Newsroom Pokemon

pokemon toledo newspaper

Picture the person you know least likely to be swept up in this Pokemon Go game craze. Now add red lipstick, vintage clothes, a penchant for hats and late 1990s hip-hop and you’ve got me.

And yet, here I am sweeping the streets of Toledo and waving my iPhone around every nook and cranny of the newsroom as I try to catch these insidious little pocket monsters. I downloaded the augmented reality game on Sunday after reading about the Wyoming girl who discovered a dead body in a river while playing. (Because I’m a reporter that intersection of virtual world meeting very real world appealed to me even though I didn’t know a Pikachu from a pineapple.) I’ve now spent the last five days building up my Pokedex and hitting up Pokestops. I really don’t even know who I am anymore.

But the fun side-effect of all this Poke-nonsense is the instant camaraderie I’ve felt with other players. Downtown Toledo, typically a dead zone on nights when the baseball team isn’t playing at home, is swarming with Pokemon fans. I’ve gotten to know several, including DeAngelo, a particularly diligent player who works at Goodwill Industries and who was gracious enough to place a lure module (I know, ridiculous, right? How is it that I just used those words) at the Pokestop outside The Blade. We spent my 15-minute break catching Pidgeys and Drowzees on the sidewalk. He asked me to take his photo with a purple Rattata, and we’ve been buddies ever since. (He texted me this morning to ask if I’d be playing and since we’re both on the blue team we’re plotting how to take over a nearby gym.)

Rattata and friend in Toledo

I firmly believe that if you’re going to do something — even something silly– then you should do it with zest. I enlisted the help of a Blade colleague, Will Harrison, who writes a video game column for the newspaper but whom I had rarely spoken to in our nearly four years of mutual employment (Sorry, Will!).  He graciously agreed to shepherd this sad-sack novice around downtown during our Monday lunch break, and I don’t think we would have gotten to know each other were it not for this maddeningly addictive game.

But maybe my favorite part of this Pokemon fever is seeing the pictures that players are capturing from newsrooms near and far. Reporting life is stressful and serious, but taking a few minutes to track down a virtual mythical creature provides a little levity. I mean, look at all the new Blade subscribers I’ve found lurking around our newsroom:

pokemon newsroom newspaper

Pokemon are popping up in newsrooms around the world. Here they are in Newfoundland, Canada:

And the interest prompted this top-notch response from the Wichita Eagle after the newspaper discovered it was a Pokestop:

And the Los Angeles Times’ excellent video showing it is filthy with Pokemon:

Is Pokemon ridiculous? Absolutely. But it’s also a monster-big business and social phenomenon. Cultural relevancy requires newspapers — those stodgy repositories of grandfatherly readers and too-cool reporters –to pay attention and, even, play.

18 months of higher ed coverage*

*Award-winning higher ed coverage

I started covering higher education for The Blade in February of 2015. Good timing, given that the University of Toledo was in the midst of a national search for a new president to lead northwest Ohio’s largest university.

It was and still is a critical juncture for UT, as I explained in a story this week about the president’s first year on the job:

During one of last fall’s pep rallies, a crush of University of Toledo students cheered for the Rockets along with the school’s new president.

The football team was enjoying a winning season — it would go on to win a bowl game — and the campus was buzzing.

President Sharon Gaber, now 52, had left her provost post at the University of Arkansas a few months before to lead a school battling dwindling enrollment, battered finances, and, in some cases, broken trust. The board of trustees picked her from a field of 29 candidates, gave her a five-year contract, and told her they wanted to transform the university.

On this particular day, she stood in Centennial Mall, the grassy gathering place in the center of campus and one of her favorite spots. Months later, she still recalls someone telling her how, in 20 years at UT, they had never seen so many students on the mall.

“How fun is that?” Ms. Gaber said, during a recent interview in her University Hall office. “The students were excited, and the faculty were excited, and … it was a great moment.”

She counts it as one of the best of her first year, an inaugural lap she finished Thursday amid applause from campus leaders who have cheered her fresh approach.

It came full circle this week, with the publication of the above story and a personal exclamation mark from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists in the form of a first place award for best higher education issues reporting among the state’s largest circulation newspapers. I share the honor, announced this week, with my pal and coworker, reporter Lauren Lindstrom.

spj screen shot

A lot of ink (digital and liquid) was spilled over the presidential search, the presidential pick, and her first 12 months at the helm: from this piece introducing the three finalists for the position and explaining what was at stake with the choice, to the various campus constituent groups lining up behind various candidates, to the surprising decision by one of the finalists to pull his name from contention,  to this piece on the board’s decision to hire Sharon Gaber, to a break down of her $450,000 contract compared to other Ohio public university presidents,  to this story on her first full day on campus, and then inauguration day coverage when she was formally sworn in as UT’s 17th and first female president.

Along the way, of course, lots of other stuff happened at UT:

Four people, including a former dean and associate dean, no longer work in YouCollege (and the college itself no longer exists), after an internal review uncovered a culture of bad management (Think: doors slamming, racially insensitive remarks).

A fraternity was placed on probation and six students sanctioned after a black student was allegedly punched, kicked, and called by a racial slur at an off-campus party.

A UT graduate student found a link between depression and binge-watching TV shows, bad news for this reporter and many other House of Cards/Gilmore Girls/Parenthood fans.

And, UT’s new president began thinking about how to bolster the university’s lagging national reputation, perhaps by hiring big-name researchers and professors.

In other words (lots and lots and lots of words), it’s been a very busy 18 months on the education beat in Toledo. Thanks for following along.