May 1 from Rocky Knob

Embarrassed that I haven’t used this blog in months, so here are a couple of pictures that I already uploaded to Facebook after a late Sunday afternoon saunter through the Rocky Knob Picnic Area and Rock Castle Gorge Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd, Va. It’s just good to see so much green again, even if this old blog is starting to look like a report on the changing seasons… a rather low-speed level of “other journalism.”

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Posted in 2022, Appalachia, Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd, photography

Atop the Blue Ridge in February

The old Appalachian Trail shelter at Rocky Knob, Floyd, Va., 02-12-2022 (Bob Stepno photo)

Snapped this photo with my smartphone on my first 2022 visit to the Rocky Knob area along the Blue Ridge Parkway — after enough January snow and ice had melted to make the trail friendlier. I also shot video farther up the ridge, exhausting the phone’s battery to the point that the screen backlight shut off. I had to snap my last few photos — including this one — looking at an almost black screen. But the old tree and shelter framed the image by themselves.

Friends on Facebook liked this picture so much that I’m putting it here where I can send links to my non-Facebook friends and family. The shelter has an interesting history — built in the 1930s for the first wave of Appalachian Trail hikers, but the official Appalachian Trail was rerouted farther west near the Virginia/West-Virginia line in the 1950s, where it could go through that area’s national forests. This trail section became part of the Rocky Knob Recreation Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and is less than a mile (uphill) from the parkway’s Saddle Overlook.

Looking approximately northeast from the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Saddle Overlook. The trail up to the Old-Appalachian-Trail shelter is at the southeast corner of the parking lot.
An interestingly lichen-covered tree made a good stopping-to-catch-my-breath spot about two-thirds of the way up to the shelter, whose angular roof is visible at the top center of the photo.



The shelter has a solid wall, two half-width side walls (entrance on the left; window on the right), and the eastern side is open to the sunrise. It did have a working fireplace, long sealed with stones and mortar. The floor is stone, and there is a long narrow bench attached to the rear wall. I’ve read one early hiker’s account of gathering firewood and bagging leaves to build a fire and pad his sleeping bag on a cold night.
These days, the National Park Service provides a campground about a mile up the road (the Parkway is a long narrow National Park), or travelers can exit in another mile at Tuggle’s Gap in Floyd to spend the night at the town’s modern motels, hotels or B&Bs.

Posted in 2022, Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd, Southwestern Va

What newspapers used to be

Updating an old link before sending it to a friend, I discovered that this clip from the movie “Deadline U.S.A.” is still on YouTube, about 10 years after I last showed it in a journalism class.
Editor Bogart, at the “wake” for a newspaper being sold out from under him and his staff, makes a list of the things people “want” from a 1950s newspaper — comics, puzzles, recipes, horoscopes, etc. That actually had been true for almost fifty years, from the Hearst vs. Pulitzer “yellow journalism” circulation war.
What happened 25 or so years ago was that communication went digital and personal — readers who wanted comics or puzzles could find them online without the distractions of a newspaper, shoppers could go directly to merchants, voters could get their propaganda directly from politicians, and nobody had to buy a newspaper to get those things — until they maybe noticed there were other things they were missing: A critical, research-based view of what the government was doing, or the big corporation with pipes going into the river or chimneys into the air, or issues that came up at the school board last week.
I’ve become a subscriber at Cardinal News, a nonprofit news website run by newspaper veterans from southwestern Virginia. They’ve taken contributions from a couple of powerful corporations, but talk a good fight about maintaining their independence, run no ads, and publish a list of contributors.
I miss the comics and the crosswords of a printed paper, but at least I’m getting some news.

Posted in 2021, Appalachia, community, Journalism, News

Blogversary

A belated happy 20th anniversary to my oldest continuing blog, started November 24, 2001, when I was exploring a lot of writing-on-the-Web tools as part of the “Digital Culture” and “Online Journalism” courses I was teaching at Emerson College. It’s called “Boblog” and is composed with Blogger, which gives it the (free!) Web address of Boblog.blogspot.com. These days I use it mostly to write about music. The blog you are reading, stepno.wordpress.com, inherited the general-purpose and journalism-related functions of that earlier blog and another, and it just passed its 13th anniversary on November 11.

