In Defense of the News Media

The Recorder of Monterey, Va., is an old, small newspaper owned by my friend and hero Anne Witschey Adams, a woman who personifies the value of the press.

Today, newspapers across the country are sharing editorials that basically defend their right to exist in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

They are under attack by what is likely the worst presidential administration in our relatively brief 242 years of existence as a nation. It is an administration led by a sick despot whose primary goal in life is to have the rest of us fall at his feet and kiss his nasty toenails.

I don’t need to give you chapter and verse, but when Donald Trump called news reporters “the enemy of the people,” he echoed the sentiment of some of history’s worst dictators, people he appears to admire and hopes to emulate.

I’ve been a journalist for more than 50 years and during that time I have pissed some people off, but nobody ever said I was an “enemy of the people.” I’ve been called biased, inaccurate, stupid and careless, but never an “enemy of the people.” Because I have not been an enemy. Neither has any of the large number of reporters I’ve known over the years. They have been honest, mostly dedicated people whose primary intent was to give you information that could benefit you.

Ours is an honest, open profession when practiced as it is intended, but like most professions where people are the primary ingredient, its practitioners make mistakes, hear information wrong or interpret it incorrectly upon occasion. The best news people aren’t people who practice the craft perfectly, they are those who correct mistakes as directly, honestly and quickly as possible. The goal is to get it right.

Anne Adams, my friend who owns the Recorder in Monterey, a village in Highland County, is the very personification of the journalist both historically and in a modern context. Anne is a part of her community and she cares about her neighbors and their daily struggles. She has battled windmills and pipelines, crooked developers and their pocket patch politicians and she has taken stands that were occasionally unpopular. She has been threatened physically by the powerful while holding her children to her breast. And she has never flinched, never would flinch. She stands between them and you.

Getting it right these days means fighting back at the people who want to destroy us and, in the process, destroy the form of government that has served us for these 2.5 centuries. If we don’t stand up for those trying to inform us, we will lose them. And I can assure you that you don’t want that.

(Here is what some of the nation’s newspapers wrote as editorials today.)

Gratitude Today: Compensation for a Mistake

The Dairy Freez presented me with a peach soft ice cream.

I had an uneasy feeling about driving to Altavista this morning for an interview with a guy who seemed to fit well with a story I’m writing. It turns out I was right. About the uneasy feeling.

Altavista is a small town south of Lynchburg that is hidden so well that my GPS was laughing at me before the trip was done. It’s basically about an hour and a half from Roanoke, taking back roads through Roanoke, Bedford and Campbell Counties and not seeing much of the beautiful terrain of any of those three counties. It is a town of 3,500 people, founded in 1912.

Avoca, circa 1755, was the Altavista home of Charles Lynch.

The guy I was to interview didn’t fit the story at all and I realized that the minute I walked into his shop and saw a bunch of guns on the wall. I don’t write stories on people who profit from the sale or manufacture of guns, if I can help it and I was ready to walk out the front door when I asked if the guy in question was there. “He’s off today,” his employee said. I told him we had an appointment, so he called the guy, who said the appointment was tomorrow.

Maybe he was right, maybe not. Didn’t make a bit of difference once I saw the guns.

Regardless of who made the scheduling mistake (and my favorite ex-wife used to frequently tell me that I’m “calendar challenged”), I wiggled out of something I didn’t want to do and got to see a little town I like and even ate a peach soft ice cream at the local Dairy Freez.

So, shoot, I’m grateful that I didn’t get mad. Instead, I found something to like.


Jefferson High Diplomas Going to Ex-Military Men

Gary Linwood Spradlin

Roanoke’s Jefferson High School, which closed in 1974 and re-opened as an enteretainment center 25 years ago, will present 17 diplomas Saturday to students who missed their graduations initially because they enlisted in the military.

Included among the honorees at the 4:30 ceremony in the Fralin Center at the school will be seven veterans of World War II and six from the Vietnam war. In its 52 years of operation (1922-1974), Jefferson graduated an estimated 19,000 students, according to the high school alumni website (

Of the 17 former students to be honored, five have died and their families will accept their diplomas from Roanoke’s school superintendent Rita Bishop. Development Coordinator Keri Grim says that “at least three” of the grads to be honored received their GED diplomas and two of those went on to earn college degrees.

