Make it clear to your audience: In this tragic story NBC doesn’t, CNN does

Tech. Sgt. Marty Bettelyoun (left) and Tech. Sgt. Timothy Officer Jr. Air Force Special Operations Command

Tech. Sgt. Marty Bettelyoun (left) and Tech. Sgt. Timothy Officer Jr.  Photo: Air Force Special Operations Command

It’s a journalism basic: Make the story understandable to your audience. It’s especially important when the story involves a death.

The story involves a military training mishap this week that caused the deaths of U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Timothy A. Officer Jr. and Tech Sgt. Marty B. Bettelyoun. CNN makes the basic details clear in this report.

CNN’s reporter says the airmen died in a parachuting free fall accident. It was a part of their special forces training. The Air Force Times story on the training accident also makes clear the association between “parachute training” and “free fall” in the fatal accident.

NBC’s coverage, on the other hand, assumes everyone knows the term “free fall” is associated with a parachute training exercise.

Said the NBC report: “A two-time recipient of the Bronze Star and a father of five were killed during military free-fall training in Florida, the Air Force announced late Tuesday.”

No mention of parachute training in the NBC print or video story. The term “free fall” may describe a number of different circumstances.

“Free fall” could be associated with a drop in the stock value of a company, a polling drop in public support for a politician, the name of a choreographer’s dance program, a decline in the real estate market in New Delhi, India, or  the violent disintegration during a test flight of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.

Here’s how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term:

Full Definition of FREE FALL

:  the condition of unrestrained motion in a gravitational field; also :  such motion
a :  the part of a parachute jump before the parachute opensb :  a rapid and continuing drop or decline <a free fall in stock prices>
free–fallintransitive verb

Three NBC employees, , and NBC News correspondent Tamron Hall read the story on the NBC Today Show. She didn’t make the distinction either between a “parachuting free fall” accident and a “free fall” accident.

The NBC report adds that “Both were Special Tactics Airmen, a force made up of specially-trained air traffic controllers, pararescuemen specializing in rescue operations, and military weathermen and forecasters.”  Not sure most viewers/readers know what a pararescueman is either. The Merriam-Webster dictionary does define the word :”pararescue” as “a search and rescue mission by specially trained personnel who can parachute to the site.”

Make your stories understandable journalism students. Your credibility, and the credibility of your news organization may be at stake; especially when the story involves the deaths of two men serving their country in the U.S. military.

Bevo Francis; basketball scoring legend who saved his college dies

Bevo Francis and his Rio Grande College teammates and classmats in 1953. Photo: Life magazine

Bevo Francis and his Rio Grande College teammates and classmates in 1953. Photo: Life magazine

Bevo Francis is doing something he hasn’t been able to do for a long, long time. He’s dropping jump shots from every place on some basketball court far removed from earth, far removed from physical boundaries and his battle against throat cancer. Bevo’s former Rio Grande teammate and friend Don Vyhnalek told me that Bevo died today at his eastern Ohio home with his family close by.He was 82-years-old.

Wayne Wiseman, another former teammate and friend of Bevo’s said he had talked by phone with Bevo a couple of days ago. “Bevo said he just wasn’t doing any good,” said Wiseman. “We’re at that age where these things happen. Can’t stop it. Can’t do anything about it. You just live with it, until you can’t,” Wiseman said.

I had the extraordinary opportunity to meet Bevo years ago when I produced and directed a documentary about him, his fiery coach Newt Oliver, and his talented teammates. The documentary is called “They Could Really Play the Game: Reloaded.”  It’s largely about Bevo, the legendary former college basketball player who still owns several all-time college scoring records.
Bevo Francis and his Rio Grande University team barnstormed across America in the early 1950’s, winning most of its games against far larger foes, capturing the attention of the national press, and saving their school from going broke through the tickets they sold. This unlikely team, from an impossibly small college in rural Appalachia, also helped revive America’s love affair with college basketball after a nasty national gambling scandal in the early 50’s that involved star players from major college basketball schools.
Bevo and his Rio Grande teammates also kept the doors open at their college which provided a path out of poverty for thousands of residents who came from the Appalachian country surrounding what is now called the University of Rio Grande.
In his brief two-year college career, Francis destroyed almost every major scoring record in college basketball. Imagine a player averaging 47 points a game in the days before the 3-point scoring line and one-and-one free throw. That was Bevo Francis. Imagine a player who broke the 100-point-per-game scoring mark twice in his college career. The last time he did it was in 1954 against Michigan’s Hillsdale College. Even though he was double and triple teamed by his opponents, Bevo scored 113 points in the 40 minute regulation basketball game. Whenever someone called Bevo a star, he was the first to say he owed his success to his teammates.

We don’t sell copies of the documentary, but click here or on the “Watch on Vimeo” link below and you, as well as people everywhere can watch it for free. Many viewers on public television have seen the documentary and liked it. It even won an award from the Canadian International Film Festival this year.

Chris Hedrick, WOSU, the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, R. Bruce Mitchell, Diana Markley Guidas, Brad Richmond, Eric Smith and so many others contributed their talents to the documentary.

Tonight, Bevo is free of his battle against cancer. He deserves to be remembered for what he and his teammates accomplished; for the game of college basketball, and for his school. Bevo’s family could also use your your prayers. Spread the word and send it forward.

They Could Really Play the Game: Reloaded from Blue Skies HD Video & Film on Vimeo.

Update to U.S. Postal Service Fail- Package returns home after 5 weeks

After a five week journey, this two day priority package never made it to its intended recipient, but it did manage to find its way  (return to sender) back home.

After a five week journey, this two day priority package never made it to its intended recipient, but it did manage to find its way (return to sender) back home.

June 3, 2015–Guess what arrived in the mail? Yep! The long lost priority mail package my wife sent to our daughter at the University of Kansas on April 28th finally made it’s way back to us as returned mail. (Read more on the story here) If that package could only talk, I’m sure it would have an interesting story to tell. Quite a saga.

May 15, 2015- – My Lord! The USPS package was delivered this morning to the place where our daughter no longer resides in Lawrence, Kansas. (Click here for original saga) ( See the tracking ticket below.)

That’s after a helpful Lincoln USPS employee told me earlier in the day that the college finals care package has been circling for more than two weeks because a second address label was attached to the package. She said she was under the impression the package would be routed back to us here in Lincoln. NOT!

We’ll be very curious to see that that second address label looks like, but only if someone in Lawrence gives the package back to the postman to return to sender. Hmmm.

I guess we can make a claim for the fossilized cookies that were in the care package. However, the USPS gentleman I spoke with today in Lawrence says Two-Day Priority Mail is no guarantee the package will get to its destination in two or three days….or in this case 17 days.


Concealed carry of guns on Kansas campuses: Potentially deadly consequences

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law a bill allowing people to carry  concealed weapons into public buildings, including college campuses in the state.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law a bill allowing people to carry concealed weapons into public buildings, including college campuses in the state.

I’m the father of two daughters. One is a Kansas University graduate. Our other daughter is currently enrolled at KU, where three generations of our family have taught or attended.

So, I have to raise my voice in opposition to the 2013 Kansas law that will allow people to carry concealed guns on college campuses in 2017, even without concealed-carry permits. How can that be? The law provides no guarantee that someone, anyone toting a gun on a Kansas college campus would be qualified to possess the firearm or use it safely.

“The right to bear arms has long been among those constitutional rights held most sacred by the citizens of Kansas,” Gov. Sam Brownback said after signing the bill into law in April of 2013.

Right-to-carry or concealed-carry laws have generated much debate in the past two decades. Do they make society safer or more dangerous? Last November, a Stanford University study found that right-to-carry gun laws were connected with an increase in violent crime. The study debunked claims that more guns lead to less crime. Distressingly, the Stanford study found that homicides increased in eight states that adopted right-to-carry laws during 1999-2010.

