Category Archives: Looking Back

Looking at local journalism as the Sewickley Herald marks 116 years

Happy birthday, Sewickley Herald!

For 116 years (Sept. 19, 1903), the Sewickley Herald has served as the record keeper, fact checker and voice of the Sewickley Valley.

I played a small part in the storied history of the Sewickley Herald, serving as a reporter and then editor of the venerable weekly publication for about 11 years.

To say I loved that newspaper is an understatement. The Sewickley Herald and its core mission of providing quality news and information meant such a great deal to me.

I knew my role as a steward of that newspaper was important. Things don’t last that long without passion, pride and commitment.

In a 2013 story celebrating the 110th anniversary of the Herald, I wrote: “Founding publishers J.L. Kochenderfer and James Stinson likely had little idea of the legacy the Herald would carry with it more than a century later.”

By nature of the business, I was part of some pretty big stories impacting the Sewickley Valley — just in my short part of its legacy.

Community journalism sometimes gets a bad rap. Too often, I had then-colleagues snicker at the thought of covering hyperlocal journalism. They didn’t see the value in covering local school board meetings or road paving projects. To them, journalism was about big news in big areas with big crime.

And yet, there we were at the Sewickley Herald, covering bank robberies and business districts, middle school musicals and council members violating state ethics laws.

Thankfully, I’m bad at math, because I would not want to know how much unpaid time I put in at the Sewickley Herald (and in later years at The Signal Item in Carnegie and the South Hills Record — two papers I later became editor of at the same time as I was editor of the Sewickley Herald … doing more with far less).

As time went on, our staffs were slashed. I began with the Sewickley Herald in 2007. At the time, there was an editor (Dona Dreeland), two reporters, a sports editor and a photographer. I was a part-time reporter early on, splitting my time with the Herald and Signal Item (the two papers I would close out my Trib career as editor of).

By the end, we were a staff of an editor (me!), plus a photographer who was split in a million different directions … and a group of freelancers who I owe so much to for helping me look like I had it all together.

And somehow, we still put out quality work, covering school board meetings, student achievements, asking the tough questions and getting in all those local events and briefs.

And somewhere in there we managed to have some fun with (and win several awards for) our online presence/community, photo, news stories, feature stories and sports stories.

Stepping away from the Sewickley Herald was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But as much as I love the Herald, I knew it was time.

In my farewell column, I wrote, “As one of the oldest community newspapers still in operation in the region, the Sewickley Herald has documented quite a bit of change across the Sewickley Valley over the years. After all, change is news. And things always are changing.”

I’ve known and understood the role of a community newspaper for years, but I didn’t find quite the right way to articulate it until I was nearly done:

In my 2018 Herald Citizens of the Year celebration speech, I described how the role of a community newspaper is much like the role of a mother.

“The Herald is there to comfort when there is pain, question when there is conflict, and celebrate when there is joy,” I explained at that celebration. Mothers get to the bottom of disagreements between children, can tell when someone isn’t telling the truth, and know everything that happens at home even if they didn’t witness it.

– Sewickley Herald, Aug. 2, 2018

I miss local journalism. And, sadly, locally and nationally, local journalism has drastically changed just in the last year, as more companies seek to squeeze every last penny out of the success of decades old community newspapers.

I ended my 2018 farewell column with a quote from a musical (“Avenue Q”) that I think of every single day: “Everything in life is only for now.”

Sewickley Bridge marks 108 years

We tend to take bridges for granted in Western Pennsylvania. That is, until the span is closed.

Next year should be interesting for people who use the Sewickley Bridge, as PennDOT (finally!) will rehabilitate the span.

But until then, let’s celebrate the Sewickley Bridge, which turns 108 years old on Sept. 19. The current bridge that’s standing is not 108 years old. The second Sewickley Bridge opened Oct. 21, 1981.

And, as I documented in a 2011 story for the Sewickley Herald, the bridge almost didn’t make it into the 1980s. PennDOT wanted to tear it down following the recent opening of the Interstate 79 Neville Island Bridge.

But Sewickley Valley residents, led by Gloria Berry, campaigned and the bridge was saved.

A tugboat crashed into the new I-79 span, leaving no crossing along the Ohio River for miles.

“When they closed the bridge, it was like big red letters — emergency,” Berry told me for the 2011 Herald story. “There was no crossing the Ohio River from McKees Rocks to Ambridge.”

The bridge is an important piece of the culture of Sewickley Valley and the Moon Township/Coraopolis area, too.

“Both sides of the river are connected economically, medicaHy, through education, religion and socially. It was a lifeline for so many people on both sides of the Ohio River,” Berry said.

At the time, PennDOT said about 19,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily.

Read more about the Sewickley Bridge in this 100th anniversary story I did in 2011 for the Sewickley Herald. You can search the Sewickley Herald archives on the Sewickley Public Library website.

Note: I worked at the Sewickley Herald from about 2007 through August 2018.

Kennywood to bid farewell to Log Jammer after 42 years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like an unpleasant head-banging on the old Steel Phantom, Pittsburghers received a jolt Thursday when Kennywood Park announced it would remove the popular Log Jammer water ride.

After 42 years, the Log Jammer will glide down its massive 53-foot chute one final time on Sept. 17.

What becomes of the space is anybody’s guess. (A quick internet search offers some rumors.)

“While no final decisions have been made regarding what will replace the Log Jammer, Kennywood is committed to enhancing our guests’ experiences while preserving our signature balance of modern thrills and traditional family favorites,” Kennywood General Manager Jerome Gibas said in a statement.

The park’s PR guy Nick Paradise said, “…in order to truly move towards the future, you have to leave some things behind.”

Log Jammer has long been one of those first rides children did in a transition phase from Kiddieland to bigger rides throughout the park. It’s exciting and pleasant for any age.

So it’s no surprise Pittsburghers didn’t take too kindly to news of its demise.

Perhaps Pittsburghers also are attached to Log Jammer because it seemed like one of those iconic attractions — like the Jack Rabbit and Thunderbolt — that would remain with the park for generations to come even though it held no records, made no “best of” lists and wasn’t nearly as unique as Thunderbolt.

But, oh, those Kennywood memories.

It’s one of the few rides I remember sharing with my grandmother when I was young. You’d get just enough wet to cool you off, but not soaked to your underwear wet like the Raging Rapids, so it was perfect for grandmas and grandkids!

Of the park’s three water rides (Raging Rapids and Pittsburg Plunge are the other two), Log Jammer was the Goldilocks ride: it wasn’t too hot; it wasn’t too cold; it was just right.

Log Jammer was Kennywood’s first ride to cost $1 million. It opened May 22, 1975. The 1,650-foot course meanders mostly through the trees in a back corner of the West Mifflin park’s property and features two drops — a 27-foot drop in the middle of the ride and a 53-drop to end the ride before turning into the station. It was designed by Arrow Dynamics — the now-defunct company that also constructed the Steel Phantom.

Hearing the news that Log Jammer would be gone was pretty stunning. Knowing my sometimes ridiculously obnoxious love of Kennywood, several friends checked in to get my reaction.

It’s too bad the park waited until just before the final two summer operating days (Sept. 16 and 17) to make the announcement. A proper farewell to a much beloved ride would have been a wonderful end to such a memorable part of the park.

Also, if you’re wondering, I won’t be that yinzer.

 

With food, every day is a Good Friday for meatless eaters

Growing up, I remember wondering what was so “good” about Good Friday.

I couldn’t eat meat, and Good Friday always happened to fall on a Friday (funny how that works), which meant Pizza Friday, which meant no pepperoni, which meant WHY EVEN HAVE PIZZA.

No meat on Good Friday became a carryover family tradition from older generations in the family who were far more religious than my family.

Fast forward a few decades to a time when I no longer eat meat on any day of the year.

I laugh thinking of how I felt so put out that I couldn’t have pepperoni pizza or chicken tenders.

Not having meat with a meal was unthinkable then.

Want a salad? No bacon. WHY HAVE SALAD!

A burger? No way! WHAT IS THE POINT OF LIFE!

So I recall a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches and cheese pizza — two otherwise excellent options EXCEPT WHEN MEAT WAS NOT AN OPTION!


What a minor sacrifice it was for that short period. It’s similar to how I see those who forgo something for Lent. A huge deal is made for something such as coffee or pop or candy.

Today, I only consider meatless options — of which there are plenty to choose from — for meals.

Forced romanticism

I originally wrote this column for twodaymag.com — an online dating and social scene magazine for Millennials. This column appeared Feb. 11, 2013, at twodaymag.com.

With the onslaught of forced romanticism we’ll endure this week across social media, in the news, in the workplace and from family and friends, will come the anti-Valentine’s Day crowd.

Call them the 1-percenters, the love-haters or Occupy Valentine’s Day, but the growing number of singles is … well, actually growing.

About half of Americans are single, and ⅓ of all households are occupied with one person, The New Yorker said in a 2012 story.

Despite those numbers, floral shops are scurrying to fill orders of long-stem red roses, bakeries can’t keep “I love you” cookies and cakes in stock and store shelves of those heart-shaped candy boxes will move faster than bread and toilet paper with the threat of 1-inch of snow.

And I can only imagine how busy Kay Jewelers counters will be this week. Ugh.

So as half of America apparently will celebrate Valentine’s Day with a special love, the rest of us have the chance to celebrate Single’s Awareness Day — with its anything but true abbreviation of S-A-D.

“The goal of Singles Awareness Day is to let singles have celebrations, get-togethers, etc., and to exchange gifts with their single friends,” according to SinglesAwarenessDay.com. “The awareness day was established by single people who were just sick of feeling left out on Valentine’s Day, and support of the day is growing every year.”

The website touts Feb. 15 as the big holiday, but I’ve seen other references to Feb. 13 and Feb. 14 as well.

Some Singles Awareness Day events are lighthearted — happy hours, singles gift exchanges and dinner with single friends.

The folks at Smokey Bones even are pushing a Singles Awareness Day happy hour Friday in an effort to give single people a chance to meet others (or maybe allow post-Valentine’s Day couples a chance to test the waters, eh?).

But there really are some great activities you can do just to make someone else’s day special, SinglesAwarenessDay.com says.

“If you have the evening free, why not call a local hospital or nursing home to find out if there’s a patient who doesn’t have family visiting frequently and drop in to wish them a happy Valentine’s Day complete with flowers or a goodie basket,” the website says. “This might turn out to be the most rewarding day of your life. If you choose this route, be sure to have some tissues as it could turn into a teary experience for both of you.”

In previous years, I’ve written cards to cancer survivors through the American Cancer Society Relay For Life events I’m involved with.

Last week, I wrote that men will spend roughly $175.61 on everything from candy, jewelry and dinner for their companion, according to a National Retail Federation study. That same study says women will spend $88.78 on their sweetheart.

So if for nothing else, single folks have a chance to save some cash this week.

While stores, the media and friends likely will talk about the impending day, it is important to remember that if you are single this Valentine’s Day, it’s not the end of the world.

Whether you’re single by choice or by life’s agenda, don’t let that descriptor define who you are.

With half of the country considered single, it’s clear you’re not alone.