Larry Edward Graham

The graduation ceremony will be part of alumni weekend at Jefferson High and will be highlighted by a dance and dinner following graduation with the Kings and the Sway Kats playing ($18 cover charge). The Kings is a long-time popular rock band in the Valley and the Sway Kats plays big band music. The 29th Division band will play at the graduation ceremony.

  • Those receiving diplomas at the ceremony are:
  • Calvin Orval Wilkerson, Class of 1960, Navy 
  • Lewis Russell Jones, Class of 1963, Navy 
  • Gary Lynnwood Spradlin, Class of 1967, Army (deceased)
  • Larry Edward Graham, Class of 1967, Army 
  • William Paxton, Class of 1960, Army 
  • Raymond Hairston McCulley Jr., Class of 1942, Coast Guard (deceased)
  • Richard Elmore Nolan

    Richard Elmore Nolan, Class of 1945, Army 

  • Francis Leon Craft, Class of 1963, Navy 
  • Curtis Lee Ratliff, Class of 1946, Marines (deceased) 
  • Stephen P. Jefferson, Class of 1961, Navy 
  • Frank E. Nunley, Jr. Class of 1944, Navy
  • Ralph Frederick Hicks, Class of 1947, Marines 
  • Clyde E. Morris, Class of 1942, Navy (deceased)
  • Kenneth Andrew Guilliams, Class of 1968, Army 
  • Robert Neil McCulley, Class of 1945, Navy (deceased) 
  • Bobby Camper Guthrie, Class of 1944, Navy
  • Bobby Ray Chewning, Class of 54, Navy

Gratitude Today: A Local Plan for Journalists

Bill Kovarik in class.

Over the weekend, we solidified a class–one of 18–for the 12th Roanoke Regional Writers Conference that I’m ecstatic about. It’s my first class in several years and I’ll be teaching with one of my heroes, Bill Kovarik, about establishing community journalism in towns and cities where newspapers are failing.

It is a topic that is intensely interesting to both Bill and me, a couple of old newspaper guys watching our life’s work slip away. This will be more Bill’s class than mine because he’s a teacher (journalism professor at Radford University) and I’m simply decorative.

When I suggested the class to Bill, he wrote back immediately with a title: “Communities Online: How to Structure, Finance and Develop Independent Local News and Media Services,” and he said, “This is a subject very close to my heart, as you know. I’ve been talking with publishers about a book tentatively entitled Enterprise Journalism, and the idea is that with news writing and other skills, a group of people could start small community media services organizations of various kinds.”

I founded the writers conference in 2008 in order to create a writers community in this region, which I knew had a large number of superb writers of all kinds. Over the years, we have introduced people to each other, taught technique and billing and contracts and fiction and poetry and memoir and biography, among many other topics. We’ve featured a lot of star power in our classrooms (Roland Lazenby, Rod Belcher, Beth Macy, Kathleen Grissom, Sharyn McCrumb, Leah Weiss, Mary Bishop [in 2019], Ed Falco, Karen Prior and Cathy Hankla, among others). We’ve had at least three Pulitzer winners or finalists among our teachers, all of them journalists.

We have not taught a lot about journalism because, frankly, journalists have tended not to attend the conference. I hope they’ll look at this topic and join us. The classes are most often give-and-take because the students frequently know as much as the teachers. The time of need for journalism is now and we must be making a plan.

The conference is at Hollins University Jan. 25-26.

Gratitude Today: The Sound of the ’60s

Eva, my first wife, and me in about 1967.

I just read a beautiful NYTimes piece (here) about the 1966 genesis of the Lovin’ Spoonful song “Summer in the City” and it brought back an awful lot of youthful joy and vigor. I was 20 when the song was released and worked as a young sports writer at the Asheville Citizen, a morning newspaper of about 60,000 circulation.

I made about $65 a week and lived in a small log cabin (rent, $80 a month) in the Kenilworth section of Asheville with a roommate and an occasional girlfriend. One neighbor lady called the cops on us every so often because she thought we were dealing dope. We weren’t. But we didn’t mind the attention.

Civil rights and Vietnam activism was beginning to heat up (the rallies were a great place to meet girls, I found) and the war was a special issue for people my age who were having to fight it. Rock ‘n’ roll’s home base moved back to the U.S. from London and Manchester and groups like the Spoonful were transitioning from folk/rock to rock. With “Summer in the City,” John Sebastian and his three buddies arrived as a legitimate rock presence that could lead the Baby Boomers on a quest to be heard.

