What ‘Spotlight’ got right: Newsroom desks

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My old desk at the Record-Eagle on a relatively organized day

Newsrooms are wild, wonderful places. Reporters’ desks? Often more wild than wonderful. Every newsroom I’ve worked in has had reporters who keep their desks tidy and organized. Then, there’s those of us who, well, don’t. But, I promise you I know where (almost) everything is.

The stacks of old newspapers, heaping piles of notebooks, and reams of paper are yet another thing this year’s Academy Award-winning film Spotlight, set in the Boston Globe newsroom, got right:

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An excavation of many newsroom desks would reveal layers of stuff that reporters can’t seem to part with: Old credentials, name tags, dusty Rolodexes full of soft-cornered business cards with precious cell phone numbers, directories, old phone books, maps, Post-It notes, coffee cups, coffee-stained press releases, letters from irate readers, letters from prisoners, and that one letter you got that one time from a happy reader.

Maybe it’s because our job is to observe and bear witness, record and report, but I’ve never been in a workplace with such a high percentage of pack rats as a newsroom. We’re collectors– of stories and sources, facts and artifacts. And paper– mounds and mountains of scratch pads and notepads, last millennium’s newspapers and this week’s pay stub.

Plus, you never know when someone might dispute your story or question your data. Nothing says vindication like a decade-old primary source saved from the scrap heap.

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My most cherished desk accessory is a large metal sphere made from the coils of hundreds of spines of notebooks. I inherited it after much badgering when my friend, a former features reporter, retired. An avid recycler, she had painstakingly ripped the coils from her notebooks and used them to craft an increasingly bigger and bigger orb. When the ball was bequeathed last fall, she estimated it was built from eight years worth of notebooks — notebooks filled with observations, interviews, and quotes  that were poured out into hundreds of stories and read by thousands of subscribers.

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Every couple of months or so, I dig through my drawer where I stash my old notebooks. I check to make sure that I’ve filled both sides of every sheet. Then, I rip out the inky insides, save the coils, and wind them around the notebook ball. My colleagues occasionally stop by my desk with fistfuls of spiraling metal to add to the sculpture, which is currently about the size of a volleyball and also serves as a plant stand for a few fake flowers.

Looking at it every day, standing sentry at the corner of my desk, it acts as a reminder of all the many, many stories newspapers have told and all the many, many more we have to share. So, nope. I’m not throwing it away and this is about as  clean and organized as my work desk gets.

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Ten swoonworthy Toledo outdoor art pieces

It’s finally warm in Ohio, and that means adventuring around Toledo by bike. This week, I pumped up my winter-flattened Amsterdam Electra’s tires and pedaled over to ten of my favorite outdoor murals and sculptures that are scattered around Uptown, downtown and Old South End. This roughly 10-mile art loop is a fun way to get a little exercise, sunshine, and inspiration.

I started out at Toledo Museum of Art, where I clapped over Calder:

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And then I swung by Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa’s letter-framed figures:

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The newest mural on St. Clair Street in downtown Toledo pays homage to the Mud Hens:

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But the real kaleidoscope of color begins when you steer down Broadway Street into the Old South End, where many of the buildings in this predominantly Hispanic neighborhood have fantastic and artistic flair. I started at the far eastern end of Broadway at this building that pays homage to Martin Luther King, Jr:

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On the other side of the MLK building is a mural of farm-worker activist Cesar Chavez. Like its sister mural, this one was done in coordination with Bowling Green State University:

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About a block further, the Green Lantern Diner at 509 Broadway St. is bedecked with this bathing beauty. It adds oomph to an historic hole-in-the-wall eatery that dates to 1927:

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The thousands of motorists who roll along I-75 are missing out on this riot-of-color mural that livens up the Broadway Street underpass. It was completed in 2010  by muralist Mario Torero. Just look at those colors and graphic lines:

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Then there’s this colorful bouquet of flowers on another Broadway Street building:

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A duo of dancers leap along this brick Broadway Street wall on a dandelion dance floor:

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I wrapped up my  outdoor art tour by stopping by the temporary Degas mural at the SeaGate Convention Centre in downtown Toledo. Til’ next time, tiny dancer:

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Which one is your favorite? Toledoans, which murals did I miss?

Week in review: Crypts and chips

Two of the stories I wrote this week were ones I especially enjoyed for very different reasons. One pulled at the heartstrings; the other poked at the funny bone.

The first, about volunteer teenage pallbearers, reminded me how extraordinary this job is and how I get to glimpse events that would otherwise go unnoticed — much like the unclaimed remains of the 10 men and women these boys escorted to a crypt on Thursday. Catholic schools across the country have started pallbearer groups to bury those who die poor and alone. An all-boys Jesuit high school in Cleveland formed the first St. Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearers Society in 2002, and boys at St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo have been doing this work since 2014. On Thursday, I accompanied them to a local cemetery to entomb 10 of Toledo’s indigent dead.

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On a sprawling education beat that includes universities, colleges, and local K-12 school districts, it’s difficult to find time for features, let alone ones that aren’t classroom-related. I’m glad I had time to do this one, and so were readers. About a dozen people called to thank the newspaper for telling this story.

Another story I wrote this week, about a young mayor celebrating his successful Twitter crusade to bring a Chipotle to his city, was one of those quirky bits that when written with the appropriate amount of irreverence can amount to something more than the sum of its parts: Small town + guacamole-loving constituents + social media savvy mayor = kind of hilarious story that illuminates how to govern in modern times. If the people want burritos the size of a child’s arm, they shall have them. At least, in Tiffin, Ohio.

Here’s the tweet from the mayor that launched a thousand burritos: