Off The Record 2017 – ‘This is Us???’

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Help the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank fight hunger and enjoy an evening of humor and fun!

Off the Record XVII: This Is Us??? is presented by the Pittsburgh Newspaper Guild and SAG-AFTRA, Ohio-Pittsburgh.

Just as for the past 16 years, this musical satire will benefit Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and local scholarships. On this one night, prominent Pittsburghers and media personalities will join forces with theater professionals to donate their time and talent to produce a musical comedy spoofing the issues that made Pittsburgh headlines during the prior year.

In this year’s production, Pittsburgh’s civic satirists look in their cracked fun-house mirror at gentrification, political grandstanding, Furries, CMU talent poaching and, of course, the exploding marijuana industry!

Date: Thursday, Oct. 12, from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Location: Byham Theater – 101 E. 6th Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Web site: https://www.facebook.com/pg/OffTheRecordPGH

Tickets: Check back for ticket information closer to the date of the show.

Guild-Gazette: May 2017

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Welcome, interns. The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh publishes this newsletter to recognize the newsroom’s good work and to keep each other up to date on important newsroom and union matters. We ask you what we ask all Guild members: If you’re really impressed with something a colleague has done, let us know about it so we can include it here. You can email your comments to joesmydo@hotmail.comblueline

We did some amazing work in April/May.

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Pittsburgh company Alcoa changed the physical, social and economic landscape of Suriname. But how many Pittsburghers knew about the tiny South American nation, what Alcoa had wrought there or how fraught Suriname’s future is?

Probably not many until the eye-opening project in April by Rich Lord, Len Boselovic and Stephanie Strasburg, who spent days there, compiling rich interviews and poignant photos of a country caught between the 19th and 21st centuries.

Warm applause for Rich, Len and Stephanie

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Gary Rotstein’s April 3 story about population loss due to an unfortunate demographic trend in the Pittsburgh region — more deaths than births–was interesting on its face.

But he surely drew guffaws with this great line in the fifth graph: “While efforts to attract more people from elsewhere are often discussed by civic officials, their capacity to stop residents already here from dying or coax them into abundant procreation is limited.”

It was a gem of a line that underscores Gary’s commitment to creative storytelling. There’s a lot of that here. We inform, and we entertain.

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The sports team did a remarkable job chronicling the Pens’ post season, and there will be more kudos in next month’s letter. Today, let’s applaud one behind-the-scenes story that presaged the trade of the beloved Marc-Andre Fleury. Sam Werner went inside the family’s Quebec home for a May 17 story on how the Fleurys were coping. It was a must read for anyone who follows the Pens and has a soft spot for Marc-Andre.

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The PG’s breaking news stories and second-day coverage are simply first rate. Just this consider this trio of stories on A1 May 16:

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Darrell Sapp photo

gold-star-2-1 A piece by Shelly Bradbury and Adam Smeltz on the fatal fire at the Midtown Towers that led with a survivor’s account of escaping the burning building, her hand clasped in a firefighter’s.

gold-star-2-1Dan Majors’ takeout on the lack of sprinklers in high rises such as Midtown Towers.

gold-star-2-1Mark Belko’s richly detailed account of the Southwest jet forced to land at the county airport in West Mifflin after running low on fuel [it had been in a holding pattern because of the Wings over Pittsburgh show at Pittsburgh International].  The show included extensive comments from an air show organizer, who insisted the show would have been stopped to allow the passenger jet to make an emergency landing.

Days after the initial fire coverage, our newsrooms weighed in with two more good stories: Adam Smeltz’s piece on the city’s interest in digitizing information about buildings’ fire-suppression systems and Elizabeth Behrman’s profile of fire victim Mary Louise Robinson.

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Every day, our photographers and videographers add punch to the stories the PG tells. For proof, check out Stephanie Strasburg’s sad image of a McKeesport youth following a fatal shooting in his neighborhood and Peter Diana’s closeup of the Washington Capitals’ Tom Wilson scuffling with the Pens’ Chris Kunitz.

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Peter Diana photo

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We mine the newspaper and website each month, seeking good work to laud in this space, and there’s never a shortage of material to celebrate.

But we can use your help. When a colleague’s work impresses the heck out of you, let us know. Jon Silver has done so a number of times, and in this issue, he gives shout outs to Shelly Bradbury, Kate Giammarise, Paula Reed Ward, Steph Chambers and Rebecca Droke.

Here’s what he wrote:

“Shelly has been here only 6 weeks and she busted a nice scoop, notoriously tough on the police beat, with an uncredited assist from Paula Reed Ward. Also great photos by Stephanie Strasburg, whose excellent work along with that of Steph Chambers and Shelly show why the infusion of new blood is so important to a newsroom.”

 

Untitled“Finally a terrific, insightful and touching piece by Kate Giammarise, who so cares about the downtrodden (I sit next to her and can personally vouch for how much she cares) and Rebecca Droke, who takes the time with projects like these to really connect viewers to her subjects.”

Jon also liked the coverage of the the Pens fan who photobombed the Capitals’ penalty box April 27, and he suggested we find out how it came about. Sean Gentille wrote the story and Pete Diana took the great photo. But it was a bigger team effort, as Sean explained:

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“Once Pete’s photo started making the rounds that night [April 27], Edgar Ramirez reverse-image-searched[April 27], Edgar Ramirez reverse-image-searched it and saw that the kid had already made it his Twitter avatar. The next morning, all I knew was that I wanted to get ahold of him. When I came in, Tyler Batiste (via Edgar) already had his Twitter name. That’s how I contacted him, and things took off from there.”

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Daniel Moore demonstrated great range with a pair of stories May 7.

One story not only gave details about a fire that leveled Riverside Inn in Crawford County but gave 200 years of context, explaining that the inn was part of the 19th-century mineral springs phenomenon and important to the community’s economy today.

Dan’s second story was an obit on Jules Melograne, who passed the bar without going to law school but tarnished his career as a DJ with a case-fixing scandal. Dan was a mere lad when Melograne fell from grace in the mid 1990s, but his story was as authoritative as if he’d covered it at the time.

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This is not a comprehensive list of the outstanding work our members did in April and May. There isn’t space for that. We do, however, want to make shout-outs a regular feature of the newsletter and we want to cover as many newsroom departments as possible. So when you notice good work, please let us know.

bluelineJoin us in celebrating the publication of a new book about baseball that features work by two Guild members.

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Diana Nelson Jones is co-editor of “The Love of Baseball: Essays by Lifelong Fans,” published by McFarland & Co. of North Carolina. Kevin Kirkland, one of the book’s 30 essayists, contributed a piece on the Negro Leagues.

According to the publisher, the book is structured like a baseball season, beginning “with stories of spring training optimism” followed by those chronicling the “guts and grinds” of the season and “the glory (or heartbreak) of the playoffs.”

The cost is $19.99. It can be ordered at mcfarlandpub.com, by calling 800-253-2187 or by writing to McFarland at Box 611, Jefferson, N.C., 28640.

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Monthly Guild raffle

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Congratulations to Sean Hamill, winner of the Pirates gift card raffle promoted in the last newsletter.

This month, let’s raffle a gift card to an ice cream shop of the winner’s choice.

To enter, send an email to joesmydo@hotmail.com by July 15 and put “ice cream” in the subject line.

Save the Date: Saturday, July 15, 2017

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A reminder to Guild members, including interns, that the Guild’s annual Pirates outing is July 15. The Pirates play the Cards at 7:05 p.m. Before that, we’ll have a tailgate in Gold Lot 1, across General Robinson Street behind the North Shore office. The food will be catered by Bistro to Go on the North Side.

Game tickets are $15 each. The tailgate is free. If you already have tickets to the game, stop by to eat. If you’re working that night, definitely stop by for dinner.

Tickets are on sale now. You can pay Ed Blazina in cash or with a check made out to the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh.

And the best benefit: Instead of the usual Port-O-John, we can use our work ID cards to use the Post-Gazette bathrooms.blueline2016_guild_sept_credit

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Guild-Gazette: March 2017

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We did some amazing work in March.

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Photo credit: Steph Chambers

Our newest photographer, Steph Chambers, couldn’t have captured the moment any better. Steph was at Osborne Elementary in Sewickley when Army Capt. Erik Nowak, in the Middle East since September, surprised his daughter, Imogen, by showing up in at an assembly in the school gym. The photo shows Imogen welling with tears and hugging her dad like she’d never let go.

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Photo credit: Andrew Rush

The PG’s food page is always a feast for the eyes, and the March 15 offering was especially good. The focus was Arthi Subramaniam’s piece on the versatile potato. Andrew Rush and Gretchen McKay supplied the main art — photos of potato-inspired dishes — and page designer Alyssa Brown ran a “potato primer”– thumbnails of potato varieties — down the right side of the page. Inside were recipes and more photos. A great team effort–with just the right number of cooks in the kitchen!

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After an accident involving one of its vehicles in Arizona, Uber suspended testing of its driverless vehicles, including those in Pittsburgh. Our resident Uber expert, Daniel Moore, was the only person who could turn this story around on a dime. Fortunately, Sunday editor Jerry Micco was able to reach Dan at home on a Saturday night, and Dan did a first-rate job on a tight deadline.

During a negotiating session with the Company, we cited Dan’s story as an example of the Guild’s top-shelf work. Jerry, who is on the Company’s negotiating team, joined us in singing Dan’s praises.

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Guild members have produced some great stories in recent months based on documents obtained through FOIA and RTK requests.

There was Sean Hamill’s December report on the CDC’s biased response to a Legionella outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA, Ed Blazina’s February bombshell that the Sept. 2 fire on the Liberty Bridge was not the contractor’s first there, and, now, Mark Belko’s use of township emails to reveal UPMC as the mystery tenant in a South Fayette development.

Records requests can be laborious and time consuming. But as these stories showed, they can pay off in spades.

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Photo credit: Rebecca Droke

A year after five adults and an unborn child were fatally shot at a backyard cookout in Wilkinsburg, Dan Majors revisited the crime and its impact on the community. The result was a nice piece of narrative journalism with extensive comments from the police chief, a detective who helped crack the case and neighbors who are trying to move the community forward.

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This is not a comprehensive list of the outstanding work our members did in March. There isn’t space for that. We do, however, want to make shout-outs a regular feature of the newsletter and we want to cover as many newsroom departments as possible. So when you notice good work, please let us know.

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Monthly Guild raffle

Pittsburg-Pirates-GCM-PhysicalCongratulations to Janice Crompton, who won last month’s raffle for a garden center gift card.

This month, let’s raffle a Pirates gift card, good for tix or merchandise.

To enter, send an email to joesmydo@hotmail.com by May 15. Put “Bucs” in the subject line.

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Welcome to new hires Will Greer (sports), Shelly Bradbury (public safety) and Alexa Miller (art department). Also, congratulations to Courtney Linder for making the transition from intern to associate in business.

blueline8krb2t2nThanks to Matt Freed and his crew at Pints on Penn for being such fine hosts for the Guild’s spring party April 8. The turnout, which included many Guild retirees, was great. The food was good and plentiful. And Guild attorney Joe Pass eventually was reunited with his missing flip phone.

bluelineInterns will start showing up 301701-Welcome_Interns_REVon the PG’s doorstep next month, and we’re still in need of Guild members to mentor them. A good mentor is key to a successful internship. If you haven’t volunteered already, please consider doing so. Mike Sanserino is running the program this year.

bluelineSave the Date:

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We’re proceeding as planned for the Guild baseball game — 7:05 p.m. on Saturday, July 15, vs. the St. Louis Cardinals — but be prepared for the tailgate to be in a new location.

And it’s one you are familiar with — the parking lot behind the North Shore building.

Because of a problem with our usual location — the provider at Ninth & General Robinson goofed and double-booked our date — we will move our pre-game tailgate to the parking lot behind our North Shore office. Dan Gigler is still working out the details with another caterer, but you can expect the usual ballpark-type menu.

And the best benefit: Instead of the usual Port-O-John, we can use our work ID cards to use the Post-Gazette bathrooms.

We’ve ordered 100 tickets in the upper deck down the right field line — out of the sun. Ed Blazina will put them on sale in June, when we should have all of the details worked out.

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Guild-Gazette: March 2017

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We did some amazing work in February.

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Only because of  doggedness did the public learn that two small fires broke out in the Liberty Bridge construction zone days before the Sept. 2 blaze that shut down the span for weeks. Neither the contractor nor PennDot ever mentioned the earlier fires, which Ed discovered while reviewing 155 pages of Occupational Safety and Health Administration documents he obtained through a FOIA.

Transportation is a busy beat. Between folos on the bridge closure and sundry other stories, Ed easily could have passed on the FOIA or let the formidable stack of documents just sit on his desk. But he went the extra mile, and it paid off with a big Feb. 22 story that shed new light on the Liberty Bridge mess and caused PennDot and the contractor to look very silly indeed.

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Andrew Schneider, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize while working at The Pittsburgh Press in the 1980s, was something of a legend here at one time. He’d been away for many years, though, and more recent and younger residents probably never heard of him. Jill Daly’s obit on Andy did a great job of rekindling memories among those who new him and sketching out his life for those who never crossed paths with him. Obits are a strength here, as Jill’s effort showed.

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The local pages may be thin these days but they’re chock full of good stuff. Case in point: On B2 in the Feb. 18 paper was Lake Fong’s great shot of the Penguins’s mascot, Iceberg, talking with students at Heinz Field the day before the big Stadium Series game. Iceberg dominates the foreground and the makeshift ice rink fills out the background.

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All news reporters know about the hilarious and off-the-wall things that happen in magistrate’s court. Diana Nelson Jones decided to let district judges share some of those stories, and it made for a great A1 piece on Feb. 5. How to explain district court to the uninitiated? Diana summed it up beautifully: “If there is anything like the principal’s office in the grown-up world, it is District Court, where the poignant, the hilarious and the weird mix with the same old stories about traffic and parking tickets, nuisance animals, rubbish, rotted porches, overdue rent and add-ons without building permits.

She also included this precious exchange between a defendant and District Judge Richard King:

“I didn’t know it was a ticket,” said one young man.
District Judge King winced. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-four.”
“There was a big orange thing on your windshield that says Mount Oliver Police on it,” the district judge said. “You threw it on the ground.”
“Was it orange?” the man said in wonder, as if he had stumbled onto a defense. “I thought it was yellow.

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The departure of Wendy Bell from WTAE last year was a big story. Her name has surfaced every now and again since then, but what’s she been up to? Reinventing herself, according to Maria Sciullo’s Feb. 19 takeout.

Bell still has a loyal following–one that surely devoured Maria’s illuminating story.

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It’s the kind of tale that makes you wonder: How often are accidents mislabeled homicides or homicides successfully passed off as accidents?

The county medical examiner’s office ruled Mark Kleist’s Jan. 25, 2016, death a homicide, saying he suffered a fatal fall because of seizures he began having after he was assaulted outside a Duquesne bar 11 years earlier. Were it not for the assault, the reasoning went, there would have been no seizures and no fatal fall.

The problem, as Jon Silver pointed out Feb. 11, was the lack of evidence pointing to an assault on Mr. Kleist. True, he was found unresponsive on the ground outside the bar. But there was nothing to suggest that he was pushed or hit. Maybe he fell.

After Jon pressed medical examiner Karl Williams, who didn’t seem to know how his office arrived at the homicide designation, the doctor said he would revisit the case. Reporters thrive on accuracy; we force others to be accurate, too.

If you cover politics these days, you best have a sense of humor. It’s good to be able to share a laugh with your readers, too, as Chris Potter did in his lede on a Feb. 9 story about the new signs of life in U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr.:

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey’s reputation is so low-key, an old political joke has it, that he could get arrested for loitering at his own press conference.

These days, though, the citation would more likely be for creating a disturbance. And some Democratic allies are excited about the shift.

In recent weeks, Mr. Casey has blasted some of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees. He’s promised to fight the White House “every step of the way” on potential cuts to government health programs. And when Mr. Trump abruptly imposed limits on immigration from several majority-Muslim countries last month, Mr. Casey appeared at the Philadelphia International Airport, decrying the policy and the confusion it created.

“He’s been quite vocal — especially for Bob Casey,” said Christopher Borick, a Muhlenberg College pollster. “He’s put himself out there more than his history would suggest.”

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In 1987, the University of Illinois Press published “Making Their Own Way,” Peter Gottlieb’s illuminating book about the black migration to Pittsburgh in the early 20th century.

What’s happened since then? The Post-Gazette more than answered that question with its February project, “The Black Experience “ which chronicled gains, losses, challenges and reverse migration with stirring narrative and strong images in print and online.

Congratulations to Rebecca Droke, Tim Grant, Nate Guidry, James Hilston, Haley Nelson, Gary Rotstein and Andrew Rush for their outstanding work.

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This is not a comprehensive list of the outstanding work our members did in February. There isn’t space for that. We do, however, want to make shout-outs a regular feature of the newsletter and we want to cover as many newsroom departments as possible. So when you notice good work, please let us know.

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Monthly Guild raffle

Congratulations to Karen Kane, winner of last month’s raffle of two tickets to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

This time, with spring in the air, let’s raffle a gift card for garden supplies at Home Depot, Lowe’s or another store of the winner’s choice.

To enter, send an email to joesmydo@hotmail.com by April 8. Put “garden raffle” in the subject line.

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Save the Dates:

gold-star-2-1Join your colleagues for an evening of food, drink and frivolity.

The Guild’s annual spring party will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 8, at Pints on Penn, an establishment owned by our own Matt Freed.

Last year’s party also was held at Pints on Penn, 3523 Penn Ave. in Lawrenceville, and we received many favorable comments.

 Admission for Guild members is free. Each member also may bring a guest for free.

gold-star-2-1The Guild’s summer outing at PNC Park is scheduled for July 15, a 7:05 p.m. game against the always-competitive St. Louis Cardinals. We have reserved 100 tickets for the game, which will include hat and T-shirt giveaways.

Our pre-game tailgate will be the same place as last year’s–the parking lot at the corner of Ninth and General Robinson streets. Stay tuned for details about ordering tickets.

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Guild-Gazette: February 2017

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We did some amazing work in January.

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  • When a cop dies in the line of duty, cops gather by the hundreds or thousands for the funeral. That’s the brotherhood, and Andrew Rush captured it poignantly with this Jan. 6 photo of the funeral for state Trooper Landon Weaver, killed while answering a domestic disturbance call in Blair County. The photo on A-1 was so good it rendered the wire story inside a footnote.
  • It’s tough to handle the day-to-day pressures of a busy beat while still pumping out the enterprise and big-picture stories that give context to the work. Paula Reed Ward is a master juggler, and her Jan. 15 piece on the Superior Court’s rebuke of Allegheny Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel was worth every moment she invested in it.
    Judges, lawyers, defendants, law students and policymakers all had reasons to be grateful for Paula’s story, which artfully explained the appellate court’s concern about a thumb on the scales of justice.
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  • While much about the opioid crisis is sad, few stories on the subject have wrenched the heart like Liz Navratil’s Jan. 22 account of the life and death of 20-year-old Casey Schwartzmier.
    If she died of an overdose, she told her mom, she wanted her story told. Michelle Schwartzmier honored her request with a candid obit, and Liz took it from there, compiling a deeply detailed, eloquent narrative on a tight deadline for Sunday’s paper.
    Casey wanted her story to save at least one person from addiction. Let’s hope it did.
  • Pam Panchak’s Jan. 18 shot of the demolition of the last screen at the Twin Hi-Way Drive In Theater in Robinson was a beaut. Pam captured an excavator in mid attack, as bricks and other debris tumbled to the ground. The shot rightly ran on A-1.

     

  • Peter Smith, who wrote a moving eulogy for Father Michael Scanlan of Franciscan University sent along kudos — well-deserved — to Haley Nelson for her moving shots of the wake.

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  • Nate Guidry gets a shout out, too, for a Jan. 9 photo that laid bare the sadness of an Ohio Township fire that killed 15-year-old Hannah Milbert. His photo showed the remnants of a garage, with unrecognizable pieces of debris filling the rest of the frame, right up to Nate’s feet.
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    Karen Kane handled the reporting on this weekend story and, as is her custom, managed to fill the piece with biographical information and quotes that can be difficult to pry from people involved in a tragedy. She followed up her initial story with a Jan. 13 piece that led with a gripping account of how Hannah’s parents tried to save her from the blaze.
  • Karen has a knack for compassionate but frank telling of these kinds of stories, as anyone who has followed her coverage of the missing Fowler twins can attest. Her work on this story included a powerful takeout Jan. 1 followed by stories Jan. 28 and 29, respectively, on the mother’s disappearance and arrest.
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  • Ed Blazina passed along his praise for the Jan. 22 NFL Sunday Playoff Xtra, which depicted a football as the Death Star from “Star Wars” and the New England Patriots as the evil Galactic Empire. Dan Marsula and Ben Howard were the creative geniuses behind this awesome graphic, which included an attacking Steelers logo shaped like the Millennium Falcon.
    Unfortunately for Steelers fans, the princes of light fell to the forces of darkness this time. But that’s OK. Before you know it, the heroic, fearless rebels will be regrouping at their base in Latrobe.

This is not a comprehensive list of the outstanding work our members did in January. There isn’t space for that. We do, however, want to make shout-outs a regular feature of the newsletter and we want to cover as many newsroom departments as possible. So when you notice good work, please let us know.

Monthly Guild raffle

phipps_logo_colorCongratulations to Anya Sostek, winner of the last newsletter’s raffle of a restaurant gift card. We’re headed smack into spring, so this month, let’s raffle off two passes to the spring flower show at . If you’re interested, send an email to joesmydo@hotmail.com by March 5. Put “Phipps” in the subject line.

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8krb2t2nSave the Dates:

The Guild’s spring party is tentatively scheduled for April 8 at Pints on Penn, an establishment owned by our own Matt Freed. More details to follow. We had our spring party here last year and got excellent feedback, so we’ve decided on an encore.

It’s time to mark your calendars for next summer’s Newspaper Guild outing at PNC Park with the Pittsburgh PiratesPittsburgh_Pirates10

Because of very limited offerings at 4 p.m., this year we will go with a game at 7:05 p.m. on July 15 with the St. Louis Cardinals. We have reserved 100 tickets for the game, which will include a free hat for the group and a T-shirt giveaway by the team.

We expect to have the pre-game tailgate at the same place, the parking lot at the corner of Ninth and General Robinson streets. Ed Blazina will be in touch about the cost and reserving tickets once the snow melts and we get closer to the event.

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