Saturday, May 16, 2009

Third Article for the Sun

Just had an article in the Naperville Sun published for the third time. So, um, you should read it.


When sophomore Matt LaCosse first met coach Paul Ryan on the diamond last year, he was terrified.

"He yelled at me my first practice."

The fact that LaCosse is Naperville North's starting quarterback and stands well over six feet tall did nothing to calm his fears.

Teammate Dave Considine agrees: "He comes off as a very demanding and very strict coach."

But LaCosse and Considine, co-captains of North's sophomore baseball team along with Jon Green, have since recognized what Ryan's hard-nosed style of coaching is really about.

"After I got to know him I realized that he's in it for the right reasons," LaCosse said. "He's not here to pick on anybody -- he's just here to make everyone better."

"You can tell he knows what he's talking about," Considine said, "and he really wants his players to become better ballplayers."

This June will see the retirement of Paul Ryan, who has coached baseball and football and taught English and speech for 33 years. In 2006 he was inducted into the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

He's a tall man, and surprisingly soft-spoken in person. He says he recognizes the changes in students' lives from when his coaching odyssey began.

"Students are growing up a little too fast," Ryan said. "They don't see it that way, but I see a lot more pressure put on them for decisions they're making. It's forcing them to grow up sooner."

Over the years he's tried to mold his athletes not just into better players, but into better people. "I am very demanding, but I'm always trying to nurture them and build them into a better individual, someone who can get along with others, who can work hard. It's true wherever you are -- in school, in your career, in relationships, on the field."

North Athletic Director Doug Smith says some players may have trouble adjusting to Ryan's style at first, but eventually they understand his love of the game and his true willingness to see them improve.

"People like Paul don't come around much anymore," Smith said. "He's a multi-sport coach who is as dedicated to his coaching as he is to his teaching. Some might criticize an old-school approach, but in anything you need to know the fundamentals first before you can really move on."

Ryan says one of the highlights of his career was having the opportunity to coach and mentor his own son, Jon, on the field.

"I hope for my son, if he doesn't start a day, I just want him to work well with others, understand discipline, and be a team player."

For LaCosse, Considine and the rest of the team, the initial shock of having a strict coach with traditional values has given way to a deep respect. They know that the lessons they're learning on the diamond will last well past their playing days.

"Discipline helps you stay with something if you're struggling because you know it's going to get better, so you want to push yourself," LaCosse said. "It definitely works."

The two teammates laugh when Considine says of Ryan, "He definitely takes his job very seriously."

Then he grows more serious and adds, "But that's what you look for in a coach."

LaCosse nods at that. "His heart's definitely in the right place."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sarah Palin, Author

Yesterday’s Mediabistro newsletter contains the surprising-yet-unsurprising report that former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin would be releasing a book through HarperCollins. The AP reports that “Palin's memoir, currently untitled, will cover her personal and political life, from her childhood in Alaska and last year's campaign to her political beliefs and her family life, including the pregnancy of her teenage daughter, Bristol Palin, who gave birth in December to a baby boy, Tripp.” The memoir is due to be released next year, the same year Palin is up for reelection.

Why is this surprising? Well, you see, sometimes I forget what type of world we actually live in, and I regress to assuming that people only want to read books that are well-written, or interesting, or both. Not so. Why wouldn’t millions of people be interested in reading about the personal and political life of an Alaskan governor who until a year ago no one had ever heard of? Why wouldn’t we want to read about her moose-hunting expeditions, or her challenges in trying to raise a family of five children, one of whom—gasp—has a child of her own. And—again, gasp—she’s still a teenager. How interesting.

Why is this unsurprising? Well, Tori Spelling has just inked her third book deal (and yes, I just compared Sarah Palin to Tori Spelling). President Obama has appeared shirtless on the cover of the Washingtonian. A talk show host has legions of followers buy any book she recommends. What I’m getting at here is that it’s celebrity that sells; rarely does merit alone create a popular product.

But who knows—maybe Sarah Palin (or her ghost writer) will craft an excellent memoir for the ages. I’m not holding my breath, though.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

New Article in the Sun

I've gotten another article published in the Naperville Sun. This one concerns a restaurant owner who turned to high school graphic arts students to redesign his rather boring menus. See below or click here for the link.

Senior's menu design No. 1

North graphic arts students gain real-world experience at Grumpy Bulldog

April 22, 2009

Every successful bar has three things in common: great beer, good food and a stylish menu to show it all off. Chris Bauer, co-owner of Naperville's Grumpy Bulldog, had the first two covered.

And since the Bulldog is Naperville's only choice for a wide variety of microbrews and craft beers -- there are more than 100 to choose from -- he wanted a menu to match the unique character of the bar.

First he tried the traditional route.

"We hired a Chicago firm and just hated it. There wasn't any creativity to it," Bauer says.

His next step? High-schoolers, of course. Bauer reasoned that having students work on the problem might provide a new perspective -- for him and for the students.

Dave Hayes, a graphic arts teacher at Naperville North High School, welcomed the opportunity. He says he's constantly looking for authentic experiences for his students.

"The nature of the class is to get them into some very hands-on types of experiences, as opposed to imaginary things," Hayes said. "This is something they want to pursue after high school."

Hayes introduced the project to his advanced graphic arts class as a competition, and Bauer decided to offer a $500 scholarship to the winning student.

"There are a lot of very creative kids out there who just aren't recognized, and this gives us a way to recognize them," Bauer says.

Knowing their designs might be seen by more than 500 customers a week motivated students Kristen Danowski and Cody Hardine to put extra effort into the project.

"It was cool knowing that you were doing something for real life, rather than just yourself," said Danowski, a senior at North. "I tried harder to make it look more professional."

Hardine adds, "Because I knew this was going to be for an actual cause, I wanted to make it look as good as I possibly could."

Hardine welcomed the creative freedom Bauer gave to the students.

"He didn't want to tell us what to do," Hardine said. "He wanted to see what we would come up with, and then have his customers pick what they wanted."

A survey of customers and neighboring businesses determined the best fit for the restaurant to be the menu design of senior Brittany Broaders.

When asked what she thinks about her work being seen by hundreds of people each week, Broaders sheepishly glances at the floor, trying to hide a smile.

"I just thought it was cool to design a menu for an actual restaurant and the possibility of it actually being used," she says. "I tried to reflect the atmosphere of the place -- laid-back and casual."

Next year, Broaders plans to study graphic design and business at the University of Illinois. If there's one thing the Grumpy Bulldog project has taught her, it's this:

"I can actually do this -- I actually have the ability to be a graphic designer," she said.

There's not too much grumpy around the Bulldog these days: Bauer has his menu design, Hayes' students have had an authentic experience in graphic design, and for Broaders, the future is bright indeed.

Editor's note: To see Broaders' menu design, visit the Grumpy Bulldog at 7 Jackson Ave., Naperville.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Charging for News Content Online

Mediabistro’s newsletter on Thursday carries a story from The Daily Beast that details Rupert Murdoch’s plan to charge fees for accessing online news periodicals. The article, “Murdoch’s Secret Plan to Charge for Content,” succinctly lays out the situation: “Now, The Daily Beast has learned, Murdoch’s News Corp. has set up a global team, based in New York, London, and Sydney, to create a system for charging for online content in an environment where consumers have come to expect to get it for free.”

I would love to say that I think everything on the internet should be free—but I can’t. For good journalism to exist—journalism that uncovers stories and delved deeply into the implications of the headlines—there need to be skilled journalists. And skilled journalists need to be paid. I am terrified of a world where everyone checks their Twitter news feed for current events: “US invades Iran. People are hurt.”; “Dan Rather died. He was a news anchor.”; or “Paris’ new purse matches her dog AND her shoes.” Or, worse yet, more pervasive advertising. How does this strike you as a headline: “FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats—Brought to you by Scotts Miracle Grow, for a weed-free lawn!”

The bottom line is that to prevent the watering down of news content and journalistic integrity, consumers of journalism have got to somehow support news sources financially. So, for once, I’m on the same side as Fox. Yikes.