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Posts Tagged ‘StarTribune

Editorial Cartoon vs. Rough Sketch

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Pique a place to begin.

Charlie Hebdo meant to disrupt and paid dearly. That is what every editorial cartoonist wants, well, not so much death as to disrupt. I’m a fan of Steve Sack at the StarTribune, who every day tips some social issue on its ear.ows_143276862691410

The contribution of the editorial cartoonist is to change the status quo conversation by putting forward an opinion in whatever outrageous way that gets attention and is instantly understandable. Most of their work is an image that evokes a passionate response. The editorial cartoon is typically polarizing, immediately dividing those in violent disagreement from this in violent agreement.

In contrast, the rough sketch is presented to people who are already with us. They may not agree with our nuanced vision of a project, but they at least have the project on their radar.

We use the rough sketch to present our vision for the project, to show more precisely what we mean and to invite discussion.  The whole undone sketchy ethos of it can accomplish all those things.

TableSketch-05282015Sometimes we need a rough sketch to present our idea in the easiest possible way—so our friend or client cannot misunderstand us. And sometimes we need to disrupt a status quo conversation and risk passionate ire.


Image credit: Steve Sack, StarTribune

Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Write Alone And Send To Collect. (Copywriting Tip #11)

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Except for Bill Holm


Bill Holm, by Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

The late poet and writer Bill Holm spent his days teaching at Southwest Minnesota State University. In the context of daily teaching, he was too busy to write his own works. But when class finished for the semester, he wrote his poems and stories and memoirs long-hand on the back of the memos he received at school. Interestingly, he was a gregarious soul who often welcomed people into his house but continued to write at the kitchen table even as he engaged in discussions with visitors.

But for many of us, writing is a solitary activity. Oh, sure: ideas pop in conversation. Careful, committed writers take note of the idea on whatever scrap they have handy. And that scrap becomes useful when the writer is, yet again, sitting before blank screen or page.

Unless you are/were Bill Holm, it is the typical writer’s fate to sit alone.

This is not to say writers must be loners or introverts. Those are not necessary conditions, although they do often fit together.

But creating is only one part of writing. Yes, it seems like the biggest part of writing, doesn’t it? Creating and the aura around creating are certainly the most celebrated bits of writing.

But another part of writing is reading. Specifically, getting read. And that requires publishing, in one form or another. At its essence publishing is getting read by someone else. And for all the (quite true) advice about “just sitting down and writing” and “writing = butt-time-in-chair,” it seems to me there is still a missing piece: the reader at the other end of the writing. Written words need to find and land on their audience.


Here is a place where writers might learn something from copywriters. Copywriters have deadlines. They have people who expect copy at a certain time and quite often that copy is delivered verbally—often read aloud by the copywriter to the client.

Something happens when writing is read aloud to an audience. The text itself tends to shape and reshape and the writer hears it differently because of the people listening. The writer cannot help but see things differently when another person is also hearing the copy.

Many will say that some of their best writing happens during revising. I agree. Especially after having read something aloud to someone else and seen their reaction. It can be thrilling. Or depressing.

Butt-in-chair time is essential for writing. But sending your writing out—scary though it might be—is equally essential to hear how the ideas land and to revise with creativity and gusto and possibly increased motivation.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston, Brian Peterson/StarTribune

Stephen Hemsley, UnitedHealth Group, took home $28,139,070 in 2013

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Here’s my plaque-concept for employee appreciation

$2-3 million for an engraved plaque for every employee? Totally worth it.

Idea note_20140424_095040_01###

Via Patrick Kennedy CEO Pay Watch/StarTribune

Written by kirkistan

April 24, 2014 at 10:12 am

Lou Gelfand: No More Complaints

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How do you love an impossible task?12172013-tumblr_mq3xx8VvLd1rnbafjo1_400

In darker moments I wonder what good lies in all the words produced, day after day—especially my own words. But if words serve only to remind or tell again the story of a bright spot someone saw, then maybe that is enough. Because bright spots shine a bit of hope.

Lou Gelfand was a bright spot for me.

I am a casual newspaper reader. I read the StarTribune and various news sources on-line. But the StarTribune has been my go-to, privileged (and sometimes angering) source for many years. Lou Gelfand was the long-suffering ombudsman/readers’ representative. For nearly 23 years he listened to complaints and reader’s rants and charges of bias (a countless number, surely). And then he calmly worked it out with words on paper.

Mr. Gelfand’s “If You Ran the Newspaper” columns were a must-read for me because he seemed fearless in taking colleagues and readers and the process itself to task. He aimed for resolution and made everyone mad as he did it. But there was something satisfying in his assessments. His words produced a sort of end-game where conflict and anger were addressed, if not always resolved.

Here’s Mike Meyers, former Strib reporter and friend of Gelfand, on the mood created by Mr. Gelfand’s assessments:

“He was a guy who often ate alone in the cafeteria because reporters were so damned thin-skinned,” Meyers said.

Mr. Gelfand was a kind of pivot point between audience and the communication machinery that was the daily newspaper. It was a no-win position from the beginning—an impossible assignment—which Mr. Gelfand moved forward with  aplomb, sympathy and spirit.

His son called him “relentlessly fair” and Gelfand surveyed his own columns and found he split about evenly between backing the paper and the complaining readers.

Read Mr. Gelfand’s obituary here.


Image Credit: via Frank T Zumbachs Mysterious World

Care Guides: In Praise of Knowing Nothing

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The better to listen

ows_136780550136366-05072013Allina employs people to work the space between a physician’s prescriptives and the patient’s adherence to said advice and prescriptions. (May 6 StarTribune: Care Guides show another face of health reform)

Maura Lerner’s story shows a comical side to healthcare that should surprise no one. The comedy is not that hospital systems would employ people with little to no medical training (that makes good sense to me). The comedy is how many patients and physicians have learned all sorts of dysfunctional ways of interacting and not listening to each other.

Betsy Snyder, 23, never wears a white coat on the job. She wouldn’t want her patients to get the wrong idea.

Care guides make sense because they feed corporate efficiency objectives of moving physicians quickly from patient to patient, which serves to maximize those costly human assets. And certainly care guides will try hard to work within their contractual obligation to not practice medicine not matter how hard the kindly older woman pushes for such advice (especially since they’ll quickly be out of a job if they do).

The key common-sensical notion here is that the care guide becomes another interpreter of the physician instructions. And as they discuss prescriptions and compliance with the patient, they are another voice advocating for improvement. And since they arrive without the baggage of years of training they are free to listen.

And listening is the key. Listening and talking—such simple things—but these are the missing ingredients in treatment. Just because a physician prescribes doesn’t mean a patient complies. But talking it through, why, maybe it is actually a kind of therapy trigger.

Care Guides are a positive development as healthcare corporations try to relate to humans and their conditions.


Image credit: Courtney Perry via StarTribune

Written by kirkistan

May 7, 2013 at 8:33 am

Glen Stubbe: “I did this thing. Let me show you.” (Shop Talk #7)

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When Photojournalists Gather: MNPA Shop Talk

I’d like to see more. And better.

Photography, like sketching, is another way of interacting with what is right before us. Both photography and sketching present opportunities to see differently—both are a kind of active seeing. As a writer, I have an ongoing project of learning to see more and better and differently. Seeing better helps me write better.


Glen Stubbe Photography [@gspphoto]

That desire prompted me to show up at the Minnesota News Photographers Association last Saturday at Murphy Hall at the University of Minnesota. I wanted to hear how news photographers talked about—and thought about—their work.

What I heard was talk of technique: details about exposure and how to layer different exposures in a single photo, when to wait and when to move when stalking the photo they have already seen in their mind. Several times I heard how photographs were once merely an accompaniment to the article and how that is quickly changing. Glen Stubbe cited an example of his photo of Michelle Bachman escaping a pointed question went on to start a national story thread.

The photographers were exactly right about this last point: as we move to a post-literate culture, visual content moves to the primary spot. How long do stories stick around in any media you consume without some compelling visual anchor? Not long. I’ve often thought readers either fear blocks of copy or simply find them off-putting. But this is nothing new, we’ve know this for some time. As a writer, visual storytelling is a must.

The photojournalists talked about the increasing role of social media and the blurred lines between reporter and photographer. But three things stood out from the panel between Ben Garvin (Pioneer Press), Glen Stubbe (StarTribune) and Jeffrey Thompson (MPR):

  1. “Tweet Every Assignment.” Ben Garvin said this and I think it could be true for anyone finding their way into social media. Whatever your work (or vocation or avocation), those things that are top of mind are the very things of (potential) interest to others. The premium here is on immediacy.
  2. Develop and Feed a Personal Vision. There are some things (photos, thoughts, words, quotes) that land outside of our daily work. There is a place for that top-of-mind content—a public place. Ben Garvin feeds that vision at his blog. For Glen Stubbe , it’s his Instagram account. I believe this personal vision is the necessary counterweight to daily work. My respect for the people I work with and read grows as I see the parameters of their thinking outside their primary work.
  3. Share what is remarkable. It was Glen Stubbe’s quote that helped me see the emotive content that makes something remarkable—a question I’ve wondered for some time. Something is remarkable when it makes us step out of our routine and remark, out loud, to someone else. To Mr. Stubbe, it was photographs he just had to share. The making and sharing of the photos remains a prime driver for him. What amazes us is the very stuff we share with our spouse, our kids, our friends, total strangers. It is good when we can capture what amazes us.


Ben Garvin [@bengarvin]

Seeing is no simple thing. I’m grateful for the chance to listen in on the shop talk of this visual and thoughtful group of communicators.


Image credit: Glen Stubbe, Ben Garvin

Written by kirkistan

April 23, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Clicktivism & The Power of Social Chatter

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This subtle third rail

tumblr_mkbyhaBOuJ1qe0lqqo1_500-04092013Katie Humphrey writing in today’s StarTribune noted the proliferation of pink and red equal signs on Facebook (as the Supreme Court heard arguments on gay marriage) and wondered if social media chatter amounts to much more than chatter. It’s a good question and a good article. Humphrey cited U of M professor of communication Heather LaMarre:

For a lot of people, the mere act of posting relieves that need or feeling for them to be involved. They feel like they did their part….

Anyone who writes regularly understands this dilemma: you want to write about something. But if you say aloud to someone the germ of your idea too soon, your pressure to write diminishes. Same goes for action, apparently: we feel we’ve done something if we’ve said something.

But that’s not exactly wrong, is it?

To say something is to do something. We’ve communicated that something is important to us—important enough to remark on it. Yes our likes and endorsements (LinkedIn) and tweets are cheapened by sheer volume and ease with which we dispatch these opinions. But each says something. And each does something, however slight.

Our talking is the beginning of our acting. Our talking is also a signal that others could pick up on in conversation and in relationship. And when others join in on this important thing we’ve identified, it starts to carry power, like a third rail. I think we’re seeing this power in all sorts of minor and major revolutions.


Image credit: Francesco Radino via MPD

Written by kirkistan

April 9, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Mind Your Obits

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This Week’s Hero: Wallace Allen (1919-2012)

The things you learn from obituaries:

Mr. Wallace Allen had been a long-lasting editor at the StarTribune (three decades) and passed away in December. During his tenure he led the way to “make the paper more accessible to readers.” He seemed to have a focus on words and design, and employed both in his passionate understanding of what a newspaper could accomplish in our culture. At 93, he continued to read the New York Times and the StarTribune daily.

Two bits from Tuesday’s Obituary stand out:

  1. Though he suffered various ailments, he had been able to get around with a walker. On that walker he had this bumper sticker: “Free press. Free speech. Free country.”
  2. And even after decades of editing he continued to edit and write in retirement. Notably, in one of his last assignments editing a newsletter at his assisted living home in Honolulu, he urged his volunteer staff to “to investigate actions by the home’s management.”

So—a commitment to finding and telling truth all the way through.

That is remarkable.


Written by kirkistan

January 17, 2013 at 6:37 am

Is Print the New Luxury Buy?

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Wow—You Own a “Copy”?

As I write another check for the rapidly-shrinking StarTribune, I’m reminded how our lives will be diminished by the absence of the printed daily news. I see this day coming. I look at news aggregators all day on my computer and I am thankful for the information. But there’s something about settling into a chair at the end of the day with the funnies—a computer screen just doesn’t duplicate the experience. A Pocket PC screen certainly doesn’t come close. Makes me sad.

I was showing the gorgeous San Francisco Panorama to a journalism professor recently. It is a kind of newspaper on steroids. Fabulous writers. Intriguing topics. Big old art and photos. It will be big (broadsheet: 15 by 22 inches), full (380+ pages) and pricey (I thought I read it was $35, but now I can’t find the reference).

In short: a luxury. Kind of like The New Yorker (which I ordered recently only because I had a gift card), only more so and originating from a different coast.

Was print always a luxury? Maybe. But the daily paper never really felt that way. It was always the way we saw what was going on in the world, even if we understood it was as subjective as anything touched by humans. That’s all changing. I suppose there will come a point where the newsprint dropped on our porch at 5:30am every day will just not be worth it. I’m hanging on, but it’s feeling like a luxury, which binds it to the question: “Do we need this?”

So far the answer is still “Yes.”


Written by kirkistan

November 17, 2009 at 11:13 pm

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