It’s hard work to go on vacation, but well worth it

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Bobs Column - The B Side  The trouble with a vacation is coming back from vacation.
  I stepped into the house Monday evening after being out of town since Thursday night and immediately began making a mental checklist of things that I had to accomplish as soon as possible. Truth is, I started the list while on the drive home.
  Writing this column was atop the list, especially because the Reporter lost a valuable production day Monday, which was a holiday. So, I’m thinking, B-Side needs to get written so I can spend some time later Monday night on a personal project, unpack and organize.
  Then, I can hit the office Tuesday and have decent chance of squeezing two days work into one. Something might fall through the cracks, but it’s important that I give myself the best chance possible to meet my deadlines and accomplish all my work.
  Of course, I’m not alone in this frame of mind.
  My 15-year-old daughter wasn’t home an hour before she got back to the homework that’s due the following day. She tried to do some in the car on the trip, but the back seat isn’t the best place to study.
  So she strived on Monday night to study for a quiz and complete an outline for the AP history course. She, too, is never truly “away” from school, as she has the ability to check grades online.
  Her mother, meanwhile, was making sure we have everything we need for Tuesday, though she was smart enough to extend her vacation until Wednesday.
  It’s tough for most of us to throw the switch and just go on vacation— a full and complete vacation that includes nothing but rest and relaxation, fun and frivolity.
  Years ago, being away from the job meant exactly that. Today, it’s nearly impossible to truly get away. Instead, we’re tethered to our responsibilities via cell phone calls, texts, e-mails. I was only gone from the office for one workday, yet I checked my email regularly while away.
  When I saw an email from my editor that didn’t require a response, I responded anyway. Force of habit, I guess. Then again, an email reminding me to submit my picks for the Reporter’s Football Forecast went ignored.
  And this particular trip was just a long weekend. A full week off requires many of us to work twice as hard before we leave. It’s unfair to leave our colleagues behind to do extra work. And, in my case, my editor worked his tail off before going on his vacation so I wouldn’t have too many additional tasks.
  Vacations might be tough to take, but they’re well worth it. My family and I easily could have spent a week in northern Michigan (and we’ve already talked about how such a trip might come together next year).
  On this trip, the fulfillment was found in the little things.
  For instance, my wife and I spent every night sitting at the bonfire the resort provided, sharing a bottle of wine. Other resort guests would arrive, relax in the Adirondack chairs and help their young children make s’mores.
  We met Bob and Peggy, who hail from Windsor. They’d been to the resort many times, but this was the first time without their children—a very different experience that they seemed to be enjoying quite a bit.
  Bob and Peggy were engaging folks, and we spent hours talking kids and comparing U.S. and Canadian cultures. It was an enjoyable evening.
  The next day, we took a trip to Mackinaw City, where I met a retired local newspaperman who has written three books about the Mackinac Bridge. He told me fascinating stories about the five men who died building the bridge that connects Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas.
  We could have talked for a long while. Here was a veteran journalist, who compiled information for his Mackinac Bridge books from his own reporting and research he conducted. He told me about the number of babies on the bridge and host of other factoids.
  We spent time in the hot tub and swimming pool as my daughter asked me, tongue planted firmly in cheek, “What’s next?”
  “Nothing,” I told her. That’s the beauty of vacations. They don’t always go as planned. You let the day come to you.
  Of course, my daughter’s not a little girl anymore and doesn’t need a flurry of activities to enjoy a vacation. She had fun, she told me, and didn’t want to leave.
  Neither did I.

Foley must be remembered for how he lived…and how he died

  • Written by Bob Rakow

I read an interesting tweet last week from Kelly Foley, a journalist and the cousin of James Foley.
“Please honor James Foley and respect my family’s privacy,” she wrote. “Don’t watch the video. Don’t share it. That’s not how life should be.”
James Foley, as you may know by now, was beheaded somewhere in the Middle East at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Before pulling out the knife used to decapitate him, his masked executioner explained that he was killing the 40-year-old American journalist in retaliation for the recent United States’ airstrikes against the terrorist group in Iraq.
Certainly, his family’s privacy should be respected, but his mother and father’s press conference at their home in Manchester, N.H, was incredibly moving. Watching these grieving parents face the microphones and cameras and express love for their son and admiration for his work was truly inspiring.
Meanwhile, the video of their son’s beheading went viral and sparked outrage as well as considerable debate over whether the horrific images should be restricted online.
Those who oppose distributing the image online do so because it will give publicity to ISIS. One the other side of the debate, NPR said, “there are those who see the video as proof of the militants’ barbarity and of the tragedy of Foley’s death. Some see the restriction of images as censorship. “
I tend to side with those argue that that video must be available. In fact, I’d go a step further and say that Americans need to see it to fully comprehend what we’re up against when it comes to ISIS.
I posted a news story on Facebook that included two photos: one of the ISIS executioner holding a knife to Foley’s neck, the other of President Obama swinging a golf club.
Obama, you see, hit the links shortly after giving a speech in which he condemned ISIS. I don’t care that Obama golfs or, for the most part, how often he golfs. But surely someone could have told him that golfing immediately addressing the Foley tragedy was in poor taste.
I received the following response about my post from a Facebook “friend.”
“Your political statement showed more of the gruesome killing of this man than I wanted to see—more than any post up until now in my feed regarding this issue. I totally don’t appreciate it.”
It’s a curious response, to say the least. I didn’t go out of my way to find the most gruesome photo that I could find. It was an existing post, but the gruesome imagery was all over social media.
My aim was to contrast Foley making the ultimate sacrifice at the hands of ISIS barbarians with Obama shooting a leisurely 18 holes after addressing the tragedy.
The person who called me out wants to bury his head in the sand. He prefers not to come face-to-face with the brutal acts of bloodthirsty terrorists nor does he believe the president is deserving of criticism for golfing as the world comes to terms with the heinous act.
Heck, another person responded to my Facebook post justifying Obama’s decision to golf, saying the president needs to rest and refresh so he can work at his best.
The truth is, we must not ignore James Foley’s death. Indeed, the way he died must serve as a stark reminder that we are at war with radical militants who do not value life and of the freedoms were enjoy.
In many ways, Foley represents us all. He’s an American, a journalist who valued free speech and was drawn to conflict journalism to tell the stories of those who could not speak for themselves.
He was a man of faith, a graduate of Marquette University and Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. He believed he could make a difference and was brave enough to cover unrest in the most dangerous parts of the world.
Watching the planes crash into the twin towers on Sept. 11 remains a horrific image more than a decade later. Thousands of Americans died that day. But the beheading of Foley is tougher to grasp, more gruesome to watch. It’s one man, helpless against his captor, who has no conscious, no soul.
“It’s not how life should be,” Kelly Foley reminds us. Simple yet powerful words.
Don’t forget James Foley—how he lived and how he died.

From being the subject of an interview to writing stories – it’s been a fun year

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorGuess who got hitched this time last year? Me and The Reporter.
And it’s our first anniversary!
One shouldn’t have an anniversary without a mushy story of how the union began. Far be it from me to ruin tradition.
The Reporter and I were first introduced November of 2012. I received a call from a previous staff reporter, regarding an interview. I’d just published my memoir, “Becoming a Mother While Losing My Own,” and a children’s book titled, “Children’s Church with a Preschool Pastor.”
The interview with the Reporter’s reporter was my first with any newspaper. It printed on Thanksgiving, 2012 and I was thrilled to see the story grace the front page.
That left an impression on me.
I became enthralled with the idea of being a reporter. I wanted to bark right out, “How can I get your job?” but that lacked class. About six months later I called to inquire about freelancing for The Reporter. Unfortunately, she was no longer with the paper.
“What? No shoe-in-the-door for me?” I thought.
I hate a cold-call but I dialed away. That landed me on the line with Jason Maholy, the former editor. Strike two! I happened to call on Maholy’s last day. He said, “…call back Monday, ask for Jeff Vorva, it’ll be his decision.”
“Aw geez”, I worried. “Another hoop.”
Writing is a subjective profession. Some love my style and some, not so much! My most memorable rejection was with a literary agent. After receiving a writing sample I submitted for representation she said, “Many thanks for contacting me about your work. I have now had the chance to consider your writing, and regrettably, I do not have sufficient enthusiasm for the project you’ve described to pursue representation.”
Days afterwards I’d find myself repeating “I do not have sufficient enthusiasm for the project,” while aggressively folding laundry or slamming dishes in the sink.
This business requires the ability to embrace criticism.
I recently pitched a Father’s Day tribute to a daily newspaper in the area and their folks swatted me away like a fly at a picnic. Undeterred, I solicited a Chicago newspaper and it ran that piece within a week.
Like I said, it’s subjective. Even when the feedback is good you could be left scratching your head.
Publishing my memoir was a horrendous experience. Everything that could go wrong, did! Once it finally hit the market the positive reviews led me to believe I’d be on the New York Times Bestseller list. However, there must be an awful mistake because I’m not on the list yet. I figured I’d freelance while waiting to be discovered.
The Reporter was my first solicitation. The following Monday, I called just as Maholy suggested. “I’m trying to reach Jeff Vorva, the new editor? I said.” His personality was larger-than-life. “Well I guess that’s me. I AM the new editor, he said.” It was as if being the head chief hadn’t settled in until that moment. I’ve been writing for him ever since.
My passion for writing was discovered seven years ago, shortly after resigning from corporate America to start a family. I traded suits for sweats and a designer handbag for a diaper bag. Writing professionally allows me to exercise vocabulary beyond a first grade level, that would otherwise lay dormant.  
My first year with The Reporter has been incredible.
I love being a part of a team that works as an ensemble, which I feel is reflective of our leader. Vorva serves more than he leads. I’ve learned the hard way writing for the newspaper isn’t like writing a novel. They’re entirely different creatures that I seem to unknowingly comingle. I’m absolutely a stronger writer because of him.
But, the depth of my gratitude belongs to YOU! The reader. The communities from which our stories exist.
Thank you for welcoming me into your lives. You bring hope, inspiration and encouragement to the world. I love sharing your accomplishments and I also love revealing your struggles. I applaud those who allow themselves to be vulnerable for the sake of helping others.
I celebrate your businesses, large and small. I appreciate the contribution you’re making to our economy. Those who haven’t found their name or establishment within the pages of this paper are equally important to me. You’re our faithful readers. The ones who reach for us along with your morning coffee.
We couldn’t print one page without you. I thank you for giving me the honor to write for you. Keep reading and I’ll keep writing, it’s been a happy, first year serving you!

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author, runner whose columns appear the second and fourth Thursdays for the Reporter.

Let me say this about that - They’ve become phone follies

  • Written by Charles Richards

Treating the customer as The Enemy

Have you recently tried to order a product from a large company using your telephone?
  Has a recording answered your call by stating “due to an unusually high call volume, we are unable to take your call at this time so please call back later” tone? This happens just as often at midday as after regular hours. Or you may hear “if you wish to place an order, please visit us on our Internet website at bla,” They apparently are unaware that 30 percent of American households still do not have Internet access in their homes.
  For my own information, whenever I get a real live person on the telephone line, I ask what state they are in. Lately they refuse to give me that information. So I ask which time zone are they in (i.e. Eastern, etc.) That doesn’t work if they are located in India or more recently in the Philippines. I have found that the foreign order-takers are usually nicer and even smarter and perhaps just better trained that the average American-born representative.
  How about the endless telephone menus asking questions you probably can’t answer like “if you know your party’s extension...” If you make up an extension number, you will be greeted with a nasty lady’s recorded voice stating that “you have dialed an invalid extension.”
  “Geez, I’m so sorry,” I silently reply. No longer can you simply press “0” and get a live operator. That, too, is invalid.
  The general impression you get is “go away, we don’t want you bothering us.” They seem to see the potential customer as THE ENEMY. Why is that? One answer is that management refuses to hire enough people to take phone orders for their products. When their sales volume drops, they just fire more order takers. This is laissez-faire capitalism run amok.
  It appears that management is more concerned with getting enormous raises. They only see the company’s future in the next three months (a financial quarter). If they ever get fired, they feel they can go out and get another big job at a different company. Sadly, at least lately, this is true.
  Another unpleasant development is “voice mail.” If you leave a question or special request, you may or may not get your call returned. Too many executives now follow the practice of never answering their own telephones. And of course most secretaries have long ago been eliminated. But the worst practice of all is intentionally keeping a voice mailbox “full” so your comments cannot be accepted.
  Then “if you wish to make a call please hang up and...”
  Much of the American economic system is based on companies making and selling goods and services in return for cash or credit card dollars. American consumers provide the majority of purchases in our country. Why dump them?
  I am sending a warning to American industry! Remember what happened to the businesses in the early 2000s. They based their business plans on the concept that they never needed to show a profit. They would make their fortune eventually by selling to a bigger organization. Most, ultimately, ended in bankruptcy. As it was said, “the bubble burst.”
  I fear that treating customers as enemies is ultimately courting disaster. “Don’t keep biting the hand that feeds you.”

Editor’s note: Please share your experiences with this subject by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

DeJesus at Christ turns into a big career change a year ago

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Had Steve Metsch been able to cover David DeJesus’ appearance at Advocate Children’s Hospital last year, I likely would not be writing this column.
DeJesus, a member of the Chicago Cubs last year, visited children at the hospital, a part of Christ Medical Center, in late August. The night before, I received an email from a SouthtownStar editor (I was freelancing there at the time) asking me to fill in for Metsch.
I accepted the assignment and, while waiting in the hospital lobby for DeJesus to arrive, bumped into Jeff Vorva, the new editor of the Reporter. Vorva had covered the Cubs for the Southtown longer than DeJesus played for the team.
But the most recent stop on his journalistic journey was at the Reporter. Not long after covering the DeJesus appearance, Vorva sent me an email asking if I was interested in working for the paper.
I enjoyed freelancing for the Southtown and had done it for a long time, but a fulltime position at the Reporter sounded appealing. I interviewed for the job and was hired a few days later.
Thanks, Steve. Had you covered the DeJesus assignment, who knows what I’d be doing today.
I see Steve quite a bit in the towns we both cover, especially Oak Lawn. He’s a solid, veteran reporter with whom I enjoy competing.
Of course, that’s a big part of what I enjoy about working at the Reporter. I’m covering many of the same towns that I wrote about while at the Southtown. I know Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge, and Evergreen Park—the communities, the issues and their leaders.
The transition was simple. I merely told mayors, trustees and school district officials that I was still around, just working for a different paper. And covering the same towns means there’s no learning curve, no period of adjustment.
At first, I passed on an offer to write a weekly column. But when my closest elementary school friend died, I had to say something—commemorate him in some way.
And so the B-Side was born.
Unfortunately, I had to use the column space again to recall my relationship with a close high school friend who passed away. I’ll be just fine if I don’t have to write such a column a third time.
We struggled with a name for the column at first. But Vorva knows music, and I once said his musical knowledge was so deep that he knew the names of all the B-sides—the other side of a 45 record for all of you under 45.
Without hesitation, Val Draus, our sales rep, looked up from her desk and said, “The B-Side. That’s it.”
Writing the B-Side is one my favorite parts of the job each week, and I enjoy the feedback I’ve received. People are reading the column—my serious and not-so-serious musings about my family, the community, the old days and so forth. Thanks to everyone who takes the time.
The B-Side and ImPRESSions, Vorva’s weekly column, are two highlights of the Reporter that he and I work hard to produce each week. But the columns are just part what make us proud of the paper.
Jeff’s got a great eye for page design and creative flair, especially when it comes to headline writing. I possess neither skill. When I arrived, we struck up an agreement of sorts. He’d lay out the paper, write the headlines and edit copy while I kept a close eye on the six towns the Reporter covers—writing news, crime and feature stores and staying in touch with my sources.
It’s been a pretty good strategy, and readers have reacted positively to the look and content of the paper.
I’ve worked on some memorable stories during my first year. I cover Oak Lawn, the good, the bad and the ugly, as well as towns where the political tension isn’t so evident, such as Evergreen Park, Worth and Chicago Ridge.
I’ve written about the comeback of James Sexton, the Evergreen Park mayor who fought and beat West Niles Virus. I’ve known Jim a long time and truly admire what he went through during his return.