Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Serenity Out of Gas

It could have been worse, or so I keep telling myself. The price tag for my stupidity is pretty high, however.

A new hard drive with lifetime warranty, plus data retrieval of whatever they can rescue from my dead drive. A new battery, required because my laptop was declared vintage within the last couple of weeks. That means Apple will no longer manufacture the parts, and since my battery was about to die, I needed to get a new battery while they're still available.

Therefore I was going to postpone my planned RAM upgrade until I could recover from this financial gut-punch. However, I figured out that if I did the RAM now, it wouldn't cost me any additional labor costs and it came with a lifetime warranty, as opposed to the 'crack the case and pray' warranty that comes when I do the work myself.

Total cost: $525. To be fair, the cost would have been the same if I hadn't been stupid. However, I wouldn't be sitting here praying that they are able to rescue my files.

See, I had a horrible realization on my way to the indie Machead shop. I'd been approaching this with the mindset that I hadn't backed up in about five months. Stupid, yes. I was thinking of the photos I'd taken, the financial records, the manuscript to the new book, travel itineraries.

But I'd forgotten that the reason I hadn't backed up was that my backup drive was corrupted. Um. The backup drive was corrupted. Not only had I not backed up in five months, but my old backups were likely gone. Therefore, everything I'd done since the 1990s was at risk.

And still is. The Macheads were reasonably confident they could rescue most if not all the data; the old drive has bad sectors and cannot boot, but it is showing up as existing, which is a promising sign. No guarantees, they said, but I stand a good chance.

As the parts ship from Apple, I am waiting to see how much they can save from Serenity. Yes, I named my laptop the day I got her. Why Serenity? What a ship is, is freedom. She lets me fly.

The timing sucks. Well, there's never a good time to get socked with a $525 repair bill. But it's especially unpleasant because a) we are still waiting on the outcome of the Stolen iPhone Saga, and b) next week, my son and I are supposed to go on a road trip.

We're going to Baltimore to see my niece Alexis graduate from high school. We're going to meet my new baby niece Olivia - born two days before our wedding - and spend some time with the family. I'm going to show Ian my old stomping grounds in Baltimore. And if I can afford it, we're going to go into Washington D.C. and Ian will fulfill his lifelong wish of seeing the Lincoln Memorial, the Mall and the White House. Or at least driving past them.

It's a mother-son road trip, something we're really looking forward to now that we have a decent car that will actually make it. Ian is especially excited about Washington - when he heard it was possible to go to the nation's capital while visiting my sister, his eyes bugged out and he exclaimed, "Are you flipping serious??"

Only now I'm wondering how I can feed the teenage boy that eats like a football team for a week on the road when we just emptied the fund on a computer repair. Thus, a plan.

• I have put both Gethsemane and Infinity on sale for the time being (the former is available on Kindle Unlimited) in the hopes of encouraging extra sales. If you haven't picked either of these up, now is an excellent time to do so.

• As always, my paperbacks are available on LiteraryUnderworld.com and usually at prices cheaper than Amazon. For the time being, you can get a 10 percent discount with the code CARD15.

• Finally, some of you have asked if you can help directly. After consideration... yes. I will take Paypal at booksales@elizabethdonald.com But it's not a donation per se! For any amount given to this problem, I will send you an art print. So be sure your PayPal has a current address attached. If you request it, you can even get one of the new Elmwood Cemetery photos. They haven't even been put out in the etsy shop yet, because they only exist on my dead hard drive and Mpix.com. Ordering prints off Mpix might be the only way they ever see the light of day.




Thanks for the kind advice over the last couple of days, folks. This too shall pass, as they say. And I am determined to see my nieces and show my son the Lincoln Memorial, even if I have to walk.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bad sector

Let me preface this by saying that snarky or even well-meaning comments about Apple really will not be welcome at this time. I can't believe how often I have to say this, but seriously, guys.

I am quite stupid.

It's not like I don't know the golden rule of computers: Thou Shalt Back Up. I'm actually quite good about it, usually. My mobile devices back up daily to the cloud. My laptop backs up to an external drive I keep on my desk. It isn't wireless, so I had to remember to physically plug in my laptop for backing up, but it works.

Or it did. A few months ago, my external drive went kablooey. That's a technical term. We planned to replace it, but we were stony broke that month - like, tuna and macaroni broke.

We also knew that the house wifi router was three years old and getting twitchy. So we discussed it, and decided that we would kill two birds with one expensive stone. The Airport Time Capsule is an awesome dual-band router and a 3TB wireless backup drive. We would wait and buy one. Then all our devices would back up more easily, which meant backups would actually happen.

Yeah, you know where it's going.

We kicked the can down the road for months. We were busy. Deadlines to meet, shows to do. I had a health issue, Jim was fighting college math. Sales were okay in first quarter, but don't ask me about Christmas. Black Friday indeed. Every once in a while I'd fret, but we had the cascade of problems with Ian's computer, and the stolen iPhone (which is STILL not resolved), and I just didn't get around to it.

Even when my laptop started slowing down and acting twitchy, I thought, "I really need to upgrade the RAM so I can go to the next OS." Somewhere in there I might have remembered that I still wasn't backing up.

Last night my hard drive crashed. Repair attempts in recovery mode were unsuccessful, as was an OS reinstall. Thus another trip to the Genius Bar, and they diagnosed bad sectors on the drive. Bad enough that it won't boot or take an OS. 

It's also six years old, which qualifies as vintage, so they can't help me. There's an indie Machead shop that can install a new drive and attempt to rescue my data. Price tag is unknown at this time. This would have been a good month for the Kindles to kick off.

The money is important, but I'm simply heartsick about the data. I can reconstruct financial records and contracts from other sources, perhaps. The new book's manuscript is a tad more concerning; I am hopeful the editor who has it in hand can send it back to me. 

The photos... oh God, the photos. The Elmwood Cemetery set exists only on my laptop and Mpix.com. They're not even on the store yet; I was working on that last night. It would be disturbing if I could order the prints but did not have the images. Not to mention all the wedding photos to re-gather from our friends.

Wish me luck tomorrow, friends. Whatever luck exists for people who kick the can down the road too many times. And go back up your stuff.

Labels: ,

Monday, May 04, 2015

Weekend Update: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good

• Boy's theatrical debut was delightful fun, and he had a smashing time. I had not seen the scaled-down community theater version of Les Miserables before, and as my dad put it, the very young, energetic cast was obviously giving it absolutely everything they had. Boy was terrific as an ensemble player. He was a disturbingly convincing drunk, which means he's seen too many cons, and died most heroically on the barricade. (Spoilers!)

I was not prepared for it to be so stressful! I was much more nervous than he was, hoping nothing went wrong. My stomach was in knots! But I was even less prepared for my emotional reaction to seeing Boy on the stage. The theater meant a great deal to me as a young woman, and I have never once regretted my decision to study it. I also have not regretted my decision to give it up, but I was overwhelmed by emotion when I saw Boy up on the stage obviously having so much fun "At the End of the Day."

• The Author Fair went off nicely, and most of the authors seemed to have a good time: good conversation, a handful of sales. I was not as successful as I hoped in getting feet up the steps to the fair, so I will have to set my thinking cap for better plans to get more foot traffic in the room. I want to make it truly worth the authors' time, and that means more feet in the room. Still, almost everyone sold something, and most said they would like to come back.

• The Relay Cafe and Relay Sunday were a terrific success! We waaaaay overplanned on the chili, but feeding the church with it worked out nicely - and several people took containers of it back home. In the end, there was only enough left for tonight's dinner. That works for me, because I'm tired. However, the combined take for the American Cancer Society was nearly $400, and that makes me happy.

• Visiting with the folks is always fun, reminding me how much we miss them and that they really aren't that far away. They came into town for the play, and treated us to a ballgame after church on Sunday. In between we caught up, and they brought me that awesome brown sugar from the Mennonite community as well! Mmm, baking.

The Bad

• Boy's brand-fucking-new iPhone was stolen when we were at the ballpark. I was hoping it was just lost and someone would turn it in, but we received a report that someone tried to hock it this morning. We are working with the St. Louis Police and our carrier to resolve the situation. If you've got good thoughts to spare, we could use them; I literally signed the agreement one week ago and am obligated to two years of payments on that goddamn phone, found or not. Boy is devastated, not just because of the phone, but the backstage pictures and wacky selfies from his theatrical debut.

• So of course, his laptop decides to misplace its hard drive tonight. For those keeping track at home, this laptop had a bad air card. We brought it in for a replacement air card, which also failed. Then they replaced the logic board and the hard drive. For the brand new hard drive to fail, something is very odd. Back to the store it goes...

• And if I didn't have enough to keep myself occupied, Paypal has randomly decided to pick my business account for extra scrutiny. I'm supposed to submit my driver's license, proof of address and proof of Social Security number. Gee, thanks. I feel so much more secure knowing that you guys are on the case - and that my personal information is "safe" in your hands. But since my various enterprises require that I use Paypal, comply I shall.

The good news is, anyone who stole my identity would likely give it back with their apologies.

The Ugly

• Today is the only night off in a stretch of 12 days. I have too many night gigs. I think I might do something crazy like go to bed before 2 a.m.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Experiment

One of the fun things about an author fair, even one with light foot traffic, is the chance to talk business with other writers.

Chatting with the other authors at this weekend's signing convinced me to try KDP Select for one item as a test case. I've not been terribly fond of the exclusivity requirement; I am concerned about what Amazon's market dominance means for the rest of us, and I have generally followed the philosophy of having my work available in as many formats as possible. If my readers want it in iBooks or Smashwords, they should be able to get it there.

However, my standalone novellas have not been terribly successful on the other formats. The difference is drastic. In a strictly-business review of sales, I lose very little by taking a novella and putting it exclusively on Kindle for three months. I'm conflicted about it, but if I look it at solely as a businesswoman, it's an experiment worth doing.

Some authors have said they lost a bucket on KDP Select. The majority, however, say it has done wonders for sales. We shall see.

For the next 90 days, Gethsemane will be available on KDP Select, unless I end the experiment early. (In which case it would be pulled entirely from sale, since KDP Select requires the 90-day option.)

There are very few items in my bibliography that I have control over, because all my work has been traditionally published except for two novellas to which I could not sell first rights. Those novellas are my experiment. I guess we'll see where it goes.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A non-ranty update on various schtuff

I expended all my rants earlier. I'm too tired for any more. Instead, you get a cross-section of my life.

• This week is shaping up to be Hell Week. We get these from time to time here at Donald Smith Gillentine Inc., and usually it's those weeks when I have meetings every night after work.

For once it's not me. This week is Boy's final dress rehearsals for Les Miserables. He is working hard, five or six hours a night after school AND after math tutoring, without complaint. Boy has never been one for a strong work ethic, so to speak, so I am pretty impressed with him. Even if he has broken his glasses yet again.

Man is gearing up for finals and as usual is apoplectic. The folks are coming this weekend, so I am attempting to clean up the house, in between all the other nonsense. Of course the play falls on finals weekend and the Author Fair/Relay Cafe and Relay Sunday, because that's how we roll, and we have Cardinals tickets and will likely miss the baby shower of dear friends because we cannot clone ourselves. Who organized this thing? Oh yeah, me.

• Sean Taylor was kind enough to let me yammer on his blog this week about Nocturne Infernum, the unpublished Sanctuary, the thing I regret most and other nonsense. Check out "Missives from Schenectady," and thanks to Sean for hosting me!

• This weekend is the Author Fair at St. Andrews' book sale, as well as the Relay Cafe, and I am baking like a madwoman. I feel somewhat less prepared than last year, even though I know what to expect this time. We're short on volunteers and my usual supply of slave labor is reduced with Man and Boy distracted or booked. But it's as prepared as I can make it... except for the baking. I did mention the baking?

Yes, that means that after work each day I will bake, and after work on Friday, I will be moving tables and making a giant pot of chili as well as setting up the cookies, cupcakes and cakes at the church. If you want to come see us, we'll be at St. Andrews, 408 Hillsboro, Edwardsville from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Saturday morning, we all troop over there with doughnuts, get the authors set up and start selling and signing - as well as minding the cafe in between the volunteer labor. By noon Saturday, Boy must go over to the theater, where he will suit up to be Third Doomed Student From the Right as he has a matinee performance. The signing and cafe close at 4 p.m., after which we must clean up and get the tables back in place. Then dinner with my parents, and we attend the last show of Les Miserables. *cheers Boy*

Sunday is Relay Sunday, which means we are responsible for the treats and hoodwinking our parishioners for donations for Relay for Life. It also means we are responsible for cleanup, which also means we're short on volunteers because oops we have Cardinals tickets and must leave no later than 12:15. Um.

After the game, I will collapse into a pile of overcommitted mush. Possibly with rum. While Jim goes to work.

• In the meantime, technology is abuzz here at DSG Inc. Boy has a MacBook Pro that is quite the beauty - a better machine than mine, despite being four years old. We got it secondhand as a gift, and unfortunately a few months later the wifi card was kaput. So I paid about $125, I think, for a new wifi card, cable and installation. Alas, another month and that card went dead, which rather annoyed me as I returned it to the Apple Store and requested warranty fulfillment.

They replaced the wifi card. And then they saw that the logic board was failing, so they replaced that too. And then the hard drive had dead spots, so they replaced that too. All of this was free. Apple has its faults, but one thing I can never fault is their service. Boy essentially got a brand new laptop inside his old case.

Alas, my laptop needs work and it is too old for me to take it back to Apple. Five years is their limit, and my old girl is pushing seven. And still going strong, mind you, but I'm doing more video and photography and the hard drive is simply not sufficient for my needs anymore. She needs a RAM upgrade, a terabyte drive and I've been advised that replacing the battery would be a good idea quite soon; I'm getting "service battery" warnings and they're about to stop making this model battery.

So I'm debating whether to do the work myself or take it to the local Mac chop shop. If I do it myself, the parts will cost me $240. If I take it to the chop shop, it'll cost $130 more, but it comes with a lifetime guarantee and they transfer my data for me. (Neither includes the battery; I'm pretty confident in my own ability to do simple cleaning and repairs on the inside of my laptop, but there are some things with which you do not screw.) I am leaning toward biting the bullet and paying the extra; not so much for the labor, but for the warranty.

In the meantime, we're planning to switch to an Airport Extreme router and wireless backup system, which should simplify backups here at DSG Inc. All we have to do is sell a kidney to pay for it... so it's a good thing we've finally got a buyer for that old armoire. I don't want to sell a kidney.

Why am I not buying a new laptop when mine is so elderly? Because a laptop with the specs I need would run $1,150-2,150, depending on whether I went with a solid-state drive. Not. Happening. Besides, with new insides, this old girl could have another five years in her.

• And here I am baking and writing whiny blog entries when I should be finishing the SPJ annual report. For the record: I suck at paperwork. Two days to go, and I will make it, but next time I'll believe them when they say start early. I don't use the word procrastination; I prefer "deadline-oriented."

Between that, SPJ Ethics Week, and the launch of the new computer system at work, it isn't really a low-stress week. It is, however, better than two weeks ago, in which I wrote twelve stories and shot and edited five videos. That makes the SPJ paperwork look like a picnic lunch...

• Finally, on a serious note: Today I learned a friend's husband has cancer. And that makes FOUR this year. Four friends and family, people from my personal circle, diagnosed just this year. It's April. I do weary of this disease striking everywhere around me. It reminds me of how far behind I am in coordinating my Relay team's efforts - it's been a hell of a spring so far - and makes me more determined than ever to meet our goal.

So buckle in for a lot of Relay stuff in the next month. Beginning with this: if you have a prize you can donate to our raffle, please email me ASAP. I want to get as much as possible in advance this year. And come by this Saturday for some chili. I promise it'll be worth it.


Labels: , , , , , , ,

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Snippets

Boy: What's for dinner?
Me: Hambone split pea soup. It's been cooking all day. 
Boy: Hm.
Me: Mmm, doesn't that smell good?
Boy: It smells like soup.
Me: Oh nice. You're going to appreciate home cooking two years from now when you're eating cafeteria food all the time.
Boy: I'm going to have homecooked meals every Sunday when I come visit my mom.
Me: You better. And I'll make hambone split pea soup from scratch.
Boy: ...

---------
Scene: Driving past the garden bridge where our wedding photos were taken.

Man: Ohhh...
Me: Are you tearing up?
Man: Yes.
Me: Again?
Man: Hush.
Me: Marshmallow.
Boy: Control your husband.
Me: Yeahright. Like I could.

---------

Scene: Dropping Boy off for play rehearsal. As he gets out, a teenage girl disembarks from a black SUV. As she approaches the door, her (presumed) father calls out, "Have fun, sweetie pie!"

The girl whirls, mortified beyond words. "DAAAAAD! No!" Boy is properly holding the door for her, but with a gigantic smirk on his face. It took everything I had not to roll down the window and call out, "Break a leg, Snookums!"

As I drove past the SUV, the dad was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. I gave him a thumbs-up.

Later...

Me: I so wanted to call out, "Good luck, Snookums!"
Boy: Thank you for not.
Me: We parents just live to humiliate you.
Boy: And you do it very well.
Me: Well, we embarrass you so much just by merely existing that we really have to work hard to truly humiliate you. 

-----------

Boy: *suspicious sounds*
Me: Don't drink the milk!
Boy: Why not? 
Me: Because we need it for breakfast.
Boy: Tell Jim to get some after work.
Me: I do not tell him to do anything. I will suggest it.
Boy: *more suspicious sounds*
Me: What are you doing now?
Boy: Making a sandwich.*
Me: You've already had two dinners!
Boy: I'm a growing boy, I need sustenance!
Me: You've done quite enough of that, you can stop.
Boy: No.

* Sandwich = two tuna sandwiches and three slices of Italian bread, after an entire container of leftover Chinese. And still chewing.

------------

Me: Tell me you you fed The Thing before you took him to rehearsal.
Man: He fed himself. He ate some stuff.
Me: Stuff.
Man: Yes. Stuff.
Me: Was it healthy stuff?
Man: Ummmm yeah
Me: Wood chips? Maybe kibble?
Man: He grabbed a big bowl of cereal. I told him there was other stuff to eat.
Me: Am I going to have to cook an actual meal when I get home at 9 p.m. on a Sunday, smartypants?
Man: He only wanted cereal.
Me: Darling love, of course he only wants cereal. He's a teenager. He's not going to volunteer for carrot sticks and fruit or God forbid grilled chicken.
Man: I told him there were sausage and biscuits. But said nah.
Me: Boy.

--------------

Man: Oh
Man: Ohhhhh
Man: Ohhhhhhhhh
Man: Now I can say oh all I want.
Me: Whaaaat.
Man: You have unlimited texts now.
Man: Ohhhhhhh
Me: So you feel free to bug me at all times with texts that only say Oh?
Man: Well now I didn't say that...

Labels: ,

Friday, April 24, 2015

Show Your Work

If there's one thing that makes me go from zero to apoplectic in 2.5 seconds, it's the ongoing insistence that journalism is dead or dying, that no one does serious investigative work anymore, and that it doesn't matter.

I have long and generally profane rants that launch on automatic at such statements. In the interest of preserving my stomach lining, I've tried to avoid them of late. One must be on social media, but one must also learn to "walk away, walk away..." Yet I seem to have gotten into several of these discussions this week, because once again we're named as "worst job in America." As if that hasn't been happening for decades. It's hard work, and enormously underappreciated. So we all just snicker ruefully at that damn list and go back to our desks.

This time, I'm going to show our work. Here is some of the "useless, unnecessary" journalism of the past year, from that "dying" newspaper industry:

• The Charlotte Observer conducted an investigation of the failings of medical examiners to effectively investigate deaths in North Carolina, which lead to uncertainties for grieving families, faulty insurance decisions, and in some cases, unsolved homicides. It followed up on an investigation of one coroner in particular, then discovered that the careless work was a pattern widespread in the state.

