I interviewed a LOT of people for The Hour. And now The Hour has interviewed me.

This is just a quick post, because I’m very excited about this article.

My old newspaper, the one that employed me for almost a decade, wrote an article about me and my book. How cool is that?

Maybe I shouldn’t be this excited. But for a long time, being an Hour reporter was a big part of my identity. I sent (what seems like) millions of emails to potential sources, starting with “Hi, my name is A.J., I’m a reporter for The Hour and I’m wondering if you are available for an interview…” Sometimes I wondered what it would be like to be interviewed myself. So, to get one of those interview inquiry emails from the paper I worked for, and from the person who actually took my position when I left, was kind of amazing.

Anyways, check out the article, by Leslie Lake of The Hour Newspapers. It made my day.

Sandy Hook: An essay, and some links that should be shared.

I’ve been trying to think of something to write here since the horrific violence that exploded in Newtown, a community only 15 minutes away from mine, on Friday. I’ve tried to think of something meaningful to add to the conversations about the tragedy that took the lives of 20 children, their educators, a mother and a violently troubled youth, but almost everything I’ve wanted to write has just seemed like an addition to the online noise that has surrounded the shootings.

Should I write about my friends who live in Newtown? I know many Newtowners; they are my fellow alums and my former teachers. They are my former students. They are my friends. Their children have lost their own friends now, and the pain of those parents as they cope with the grief of their  children is palpable.

Should I write about the media? I’ve been an education reporter, which often means covering tragedies involving the young.  If I were still in my old job, I would have been on the ground in Newtown, as some of my former co-workers are. It’s a thankless, horrible job they are doing, because as much as we thirst for information about a horror when we are nowhere near it, we resent the intrusion of the press when they are in our own backyards to supply the information demanded by the rest of the country. Don’t think the reporters aren’t affected by metabolizing and processing all the awful details so that the public can read them. My worst days were spent writing about the deaths of children, and I never covered anything as terrible as this.

Should I write about all the parents who have been answering tough questions all weekend? Now must be a hard time to be a parent. I admit that it’s selfish of me to have been grateful since Friday that I have no children, and that I’ve been spared the pain of that anxiety.

Should I write about politics? About mental health? About gun control? Surely enough noise is being made about all of that without me adding my own uninformed and unorganized opinions to the fray.

All I can do is acknowledge the tragedy and my reaction to it, and pass on to some of the things I’ve seen and read that matter:

First, a fund to donate to. I have this (indirectly) from a school administrator who recommends this as a legitimate donation site. And of course it is the United Way: Sandy Hook School Support Fund
UPDATE: Here is another fund, set up by the Sandy Hook Community members. This was shared with me by a Facebook friend who vouches for its legitimacy.
UPDATE: If you wish to make a donation in memory of a victim, the Newtown Patch today posted a list of the charities chosen by some of the victims’ families.

If you haven’t read “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” yet, you should. It’s a powerful and well-written essay about the state of mental health care in our country, and about the effect of a mentally ill child on a caregiver.

As, a follow-up, it’s helpful to read “I am Adam Lanza’s Psychiatrist.”

I haven’t organized my thoughts on gun control completely but Talking Points Memo offered a thought-provoking post on the subject a few days ago.

So that’s it, for now. Go. Live life. Grieve. Respect the grief of others. Acknowledge the validity of other people’s pain and work, and don’t take out the frustration we all feel on people who are just as stricken you are. That’s all I’ve got.

I get my first proof, and get very excited about some very local press.

This is the sort of thing you could see all the time if you followed my author page on Facebook.

Remember how yesterday, I posted that my proof for the physical copy of Beware the Hawk was coming very soon? Well it did – I got it yesterday, and everyone who follows my Facebook fan page was forced to look at a crazy photo of me holding it.

It was amazing. I ran around the house like a little kid. I stared at it. I read it. I stared at it some more. I waved it at my husband. It’s right next to me now.

And then I talked to my father on the phone and he told me that this week’s issue of my hometown newspaper, The Town Times, ran an announcement about my upcoming appearance at the Watertown Library. Now, I used to work at a local paper. I’ve placed people’s announcements. It was no biggie. If there was enough space for them, I put them in. Nothing to get worked up about. I could understand people getting excited if a reporter wrote about them and someone came out to take a photo, but a press release? Not exciting.

Well, I don’t know when I got un-jaded.

When my father told me that my press release was in the Town Times I flipped. I freaked out like Time Magazine had named me Person of the Year. Why? I don’t know. Probably because when I was a kid, it was my great ambition to make it into the Town Times. Whenever a photographer from the Town Times went to anything, I tried desperately to look extra involved in whatever they were photographing so that they would take my picture. And then the paper would come on Thursday and I inevitably wouldn’t be in the photo and I’d sulk.

Clearly this attention-hungry child lives on within me.

You know, if I knew I’d get this much of a rush from being in the Town Times, I would have let my mom submit my wedding announcement.

Who knows? Maybe my desire to get into journalism came from my weekly desire to see myself in the Town Times. I knew that I’d be guaranteed a byline whenever the paper came out. All in all, today was a very good day to be a writer from Oakville.

Dear college professors, I’m sorry I never truly appreciated you.

I was an indifferent student.

It’s true. I shouldn’t admit this, because now some of my own college students are subscribed to this blog, but I was woefully immature as a college freshman.

I grumbled at assigned readings, as if they were a punishment rather than a necessary part of a course. In-class exercises were designed to make my life miserable. Working in groups was something the professor made us do because he or she was lazy and did not want to lecture. Projects? Mid-terms? Final exams? Early morning classes?  All of these things were like Biblical plagues to me.

While my more academically-minded friends preferred tests with essay questions because they’d be able to BS their ways out of an answer they did not know, I preferred multiple choice, because I could pick the likely answer and be out of the test room quickly. I had a 1 in 4 chance of being right, which I figured were pretty good odds. You almost don’t even need to study for multiple choice. I liked True and False questions even better.

Admittedly, I test well. And I’m also a decent aural learner, so I was able to pick up information from in-class lectures. I must have been a frustrating student though, because although it was my education, I was never proactive about it. At least not as an undergrad.

What gets me now is my attitude toward my professors and the reading they assigned me. While I was freaking out because I had to read a novel in a week (no big task for me when it was a novel I wanted to read) or furiously powering through an all nighter to write the paper that would serve as my final exam, I would picture my professor relaxing at home, calmly watching television or sleeping peacefully while I wrestled with my work.

Now I know that few – if any – of my professors were relaxing while I did my readings.

I have class tonight. I just re-read my readings for the third time, completed several pages of notes and an outline,  and did a lot of supplemental research and prepped the class website for this evening’s class.

It might be said that I’m still cramming for class, but the difference this time, is that I did all my work back in November. Now I’m doing it again, but I only teach two classes. What must my professors at college, who taught at least four sections apiece, have been doing with their time before every class? And they made the lectures look effortless. They knew their readings backward and forward.

So if anyone who taught me at Trinity College between 1996-2000 – whether you were a full professor, grad student, or (like me) adjunct – is reading  this post, please know that Ann J. O’Connell, Class of 2000,  is sorry she took you for granted.


I consume many different kinds of media. I read my local newspaper in the morning, I follow several journalists on Twitter, read various news websites throughout the day and I read magazines like the New Yorker.  Two sources of news, however, command more of my attention than any other.

I’ll tell you about the one I’m proud of first. I spend a lot of time listening to two of NPR’s programs: All Things Considered and my favorite,  Marketplace, which has made business news palatable to me. Not only does Marketplace partner with the Freakanomics guys,  whoever is in charge of their music is awesome. No other business program lets me know how the stock market did during the day using “We’re In the Money” or wah-wah trombones, which is the only way I can understand it, since the actual stock prices make no sense to me.

My other big news source? Not nearly so highbrow. I read the kind of  gossip news that’s “reported” by the paparazzi. I’m talking about the sort of celebrity stories that pop up in my news reader when I attempt to check my email. Gone are the days when I tried to change my Yahoo settings so that real news would show up instead. I’ve given up. Now I want to know which teenage set of twins have moved into the Playboy Mansion with Hugh Hefner. And yes, I’d love to know how Kim Kardashian is coping these days.

None of these guys will be winning a Pulitzer anytime soon. But it doesn't keep me from reading them.

No matter that these news sites elevate useless people to celebrity status. No matter that it’s a waste of time to read it.  No matter that the agents of these sites are irresponsible journalists who infringe on the lives of famous people, sometimes putting them in physical danger. And yes, I’m aware that if celebrities were animals, there would be an outcry against this kind of unethically gathered news. But since the paparazzi is considered to be the price of fame, the only protest we ever see comes in the form of each new single and/or video released by Britney Spears.

The unintended consequence of spending so much time on two disparate news sources is that I’ve begun to mishear things. A few days ago, when the stock numbers were being read, I thought that Cher had fallen six percent. This summer I  was convinced I ‘d heard that Björk finally had a tax plan. And this week, during a story about a power plant, I heard that Japanese scientists had the Situation under control. I know what the reporter meant, but that didn’t stop me from seeing , in my mind’s eye, Michael Sorrentino from The Jersey Shore being held down while Japanese scientists forced him to put on a shirt.

I do know that I have to give up the celebrity news. There are nights when I’m not feeling great and instead of a junk food binge, I find myself wandering through the links on TMZ and OMG, clucking about Leann Rimes’ weight and trying to determine for myself is Ashton is really cheating on Demi. And no trip to a gossip site would be complete without checking in on Lindsay Lohan. But these binges are never satisfying. They’re like the spiritual equivalent of eating a meal from McDonald. I go in thinking I’m being wicked and indulgent and I come out feeling kind of sick.

So yes, I should definitely cut back. But I’m not going to lie. I’ll miss mishearing the news.

Democrat for a Day

True story.

I enjoy being not being registered with any political party. I like to think of myself as a political free agent, always free to vote for the candidate I like best, rather than feeling bound by party loyalty. As a journalist, I feel like it’s responsible for me to remain unaffiliated.

But today, my civic duty as a voter trumps my desire to appear impartial as a journalist, and so for at least 48 hours, I am a Democrat.

An important local primary is happening today  in Bridgeport. Two powerful mayoral candidates – Mayor Bill Finch and challenger Mary Jane Foster – are vying for the D slot on the ballot in November. This primary may well decide the mayoral race. True, we also have Republicans and Independent candidates running for mayor, but the Dems are the dominant party in town, and I felt that to properly participate in this race, I had to vote in the primary.*

I don’t like being affiliated. I don’t always agree with the National Democratic Party. But this isn’t the national party we’re talking about here. For me, local politics is infinitely more important than the national variety. In local politics we’re closer to the government, we’re closer to the politicians and there are fewer of us voting. We’re also choosing entry-level politicians who may or may not go on to state or national office. That gives us more of a voice at the local level.

To use my voice effectively, I felt I had to register as a Dem.

I don’t know if that means that I’m going to remain a Dem until we move out of town. I’m thinking about it – it might make sense to vote in each primary. But I may return to unaffiliated bliss by the end of the week. I haven’t yet made my decision.


*I shant say for whom I voted, because as a journalist who sometimes covers Bridgeport, I think it’s important to keep that sort of thing to myself, particularly in a blog post that will remain on the Internet forever.

The longest day.

I wasn’t going to write this post. I really wasn’t. I don’t have a good story to tell. I didn’t live in New York at the time. I didn’t lose anyone. I didn’t rescue anyone. I wasn’t even awake at the time the first airplane hit the twin towers. But after Phil Lemos’s post about his experience as a reporter on Sept. 11, 2001, I want to share my own story.

For Phil, the attack on Sept. 11 marked the end of his career as a reporter. But for me, the attack came at the beginning.

I’d only been a reporter for a week. A real reporter, that is. I’d spent a year making copies and emptying fax machines for the Boston Herald’s business desk before that. But then I put my resume online and surprise! The Norwalk Hour in Connecticut, a paper which covers several bedroom communities around New York, wanted to hire me. I moved to my very own apartment in Bridgeport on Sept. 3, and covered my first school board meeting on Sept. 4. I was due to cover another one on the evening of Sept. 11. My editor had told me to come into work at 3 p.m. that afternoon, to prepare to work until 11 or 12.

I rolled out of bed late on the 11th. My radio was still in a box. I didn’t have a television or an Internet connection. I did, for some reason, want to change my cell phone number to a CT-area number rather than keep my Massachusetts area code. So I dialed up AT&T and was connected to a frantic customer service representative.”Don’t you know?”  She was breathless. She told me everything. She told me the true stuff: two airplanes had flown into the World Trade Center in New York and one had hit the Pentagon in D.C.  She told me the rumors: there were 12 more planes in the air headed for tall buildings all over the nation. The poor woman was terrified. I think she told me that she worked in the Space Needle in Seattle. Wherever she was, she was evacuated, and we got off the phone. I yanked the radio out of the box in time to hear NPR’s coverage of the attacks. The correspondent had recorded the sound of a tower falling.

I drove like a maniac on I-95 S to get to work. The northbound lane was jammed with people headed away from New York. I was one of only a few headed south. No one knew what to expect that day. We thought the highways would be closed and we’d have to sleep in the newsroom. We thought that bodies would be put on trains and shipped to our morgues. One reporter said that toe tags were handed out at the train station. We were sent to different places, handed different numbers to call.

I have no memory of what I did on that particular day. But I do remember the days and weeks and months following the fall of the towers. I remember walking into the house of a woman whose husband worked in the towers. It had been a week, but she believed that the rescuers would find him and bring him home. I remember talking to survivors and grieving parents, children and spouses. There were endless memorial services, endless intrusions on the grief of people who’d lost their loved ones in a very public way.

Sept. 11 was everywhere that year. It became an election talking point instantly. We talked to schools about Sept.11 curriculum and security measures. Every time the security level rose or fell there was a story. Firefighters were interviewed. Policy was examined. I watched George Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ speech with a family that lost a grown son in the towers. I experienced that whole year as a journalist, and because I believed that the best thing I could do as a reporter would be to remain impartial, I suppressed my own emotions about the attacks. I thought of myself as a reporter first, then a human, then an American. I was 23, and believed myself to be uncompromising.

When my emotions arrived on the first anniversary of the attacks, they showed up as baseless rage.

I came into the newsroom to write up an early-morning memorial service and found the entire adverstising department gathered tearfully around our television, burning red, white and blue candles on my desk. I saw those candles and their box of tissues and I went quietly, furiously berserk. I wanted to knock the candles off my desk and scream. I wanted to ask them who exactly they thought they were, standing around, crying in my newsroom about Sept. 11 when I spent my days mired in the pain of  people who’d lost loved ones in the attacks. Really? Advertising gets to stand there and cry? What do they know about Sept. 11?  It felt like Sept. 11 had never ended for me. That whole year was Sept. 11, day after day after day, we kept waking up and going to work and it was still Sept. 11.

It felt like it would always be Sept. 11 and I was tired of the stories about sick rescuers and dying police dogs. I was tired of the photos pasted to walls. I was tired of memorial services and of lists of names and of talking to the bereaved and of seeing angry people who flew American flags from their vehicles. All of that just made me unbearably sad.  That was when I finally admitted to myself that Sept. 11 was my tragedy as well.

I didn’t say any of this to the advertising department. I just sat down and typed my article. I don’t know if that realization shaped me as a person or a reporter – like I said, I don’t have a very good Sept. 11 story. But I do think that as soon as I accepted my own feelings about Sept. 11, the year-long day ended, and Sept. 12 began. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s still Sept. 12. It may always be.

Why I Tweet

It seems like every time Twitter comes up in conversation, at least one person wants to know what it is and why it’s important to be Twitter-literate (Twitliterate? Twiterate?)

Why, when there are so many ways to communicate, would you join a service that allows you to write only 140 characters worth of text at a time? My husband, who is new to the Internet, has referred to it as “texting the world.” Who wants to do that?

I’ve had some doubts of my own lately. But then the last two weeks happened and I witnessed a variety of things take place on Twitter. These events ranged from the historic (the unrest in Egypt) to the adorable (watching Rupaul learn to tweet) to the personally relevant (The Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Washington D.C.) After all that, I’m in love with Twitter again. Continue reading

Shutting down the Internet is bad, shutting down journalists is worse.

UPDATE: Anderson Cooper and two AP correspondents were beaten today in Egypt. Their stories are reported in the US  because they are Americans, but other journalists of other nationalities are being arrested, deported and abducted.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know everyone in Cairo right now is in danger. But because I’ve been a reporter, I sympathize with them. And of course, when journalists are attacked, the flow of information from Cairo to the rest of the world is hampered, and that’s not good for anybody.

Below is my original blog post from Tuesday.

It’s old news now, but Egypt revoked Al-Jazeera’s license to broadcast Sunday. This is no surprise. It’s not like Egypt was a big fan of the free press to begin with: In 2008, the government was working on a censorship bill, which required journalists to avoid damaging “the social peace”, “national unity”, “public order” and “public values”.  Bloggers and journalists have been complaining about increased censorship.

So I think Egyptian journalists have been expecting their accreditation to be revoked since last week, when all cell phone and Internet service was shut down by the government. That happened yesterday, and according to the L.A. Times and Bikya Masr, journalists, local and international, are being assaulted and detained. Their cameras and the cameras of people on the street are being confiscated.

Shutting down the public’s Internet and cellphone access to each other is a terrible thing. But to me, revoking the accreditation of professional journalists is worse. Why? Because although millions of people use cell service and the Internet, there are segments of the population that do not. I’m thinking of older people, the kind of people who get their news from television, the newspapers, and radio.

I don’t know whether newspapers and radio stations in Egypt are still operating, but when the television news is shut down, that’s a clear message to all citizens that blinders have been slapped on them by the government.

Despite the crackdown, there is, of course, news still coming out of Egypt. Al-Jazeera English is still operating, and The LA Times’  Babylon & Beyond blog is particularly good. Those reporters are getting that information at their own risk, and against stiff odds. I’m acquainted with one reporter over there, and I wonder what it’s like to report under those circumstances. Even though I don’t know the guy very well, I do worry about him and about his co-workers.

The censorship may backfire on the administration. More people, the ones who were staying indoors, watching the protests on TV, may take to the streets. And the government is asking for it. By shutting down the public’s access to information in a time of turmoil – which is when people most need their news sources – the government of Egypt is  demonstrating a disregard for its citizenry.

Last day of the Bridgeport recount.

Oh, the Bridgeport recount, co-sponsored by the Connecticut Post and the Connecticut Citizen Audit Coalition. It’s big news. We can read about it in the paper. We can follow it online. We can even head on over to City Hall Annex and watch the recounting process, but since I’m no longer paid to pop into government buildings, I opted out of a visit this week.

The recount, which was prompted by Bridgeport’s massive screw-up on Election Day (we ran out of ballots and everything went downhill from there) started on Monday and will end this evening. The CT Post, which published a Nov. 21 editorial demanding that the ballots be recounted, requested the ballots under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act and partnered with the Connecticut Citizen Audit Coalition and various other voter advocacy groups, which are actually conducting the recount.

There’s not much new information on the progress of the recount this morning (the CT Post reported only a paragraph about the recount in today’s paper and the paper’s Election 2010 blog was last updated two days ago). Then again, counting more than 20,000 ballots isn’t very exciting and there’s probably not much to report. But on Sunday? Oh, the headlines we’ll have.

I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this recount. I don’t think there’s any doubt that a recount of the ballots is a necessary thing. Bridgeport screwed up big time on election night, and when it came time to count the votes, poll workers were stressed, sleepless and harried by representatives from every big campaign while Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz urged them to count faster so that her office could certify the election’s outcome. Who can do a thorough job under those circumstances? No one.

On the one hand, I’m proud of my local newspaper for taking a stand , FOIing the ballots and organizing a recount. We have the best Freedom of Information laws in the country and they’re not used as often or as well as they should be. So, seeing my local newspaper use the Connecticut FOI laws to organize and sponsor a recount of our city’s ballots is kind of a thrill.

On the other hand, something about this recount feels wrong. I haven’t posted about it this week because I can’t really put a finger on what it is that’s bothering me, but I suppose that I don’t like the idea of a non-governmental agency co-sponsoring a recount. Lennie Grimaldi blogged about the recount on Wednesday, wondering aloud to the Internet if the CT Post wasn’t just trying to sell papers by co-sponsoring a recount. His take was that yes, the city should recount the ballots, but no, the CT Post shouldn’t be organizing said recount.

Grimaldi has a point. The CT Post is, like news organizations across the country, trying to sell papers. And what a glorious way of selling papers this is! It’s better than inserts, or free offers or pictures of puppies. This is actual, huge, big local news. And I think that’s awesome.

But I also think that the CT Post might have overstepped its bounds by actually co-sponsoring the recount. Should the paper be shaming the city into a recount? Yes. Should the pressure exerted by the Fourth Estate force the city to recount? Absolutely. Should they actually be sponsoring the recount? No. In an ideal world, the city should be doing it.

But as was proved on Nov. 2, we don’t live in an ideal world. And if the city won’t recount the ballots, someone should.