The trouble with Johnny

Wright being Wright (again): Four days after the tweet, Johnny Manziel did what many boys do when they’re in trouble. He went home. The farm roads and state highways between College Station and Tyler blurred under the wheels of his black Mercedes-Benz, the one he wanted so badly that his dad finally bought it for him. Paul Manziel didn’t want his son to do something stupid to get it for himself. A jagged line marked the back left quarter panel; even before Johnny tweeted that he wanted to leave College Station, someone had keyed his car. When Johnny arrived at his grandmother’s house in Tyler on this Wednesday, Paul leaned over and silently ran his finger along the length of the cut, seeing what someone had done. He felt helpless. Building tension from the past week, and from the seven months of scrutiny that preceded it, had left his son on edge and exhausted. Maybe here, outside the siege walls of College Station, Johnny could exhale. He needed space to retake the control he’d lost over both himself and his new persona. Johnny Football is a growling grown-ass beast of a human. Johnathan Manziel is a boy trying to become a man.

Saving The Orange By Altering DNA

Amy Harmon: CLEWISTON, Fla. — The call Ricke Kress and every other citrus grower in Florida dreaded came while he was driving.

“It’s here” was all his grove manager needed to say to force him over to the side of the road.

The disease that sours oranges and leaves them half green, already ravaging citrus crops across the world, had reached the state’s storied groves. Mr. Kress, the president of Southern Gardens Citrus, in charge of two and a half million orange trees and a factory that squeezes juice for Tropicana and Florida’s Natural, sat in silence for several long moments.

“O.K.,” he said finally on that fall day in 2005, “let’s make a plan.”

‘No cure for what I have’

I’m a sucker for narrative and science meshed together.

Jason Fagone:

What’s your full name?
Where are you?
What month is it?
What day of the week is it?

Walter Keller tried to speak, but no words came out, only a dry rasp. The man asking the questions had dark, close-cropped gray hair and a kind, level gaze.

Eventually the man left the room. Walt wriggled up in his bed. Someone put a hand on his shoulder and pressed him gently back into the mattress.


“Imagine it’s your daily coffee. Each time you put down your money the cup gets smaller and the brew gets weaker. That’s essentially what’s happened to American newspapers. We took things away from people and at the same time gave content away free on the web. How crazy is that? The industry committed a kind of institutional suicide over time.”

The Register has opened a four-strong Washington bureau, and added fresh wire services for foreign coverage, but the key is local news, especially topics such as faith, schools, sports, food and crime. It has about 30 photographers, including trainees. Staff call it America’s biggest community newspaper.

Unity With The Universe

Wright Thompson: MANHATTAN, Mont. — Something strange is happening at the house glowing in the distance. Or rather, a web of strange things, magic almost, if you’ll permit what might seem on the front end to be hyperbole. A man named Tom Morgan lives here, making some of the most expensive and sought-after fly fishing rods in the world, which he does despite having been paralyzed from the neck down for the past 17 years. He’s revered for what he calls “thought rods,” where the instrument functions as an extension of the mind, delivering the fly where you imagine it will go, not where a series of clumsy physical muscle movements try to direct it.

In all of his rods — both in the way he builds them and in the way people seek them out — there lives a sense of the mystic. One old model is nicknamed “The Unity with the Universe.” Tom once offended a conservative fisherman by joking that their accuracy was the result of prayers and incantations. He has that kind of faith in his rods. He believes in how they can connect an angler, if only briefly, to the soul of nature, and how they can connect him to the person he used to be. The rods are what matter, to Tom and to his customers, which seems like such an inadequate word to describe the relationship.

Most of the people who buy them are spiritual pilgrims, and some are literal pilgrims, flying to Montana to visit or pick up their rods in person. They come from as far away as Japan. They drive out of Bozeman, headed west, finally seeing the glow on a ridge to the right. A white bus named Moby — yes, the people inside love Melville — lets them know they’ve found the place. The house is surrounded by snowy peaks and a herd of buffalo, which move like ghosts across the high plains. The strangers arrive at the front door, the wind coming down from the Tobacco Root Mountains, blowing hard and cold. Tom’s staff often joke when they hear tires on the long gravel road: “Get out the prayer rug.” Some visitors don’t even know he’s paralyzed. A young rod maker once arrived for an apprenticeship and stuck out his hand when he met Tom. Nobody had told him. The rods are more important than the obstacles overcome to create them, and the anglers who travel such great distances don’t want to unlock the secret of his life; they are grasping for understanding of their own. “It’s like they’re walking in to see the Dalai Lama,” says that apprentice.

It’s a lot to expect from a fishing pole.

Words For Man Of Words

Earl Swift: NORFOLK

He found poetry in tomatoes, corn bread, in old dogs and the scent of magnolia blossoms. He found romance, adventure and inspiration in the past and its stories. He found dignity, and decency, in practically everyone he met.

And in a newspaper career that spanned 60 years, Guy Friddell found a place in history: He died early Saturday at age 92, one of Virginia’s favorite contemporary writers.

Literary, lyrical and uncompromisingly liberal, Friddell’s thousands of columns for The Virginian-Pilot and its late sister, the afternoon Ledger-Star, earned a wide and devoted following and established him as his community’s conscience. His subjects included politics, which he developed into an expertise in Richmond before joining The Pilot in 1963, as well as the pleasures of family, the wonders of nature, the genius of the Founding Fathers – and, by no means least, his own legendary misadventures.

Those wearied by war, crime and pestilence found respite in his words and loved him for them. So prized were his columns that for decades they appeared in both the Norfolk and Richmond papers, through an arrangement unheard-of for competitors. Friddell attracted a passel of national and state honors, won the General Assembly’s official thanks, and was namesake to the Virginia Press Association’s top writing award. He was also a popular speaker, the author of eight books, and a mentor to generations of journalists.

(thanks, Mike)

At 99, A Man Finds Meaning In Work

Lane DeGregory: ST. PETERSBURG

His alarm beeps at 3:30 a.m., drowning out the talk radio that keeps him company all night. He rolls over slowly and prays:

“Please, Lord, give me the strength to get up.”

It takes a half-hour, sometimes longer, but eventually he hobbles to the kitchen to make tea. And three days a week, no matter how the old man feels, he steps into the cotton pants with the torn right knee and pulls on the white shirt with “Bama Sea Products” stitched above his pacemaker.

Then he wraps a paper towel around a piece of fried chicken, packs it into his Coleman cooler, and leaves his house. By now it is 5:45 a.m. The two-block walk to the bus takes him 20 minutes, his tiny steps scraping the sidewalk.

Four hours after he wakes, he arrives at work.

“Morning, Mr. Newton!” a moustached man calls.

“Hello, Cap’n!” he says, raising his hand. “Beautiful day.”


This is a belated congrats, but a well-deserved one. Several FOGs are on this year’s list of winners for the Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism. The award recognizes the best reporting on children, youth and families. They’re in-depth looks at some well-hidden parts of our communities and families. Read them.

In God’s Name, Tampa Bay Times
By Alexandra Zayas, Kathleen Flynn and Chris Davis (ed.)

They shaved him bald that first morning in 2008, put him in an orange jumpsuit and made him exercise past dark. Through the night, as he slept on the floor, they forced him awake for more. The sun had not yet risen over the Christian military home when Samson Lehman collapsed for the sixth time. Still, he said, they made him run. The screaming, the endless exercise, it was all in the name of God, a necessary step at the Gateway Christian Military Academy on the path to righteousness.
So when Samson vomited, they threw him a rag. When his urine turned red, they said that was normal. By Day 3, the 15-year-old was on the verge of death, his dehydrated organs shutting down.
Slumped against a wall, cold and immobile, Lehman recalls men who recited Scripture calling him a wimp. And he thought: Maybe, if I die here, someone will shut this place down.
Not in Florida.

I boy, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
By Mark Johnson and Greg Borowski (ed.)
Don’t you want to be a pretty girl, the mother would ask.
The child would not say, I want to run like a boy, or throw like a boy, or climb trees like a boy.
Just: “I boy.”
One day last fall, two years after that first sentence, Jennifer made a decision. She took Isabella to Cost Cutters.
We need a short haircut, the mother said. I mean razor short. Like a boy.
She began dressing the child in boy’s clothes.
Isabella became Izzy.

Transgender at Five, The Washington Post
By Petula Dvorak and Lynda Robinson (ed.)
Kathryn wanted pants. And short hair. Then trucks and swords.
Her parents, Jean and Stephen, were fine with their toddler’s embrace of all things boy. They’ve both been school teachers and coaches in Maryland and are pretty immune to the quirky stuff that kids do.
But it kept getting more intense, all this boyishness from their younger daughter. She began to argue vehemently — as only a tantrum-prone toddler can — that she was not a girl.
“I am a boy,” the child insisted, at just 2 years old.

The awards recognize newspaper projects/series, single articles, photography, audio, multimedia and short- and long-form video projects. See them all.

Lost in the long white cloud

Charles Anderson: The land slipped and crumbled beneath his feet. It had been several hours since Gerry Tonkin began the search and while the topography around him had shifted wildly — rolling from shallow gravel gullies, to sharp gorse ridges — the scene in front of him had not. Dust and dried leaves and blackberry bush layered the floor, and thick woody vines of supplejack wrapped and sprawled their way through regenerating forest. “Spider web gullies,” they were called.

“We told ourselves we are going to find this thing,” Tonkin said, grabbing the exposed roots of a beech tree to haul himself upright. There weren’t any easy paths. Holding a small rusted scythe he cut away at the branches that fell constantly into his face.

Patches of prickly  “bush lawyer” — so named for its tendency to grip you until it drew blood — only added to the struggle. Some of the other search groups, Tonkin learned through his radio, had managed to cover only 100 meters in an hour. Even if they saw what they thought they were looking for, it was possible they wouldn’t recognise it. It was the cruel paradox of this search: they were too busy concentrating on scrambling to really focus on what the bush might be hiding.