Here’s this blog’s “Hello World” post from 2008, when I started to make the transition from yet another blog I had kept on the “Radio Userland” blog posting-and-hosting system. I’d been using “Radio” since the spring of 2002, a nifty system that let you build your blog entries on your local computer, then “publish” to the server — always keeping that backup copy. But Userland phased out its hosting and software business, so I archived everything I had written so far, and moved on.

Radio Userland was especially nice on slow dial-up Internet connections, and it was a pioneer in publishing shareable RSS feeds of page contents. The program functioned as both a blog-publisher and RSS-subscription-reader. I’m pretty sure it was the first program to let you incorporate audio or video files in a blog’s RSS feed and subscribe to other blogs that had such “enclosures.” If I remember correctly, you could set a timer to download them overnight so they’d be ready to play in the morning.

If I’d had the resources to record audio or video and a better network connection for the uploading, I could have been a pioneer “podcaster,” as the practice became known a few years later. (Userland founder Dave Winer’s Scripting.com blog archives may have that whole story with the details right.)

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Posted in 2008, blogging, memories, Radio Userland, WordPress

Is there a future for “journalism education”?

Just saw this Nieman Lab article via a link from its author on Twitter… https://www.niemanlab.org/2021/10/its-time-to-create-an-alternative-path-into-a-journalism-career/

Looks like a Thoreau article…

No, voice to text, I said “thorough” article… But Henry David Thoreau didn’t have any fancy major in “opinion writing” or “environmental journalism”, so maybe that opening is appropriate…

Count me as one of the “school newspaper path” reporters, among the categories listed in the article, although 25 years later I spent five years on the campus of a “Journalism & Mass Communication” school because I was interested in the way the internet might change the business.

(I got there too early, and slightly out-of-focus. By the time I finished my dissertation about one way “online news” might work, news websites no longer worked that way. So I started thinking of myself as a historian instead. And I switched my research focus to an era and form of “new media” that would stand still: Radio, 1930-1960.)

But when I was an undergraduate I majored in English, read Thoreau, Emerson and Hawthorne, preferred Twain because he was funnier, stumbled into being editor of a student newspaper, and finally took a couple of Journalism courses from a professor (UConn’s Evan Hill, R.I.P.) who felt his job was primarily to knock the adverbs out of our vocabularies and point us toward a newspaper with a bunch of wise old editors who would teach us the rest of the business.

Now the news industry has been laying off Wise Old Editors for 25 years… (“WOE is us?”) which makes that Nieman article timely, if not exactly a solution. Guess I’ll go read it again.

Posted in 2021, communication, Education, Journalism, memories, Newspapers, teaching

Rocky Knob trees & sunset

The Blue Ridge Parkway Rocky Knob Rec Area features include great “overlooks,” a campground I’ve never used (living just an hour away), and a picnic area with tall trees, rhododendron thickets, a couple of restrooms, many deer, and maybe 100 deteriorating table-and-grill settings along a mile or so of one-lane loop roadway that seems to have been designed for Model A Fords and may have been last paved for 1950s Volkswagens …

Looking up, from Rocky Knob picnic area hiking trail, Oct. 24, 2021 (Bob Stepno photos)
The Buffalo, as seen from the Saddle, Floyd, Va. Oct. 24, 2021 (Bob Stepno photos)

The Saddle Overlook is where I go for sunset photos… Still haven’t gotten up early enough to drive there for the (rumor has it) equally impressive sunrise. Buffalo Mountain is west of the Saddle and frequently stars in the sunset photos.

The woods suffered mightily in an ice storm last winter, after a couple of decades of hemlock blight (and chestnut blight before it) reduced the number and variety of really big trees. But we can all still hug what’s left… Just don’t make the bears jealous.

(This post done with an Android smartphone camera and WordPress app. I may edit or add more photos later from my laptop. Photo resolution reduced to speed uploading browser views. Hmm… Could I make any money selling higherresolution versions?)

Posted in 2021, Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd, photography, the Blue Ridge Parkway

What caused Facebook to crash?

There are already conspiracy theories running wild, but I think it was an overload of autumn foliage photographs…

Mabry Mill, Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd, VA. (Stepno photo)
Looking east in a rainstorm, from Rocky Knob, Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd Virginia. (Stepno photo)
Smart View recreation area, Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd, VA. (Stepno photo)
Smart View recreation area, Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd, VA. (Stepno photo)
Smart View recreation area, Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd, VA. (Stepno photo)
I love the way the bears sweep up after themselves at Smart View recreation area, Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd, VA. (Stepno photo)

Posted in 2021, Appalachia, Blue Ridge Parkway, photography

Facebook down!

With Facebook offline for more than two hours, I renewed my friendships with people on Twitter, read investigative reporting stories about, coincidentally, Facebook and offshore Investments by rich people… and completed a crossword puzzle in an actual printed newspaper, highly amused by the similarity of “a lavish party” and “Kismet.”

Posted in Uncategorized

Virginia News News!

October update: The new regional news website for southwestern Virginia was renamed CardinalNews.org just before launch, emphasizing that it is a nonprofit organization and removing the suggestion that it actually was printing a traditional newspaper. The publication is off to a great start… Check it out! And, while you are at it, write them a check.

Yay! I just sent a friend a note about the Cardinal.Press project, and Facebook Messenger recognized that string as a legitimate web-address. Facebook had earlier rejected the newfangled “dotpress” Internet domain, but it now allows links to the new address, whose staff are promising to bring more serious news reporting to southwestern Virginia, where I live.
Add them to another recent start-up about an hour northeast of me, the Roanoke Rambler!

Insider information: Addresses ending in “.Press” (instead of “.com” or “.org” etc.) are being marketed heavily to individual journalists and new non-profit independent publishers interested in doing what “The Press” used to do …

That is, folks who are doing what newspapers did before owners started throwing news media companies under the wheels of “vulture capitalists” who gutted the staffs, consolidated papers, sold presses, homogenized layout and design, fired senior people with decades of community and political knowledge, and ended the local “big building downtown” visibility that helped make newspapers pillars of their communities for a century or two.

Those most recent chain companies like Alden Capital appear to be more about making money on real estate profits, selling off regional bureaus and branch offices as well as historic newspaper buildings all over America, while sending reduced staffs of reporters to file their stories from laptops at Starbucks, or something… and keeping “newspaper” brand-names just alive enough to sell ads (and more ads) and website subscriptions.

“Cardinal.Press” is a memorable address. But of course you don’t need a dot and the word “Press” at the end of a Web address to do journalism. Will that new batch of domain-addresses truly be a wave of the future or prove to be just a marketing scheme for folks to make money selling domain-name registrations? That is yet to be seen.

BUT the good news is that Southwestern Virginia now has two new places preparing to report the news in a professional manner … After a series of cutbacks, layoffs and retirements at The Roanoke Times, once the region’s powerful daily & Sunday paper, veteran reporters and editors have created both Cardinal.Press and RoanokeRambler.com — born-from-the-ashes startups here in the New River Valley, southwestern Virginia and the Roanoke Valley, covering counties and regional issues the Times has abandoned.

The Roanoke Times, which got into the domain-names business early enough to grab roanoke.com, is still operating in print and online, and I still pay for a subscription because I have nothing but respect for the reporters and editors who are still doing their jobs… The paper’s horrendously ad-soaked website, with frequently dysfunctional search engine, does let me subscribe to email headline-notifications for reporters who cover things I care about. I used to subscribe to eight or nine bylines. I deleted a few when I heard those individuals had left. Now layoffs and retirements have the list down to six and of those only three are still active (one just became editor of Cardinal.Press), but I do still read a few stories a day from the remaining notification-emails…

byline subscription list

But while some former staffers are taking the Phoenix-from-the-ashes approach to building a new regional journalism, the owners of the Times have seemed intent on making an ash of the paper for years under Berkshire-Hathaway and Lee Newspapers. Last year the Times simply gave up sending reporters to my city (Radford) and neighboring communities except for major crimes or court cases, covid-on-campus wrap-ups, and college sports. (Radford has a university, although smaller than the one a dozen miles away in Blacksburg, which the Times hasn’t abandoned fully. It has more and bigger sports.)

Cardinal.Press plans its full launch later this month and will focus on the area south and southwest of Roanoke. Presumably the Roanoke Times veterans at Cardinal.Press and the Roanoke Rambler will avoid competing with each other, the Rambler presumably more focused on the city and county that share its name. Cardinal.Press probably will cover more regional issues, not county-by-county hyperlocal news, given its much larger coverage area.

(I wonder whether its area will turn out to be roughly the size and shape of “The Crooked Road,” the roughly two dozen counties, towns and cities mapped out by promoters and supporters of Virginia mountain music. At least that’s how I read their early Press announcements. Time will tell. See the “about” pages at both sites for more about their evolving self-definitions, and to write them a check or two.)

I’m encouraged that both Roanoke Rambler and Cardinal.Press are staffed by experienced professional journalists who just can’t shake the habit of keeping an eye on the powerful, and trying to tell people useful information. They also have new approaches to paying the bills for “watchdog journalism.”


I almost forgot two older “alternative” news sites worth attention: https://vcij.org/ and https://www.virginiamercury.com/ should be on this list too, although they have been around a while longer: The Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Richmond-centered Virginia Mercury. Actually, both have headquarters in the state capital, and have been on my bookmark lists for a few years.

Virginia online media: Collect the complete set!

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Posted in 2021, Appalachia, Business, community, Journalism, Newspapers, Online-Only, Radford, Reporting, Roanoke Times, Social media, Southwestern Va, Virginia

Could be ADHD… or something…

Immediate right now to do list for use when all else fails…

Put down the the smartphone that that you are are you are using using to right write write this list with an echoey voice to text app … Don’t even edit this item.

Empty the dishwasher
Put the dishes that are piled up in the sink into the dishwasher

Rinse out the empty plastic containers in the other half of the sink and put them in the recycling bin or in the trash, according to the little triangular recycling numbers, which are probably a fraud anyway.

Search the pile of papers on the kitchen table for unpaid bills and pay them
Search the house for the postage stamps. They are probably in your briefcase since you were going to take the last batch of “unopened mail that might include unpaid bills” to the library and sort through them there just to get away from the Clutter. Was that really two months ago? Uh-oh.

Remove, but do not open, the two books that are on top of everything in the briefcase from your last visit to the library. At least move them to the “to read” shelf of the bookcase, next to the big box of “books I thought I would read, but I guess not,” and the to read Shelf has been spilling onto the floor for the past year or two.

Yes, there are about sixty books on the “to read shelf”, not counting the ones that are on the Kindle. But do not stop to count them. That would be more OCD than ADHD.

Move the 10 musical instruments and 12 music books off the living room furniture. (Do not stop to practice the fiddle even though you haven’t touched it in several days.)

Move the living room furniture out of the way of the living room windows so the  window installation contractors can get at them.
Call the contractor and see if they know when that will be!

Take a shower.
Cook the salmon steak you bought two days ago before it turns into a science project.
Put on pants before cooking the salmon.

Do not go write a new article for Jheroes.com — even though something just reminded you that you have two draft article ideas almost ready to go. Instead, respond verbosely to a Facebook post about doctoral dissertations and post this embarrassing list to your other blog.

Make a new to-do list….

1. Take a shower…

Posted in 2021, biography, health, humor, personal, smartphones, Stepno, writing
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