I suspect many parents and students may share my concern over Kansas’ concealed-carry law. Should the law take effect, parents may decide not to enroll their children in the state’s public colleges. Many Kansas college students, concerned for their own safety, may take similar action. For the same reason, faculty resignations could follow. If this happens, enrollment declines, teacher resignations and associated revenue losses could be significant.

“Our students would rather not have them,” said KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little in a 2013 Lawrence Journal- World story. “There is not a group on campus as a whole that would prefer to have concealed-carry on campus.”

A year earlier, Richard Johnson, chief of University Police at KU Medical Center, said allowing concealed-carry on campuses would increase security risks and complicate the job of law enforcement.

“Police must treat any report of an armed individual on campus with extreme caution and rapid response,” said Johnson in testimony before the Kansas Legislature. “How does the responding officer know which person in the classroom of 300 students is legally in possession of a firearm or is armed with the intention of killing others?”

The concealed-carry law will make matters worse for families, students, teachers and higher education in Kansas. It’s a loss for us all if it happens, and a risk I believe we should avoid. What do you think?

U.S. Postal Service Fail: 2 Day Priority Mail – Still Failing

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” That’s supposed to be the creed of the United States Postal Service. Poppycock!

Unfortunately, in this age of sometimes impersonal service, my wife and I found the Postal Service is still failing miserably to deliver a priority mail package to our daughter. To phrase it another way; The postal service can’t deliver on its promise because it still can’t deliver a package.

usps_promiseNormally, I don’t get grumpy about stuff like this, but when your daughter’s involved it’s personal. Especially when the USPS states: “Our Priority Is, Was & Always Will Be You.”

Two weeks and two days ago, my wife Joanne Lohr McCoy sent a USPS Two-Day Priority mail care package of fresh baked cookies to our daughter Marian McCoy for her finals exams at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. It was meant to be a loving token of parental support for our daughter as she wrapped up a busy school year and faced that last deluge of studies and tests for her final class grades of the year.

uspsMay13The priority mail package never arrived. You can see the latest tracking information for the package on the left. The package continues to circle in some U.S. Postal Service black hole to which there seems no escape.

The latest update from USPS on its tracking website is the following:

Processing Exception

OMAHA, NE 68108 

The package is delayed and will not be delivered by the expected delivery date. An updated delivery date will be provided when available. The Postal Service has identified a problem with the processing of this item at 4:03 am on May 13, 2015 in OMAHA, NE 68108. The local facility has been alerted and is taking steps to correct the problem.

usps marian cookies

Marian McCoy gratefully displays the package of fresh chocolate chip cookies Susan Hall of Lawrence, Kansas baked when she heard of our daughter’s USPS package delivery mix-up.

The USPS touts priority mail with this claim: “Get more for your money with fast domestic service in 1, 2, or 3 business days1based on where your package starts and where it’s being sent. ” A quick Google search of the term “USPS 2 day priority late” reveals many customer complaints about problems associated with the service.

We brought Marian home from college yesterday. Her finals are done and her KU address is now vacant.

What’s most frustrating about his ordeal is that, despite a half dozen phone calls to USPS employees, many of them kind and sincere, no one from the USPS has been able to tell us why this has happened. Nor has anyone from the U.S. Postal Service been able to intervene and redirect the package back to us here in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The USPS tracking website is not very helpful either with up to five-day gaps in providing any information about our daughter’s package.

Not that it would make much difference at this point. The cookies in the priority mail package may now be fossilized.  Our well-intentioned thoughts in sending the cookies to our daughter is about all that’s left to smile about.

Actually, there is something else good and kind that’s come from this- One person who did intervene on Marian’s behalf was Susan Hall of Lawrence, Kansas. When Susan heard about Marian’s USPS package plight, she kindly baked into the night and delivered freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to Marian’s place at KU to get her through finals.

Thanks Susan! We can’t tell you how much your kind act meant to us all. If only the U.S. Postal Service were as kind as you.

A Nebraska legend turns 100: Don Meier

Don Meier, creator of "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom," turned 100 on february 2, 2015.

Don Meier, creator of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” turned 100 on February 2, 2015.

Happy 100th birthday Don Meier. This Oshkosh, Nebraska native and College of Journalism and Mass Communications graduate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln strides across the century mark today. I talk with Don and Lorena by phone several times a year and count our conversations as memory highlights. Meier is as full of curiosity, optimism and enthusiasm today as when he entered this world on a chilly (-12), clear winter’s day in 1915.  Of course you don’t turn 100 without some perseverance. Millions of people don’t know Meier by name, but they do know him by the television program he created.

In 1963, Meier’s program “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” debuted on the NBC television network. It was the first TV wildlife program to take viewers into the natural habitat of the creatures the world over who were highlighted in each “Wild Kingdom” episode. This was visceral television. Charging elephants covered in dust and sweat. Blood stained lions devouring prey. Venomous cobras and cold-blooded killer crocodiles. No program before captured it as well as “Wild Kingdom.”

Don Meier visited Africa to film several episodes of "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" during the program's 25 year run on television.

Don Meier visited Africa to film several episodes of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” during the program’s 25 year run on television.

It was a dream fulfilled for creator and executive producer Don Meier. Within a few years, “Wild Kingdom” became appointment television for 34 million U.S. viewers each Sunday. “Wild Kingdom” remained the definition of a television wildlife program for the next quarter century with Marlin Perkins, Jim Fowler and others hosting the program. In the process “Wild Kingdom” helped cultivate and inspire an environmental consciousness in generations of TV viewers.

Don and Lorena Meier received several Emmy Awards for "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" program and have also underwritten several scholarships for students at the University of Nebraska.

Don and Lorena Meier received several Emmy Awards for “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” program and have also underwritten several scholarships for students at the University of Nebraska.

Which takes me back to Don Meier’s perseverance. Looking back at “Wild Kingdom,” it seems the program’s strong audience appeal and ultimate ratings success would make it a surefire pick for potential sponsors. Not so. Don Meier invested all of his and wife Lorena’s savings to produce a TV pilot for the program in 1960. Meier took out a second mortgage on the couple’s home. He spent the next several years traveling across America, visiting with scores of prospective sponsors, trying to convince one of them that “Wild Kingdom” could be a commercial success. Meier never stopped believing that America would watch the right kind of wildlife program. He made 84 visits to advertising companies across America; New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee and a long list of other U.S. cities. Eighty-four times Meier was turned down.

Don Meier in the early days of Chicago television in the 1940s where being a TV pioneer meant you did everything from producing TV programs to sweeping the floors after their conclusion.

Don Meier in the early days of Chicago television in the 1940s where being a TV pioneer meant you did everything from producing TV programs to sweeping the floors after their conclusion.

Then, serendipity struck. Marlin Perkins, during a visit with the president of the Mutual of Omaha, learned the insurance company was looking to sponsor a new TV program it might build a national image around. A half hour later, Mutual of Omaha was on the phone with Meier, asking him to fly to Omaha to show the company’s executives his pilot for “Wild Kingdom.” The rest, as they say, is history. In late January, 1963 “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” debuted on NBC and to this day still remains one of the highest rated TV programs in U.S. history. Mutual of Omaha still uses the “Wild Kingdom” name for a series of branded Web programs hosted by Stephanie Arne.

A young Don Meier entered the pioneering world of television in the late 1940's after serving as an officer in WWII.

A young Don Meier entered the pioneering world of television in the late 1940’s after serving as an officer in WWII.

Don himself could have been an actor. He had the dashing good looks of a young motion picture star. Fortunately, Don stayed behind the camera. There, his true genius as a producer and program creator was unmistakable. In “Wild Kingdom,” he left us with a TV wildlife program that entertained, informed, educated and inspired viewers the world over. That was Don Meier’s gift to us.

There have been many others too. Don and Lorena Meier have established more than a dozen scholarship funds here at the University of Nebraska. Those scholarships continue to allow many young men and women to achieve their dream of a college degree and the higher education experiences that go with it.

On this day, my gift to Don is this small recognition of his 100th birthday. So, happy birthday Don Meier. You have been a mentor to me and many others through your actions and deeds. You are a reminder to us all to persevere so we can keep paying it forward.

Click here to listen to a radio report featuring Don Meier two years ago on the 50th anniversary of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.”

Delta Airlines experience: Good service, lousy commuter planes

Just returned home from the Yucatan Peninsula and flew Delta Airlines both ways.


  • I do like the Delta staff- Friendly, professional and helpful.
  • I dislike the Bombardier CRJ900 commuter planes that Delta uses a subcontracted “Delta Connection” branded regional airline to fly out of Lincoln and other smaller Delta hubs. The planes are uncomfortably too cold or too hot. American, Canadair, US Air and other airlines also fly the CRJ900 under agreements with other subcontractors.

Here’s the problem: The CRJ900 ventilation system is very poor to the point of being almost nonexistent.

The Bombardier CRJ900 commuter airliner has a ventilation system that can make flying downright uncomfortable for passengers sometimes.

Have you ever experienced this issue?

On our outbound flight a week ago between Lincoln and Atlanta our plane was so cold most of the passengers were asking for blankets to bundle up in even though we already had our winter coats on. It felt like a meat locker inside the plane during our flight.

The flight attendants kindly apologized and told us there was nothing they could do about the cold cabin temperature.

It was the opposite situation on our return flight last night from Atlanta to Lincoln. In the rear of the CRJ900 where our family sat the temperature was so hot (I’m guessing in the 85-90 degree Fahrenheit range) passengers were peeling their clothes off and the air flow was negligible. Very stuffy and hot. Too bad we couldn’t just roll down the windows.

Some passengers complained that the conditions made them feel nauseous. The flight attendant was as kind as she would be. She agreed to ask plane’s pilot if there was anything that could be done about the situation but said “probably not.” She explained that passengers in the front of the aircraft were complaining that it was too cold where they sat. The temperature was consequently reduced a few degrees but the air flow was still poor and we continued to be hot, hot hot for the better part of two-and-a-half hours.

The flight attendant agreed it was stuffy and hot in the rear of the plane. She conceded that it can be a very real problem with the CRJ900 planes. She told us that’s why she preferred to spend more time up front in the plane. Unfortunately, it was little consolation for us passengers stuck in the back (row 19) of the plane without an option to relocate to a cooler place in the aircraft.

I had a similar experience with these ventilation problems last summer when flying the CRJ900. A quick web search  reveals similar complaints about issues involving the plane’s air venting and circulation system. Is this just poor engineering or something else?

Another regional airline pilot blogged about some of the inherent CRJ issues:Okay, WHY is it always so darn cold in the cabin of a CRJ? I had on thick socks and leather boots and my toes were icicles! It’s all about air circulation. Basically, you have the gaspers (air vents) up top, and larger vents for heating/cooling on the sides near the floor. Those floor vents are a bit bigger, so the temp closer to the floor (and your little piggies) is going to be less (If it’s set to a cooler setting. Plus, cool air tends to sink. So the air near the floor of the cabin is going to be cool than at the top. Also, since at cruise, the cabin is at 8,000′, your circulation might not be as good. Nothing dramatic, but just enough for you to feel like your toes will snap off and rattle around in your boots. Also, the F/A’s (flight attendants) are up and moving. They’re going to feel the temperature in the cabin differently than you in your chair due to their physical activity. They’re also the ones who tell the pilots (i.e., the F/O) to turn the temp up or down.” 

Hope you’re listening Delta Airlines, Delta flight subcontractors and Bombardier.


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