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How my novel, mapping Utah, came to be — and what it taught me

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In November 1989, I asked a remarkable woman to marry me.

That didn’t go well.

So I drank myself into a stupor deepened by self-pity and hacked away all night long at a Macintosh SE (Remember those? Two floppy drives?). In the morning, I had an evil headache, more questions about women than I could ever answer, and a 30-page short story.

Such was the sulking, ignoble, drunken genesis of mapping Utah.

That story lay dormant for half a decade, buried in a chaotic array of papers accumulated during study for my master’s degree. It emerged from hiding in 1994 during research for my doctorate. I’d just finished my course work and was supposed to be working on my dissertation.

As all doc students know, aptly timed and brilliantly executed procrastination is a requirement for a successful dissertation. So I procrastinated. (May my adviser, Trager, forgive me.) The short story beget a longer story, about 100 pages. That, too, slunk into hibernation among copies of mass communication research articles I never wanted to face again.

In 1998, the longer story crept unbidden out of a box I had not unpacked since arriving at St. Bonaventure University in 1996. Hmm, I thought. Beats grading the inept writing of freshmen. So, night after night, I wrote more.

Thus begat Lesson No. 1: Don’t over think it. I had written as far as Kara’s desperate flight on her mountain bike from a rest area just west of Green River. Noah had yet to appear in the sky above her unconscious body in his ultralight aircraft.

But I kept rewriting and editing this first third of the book. My logic: Have to get it just right. It had to be perfect before I could continue. My friend Greg Stene intervened: “Why?” he asked.

Greg knows me well. He pressed me: “Why haven’t you moved on to introducing these two people?” I admitted I didn’t know how. I didn’t know what Noah would or should say to Kara and what Kara would or should say to Noah.

“Denny,” Greg said, “You’ve thought about these people for years. Just put them together and get the hell out of their way.”

He was right. I did not write the last two-thirds of mapping Utah. Kara and Noah did.
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United Airlines and its ‘calculated misery’: happy customers just aren’t needed to make money

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The future of Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, has just been re-accommodated.

You remember him, of course. After airport dragoons dragged a boarded, seated, paying customer off a United aircraft, Munoz’s first PR apology contained what Scholars & Rogues has called the “word of the year”: “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

telemmglpict000125651009-large_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqbe6o56qrl4zbrlmqqi7ubfvse9jsn00kzbur3ixhagoWell, that’s cost him. Munoz had been groomed to move upstairs from CEO to chairman of United Continental Holdings, the airline’s owner. (You do remember, of course, that Continental agreed to merge with United seven years ago.) Well, Munoz won’t get that top job.

United’s twin clusterfucks of policy execution (overbooking issues) and PR aftermath (“re-accommodated”) have derailed Munoz’s career — well, a little. He may lose about $500,000 from his bonus, because it’s tied in part to what airlines call KPI — key performance indicators as indicated in consumer satisfaction surveys. But don’t shed a tear for Munoz — he received $18.7 million in total compensation for 2016, more than triple that of 2015.

But that’s not the only consequence for United executives. From Barry Meier’s New York Times story:

The company, United Continental Holdings, is also adjusting its incentive compensation program for senior executives to make it “directly and meaningfully tied to progress in improving the customer experience.” [emphasis added]

Really, United? We’re supposed to buy that? The cruel, inhuman removal of bloodied, injured Dr. David Dao from United Express flight 3411 marks a nadir of United’s attitude towards its customers. United could care less, because it has no need whatsoever to improve the customer experience.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

April 22, 2017 at 4:20 pm

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Anniversary journalism? Well, mostly it just sucks.

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In early April 1970, I walked into the newsroom of my hometown newspaper and asked the editor if he knew anyone at the state department of natural resources. I’d just received my undergraduate degree in geology. I could do that kind of work for a while before I returned to university for master’s and doctoral degrees and to eventually live happily in Alaska as its state geologist.

best-earth-day-poster-ideas-pictures-2016I walked out of that newsroom as a journalist. (I lied about being able to type.) The editor needed another sportswriter but couldn’t hire one full time. He needed an environmental writer (the first Earth Day was two weeks away) but he couldn’t hire a full-time one.

I could do both, he judged. He hired me. I wrote about Sen. Gaylord Perry’s first teach-in on April 22. For the next six weeks, I wrote “green” and follow-up Earth Day stories in the afternoon, and local sports in the evening.

But come June, the editor asked for fewer “green” stories and more sports stories. By July, I’d more or less become a full-time sports writer.

In March 1975, five years later, I was asked to produce a slew of Earth Day anniversary stories. Then, a few weeks after Earth Day, no more stories. Ditto 10 years later and 15 years later.

That introduced me to anniversary journalism. I witnessed that with the rise of fall of Earth stories every five years in my newspaper and many, many others.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

April 22, 2017 at 4:16 pm

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Live in a rural area? Can you find a doctor when you need one?

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The vascular surgeon who removed my gangrenous gall bladder last month received his early medical training in Lahore, Pakistan. He’s been a member of the medical community in my rural valley for more than three decades.

eimyxgertMy primary-care physician for the past 20 years received his medical training in Taiwan. My urologist for a decade was an Iranian-American. The surgeon who removed a subcutaneous growth from my right elbow is a Pakistani-American. So is the internist who treated a pulmonary issue. He’s been here more than two decades.

Those who live in rural areas likely know, or have, doctors with surnames they might think uncommon. Yet all my foreign-born physicians are American citizens with deep ties to the community in which I live. They’ve taken good care of me.

But why have these wonderful doctors settled here, in rural America?

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 28, 2017 at 4:06 pm

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Unnamed sources? Journalists should teach readers why they were used

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On Thursday, four journalists for CNN reported:

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.

CATEGORY: JournalismInformation. Indicates. Associates. Communicated. Suspected. Operatives. Possibly. Coordinate. Information. US officials.

Huh? Could this lede be any more vague? This lede is all may have — which leaves open the possibility of may not have.

The story, reported by Pamela Brown, Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, and Shimon Prokupecz, contains unnamed sources in 10 of the story’s 18 paragraphs. The FBI director is named, but only in reference to stories reported earlier. White House spokesman Sean Spicer and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov are named, but only in chiding the findings of the story. Two paragraphs near the end of the story contain no sources and appear to be the conclusions of the reporters.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 23, 2017 at 6:26 pm

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If Congress decides to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, keep tabs on who gets it

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The grades are in. The nation’s infrastructure is close to failing.

The 2017 report card of the American Society of Civil Engineers, posted today, gives the infrastructure on which America depends for commerce, defense, recreation, flight, food, water, waste — almost everything — an overall grade of D+.

From the ASCE report:

aging-infrastructureThe 2017 grades range from a B for Rail to a D- for Transit, illustrating the clear impact of investment – or lack thereof – on the grades. Three categories – Parks, Solid Waste, and Transit – received a decline in grade this year, while seven – Hazardous Waste, Inland Waterways, Levees, Ports, Rail, Schools, and Wastewater – saw slight improvements. Six categories’ grades remain unchanged from 2013 – Aviation, Bridges, Dams, Drinking Water, Energy, and Roads.

The areas of infrastructure that improved benefited from vocal leadership, thoughtful policymaking, and investments that garnered results.

Scholars & Rogues has long considered addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs essential for the nation’s economic, cultural, resource, and domestic security (see here, here, here, and here). But it’s a topic that until recently has not received the attention its badly needed remediation demands. The ASCE report demands close inspection by citizens and politicians alike — followed by “thoughtful policymaking.”

President Donald wants to spend at least one trillion dollars on infrastructure repairs. First and foremost, that’s not enough: The 2017 ASCE report recommends two trillion dollars over 10 years to fix most of what’s flawed. Then, of course, there’s the need to budget for continuing maintenance of a regenerated infrastructure.

Questions abound beyond defining the desperate need for action most Americans now recognize.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 9, 2017 at 6:14 pm

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The ‘enemy of the American People’ doesn’t work at your local newspaper

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It engenders anger to know the president of the United States says that what I did for a living for 20 years — and what I’ve spent 25 years teaching — represents the acts of “an enemy of the American People.”

CATEGORY: JournalismPresident Donald, titularly “the most powerful man in the world,” will eventually learn not to pick fights with people who buy ink in 55-gallon drums — and have plenty of digital and video ink to spare.

He’s awakened a slumbering watchdog. Recall journalism’s reactions to President Nixon’s overt and covert deceits. The nation’s best newspapers rose to challenge the president — and Nixon lost. Trust in the executive branch withered. Remember, too, the swell of entrants to the nation’s journalism programs (well, after “All the President’s Men” hit the big screen). Will that happen again in President Donald’s first term?

President Donald’s fortunate in the timing of his presidency. The last 20 years have left journalism in a weakened, altered state. Reasons are many — management reacting too late to the challenge of the internet, a decline in interest in the field among the young, and massive losses of revenue prompting executives to pare the workforce of daily print journalists by 20,000 positions, about 39 percent.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

February 27, 2017 at 2:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The overlooked battlefield in the war against the press

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CNN reporter Jeremy Desmond asked Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, under fire because of four deaths at his jail, for an interview. On Friday, Clarke replied on Twitter:

Donald Trump has labeled CNN as fake news. When Pres. Trump says CNN is ok again, then I might.

democracy-in-americaThe sheriff — an elected public official — has refused to respond to a press request for an interview. This particular sheriff has a nationwide reputation as a supporter of President Donald and has been considered for a position in the Donald administration.

No law compels anyone, elected or not, to speak to a journalist. But those who voted for Clarke ought to wonder how, and by whom, his performance should be examined. More troubling, however, is this: Clarke is unlikely to be the last city, county, or state elected public official, feeling empowered by President Donald’s disdain for the press, to withhold information the public is lawfully entitled to.

Imagine a reporter in a small town in a state somewhere between the coasts. She asks the town clerk (an elected public official) for the agenda of the next meeting of the town council. The town clerk refuses — without explanation. The council itself decides to change its meeting date and time without posting a legally required public notice of its intent to meet. The reporter asks the town clerk for a copy of the minutes of the council’s unannounced meeting and is again refused. The reporter calls the chair of the town council and asks for an interview. She is rebuffed.

Expect occurrences of this scenario, which journalists have experienced time and again, to increase.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

January 29, 2017 at 3:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized