Loose lips sink ships: “Patricia I hate you.”

They would sometimes censor words at random when you wrote letters home. Aside from keeping an accurate account of activities in the Mediterranean Theater in his journal, George Buttenschoen kept in touch with his family through mail. 

But what he told his family and what actually made it through the army of  wounded mail processors was a different story. Back then, when you were wounded and laying in the hospital, they’d find a use for you. Wounded combat veterans took the place of mail censors, George tells me. And sometimes those guys would get bored. 

Sometimes, they’d bleep out words at random, like “love,” even. “I don’t know,” he shrugs and rolls his eyes, “.just bored I guess.”

George wasn’t allowed to write about much. As the saying goes, “loose lips sinks ships.” As a gunner’s mate on a landing craft, the phrase was quite literal. So he didn’t write much. Mail correspondence to his family was limited to what he ate that day, what the weather was like and how he felt (just no war stuff, okay?).

His letters would go to the boat’s skipper before getting handed off to the mail boat. After the skipper made his runs with a pen, the letter was sent to the censors, probably in an Army hospital midway between the war and Watertown, South Dakota, George’s hometown. 

The result could be devastating, confusing, and maybe a little humorous. 

“Dear Mom and Dad, I really _____ you, I ________ you every day.” “Dear Patricia, you’ll never know how much I always ____ you. If I don’t ____ you again, I just wanted you to know that _______ my favorite girlfriend.”

And now – especially now – in the digital age, it seems like this method of communication is probably the safest from prying eyes.

Taming my career choices

I think too much when I jog. I was on a trail, when I thought: I’m ready to be done with school but I’m not ready to go to work. There’s nothing wrong with that. 

Believe me, I want to get started in my career. But I’m not sure if I’m prepared to commit to one singular career choice. Such is my life. Commitment is my biggest fear. I seriously can’t even decide which 90 minute movie to put on Netflix.

That’s me. No patience. I need everything in small bite sized chunks and I need them at my convenience. But I think that’s my generation’s preference overall. That’s why Twitter is so popular. No one gives a shit about your 4,000 word blog posts. We want our news in under 500 words and our entertainment in under 140 characters.

So I’m considering abandoning writing for something more visual.

I love writing. It’s the cornerstone of communication. It’s the most necessary skill for any profession. But journalism isn’t just any profession. Ever since I began college, I’ve been told that journalism is changing. I guess I want to be part of that change.

I’m considering applying to Columbia (God help me) and the University of Washington. Columbia Journalism School has a really interesting program on “Audience and Engagement” in their Master of Science program that focuses on social media and “digital news design.” The program allows you to take courses in its multimedia and writing tracks, also. The University of Washington also has some very prospective master’s programs. The first is the Communications Leadership program. It seems to have more of a public relations focus, but some of the courses are on social media, video games and even comic books. So what’s not to love? Secondly, pretty much anything in the UW’s School of Art graduate program looks awesome. The program has three tracks: visual communication design, interaction design and industrial design, all of which would be a huge benefit to my portfolio.

Keeping up with the latest tech and media in journalism is a mind boggling business. Instead of playing catch up, I want to lead.

tl;dr I want to stay in school. I hope grad school will land me a better job. 

Taking the fun out of social media

I just don’t get the time to write what I want to anymore.

My internship is finished and holymotherofgod I still don’t have any free time. I keep finding ways to distract myself from the things I really want to do. For instance, I constantly need to update my LinkedIn account. No one really looks at it, but I need to. That means making sure my email is current, my job is current, my social media links are correct and updating all manner of questions: “When did you graduate **** university?” “How long did you work at ****” ” Do you know any foreign languages?” etc., etc., etc.

The other day I updated my course list. “Journalism 307″…. tab…. “Student at Western Washington University”…. tab…. enter…. tab…. “Journalism 415″…. tab…. “Student at Western Washington University”…. tab….. enter… tab…. “Journalism 340″…. tab…. “Student at Western Washington University”…. tab….. enter…. tab….  Potential employers definitely care about the whole list of classes I took (especially African Science Fiction). 

Except that they don’t. But I need to pretend that they do. I need to be on top of the social media game if I’m going to get anywhere in the new world of digital communication. Everyone needs to, really. That includes keeping your Facebook page professional, keeping your Twitter smart, Instagram clean, LinkedIn amazing, Tumblr nonexistent and WordPress current. 

Managing your own social media is practically a full time job. 

Washington history: Killer salmon

I’m researching the history of Birch Bay, Wash., when all of the sudden I find this headline:

“1941… A salmon attacks a 12-year-old boy in Birch Bay on July 9, 1941″

So, that happened.

Here’s the rest, according to the Birch Bay Historical Timeline:

On July 9, 1941, a 35-pound Chinook (king) salmon attacks a 12-year-old boy who is fishing for crabs in Birch Bay (Whatcom County). The boy survives the encounter none the worse for wear, but the fish finds itself belly up on the barbeque.

Bold Gladiators

In the early 1940s Birch Bay, located in extreme northwestern Washington, was a popular resort destination, and fish and man in the bay were long since used to each other. So it was a real surprise on July 9, 1941, when a 12-year-old Lynden boy, Walter Richmond, suddenly found himself confronted by an angry king salmon in the waters of Birch Bay.

Young Richmond was walking through the water just offshore, fishing for crabs, when he happened upon two large salmon, one a little larger than the other. He watched expectantly for the fish to swim away. But the bigger one did not. Instead it made a mad rush at the lad, who dropped a sack of crabs he was holding and fought back with a potato fork which he had been using for crabbing. The fish retreated – but not far. Likewise undeterred, Richmond stood his ground.

For a brief moment fish and boy warily eyed each other, two bold gladiators prepared to battle to the death. Then the salmon charged again. This time Richmond struck home with his multi-pronged dagger and dispatched his aquatic opponent. The 35-pound fish was dragged ashore and ingloriously barbecued.

Scrappy Salmon

No one at Birch Bay could remember ever hearing of a salmon attacking a human. Some  speculated that it was trying to protect a mate, but no one really knew what caused it to go off the deep end. Maybe the kid just really freaked the fish out. And like all good fish tales, it grew bigger with each telling. By the time the Lynden Tribune reported the story on its front page the following week, the scrappy salmon was mistakenly reported to have been 35 feet long.

A tough “Son of a Beach”: Telling war stories

Telling someone else’s story often helps you define your own. That’s what was written in an L.A. Times article about the San Quentin News, an inmate-produced newspaper in the San Quentin Prison,California.

Staffers say their work can induce soul-searching, that telling other people’s stories helps them explore their own lives. And it can be a source of pride.

I love journalism because it provides me a look into another person’s life. They paint the picture, but I am the medium. It’s hard not to get excited when you meet someone with similar life experiences that you can relate to – or, at the very least, someone with the same passion.

Today, George Butenschoen and I discussed his upbringing in South Dakota before WWII. I’m compiling a story about George’s experience during the war. George is a Bellingham, Wash., local, who joined the Navy in his early 20′s and saw three invasions in the Mediterranean. He lived on a small naval assault boat nicknamed “Son of a Beach” for practically three years.

We discussed his love of working the fields, his daily regimen on the farms, and of course, what it was like living in the “Dirty Thirties.” But inbetween this conversation, he tells me about looking into the water of Omaha Beach in Normandy and seeing the bodies of young Americans floating face down in the aftermath of D-Day.

IMG_4491(A worn photo of George Buttenschoen, pictured in his Navy uniform, c. 1942. Photo Courtesy of George Buttenschoen)

Sometimes he stops when we discuss these things, as if catching himself. He fumbles his words a bit and then turns his gaze away from me.

“That stuff was nothin’ compared to what my brother had seen.”

Oscar Buttenschoen, George’s younger brother, had been the epitome of an American hero in WWII. He was a gruff young man, “built like a brick house,” who would fight anything that moved, George tells me. While George had joined the Navy, Oscar joined the Army. Oscar served as a tanker under General Patton. Shortly after the war was over, he joined the Air Force. Oscar died in Salerno, Calif, in 1950 at the age of 28.

I do my best to reassure George that his story is just as important as Oscar’s. But I find myself in a parallel reality. Though I saw my own share of conflict in Iraq, I never saw the heavy fighting that some of my friends saw. I digress the same way George does when he brings up his experiences.

“It was never really that bad…”

Yet, I’m convinced that each of our stories is just as important. I’m continuously discovering my own meaning to my experience overseas.

Veterans are often easily coined in U.S. culture, especially in popular media. It is typically a one-dimensional perception though.

Former Army officer David Eisler wrote in a New York Times blog post:

If you listen closely to the national conversation about today’s veterans, you will hear two stories that seem to be at odds with each other.

One story is about healthy, hard-working, disciplined, well-trained and experienced veterans who would be an asset to any business or organization. The other tells of broken, disabled, traumatized veterans who have physical and behavioral health issues and require constant care and supervision.

Eisler provides great examples of two sensational views of veterans, in the past and present.

As a writer, I’m tempted to provide an audience with an entertaining and informative story. As a veteran, I’m obligated to tell a story that is authentic.

Journalism scenes from movies on other topics

Originally posted on Mmm. Smooth Buttry Goodness:

Dutton Peabody, photo linked from Weary Sloth

Occasionally, when journalists at a party or on social media ask one another our favorite newspaper (or journalism) movies, I will answer, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

Of course, no one thinks of “Liberty Valance” as a journalism movie. It’s a Western. But the whole movie is told through an interview between Ransom Stoddard and Charlie Hasbrouck, a reporter for the Shinbone Star. One of the key characters, Dutton Peabody, is editor and publisher of the Shinbone Star.

I thought about “Liberty” as I was writing an accompanying post about journalism scenes in three recently released movies. What I want to do here is share some favorite journalism scenes from non-journalism movies and ask you about some of your favorites.

Journalists all have our favorite journalism movies (or specifically newspaper movies). Off the top of my head…

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