Category Archives: Writing

Ashley’s Breaker: Social Connections

My latest post on Ashley’s Breaker, our documentary project about the Huber Coal Breaker in Ashley, PA, discusses how social media (positively) impacts the work of writers and artists, and specifically how Twitter — in the course of a day — changed the landscape of our project.

Check it out: Social Connections

Thanks for reading!


‘Peer Review’ Legitimacy

Apparently, in the education world, being published in a “peer review” journal is a big deal. So, I’m excited to have my third piece of work published in this regard — a case study about how Montgomery County Community College uses analytics to inform decisions that impact student learning outcomes and success, published in EDUCAUSE Review Online.

Check it out: Efficiencies, Learning Outcomes Bolstered by Analytics, Data-Informed Decision Making

While I co-authored other “peer review” pieces, this case study marks the first time I took the lead. It’s a somewhat intimidating process that involves first submitting an abstract for consideration, then, if accepted, providing an outline, followed by several drafts, and — since this is an online publication — a variety of multimedia content. At each stage, the content is critiqued by editors, and revisions have to be made. Also, at each stage, the editors could decide that the work no longer makes the cut.

So, while the case study may not reflect my typical writing flare, it’s a huge boon to my resume and writing portfolio, and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity!

Finding Inspiration in Coal Dust

Sometimes it takes a little push to get inspired.

I was stuck in a creative rut — doing what I needed to do but nothing truly inspired — for months. Then, I found inspiration from an unlikely source — an abandoned coal breaker in Luzerne County.

A colleague invited me to join a small crew of storytellers in exploring the Huber Breaker in Ashley, Pa. Abandoned since 1976, the breaker is currently part of a bankruptcy suit that will, in all likelihood, see the property sold and the breaker demolished.

We’re telling the breaker’s story through a series of interviews, photographs, videos and first-hand documentation of our journey. Every trip to Ashley seems to expand the project’s scope — which is, at times, both overwhelming and exhilarating.

The outside-the-box-and-comfort-zone way of thinking has boosted my creativity in all things, especially blogging. is our project’s home base. I’ll post periodic updates to Communication Art. In the meantime, check out two of my recent posts, The Shadow of Blue Coal and In Search of  Ashley’s Planes.

Writing Through Tragedy

I was a journalist on Sept. 11, 2001, working for a local direct mail, weekly publication that included several pages of “good news” (read “fluff”) editorial copy. As editor, I had to put the paper to bed two days after 9/11.

I remember going to work the next day, sitting at my desk, and feeling numb…at a loss for what to write. Covering fluff in the Philadelphia suburbs, I had no business covering the horrific event. Yet, I couldn’t ignore it either.

I imagine it’s the same challenge faced by journalists outside of Colorado today and throughout this week. Of course, there are AP wire stories that will undoubtedly run in most papers. But local news must go on locally, regardless.

An obvious answer is to localize the story. And many journalists in my region are doing just that tonight — using social media to ask questions like, “will you still see the movie?”

I did my best to localize the story back in 2001 (oh how I wish social media existed then). Now defunct Philly radio station Y-100 was holding a 9/11 supply drive at a major shopping complex just outside of my coverage area. I interviewed one of the morning show hosts by phone and hung out at the supply drop, which yielded dozens of tractor trailers full of supplies for rescue crews in Jersey City and Manhattan.

In the scheme of things, the supply drive and story were small. But for those of us involved, it helped us get though the day/week feeling like we did *something* to help our fellow man. It helped us move on.

For my editorial column that week, I actually wrote about the challenge of going through the day as if things were normal. And the following week, I interviewed a rep from the local American Red Cross chapter about the ways in which people not impacted by the crisis can help.

Today, my thoughts are with the wounded individuals and victims’ families of the Colorado theater shootings – and with the journalists who must move on with their coverage in spite of tragedy.

Poetry Revisited

The announcement of an upcoming poetry project prompted me to dig out some of my old work. And by old work I mean OLD — as in the disturbing ramblings of a teenager and very young adult from 1991-1997.

A few initial observations:

1) Okay, I now get why everyone was so worried about me. I mean, this stuff was DARK. Lots of blood and death, which — although mostly metaphorical — must have been pretty upsetting to others.

2) Someone should have TAKEN THE THESAURUS from the younger me. Good lord, I don’t even know what half those words mean. Thank god I went on to learn that stringing together 10 big adjectives doesn’t a good writer make!

3) Some of this stuff — if polished — could be really good.

Let me expand on #3. I have spent the last decade+ telling people I’m not a creative writer. I can write facts or opinions, but not poetry or fiction. That the younger me had this spark of creative flair is a kind-of reality check. I mean, that doesn’t go away, right? I’m still creative in other ways, so maybe I should revisit my former passion.

Perhaps I could start small — rework some of my old stuff — make it better, and see what happens…

Before Hollywood, There Was Betzwood

Today, I had the opportunity to write about the centennial anniversary of the founding of the Betzwood Motion Picture Studio. It’s wild to think that one of the most influential studios of its day produced hundreds of films in our own backyards and that people are still discovering studio artifacts on their properties.

Betzwood was founded by Siegmund Lubin in 1912 and remained in operation through 1923 in what is now West Norriton Township, Montgomery County, Pa. Lubin is credited with making the first attempt to mass market movies. In 21st century terms, that’s like being the first business to employ Facebook as a marketing tool or engage customers with Twitter. Cutting edge stuff!

Of the hundreds made, only 30 films and film fragments survived the ravages of time. Copies of 25 of those films/fragments are archived locally and will soon be available to the general public online thanks to a digitization project underway.

Click here to learn more from Lubin biographer Joseph Eckhardt.

On Becoming a Social Media Expert

“Find your niche and become an expert in that area. Stay on top of the latest trends and be confident that you are among the best at what you do.” — This is advice that I offer to aspiring writing and communications students that I mentor. It’s a new piece of advice for me — one I decided to start using myself about a year ago.

My niche is social media. I chose it for myself and followed my own advice. Every day I learn something new. I scour daily tweets from sites like Mashable. I form opinions on what I read. Most importantly, I apply it to my job.

Over the past six months, I started crafting national media pitches in response to queries from HARO and ProfNet (so much more productive that pitching blind!!!). While pitching others as experts in such areas as education, economics and psychology, I discovered that many queries sought experts in social media.

Following my own advice to students, why shouldn’t this be me! So I pitched myself as a social media expert and  was interviewed for the article, “How to Avoid Social Media Messes” published on Information Week‘s blog The Brain Yard on Oct. 31, 2011. 

The interview, for me, served not only get my name out there as a social media expert, but it boosted my confidence, renewing my commitment to, indeed, be among the best at what I do. It also gave me confidence to take my own blog, the one you are reading now, more public.

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