The next six years constituted what we all now think of as “the ’60s.” It began the summer of ’66 and ended in 1972.  (Some date the end to 1974 when, following an attack in his home, Al Green left rock and went to gospel music.)

There was still plenty of music and protesting left to do in 1972, but it all turned deadly serious about 1968 and stayed there. I think many of us finally got worn out, married, got better jobs, became more conservative (I didn’t), and simply moved our attention elsewhere.

Of course, like most Boomers, I think kindly of the 1960s and I remember the Spoonful’s gentle harmonies and cutting edge lyrics (“Summer in the City” was written by Sebastian’s 14-year-old brother, Mark) as a reminder that we hadn’t figured it out yet. I’m uncertain that’s not still the case, but I’m truly grateful for the time and circumstances. We didn’t do everything right–didn’t do much at all right–but we lived our youth fully.


Gratitude Today: Hooray, Community Theater

My pal Lisa Thompson (top left) with Molly and Marcella Allison (on Aaron Mansfield’s knees) and Kaitlyn Meadows.

Regardless of where you live in America, you are not far from a community theater. The American Association of Community Theaters, representing a goodly portion of those independent theaters, is 42 years old and has 7,000 theaters as members. They put on 45,000 productions a year.

More than 7.5 million people attend those performances, produced by more than a million volunteers. The Roanoke Valley is blessed with good theater at every level, including the “community theater” definition: amateurs. The number of companies in the Roanoke Valley–at least three, Attic Productions, Showtimers and Star City Playhouse–depends on the definition. Off the Rails, for example, has a community theater feel, but at a high level and it employs professionals. Same with Roanoke Children’s Theatre. In nearby Bedford, the Little Town Players is an old community theater. (I don’t count the college theaters [especially Hollins, one of the best theatre departments in the U.S.], which are quite good, because they are … well … college theaters.)

I don’t go to a lot of community theater productions, but when I do, I am often surprised–as I was last night–by the quality. Attic’s most recent production, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” is a musical (the Gershwin brothers) set in the 1920s whose songs are familiar and which is not a special challenge for amateurs. It was originally produced in 2001 and made it to Broadway in 2012.

The costuming last night was especially appealing (lots of flappers and dress-up clothes) and the movable set was functional and upscale. The singing and dancing (especially with leads Aaron and Jessica Mansfield, who seem to have sprung up from nowhere) were far better than I expected. Will Smith’s choreography was simple, direct and took into account the level of the players, which is something community theaters don’t always do well.

Margie and I went to this play because my friend Lisa Thompson is in it as the lead chorus girl and Lisa is one of the most appealing people I know. She took that presence straight to the stage, a natural fit.

But there was more than Lisa to enjoy. Teen-age sisters Molly and Marcella Allison were delights. In the last scene of the night (in a play that was about 30-40 minutes too long) Molly simply stole the show, even though she was not a central figure on a busy stage. She was off to the side, acting as if she were the center of it all and it was, frankly, the funniest piece in the play. Molly is a ballerina, loose-limbed and expressive, even though her face is in constant deadpan. I see a future for her.

In any case, the community theater in Fincastle shone last night and once again proved that theater in this small patch of Virginia offers delightful entertainment, regardless of who’s in charge.

You can get tickets by calling 540-473-1001. They are $18 each.


Anticipating Work at Home Can Harm Health, Study Shows

Bringing work home can have serious effects on health and wellness.

A new study from a Virginia Tech management professor shows that after-hours work expectations from management can be harmful to your health. As if you didn’t know.

William Becker of the Pamplin College of Business is the co-author of a study titled “Killing Me Softly: Electronic Communications Monitoring and Employee and Significant-Other Well-Being.” Clumsy title, but you get the idea.

We are, of course, living in an age where electronic connectivity is next to breathing, where the cell phone and the laptop sit next to the heart as human organs for children, adults and old people. But it is the work connection that seems to be turning on the bad health buttons, according to the study.

According to a release from Tech:

“The competing demands of work and nonwork lives present a dilemma for employees which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives,” says Becker.

Becker’s study, co-authored with Liuba Y. Belkin, of Lehigh University; Samantha A. Conroy, of Colorado State University; and Sarah Tuskey, a Virginia Tech Ph.D. student, will be presented at the Academy of Management annual meeting in Chicago on August 10-14.

Other studies have shown that the stress of increased job demands leads to strain and conflict in family relationships when the employee is unable to fulfill nonwork roles at home — “such as when someone brings work home to finish up.”

Their new study, Becker says, demonstrates that employees do not need to spend actual time on work in their off-hours to experience the harmful effects. The mere expectations of availability increase strain for employees and their significant others — even when employees do not engage in actual work during non-work time.

Unlike work-related demands that deplete employee resources, physical and psychological, by requiring time away from home, “the insidious impact of ‘always on’ organizational culture is often unaccounted for or disguised as a benefit — increased convenience, for example, or higher autonomy and control over work-life boundaries,” Becker says.

“Our research exposes the reality: ‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.”

“Employees today must navigate more complex boundaries between work and family than ever before,” says Becker. “Employer expectations during non-work hours appear to increase this burden, as employees feel an obligation to shift roles throughout their nonwork time.

“Efforts to manage these expectations are more important than ever, given our findings that employees’ families are also affected by these expectations.”


Kenny: A Life of Pain and Celebration

Kenny Wingfield’s new book.

Kenny Wingfield’s long-promised memoir is here and it’s just what you’d expect from a guy who infuses every project in his life with enthusiasm and grit.

You’ve probably seen Kenny riding one of his several bicycles—including the one that’s hand-pedaled—along the Roanoke River Greenway through the Valley. He’s as much a fixture as the Wasena Park low-water bridge.

Kenny has lived with multiple sclerosis, polio, knee surgery, by-pass surgery, hip replacement (both of them), spinal infusion and god only knows what else, but he is–at this point–undefeated. Every time an issue bites him, Kenny bites back.

He is perhaps the most irrepressible and stubborn man I’ve ever met. And he’s one of the most cheerful and grateful for his life–difficult though it has been. His new book, All I Ever Wanted To Be …, is an inspirational—if amateur—work, and I think it deserves some attention.

The book is self-published and like so many in this genre, it lacks the polish most often—but not always—seen in commercial works. The strength of the narrative lies in its detail and its openness. The writing, however, is clear and what it lacks in polish, it provides in sheer pig-headedness in the face of overwhelming obstacles.

Kenny is a guy who has looked Multiple Sclerosis in the eye and spit, riding his bike across the entire United States to raise money for its cure—while suffering it. He has adjusted his goals as his physical health withered, but has rarely complained and always looked at what he can do, not what he can’t.

His is an inspirational story, one told in conversational, bite-sized chapters, giving the book that “bathroom read” feel and function.

Kenny will sign books Saturday, Aug. 11, at Cardinal Bicycle in Roanoke, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.




Carter Turner Running Again for Virginia House

Carter Turner

My old buddy Carter Turner of Salem, who has had an itch to serve in either the U.S. House or the Virginia General Assembly for some time now, is getting ready to put on the full court press to take over the 8th District Virginia seat. The seat was recently vacated by Greg Habeeb, a Republican who did little to distinguish a seat that was initially tarnished by Morgan Griffith.

Carter ran against Griffith in 2009 and was beaten by the expected number in the gerrymandered district. Griffith later ran for the 9th District U.S. House seat–a district he did not live in–and beat long-time incumbent Rick Boucher in one of the saddest upsets in House history. The 9th has suffered since.

Carter is a former chairman of the Roanoke County Democratic Committee and a man new Delegate Christ Hurst of Montgomery County (12th District) says “is exactly the kind of thoughtful and articulate leader we need in the House. He is a visionary who genuinely understands the needs of the people in his community and is willing to champion their cause.”

Says Carter, “I am committed to empowering the people in my home community – especially those who have been left behind in our complex economy. We need to create tools and resources to improve lives – including expanded broadband and affordable higher education options. I am a strong advocate for expanding Interstate-81 in the Roanoke Valley and believe Virginia needs to take bold steps to address the opioid crisis, expand healthcare to all individuals and protects women’s reproductive rights.”

Carter, who has a theology degree and is a history graduate of Virginia Tech, was an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Radford University for nearly a decade and now serves as their Associate Director of Advancement.

Carter will lay out his platform Thursday (tomorrow) at Parkway Brewery in Salem at 2 p.m.

Wet Trails Mean Many Mushrooms

While slipping and sliding all over the hiking trail today, I took little breaks here and there to admire the wealth of mushrooms–in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors–caused by the recent flooding.

That flooding is still in much of the trails in our area, but along the banks of these little trail rivers are mushrooms to brighten your hike. Here are a few from earlier today.

And yes, I know they are phallic symbols. I just don’t care.