Reporters Cover the Biggest Story of Their Careers When Four Men are Slain in Bucolic Bucks County

It was the kind of case one might expect to find in Philadelphia to the south or New York to the north, but the slayings of four young men over a few sweltering days in July became one of the biggest and most tragic stories to come out of the bucolic Bucks County suburbs in years.

Locally, three young reporters who did top-notch coverage of the story – Michele Haddon of the Doylestown Intelligencer, and Tom Sofield and Erich Martin of the news sites LevittownNow.com and NewtownPaNow.com – were all alums of the journalism program at Bucks County Community College.

It was an experience they wouldn't soon forget.

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A Fake Distress Call May Have Cost Two Lives at Sea

BOSTON - The call, on a marine hailing frequency, was urgent and chilling: A ship somewhere on the freezing waters off Massachusetts was transmitting a last-ditch plea for help.

``This is the fishing vessel Sol E Mar,'' a male voice shouted in frenzy. ``We're sinkin'. We need help now!''

The plea rose into a scream. The transmission was abruptly cut. Then, there was only crackling static.

Coast Guard radio monitors on Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard tried desperately to get the caller back to locate the ship and send help.

But just over a minute after the first call, another distress signal came in.

``SOS, I'm sinking,'' a male voice said. And then he laughed.

The Coast Guard officers didn't dispatch rescue planes or boats. The calls, they thought, were just part of the rising number of hoaxes.

Last Friday, five days later, they discovered they were wrong. The Sol E Mar was reported missing and the Coast Guard began a search for the father and son who manned the 50-foot fishing vessel.

By then, it was too late.

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Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

On a Drive Across Pennsylvania, Seeing a Student Take Flight

The other day, I went on a road trip. Not too far, just a couple of hours across a stretch of the vast
east-west expanse we call Pennsylvania, a journey from the burbs north of Philly to Hershey, where my students, journalism majors at Bucks County Community College, would attend a luncheon to receive the awards they’d won, in a statewide competition, for their work on the college newspaper. On the drive, I got a chance to catch up with a student I hadn’t seen in a few months, one who had transferred recently to Temple University.

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'Born Into Brothels' Director Zana Briski Returns to her First Love: Photography

In the late 1990s, Zana Briski, a London-born Cambridge University theology student turned photographer, ventured to India to document, as she puts it, "the particular hells that women can go through - sex selective abortion, dowry deaths, the treatment of widows, child marriages." It was never her intention, she says, to photograph prostitutes - until, that is, she was introduced to Sonagachi, the red light district of Calcutta.

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My larger-than-life friend Mike Altenberg, gone too soon

Photo courtesy Mike Altenberg's Facebook page


Mike Altenberg and I met when we were 10 years old or so. We'd both joined the YMCA Boys Choir
in our hometown of Racine, Wisconsin, and for a variety of reasons (he was a tad chubby, I was a loner) we were both outcasts of sorts, so we stuck together in that way that 10-year-old boys do when they feel like they're a little different from everyone else around them.

We were an odd pair. He came from an affluent Jewish family, I was middle class and Methodist. He could be outgoing, even brash. I was, by comparison, the introvert. In our early days in the choir a lot of the other boys mistook Mike's confidence for arrogance, and teased him. I stuck by him, not out of any sense of altruism but because even at that age I somehow knew I'd found a kindred spirit. For the better part of the next two decades, we were the best of friends.

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Finding Memories of 9/11 in a Walk Through a Neighborhood Park

Part of the Garden of Reflection Park (photo by Sean Rogers)

Where was I when the planes hit the towers?

In a classroom at the community college where I teach journalism. I had a news website projected onto the wall, with a live shot of the north tower belching smoke. When it became clear that this was no accident, I told my students to grab their reporter's notebooks, fan out across the campus and start interviewing anyone and everyone they could. We'd need stories for the student newspaper.

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A daughter's final high school performance, and a proud dad reflects



One night not so long ago, my wife and I attended the last musical performance of our daughter Emma's high school career, and like any dutiful dad, I was shooting video with my iPhone.

But the concert, by one of Pennsbury High School's orchestras, had already ended, and instead of playing music our diminutive daughter was busy onstage, packing equipment into boxes larger than she was.

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Learning Age-Old Lessons About Life From 'Harry Potter'

Last night I took my family to our little neighborhood theater where, with a few hundred other fans, we watched, or more accurately were transfixed by, the midnight premiere of the final Harry Potter film. My 12-year-old daughter, the biggest Potter fan in our brood, was in full Ravenclaw regalia for the evening, after having spent the last two days in a marathon re-reading of the book on which the film is based.

The audience, mostly older teens who had grown up with Harry Potter, cheered at the moments of triumph, laughed and applauded when Ron and Hermione kissed, and were, for teens, uncharacteristically silent at the moment when Harry meets his destiny. One young man, who'd been acting the part of Mr. Cool for his date all evening, whispered worriedly, "He doesn't really die, does he?"

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From One Generation to the Next, Sharing the Pleasures of a Three-Minute Pop Song



I put a piece of vinyl on a turntable today for the first time in what must have been decades. My 13-year-old daughter bought a few ancient Beatles forty-fives from a Covent Garden peddler on our family trip to London last summer and had lobbied hard ever since for a record player. So I hauled my old Technics turntable out of the back of the closet and hooked it up to an old stereo in the basement. My excitement building, I poked around in another musty closet to fish out a few old Al Stewart records, then lumbered back down the basement stairs to cue up "Nostradamus."

At first there was an audiophile moment: the bass was indeed strong, the highs crisp and bell-like. Vinyl really did sound better! Then came the crackles and pops, and I remembered why CDs were such a revelation when they came along. Oh, well. When my daughter got home from school we had a teachable moment when I showed her how to gently lower the needle into the groove.

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Trying Not to Dwell on That Day We Will Send Him Off on His Own

The other day my son Sean and I were waiting in the doctor’s office for his annual checkup. On the wall was one of those public health posters describing developmental milestones for children, from two months to five years and beyond. It included markers such as “is more creative with make-believe play” and “cooperates with other children.” I joked that as a teenager he had mastered this one: “Begins to act bored (cries, fussy) if activity doesn’t change.” We had a good laugh.

Sean is 17, a senior in high school. Next year he goes off to college. He’s in the throes of the university application mini-drama now, and the nearest school he’s considering is a four-hour drive. A day is coming that I don’t really want to think much about, the day we leave him at the dorm and take that long walk back to the car for the drive home. So I find myself measuring out this year as one of lasts: the last soccer game, the last Aikido practice, the last morning I hug him before he races off to the school bus.

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He may be the Most Important Theoretical Physicist Since Einstein, but Stephen Hawking has not Lost his Touch in the Classroom

Like any good teacher, Stephen Hawking knows he has to grab his students' attention and hold on tight.

That isn't easy when your field is theoretical physics. It's even harder when you are paralyzed and must use a machine to talk.

But Hawking succeeds, with the aplomb of a seasoned comedian who knows how to work an audience.

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Jon Stewart Blasts Sensationalism in the News Media, but is it Really So Bad?

Is sensationalism in the news media a bad thing?

"The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart thinks so. In his recent appearance on "Fox News Sunday" Stewart charged that the news media is rife with sensationalism and that coverage of the Anthony Weiner scandal was an example of this.

"The bias of the mainstream media is toward sensationalism, conflict and laziness," Stewart told anchor Chris Wallace. "The embarrassment is that I'm given credibility in this world because of the disappointment that the public has in what the news media does."

But is sensationalism really so horrible? And do people really dislike it as much as Stewart seems to think?

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Journalists Use Facebook to Find Sources and Promote Stories

Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites have gotten a reputation as places where users routinely post the most mundane details of their daily lives to their closest friends. "Carried out the garbage and now I'm heating up the leftovers" might be typical.

But a growing number of professional, citizen and student journalists who are using Facebook and similar sites to help them find sources for stories, then spread the word to readers once those stories are published online.

Such sites are part of an expanding array of tools - including websites, blogs and Twitter - that reporters are using to promote themselves and their work on the web at a time when traditional print journalism seems fated to go the way of eight-track tapes.

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Student Newspaper Advisers Often Face Retaliation for Controversial Stories

It’s a chilling but all-too common scenario: A student writes something controversial in a high school or college newspaper, and pretty soon the faculty adviser to the paper is taking heat from the school’s administration. Some advisers are reassigned, demoted or even fired.

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Post-Hurricane Stress Leads Man To Suicide

CUTLER RIDGE, Fla. - Peggy Worthman thought she and her husband had survived the worst of times when they rode out Hurricane Andrew together. They huddled in their home and held hands as the storm roared past.

The toll was severe. Their home was damaged, the furniture business they had built together was leveled and, somehow, Lloyd Worthman was not the same man as before.

The once-cheerful retired Army sergeant became depressed and forgetful, and took to sitting around the house all day in his pajamas.

Less than three weeks later, the 62-year-old lay down on the floor of the couple's home, put a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger.

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Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Transcenders Succeed Against All Odds

BOSTON - Abandoned by her mother, raised in a small West Virginia town by an abusive aunt and a lecherous uncle, Elizabeth didn't seem to have a chance.

But when her impoverished family couldn't even provide a bathtub, and a school counselor complained she was dirty, she made the swim team so she could get a daily shower.

Too poor to ever dream of owning a clarinet or violin, she joined the school band anyway, playing whatever instrument the school had to offer.

For years, psychologists have studied children who crumbled under the weight of a traumatic upbringing, reinforcing the notion that abused children become ruined adults.

But recently they have come to believe that the Elizabeths of the world - called ``transcenders'' by one researcher - can yield clues on how to help all kinds of troubled children.

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Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons