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Weekly Columns!

All your favorite weekly columns and letters to the editor- online!

 Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli

Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt
I've been surprised by the number of people who have seen and commented on a video clip I shot from the protection of this newspaper's front entrance shortly after arriving for work last Tuesday morning. Heavy wet snow was falling and after the two block walk to work and a few minutes making the video my coat looked like I had been walking in the rain.
I didn't think the video impressive but with all the hype Winter Storm Kayla was receiving, I thought people interested in what happens in this area but living in other places would be interested in seeing what the weather was doing here. With a newspaper to print later that day and nearly half of the crew not reporting for work, I didn't have much time to devote to the effort. I briefly stood in the doorway and panned the camera east and west for views up and down Third Street. There wasn't much action to see, Craig Guilkey was using a four-wheeled ATV to push snow away from the area where he and his dad, Jeff, normally park. The only highway traffic to pass the camera was a skidster enroute to a snow moving job and a farmer driving a pickup hauling a large bale of hay.
I uploaded the unedited video for display on this newspaper's Facebook and web pages and went on about my work.
About an hour after the video was uploaded, I received the first in a series of telephone calls placed by people associated with the Weather Channel. They first want to know if they could use video to show what the storm was like in Superior. After telling the first caller I had no objections to the video being broadcast, the television wheels began to spin and the project grew.
This isn't the first time the Weather Channel has come calling on The Express. I know of at least two other times when they have asked to use weather video shot in Superior. This was the first time they included a voice report from Superior. I didn't see their previous efforts so I'm not sure how my video was used. I didn't see the television broadcast this time either. However, I have watched the clip posted on Weather.com and expect the broadcast clip was similar. Weather.com is an internet site affiliated with the Weather Channel which is a cable television channel specializing in weather broadcasts. For last week's coverage from Superior, they combined audio recorded over the pressroom telephone with the video I took from the front doorway and images gleaned from this newspaper's web page, Google Earth and the newspaper's Facebook page.
I was in the pressroom getting ready to print last week's issue of the Courtland Journal when the call came. Not expecting to be interviewed, I took the call on the first available telephone, an old rotary dial phone which probably should be sent for recycling. The recording has some static which probably adds to the stormy feeling.
The reporter didn't tell me directly that he was recording the conversation but I suspected so when he said, "Please don't give yes and no answers. Instead please elaborate."
I tried to talk about calving season and the impact the storm was having on the farm community. But the questions kept returning to the impact the storm was having on the newspaper.
Bits and pieces of the conversation was combined to air with the video. None of my comments about calving season made the cut
I asked but didn't receive a satisfactory answer about what directed the Weather Channel to Superior. I was told by one of the callers, "Now that I have found you I will be checking your internet posts from time to time to find out what is happening in Superior."
Another person I spoke with said it was her job to assign reporters and confided sometimes she was lucky and sent the reporters to the right places where something interesting was happening and other times she guessed poorly and sent them to the wrong places and missed the excitement.
Tuesday may have been one of those days when she guessed wrong. I'm told one of the Weather Channel's top reporters was in Omaha Tuesday morning but the storm was late in reaching Omaha. The storm was in Central and southern Nebraska first and with the most intensity. I suspect the people at weather central were in need of storm footage and willing to accept most anything when they came calling.
I've been asked what I did to get the video on the air and I can honestly say nothing other than shot it and posted it to our web site. Our web postings apparently are monitored by other news organizations.
A few years when we had snowrollers in this area, several readers shared pictures with us. Shortly after those pictures were posted on our website, we received telephone calls from television stations asking permission to reshow the pictures.
I suspect there is a directory that identifies The Express and this editor as a willing source.
Over the years I have had state, national and international television crews here to film interviews, including at least one crew from CBS, another from Canada and one or two from Europe. I've been interviewed at least once by the Wall Street Journal, twice by the New York Times and many times by smaller newspapers including the Omaha and Lincoln daily newspapers. We have talked with National Public Radio and on several radio talk shows. I have been pictured in Farm Journal magazine and had stories featured in other magazines.
It started when I was in college and president of Funston House (a fancy name for the l00 guys who lived on the fourth floor of Marlatt Hall). Each of the dorm's six floors had a slate of officers including a social director. Fourth floor had one of the university's most active social directors. That young man was quick to seize opportunities for social endeavors. This was in the days before cell phones and landlines in every room. Funston House had one pay phone and five or six phones connected to the dorm switch board. Calls were not permitted between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. or 7 and 10 p.m. as those were deemed "quiet times." The pay phone was available for emergencies 24/7. One night on a lark, one of the guys dialed a similar pay phone located in a girls' dorm and struck up a conversation with the total stranger who answered the phone. The idea grew from there. Somebody decided to see how long they could talk for 10 cents, the price of a pay phone telephone call. The call continued until the dorm closed for a holiday break.
The social director got involved and organized the floor so someone was available to talk 24/7. An engineering student adapted the phone so it couldn't be hung up. And then the social director began contacting news agencies around the world and inviting them to write a story about the Marlatt Hall Talkathon. He met with considerable success and many of those reporters asked to speak to the house president and that's how I got involved.
I don't remember talking with any of the girls in the other dorm but I remember talking to many reporters. And as a journalism major I was drafted to write stories for some of the publications.
And from that day on I have been both the interviewer and the interviewee.
And I learned the importance of being ready when a presidential candidate spoke at Kansas State. I took pictures of the candidate and the goings on but since I didn't think I was facing a tight publication deadline, I didn't immediately process the film.
I should have for I received a telephone call reporting Time magazine wanted a particular picture wired immediately to New York. Though I had taken the desired picture, I couldn't help because I hadn't processed my film. Now 48 years later I'm still waiting for Time to call back.
My biggest surprise came during the Nixon years and comments I made about the Watergate Scandal. I don't remember the editorial as being anything special but it got the attention of Paul Harvey, the famed radio broadcaster. I remember answering the phone and hearing a distinctive voice tell me "This is Paul Harvey. I'd like to ask some questions about your Watergate editorial."
Like the latest Weather Channel report, I didn't hear Harvey's report but I have talked with people who did.
And when it comes to reporters, I don't care who you are or how big of news organization you represent, reporters are all the same. We are always looking for a story. Some days stories are easy to find and somedays they are hard to find. Be the story easy or hard we can't put it together without the help of those involved.


A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan

For several days last week, I was reminded of winters in Wisconsin when I was a boy. We don't typically have winters here like we did when I lived in La Crosse in the 1960s. With the now tangible effects of global climate change, I suppose present-day La Crosse doesn't have winters like they used to either.
During the worst of the snow last Tuesday, our main concern at home was keeping the area just outside the back door cleared for the dogs. Rudy is old, blind and nearly deaf. He doesn't like going outside in the best weather, let alone the worst.
On one of her trips outside, Kathy said she would measure the depth of the snow in a protected area of the back yard. I looked for a tape measure, but couldn't find any of the three I know I have. I went to the corner where we keep the yardsticks, but there were none of those either. All I could find was a ruler, but not an ordinary ruler, my architect's rule from my time as a set designer. As it turned out, our worry about accidentally measuring the snow in 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch scale was unfounded. At 12 inches long, the architect's rule disappeared beneath the surface of the snow before it hit bottom.
A short time later, I found a wooden yardstick and she measured the snowfall at 14 inches. When the storm finally ended the next morning, we had a total of 16 inches. Some friends of mine in areas between Hastings and Grand Island said they measured 20 inches. It was the biggest single event snow in a long time, and the first time I ever remember three consecutive snow days for the local schools from one storm.
Nebraska, according to the Internet, receives on average 25.9 inches of snow annually. Not much compared to Wisconsin (50.9), West Virginia (62), Wyoming (91.4) New York (123.8) and Alaska (74.5), to name just a few snowier states than this one.
I heard the state road department guys in Webster County had to borrow from a larger county a giant, highway-sized snowblower to get and keep the snow off Highway 136 between Red Cloud (where we live) and Inavale (where my wife works). It was still only one lane in spots as late as Thursday, but I never saw the giant snowblower, in action or otherwise.

Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli

Valentine's Day is one of the days I look forward to. I can't wait to see what my farmer husband comes up with for a Valentine remembrance. Usually it's a meaningful card, a romantic supper at a restaurant of my choosing, along with a red flowering bouquet. You can't get any better than that! Grandchildren's homemade Valentines are a favorite gift and cards or emails from friends and family members are also cherished.
Through the years, there were special homemadeValentine cards handed to me by my sons. Some are kept in a special place within the pages of my Bible and I pull them out from time to time.
My Valentine's Days memories include creating beautiful Valentine boxes during my country school days. Into these boxes the other students dropped their homemade Valentine cards, in a slot cut in the top. During the week before Valentine's Day, red crepe paper heart chains were cut out and draped across the classroom ceiling and paper snowflakes were cut out and taped to the schoolhouse windows. At the school's Valentine's Day party, we looked inside the boxes, examined all the cards we received and dined on the sweet treats brought to school by our mothers. I couldn't wait to take my Valentine box filled with cards home to show my parents.
My sons enjoyed helping make the cut-out heart shaped cookies; they seemed to eat more of the red and pink frosting than was smoothed onto the cookies. We wrapped up the cookies, tied them with red ribbon and gave them to neighbors, grandparents and friends.
This Valentine's Day, reports are predicting there will be 36 million heart shaped boxes filled with candy purchased. Valentine cards fill the shelves of many local stores. Gift idea suggestions are numerous, including coffee mugs with trendy sayings, such as "I love you to the moon and back," and "I love you to infinity and beyond." There's jewelry of all kinds; of course, some have diamonds and now there are also "chocolate" colored and pink diamonds available. Flower shops and greenhouses are busy this time of year, offering all kinds of flowers in all kinds of arrangements placed in all kinds of containers. There's also the latest in perfumes.
Today's Valentine gifts, for those who want to give something different, include Prada Candy, personalized M&M candies, life sized Teddy bears and "Amazon Echo," which makes lives easier through voice control of the home and internet. There is the latest in fitness tracking to clip on or wear on the wrist. Vintage is back with the much smaller polarized camera that offers instant photos; the camera comes in a variety of colors including pink. There are tickets for taking your Valentine to a musical concert or sporting event. For those who like to take the "selfies," there are "selfie sticks" that come in not only black and brown, but also pink.
And there are still the simple gifts, such as a book, gift certificate to a spa or massage treatment, a trip, a nice watch or a cozy time alone together enjoying a special meal at home.
Here's hoping you remember that special someone on Valentine's Day in your own special way. Happy Valentine's Day!