• The Boston Globe exposed a poorly-regulated and profit-driven housing system that left thousands of college students in Boston living in unsafe, even deadly conditions. Scofflaw landlords rented apartments that didn't come close to meeting safety standards, and one student died trapped in an illegal attic apartment when a fire broke out.

• The Miami Herald dug into tens of thousands of public records, lawsuits and hundreds of interviews over two years to investigate the failures of the child protective services division in Florida (not unlike the Belleville News-Democrat's "Lethal Lapses" investigation, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Award in 2007). The coverage spurred $50 million in new protective services, rewriting the state's laws and toughening requirements for the agency.

• The Wall Street Journal documented a significant cancer risk to women of a routine uterine fibroid treatment, which led to a change in the prescribed medical treatment, and won a Pulitzer for its "Medicare Unmasked" project compiling a database of Medicare payments to specific providers. Want to find out the top 200 billing names for Medicare in Illinois? Just enter it in the database. Quest Diagnostics comes first, in case you were wondering.

• The Rock Hill, S.C. Herald investigated the misdeeds of a university president, including huge raises granted outside legal channels and hiring her own husband. This led to the resignation of the Winthrop University president.

• The Baltimore Sun uncovered a pattern of teachers being physically attacked by students in Baltimore city schools. Sometimes they were the targets of violence, other times injured while physically breaking up fights between students. It began as a look at the district's rising worker's compensation costs, until they discovered the number of students suspended for physically attacking staff was triple the number of worker's comp claims. Some teachers reported having to break up fights three times a day or more, but were being discouraged from filing reports.

• The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star in California investigated two areas of conflict surrounding services for the handicapped in a five-part series. They documented stores and restaurants that failed to follow the law, and also uncovered fabricated claims from some plaintiffs abusing the law.

• The Kansas City Star dug into the death of a college student following a DUI boating accident. In the process they uncovered a series of mistakes by the arresting officer and a cover-up by his superiors, spurring a reexamination of agency procedures by the state.

• The Post and Courier of Charlotte, S.C. examined a horrifying domestic violence rate of one death every twelve days, putting the state among the top ten for women murdered by men. The series spurred new proposals to increase domestic violence penalties and take guns away from convicted batterers (stalled in the legislature). The paper won the Pulitzer Prize on Monday for this series.

• The Sacramento Bee investigated the service records of area nursing homes and a practice of hiding the homes' full ownership to keep patients and families from assessing their true quality.

• The Los Angeles Times has chronicled the four-year California drought with dozens of stories compiled on its site, detailing every aspect of the long-running drought and the historic water restrictions recently imposed by the state. They also were Pulitzer finalists for a minute-by-minute breaking coverage of a shooting spree online that "evolved into print coverage that delved into the impact of the tragedy," according to the Pulitzer committee.

• The Hilton Head Island Packet fought in court to unseal case files where local judges had bowed to rich and powerful developers and politicians to hide the cases from the public's eye.

• The Tulsa (Okla.) World investigated the botched execution of a death-row inmate, focusing not only on the execution, but on the crimes that led him to that room. It followed through the repercussions of the botched execution and started a national debate on the death penalty and the methods by which it is carried out.

• The Oregonian uncovered the prevalence of Mexican drug cartels in Oregon - yes, really - that were responsible for multiple deaths by bombs and execution-style murders. Reporter Les Zaitz conducted more than 250 interviews, including convicted traffickers and former DEA agents, continuing at the risk to his own life.

• McClatchy's Washington bureau uncovered a back-room dispute between Congress and the CIA of policies regarding torture of suspected terrorists, a "destructive standoff" during the investigation leading up to release of the controversial report.

• A coordinated effort among eight newspapers investigated a huge number of contractors on federal projects that broke the rules, costing taxpayers billions of dollars and costing workers benefits and protections. The newspapers involved in "Contract to Cheat" included the Raleigh News and Observer, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Charlotte Observer, the Columbia State, the Fresno Bee, the Kansas City Star, the McClatchy Washington Bureau and of course, the Belleville News-Democrat.

• As you probably know if you're in this area, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch won a Pulitzer for its photography during the Ferguson riots, including this photo below. If you were here, and you work in the business, you know what the reporters and photographers covering Ferguson went through. They were attacked, beaten, robbed, tear-gassed - and those are just the reporters I know personally.

Photo by Robert Cohen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 13, 2014

• At the risk of crowing about my own colleagues, the Belleville News-Democrat recently published a massive investigation of rape cases in southern Illinois. Some rape allegations were "cleared" by responding police within five minutes - barely time for the victim to say hello - and others dismissed for reasons like "victim uncooperative," which was a hell of a shock to the victim who reported it, endured the rape kit, agreed to testify and whose attacker had confessed. In fact, over the last eight years, 70 percent of rape cases never made it to a courtroom, even though 95 percent were able to identify their attackers. The investigation has spurred a state task force to reexamine how police and prosecutors approach sex crimes in Illinois.

• And our current heroes, the tiny seven-member newsroom of the Daily Breeze in Torrance, Calif. They conducted a six-month investigation of corruption at Centinela Valley Union High School, despite having their newsroom reduced from 14 in the past five years. (Also, only seven reporters for a 65,000-circulation paper? Holy crow. Even by newspaper journalism standards, that's insane.) The superintendent resigned and there is now a criminal investigation of widespread corruption in the school district.

This is just a sampling, drawn from the awards season of one year. It doesn't include the dogged resilience of newspaper reporters day after day for stories that don't win plaques and trophies. Reading this list fills me with pride; but not because I had a damn thing to do with it besides shoveling coal into the furnace every day along with the rest of us. I'm proud to be part of it in my own small way.

And I wanted, just once, for everyone else to see it. I might very well go full-metal reporter-rant on the next person who bitches about the so-called "mainstream media," about how we're useless and don't do anything important and newspapers are dead anyway. I am beyond apoplectic when people consider today's news to be only what someone else already posted on their goddamn Facebook feed. When I see people complaining about the news, and then backpedaling to say, "Well, it wasn't on CNN," I want to slap people. I'm not a very good politician.

Frankly, I don't know which pisses me off more: the people who have never worked in journalism and still think they know how it really works more than those of us in the trenches, or some disillusioned people in the industry who whine about our "dying" newspapers when they should damn well know better. Or they can get out. Go work in public relations, and good riddance.

We have problems. We lost the classified ad world to Craigslist, and we were slow to adapt to the internet. Are we underpaid? Oh, hell yes. We have one of the lowest-paying jobs in America that requires a college degree. And it hurts us, because we lose good people to other industries - not because they don't love the work, but because they simply can't afford to work at such a discount. These are issues that must be addressed. We were the canaries in the coal mine of the recession - when Circuit City went under, every newspaper in the nation lost an ad circular from its Sunday edition. That's the part nobody thinks about. And we will be the last to recover.

But if someone asked me what I do for a living, I could reply, "I work for a 24/7 news site. We provide local, regional, national and international news online in various formats, with a heavy emphasis on local and investigative news and features in text, graphics and video. More than 80 percent of adults in our coverage area read us, and those numbers are increasing by double-digit percentages every year. And we have a paper edition that is delivered to 50,000 locations every morning without fail."

That takes a long time to say, so I just say, "I'm a newspaper reporter." And I invariably get, "Aren't those dead?"

So read this list. And then consider how many other newspapers are doing work like this, investigating the things that cost jobs, dollars and lives in your own frigging town. Consider how many overworked, underpaid reporters are sitting at their desks on overtime pouring through ten thousand public documents to find the data on which they base their stories, only to be told that they literally don't exist. Because if it isn't on TV, it doesn't matter?

Think about that. And then think about what happens if there isn't a newspaper to unravel the ownership of the nursing home ducking its regulations, if nobody looks at the failures of a child protection agency to actually protect children, if nobody even asks if federal contractors are following the law when they take your tax dollars. Do you think CNN or some faraway news blogger gives a rat's ass about the layoffs in your kid's school district, or the proposed sales tax about to be enacted in your town?

Newspapers are not dead, dying, meaningless or invisible. Evolution always looks like death from the outside. We're just a little too busy doing the job to crow about it on late night.

But if we were gone, you wouldn't like the America you have left.

Labels: