Mom, don't freak out

I was in one of those positions yesterday, where it probably would have been a good idea to be armed.

Before going any further, I’ll say that I’ve seen a dead body and covered stabbings and shootings - including two on my own street when I was a Citizens’ Voice intern last summer. I almost never feel wary walking into a crime scene or weird situation. After all, when I get sent to a scene, odds are very good that the cops are already there. My personal safety isn’t typically of much concern. You can save the worrying for the brave reporters in Libya and other active war zones.

Yesterday, though, was… different. My editor sent me down to Plymouth to cover a stabbing. On its face, it was really straightforward. Cops are there along with a camera guy from WBRE.

I chatted with neighbors while waiting for Plymouth Police Chief Myles Collins to talk to me. The people down the street gave the first indication that this was a rough area. Police confirm that indication when Collins tells me this was the third time that day they had come to this house.

Well, after police finish up, I talk to the people sitting on the porch in front of where the stabbing took place. This is where things get juicy and probably the point where my mom will call me when she reads this.

The people on the porch told me a number of stories about neighbors waving knives and threatening to beat people up. They paint the next door neighbor as a psychopath who is out to get them. So, when I say that I’m going to walk next door and see if anyone is home, I get this fun warning:

Have fun with that. That woman will probably stick a gun in your face. She’s crazy and likes to threaten people with it.

That leads to the big question: Do I knock or ring the doorbell?

Luckily for me, the neighbor answers that question for me. As I step onto the front steps, she opens the screen door and leans out. She saw me coming through the blinds.

“What do you want?” she snaps at me.

“Hi, my name is Patrick Sweet, and I’m from the Citizens’ Voice. I was hoping to talk to you about the stabbing that happened in front of your house.”

“Oh. That f**cking rag paper… whatever.” (One of her nicer responses.)

“Uh, yeah. Can you tell me what happened?”

She goes into a diatribe against her neighbors. Of course, in her story, the first people I talked to were the psychopaths, and she and her kids are the helpless victims. But when she started saying she wouldn’t put up with the neighbors “n**ger sh*t” any longer, it became clearer where the intolerance in the feud was coming from.

All the while, it also probably didn’t help her case that police believed this crazy woman was harboring the stabbing suspect. She’s a real winner.

Like I said before, there aren’t really a whole lot of situations that I’m put in where I’m worried about my safety. Dealing with all of the hate emanating from this crime scene, though, and knowing that at least one of the people I was talking to was armed, kind of made me want to join the many other journalists who hold a conceal-and-carry permit. Kind of.


Simon Baker Dancing

Putting boots on the ground

These past few months, I’ve been consistently reminded why the world needs “traditional” reporters and media institutions.

While media continues to transition into a hard-to-predict, amorphous blob of new technology and evolving mindsets, it’s difficult not to hear folks talking about the death of newspapers and traditional media. 

I got the chance last week to watch Page One: Inside the New York Times again. One of my favorite scenes in the documentary is when David Carr is debating the fate of the “main stream media” with Newser founder Michael Wolff. Wolff argued that new media will make institutions such as The New York Times (and The Citizens’ Voice if you’ll forgive the comparison) obsolete.

Capping a humorous exchange, though, Carr pushes a message that he’s repeated several times in the movie: People might cheer the death of mainstream media, but they seldom realize that it’s The New York Times and the Washington Post and those other so-called traditional news outlets that guide the news and poor resources into foreign coverage and in-depth reporting. They put boots on the ground in a way that no new-media start-up is able to do (yet).

So, why do I bring this up? Since our record-breaking September flood, I’ve been more-or-less our designated flood reporter and have had to become much more comfortable with the fact that a lot of the technology I’ve grown to rely on no longer is effective.

After all, you can’t simply pick up the phone and call someone when that person’s home is condemned and the phone is disconnected. I’ve found myself having to rely a lot more on my own two feet, which takes time and a lot more effort.

There have been quite a few times - the most recent being a search for a homeowner who applied for a buyout - where I’ve knocked on more doors in a day than punched numbers on my phone. It’s during those days that I’m reminded that, one, I really love the adventure of finding sources and talking face-to-face with people and, two, if The Citizens’ Voice didn’t provide me with the time and resources to go hit the pavement, who else would?

The New York Times, CNN, Philadelphia Inquirer and several other members of the “mainstream media” sent reporters to Luzerne County for our record-breaking flood.

I don’t recall seeing anyone from Gawker or Newser.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE KING OF ADORABLE WITH THE VOICE OF AN ANGEL!!!! Wow I can’t believe this perfect human being is 31 today! I can still remember the first time I heard Patrick’s heavenly voice and I immediately fell in love….well more like I became obsessed with Patrick Stump, along with Pete, Andy, and Joe. For as long as I can remember Fall Out Boy has been my all-time favorite band. I can’t explain how proud I am of this band and how much love I have for all four members! Patrick with the God-given voice, Pete with the occasional vocals and the epic bass skills, Joe as the guitar god, and Andy as the boss at drums, all four make up this epic band that has both helped me through rough times and automatically brings a smile to my face whenever I hear their songs….And lastly, I think a very special and well-deserved thank you goes out to Pete Wentz for convincing Patrick about his undeniable, perfect voice, and also for giving him the courage to share his gift with the rest of us. THANK YOU PETE!!!!! :D :D :D

Happy birthday to the man who saved my life. To the man who made it so I cried at the concert. To the man who’s always been there when no one else was.
Happy birthday to the man who sings me to sleep every night and wakes me every morning by song. Happy birthday to the man who I’d be willing to give up everything for.
Happy birthday to my hero, and to my favorite person, nervousbreakdance.

Python and free GIS software FTW!

Friend and coworker Andy Staub put together a great piece about how Wilkes-Barre’s mayor was hiring his family members for city jobs. With the help of a few in the newsroom, he put together a spreadsheet of all of the hires since 2004.

We used that to create a Fusion Table map of all the hires. What was evident almost right away was that a lot of the hires came from the mayor’s own neighborhood. It was great for online.

For the paper, though, we couldn’t just embed a Fusion Table map. After realizing that plotting all 600+ hires would look like hell and not really help our readers, I went about trying to match the data to voting districts. It turned out pretty well, but was kind of a pain putting together.

The two tough parts of getting everything to match up were (1) geocoding all of the addresses and (2) using QGIS to join the data to census shapefiles of the city’s voting districts.

QGIS has a great plugin for geocoding a single address, but I wanted to geocode more than 600. I tried using some of the batch geocoding websites, but kept getting errors. So, I relied on a Python library called geopy and wrote a script that runs through a csv file of addresses and adds latitude and longitude fields. I’ve been playing with Python for a little while now, but this was the first time I used the language to solve a journalism problem. It was pretty exciting.

Once each address was geocoded, I threw everything into QGIS and went about paring down the files to just Wilkes-Barre, its roads and the Susquehanna river. I used some of QGIS’s analysis plugins to join the layer of hires with the voting districts, and voila.

Chopping up the shapefiles and making the joins would have probably been easier with ArcView, but I’m beginning to love what QGIS is capable of.

Uma Thurman Video Summary

what why is there a zebra

goddamnit pete and his emojis


Aww patrick you cutie


Joe these errands are just getting weird

andy working out 


the hand.

fucking andy and his carrot

Oh that sneaky article 36.03 demolishing that was epic (That’s the article banning same sex marriage in Alabama)