be treated to a faceful of whipped pie at the Canine Relay on April 19. (I'm hoping not to win, just for the record.)
Last week was also Holy Week with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday to observe. And now, a former U.S. president is coming to town.
So, I'm backlog-blogging to catch up.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A good cause to support

Gabe Fieni’s mission to honor World War II veterans is becoming a reality.
Fieni has secured pledges of more than $60,000 in labor and materials to construct the memorial in Pottstown Memorial Park.
Now, he’s spearheading the effort to raise the remaining $52,000 needed and to organize volunteer labor for the finishing touches.
The memorial will honor area men and women who served in World War II. Universal Concrete Products of Stowe will supply the bulk of the needed materials to build walls nearly 9-feet tall with two 9-foot piers.Other businesses making substantial donations of materials and labor are Rinox Pavers, J.O.B. Design & Construction Inc., and Paul L. Buckwalter & Sons Excavating Inc.Two other companies that work with Universal — Raser Industries Inc. of Reading and Hawk Construction Products of Downingtown and Pottstown — will help with the installation.John O’Boyle, president of Pottstown-based J.O.B. Design & Construction Inc., will be donating time and services as general contractor for the World War II Memorial.
Additionally, Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Co., Lodge 507, Bechtelsville, will donate a 25-foot flag pole and a 5- by- 8-foot American flag.Another $50,000 in donations is needed to complete the project, according to Fieni. Individuals may contribute to the World War II Memorial at Memorial Park by sponsoring one of 3,900 bronze plaques for $25 per line. Businesses may sponsor plaques for $50 per line.
“By contributing with a name/message, you’re supporting 3,900 men and women from the Pottstown area that sacrificed and served our country with honor so we can enjoy our freedom,” Fieni said in a letter seeking support. “We’ve come a long way … but we need another $50,000 to finalize the dream.”Fieni said placement of the memorial’s stone flooring may happen as soon as April. “We need volunteers to lay pavers,” Fieni said.Fieni, who served in Europe during World War II and participated in D-Day, explained some of the memorial’s detail. It will contain “a history of war in the Pacific, and on the other side, the story of people who worked on the home front.”
Pictures of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Gen. Douglas MacArthur will adorn the structure as well.Fieni’s persistence has convinced businesses and individuals to get on board with this project.His vision to create a permanent memorial during his lifetime to the men and women who served in World War II is close to becoming a reality.
To learn more about the memorial or to make a donation, visit

Relaying the story

This headline is "borrowed" from the title page of the annual report of the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, but it is the most accurate description for the new initiative on our Web page, "Voices of Relay: Leaving their Mark."

This Web page, designed by online editor Eileen Faust, is a special feature highlighting the reasons Pottstown area people participate in the local Relay. On the site you will hear the voices and view video of the known and unknown heroes of this little town's million-dollar miracle, the Pottstown Relay for Life.

Mary Kochel, who is a 90-year-old cancer survivor and charter member of the local American Cancer Society chapter, describes on video how she pooh-poohed the idea 12 years ago to start a local Relay. JoAnn McKiernan tells about the start of the canine Relay last year, as her dog Sassy sits on her lap making faces at the camera and stealing the show.

There are poignant stories that will make you cry, and others that will make you smile.

Courtney Glass is a cancer survivor who is only 25 years old and tells of her hard-fought battle to live. Kathy Brennan, this year's Relay chairman, recounts how she made a vow to give back whatever she could if she survived her bout with cancer. Our own Sunday editor Chuck Pitchford tells how he has worked on the Sunday paper every spring that chronicles the success of the local Relay, but he never knew how much it would affect his life until his wife Donna died a year ago, just a week after being diagnosed with cancer. Chuck's family has started a Relay team this year, Dreams for Donna, to honor the life of Donna Pitchford.

Voices of Relay is an example of how the Web is expanding our ability as a newspaper to tell stories, and there is no more poignant or moving example.

We will continue to update the site with more video and more voices as we approach the May 31-June 1 Relay for Life at Pottsgrove High School.

The goal is $1.1 million. The dream is a world free of cancer. The means is right there in the local voices of people leaving their mark.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What hyper-local means to me

"Pool panel says cost of temporary facility would be $179,000"

"Taxpayers already helping to pay for plan to borrow $2 million"

"Township seeks public input into revitalization plan"

In case you missed your Tuesday Mercury, these were three of the headlines on the front page.

The photos on the page featured Joe, the therapy dog, wearing a cat-in-the-hat hat for Read Across America Day at Barth Elementary School in Pottstown, and a family enjoying the near-record warm temperatures at an East Coventry Township park.

Local, local, local.

Of course, The Mercury also had the election preview for today's presidential primaries in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island, and a Business page feature with tax-filing tips, but the news that readers can not get anywhere else is the Local stuff.

The Sports section Tuesday had four previews of state playoff games involving girls' and boys' basketball teams -- Daniel Boone boys, and St. Pius X, Methacton and Spring-Ford girls -- as well as a column by Sports Editor Don Seeley on local wrestlers headed to the state tournament this weekend.

Only a Phillies first-base coach diagnosed with prostate cancer warranted front-page news in the Sports section from outside the immediate Pottstown area.

The point of all this is not to pat ourselves on the back for doing our job; the point is to question what would happen without us.

Newsapers are in trouble these days, experiencing a downturn in revenue that is unprecedented in this business. Employment advertising, automotive advertising and department store advertising have dropped dramatically, and as newspapers become more expensive to produce and ad revenues drop -- well, the recession that is moving across the country is firmly entrenched in newsrooms and publishers' offices.

We worry about the future -- our future -- as we prioritize our story assignments based on the resources we have, many of which are not what they once were. But we also worry about the future of communities without the independent voice that we offer.

People can turn to the Internet for opinion and entertainment; they can find out who wins the primary tonight on TV news; they can get a traffic report and the weather on the radio, but the news of how your local officials are spending your money and what is happening in your schools and who your kids are rooting for on the courts is not available anywhere else.

You can find it on our Web site, or you can read it in our paper, but either way, a local newspaper is necessary to find and write these stories. If your local newspaper does not exist, the voices that speak for the community will be lost.

This is not a doomsday prediction, but it is a reminder to appreciate once in a while the local news that we bring to your doorstep or computer every day. Without us, well, you might not know what folks are up to.

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