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Thanksgiving turkey is an annual chore, and usually it’s an annual bore, as well.

Your basic holiday turkey generally arrives overdone and tasting dull. This is because most people do not know how to properly roast the big bird. They prepare turkey the way their mothers always cooked it: roasted half a day, unto flavorless dryness, as if to ensure the poor turkey is indeed, well and truly dead.

But I’m here to tell you how to do it right. How to have everyone clamoring for more, more, more turkey, the best, most delicious, and absolute moistest turkey you have ever eaten in your deprived culinary life.

Rule numero uno: Take a tip from the chefs and brine the bird.

“Brining” is chef-speak for soaking a piece of meat in salted water.  These turkey tips came mostly from Kevin Garvin, executive chef at Neiman Marcus, with some additional info from the folks at Calphalon.

 You can buy big Ziploc-type bags specifically made for brining, but any extra-thick, securely zipped storage bag will work as long as it’s big enough. Ziploc makes “Big Bags” in XL (10-gallon) and XXL (20-gallon) sizes. I am thinking the XL bag will be big enough for my 14-pound turkey, but a 20- or 24- pound bird might need the 20-gallon bag.

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Back in 1995, I interviewed a very smart man named Robert K. Hoffman, who informed me:

“Change is not only inevitable, it will wipe you out if you try to slow it down.”

Did I mention that this guy was very smart?

Robert Hoffman died in 2006 of leukemia, at age 59. I often wish he were still here, so we could talk some more about change, and especially about what it means for the media world of today.

Robert’s astute assessment of the inevitability of change has been much on my mind lately, as I have undergone some major changes of my own.  The big one, as readers of this blog know, was being laid off from the newspaper after more than a quarter century as a journalist.

Now, there’s a change that will knock you for a loop. And I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t.

Why should I have seen it coming? Because I know perfectly well that the business I left is not the business I knew in 1995.

That was the year I began using e-mail. I began exploring the web, which back then was a piddly fraction of its current behemoth self. I began realizing, dimly, that this World Wide Web deal was going to be a Really Big Thing.

What I did not realize then was how quickly the web would engulf the world of communications. How, within a mere decade, it would make everything else look not just excruciatingly slow, but so antique as to be positively quaint.

Up till the advent of the net, the newspaper business had moved at what might be called a stately pace. 

It took centuries after 1440 for Herr Gutenberg’s movable-type model to evolve into automated presses run by electrical power. A printing press in 1500 wasn’t all that different from a printing press in 1800. But in the 19th century, innovation began to speed up, as steam-driven, rotary and electrically powered presses successively made it possible to print first thousands, and then millions, of copies in a single day.

It took only a 30-year cycle of late-20th-century modernization for newspapers to evolve from hot type to cold type, then to VDTs (video display terminals, basically big clunky word processors) and eventually to PCs. The arrival of satellite technology and digital production obviated the need for the “backshop,” or composing room. The disappearance of those production jobs was the canary in the coal mine, but few of us on the editorial side spotted it at the time.

In the mid-to-late ’90s, the internet and e-mail began shaking up newsrooms as nothing before ever had. In the past dozen years, the news industry and the entire world of media have changed at a speed I would not have believed had I not been a front-row witness to it.

Lately, I find myself thinking back to this:

When I was in my senior year at the University of Florida, they took our class outside to the parking lot and ushered us into a big tractor-trailer that held a traveling exhibit: a prototype “modern” newsroom with the first VDT I had ever seen. It was about the size of a mini-refrigerator.

We were told something to the effect of: “This, children, is the wave of the future.” I am not sure any of us believed it then, in 1975.

But I sure do believe it now.

One of my compadres on Alexandria noted that most of the blogging he sees is simply aggregation or  commentary on material recycled from newspaper or magazine articles and television news shows. This was my response:

There is a good reason why so much of the writing on the web is mere rehashing of print or TV reports. How many people are going to go out and investigate governmental corruption, expose injustices, or uncover violations of civil liberties, if no one is paying them a living wage to do it?

It’s a pretty dang expensive proposition to do the kind of newspapering that uncovers a Watergate scandal, or any other kind of major investigative piece that results in Pulitzer-caliber reporting. Or even the kind of metro or features reporting that may go unsung, and won’t necessarily win big prizes, but that nevertheless changes people’s lives for the better.

In addition, by eliminating so many of the niches in local reporting, newspapers will inevitably lose what once made them invaluable to a wide range of readers, such as:

Those who subscribed primarily for reliable coverage of local food/dining news, or home/garden/design.

Those who wanted expert coverage of religion or science.

Those who enjoyed in-depth, narrative feature writing.

Those who valued wide-ranging criticism of the arts and entertainment fields.

All those readers will rightfully consider themselves underserved when such locally reported elements drop away, one by one, to be replaced mostly with wire-service copy — and not even much of that.

I cannot tell you how many people over the past three weeks have told me: “I just don’t know how much longer we can keep subscribing. They keep taking away everything I like to read.” And this problem is not unique to Dallas. I can guarantee you that from coast to coast, this discontent is rife among the readership at every single metropolitan newspaper in America, as budgets and staff are slashed to cut operating costs.

U.S. newspapers are under siege, desperately struggling to survive in a floundering economy, amid the demands of a new technological world with which we are as yet less than conversant. I cannot pretend to know where the industry’s ultimate solutions, if any, may exist.

All I know is that the answers cannot possibly lie in failing to give the readers what they actually want to read and are willing to pay for.

* * *

By the way, anyone who has not already done so needs to read David Carr’s excellent New York Times piece on why it’s a very bad idea for newspapers to jettison their veteran journalists. His closing words should  cause every newspaper executive in the nation to sleep uneasily:

Newspapers confront tall, menacing seas in the coming year, but it is a sure bet that the ones that dump the ablest hands on deck will be among the first to sink below the waves.

This week I spent a day or two finally, reluctantly, digging through boxes holding 20 or so years’ worth of newsprint.

Here was most of my life’s work, and at first glance, it didn’t look like much. It just looked like enough paper to line a thousand birdcages. Enough to train the Obamas’ new puppy plus all the puppies adopted in Dallas for the next year. Pounds and pounds of cheap, moldering, dead-tree newsprint. Yesterday’s news, indeed.

But as I dug through the piles, I found some things that actually made me feel pretty good.

Here’s the two-part series I did in late 1989, “AIDS: The Shadow of Fashion.” It was, as far as I can determine, the first major media take-out on how the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s had decimated the fashion industry, and on the dire effect the disease was having on everyone in the business. The New York Times had to hastily follow us on this one. I know they did, because their men’s fashion writer, Woody Hochswender, told me so. (As it turned out, he used the same “shadow” metaphor in his lede.) It was a groundbreaking story — even the gay magazine The Advocate didn’t get around to doing it till a year later — but it was, I was told, “too depressing” to run on the cover of the fashion section. So it ran inside, where half of DMN’s readership probably missed it altogether. Perhaps that was the intention.

Here’s a decade’s worth of High Profile cover stories. High Profile was a Sunday section that appeared in DMN from 1981 until 2000; the cover was always a magazine-length profile of a prominent Texan, or someone who had lived at least part of his or her life here. High Profile was a plum job, and undoubtedly the most fun of all the jobs I ever had at the paper. Where else would I have gotten to chat with sources like Cesar Chavez, Walter Cronkite, Ted Turner, Lady Bird Johnson, Tommy Tune, Bobby Short, Otis Chandler, Larry King, Barbara Walters, George Stephanopoulos, James Carville, Dan Rather and Tom Landry?  

 I wrote well over 100 High Profile covers: writers such as James Michener, Anne Rice, Robert Fulghum. Artists such as David Bates and Van Cliburn. Actors such as Kathy Bates, Marcia Gay Harden, Jamie Foxx and Forest Whitaker. (If I High Profiled an actor, and he or she was later nominated for a Best Actor/Actress Oscar, then he or she was obviously fated to win, because I stand at 4-for-4 on that score.) I profiled the president of CNN, Tom Johnson; PBS talk-show host Charlie Rose; pop singer Lisa Loeb; astronaut Mae Jemison. I even profiled a couple of Texas billionaires: Fort Worth’s Ed Bass and Dallas’ Mark Cuban. The story on Cuban ran in late 1999, and in it, I scooped our renowned sports department and broke the news that he was thinking of buying the Dallas Mavericks, which he did about two weeks later.

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OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But bear with me here.

Since I lost my job last month, I’ve been cooking dinner at home. Dinners out are the first thing to go when you enter this new, straitened lifestyle that does not include HBO or eBay or $100 impulse buys at Target.

To compensate, I’ve discovered the magic of panko.

Two boxes of Progresso panko crumbs sat unopened in my pantry for a month. I planned to try them whenever I had time. And now, as Mr. Bernstein says in Citizen Kane, “I’ve got nothing but time.”

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When considering all plausible disasters that might cause a worldwide breakdown in modern communications, I always think of The Stand, the Stephen King opus in which a superflu pandemic wipes out more than 99% of the world’s population.
No internet existed 30 years ago, when King wrote his novel, so television was the glamour medium of the day. It was also the first medium to be disrupted when “Captain Trips” struck.
Broadcasters who tried to tell the truth of the pandemic were summarily executed for treason. Vigilantes used the last TV broadcasts to conduct public executions.
Radio broadcasters’ executions followed shortly thereafter, carried out by military hit squads. Newspapers, in the form of one-page broadside extras, were issued by small-town newsmen — and by the Los Angeles Times, before its presses were dynamited and its remaining workers executed by the Army.
Hmmm. Do we see a pattern there?
My point is that information can be a dangerous thing. It is something that beleaguered governments like to control when it’s in their interest to do so.
If a government arbitrarily decided to disrupt the internet for “security purposes,” who could stop them? What would take the web’s place, if the old, low-tech technology isn’t there when the new, high-tech technology breaks down?
Without print, the last unlicensed, low-tech form of modern mass communication, there would be no samizdats to subvert a massive official corruption. Come the revolution, I guess our Hewlett-Packard Laserjets might have to suffice for a printing press.

 

Today we attended the funeral of former Dallas Times Herald editor Ken Johnson, whose son Clay is a good friend of ours.

Several people gave eulogies, and a couple of old friends talked about when Times-Mirror hired Ken to come and run the Times Herald, back in 1975, I think. They talked a lot about the Dallas newspaper war, about the great stories that were done, the great staffs that were built. And one of his old friends, a non-journalist from Philly, said something about how Ken “ran a great newspaper back when good newspapers mattered.”

My husband and I just looked at each other. I know what we were both thinking: I guess people don’t think they matter any more.

Maybe they don’t.

And yet… everyone ran out to buy copies of yesterday’s newspaper with the historic, front-page news of Barack Obama’s election to the presidency. People wanted to buy copies as keepsakes for themselves, their children and grandchildren — as tangible evidence of a memorable, history-making event. So many copies were sold that the morning’s edition sold out, and the papers had to print up thousands of extra copies. And this happened not just in Dallas, but all over the nation.

What will people do to preserve their memories of great events, I wonder, on that day when there are no more newspapers being printed?

After the excitement of Election Night, and the satisfaction of seeing this morning’s headlines, more sobering thoughts are beginning to push their way into my mind.

What a daunting prospect the winner now faces.  So many problems to deal with, the mind boggles. But we know the tumbling economy is what drove many undecided voters to Obama’s side. That crisis, in all its many aspects, will have to be his very first priority after he takes office. Even at this moment, he is assembling the team that will advise him on this most crucial of problems.  

I think Barack Obama will have to launch the equivalent of the Manhattan Project on restoring the economy. If he can bring the best minds together to work out solutions that are not only long-term practical but also acceptable on both sides of the aisle in Congress, he will have pulled off a miracle.

No matter what, recovery won’t happen overnight. Yes, Obama may well need two terms to do it, or even just to get the process well underway; that’s how dire things are.

But as I said to my husband last night, Franklin D. Roosevelt needed three terms and a world war to end the Great Depression. And he had no easy time of it, either.

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After all the nastiness of this election season, it’s a relief to sit down and watch the vote totals rolling in from East to West.

No more campaign ads! No more robo-calls! No more push-polling phone banks! Peace, perfect peace, with  pundits far away, nattering amongst themselves. The defeated will be off licking their wounds tomorrow, wondering how it is that things went so very, very wrong for them. I believe the correct answer there is: “What goes around comes around. You betcha.”  

ABC announced Texas went for John McCain, stating the obvious to anyone who lives here. The pleasant surprise, for me, is that Obama already took Pennsylvania, and ABC says he’ll win Ohio and Iowa, too. I’m wondering what will happen in Missouri, a bellwether state, but when the big burgs of St. Louis and Kansas City report in, I’m expecting Missouri also will show up in the blue column. But I won’t feel really comfortable until Florida’s called — and called with a substantial-enough margin that there will be no attempted theft, no repeat of 2000’s agonizing butterfly ballot/hanging-chad debacle. 

So far my favorite part of the evening, goofy election entertainment-wise, has got to be NBC’s skating-rink electoral map. It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen, yet I can’t look away every time they show it. I love the people dutifully adding puzzle pieces of red and blue states to the ice out there in Rockefeller Plaza. It’s just a mesmerizingly ditzy idea, no doubt thought up by someone who gets paid six or seven figures to create ridiculous stuff like that. The only thing that could have made it better would’ve been if they’d had swimsuit-clad Miss America contestants carrying out their home states’ jigsaw map pieces. As much as I love Brian Williams, who IMHO is currently the Sexiest Anchor Alive, I cannot believe he didn’t suggest that.  

But the No Showboating Award goes, as usual, to Jim Lehrer and his PBS news team. They don’t make any projection calls of their own; they just report what the AP and other TV networks are saying. They don’t use a lot of fancy CGI graphics. They don’t try to be anything but serious news people. How utterly refreshing.

…and they said it was nothing personal, just the unfortunate result of severe cost-cutting measures and the awful state of the economy, the rise of the Internet and the fall of the American newspaper industry in general, not to mention the grave challenges facing the company if it was to survive. Apparently they couldn’t afford me any more. I didn’t realize I was all that expensive, but there you are.

They thanked me for my more than 25 years of loyalty and service to the newspaper. They wished me well. They promised to send me a big severance check. They said I could leave right away and didn’t have to finish my work or stay to clean my desk. I could clean out my desk the next day, Saturday, when almost no one would be there to witness it.

But since no one was forcing me to leave the building just then, I stayed for several more hours and started cleaning. I completed and sent over a couple of final, extremely minor stories to my editor. Any personal items got cleared off my desk and deleted from the computer; the IT people, I’d been told, would scrub the hard drive.

They hadn’t yet cut off my phone or computer access. So I sent out a mass e-mail to a long list of people, mostly professional contacts and other people who weren’t working in the building. I wanted them to know not to expect to find me there at the paper any more, and to tell them where they should send future press releases. And to say where they could find me from now on, if they wanted to.

The reply e-mails began pouring in almost immediately, and before I left there were scores of letters. All of them used the same word to describe their reactions: “shocked.” Of course, that was what I was, too: shocked, or maybe shellshocked.

I was inside an odd, invisible but protective little bubble that kept me working, e-mailing, talking, and hugging every now-former colleague who came by my desk to commiserate. I even joked around with my friends, making black-humored quips, shaking my head sympathetically in shared dismay, shrugging helplessly in mutual disbelief. Every one of them used the same words: shocked, unbelievable, incredible. They were the ones who were hurting; I couldn’t feel anything, not really. I did, however, take mental note of who in the department seemed truly distressed on my behalf, and who seemed to be avoiding me. It’s funny how you can do that, how easily you can keep score, even while in a state of shock.

I didn’t cry once, not that day. It was very much like when you first hear of a sudden death in the family. You experience both a heightened reality, and a strange disconnect from same. 

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