Saturday, November 12, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here?

I woke up Wednesday morning to find a Facebook post from an Indiana-bred friend, urging unity.


Even if Donald Trump had not presented himself as vile and boorish, as uninformed and unprepared, as devious and divisive, supporters of Hillary Clinton could hardly be expected to immediately unite behind him.

I was a Bernie Sanders supporter until late summer, when I finally did enough reading up on Hillary Clinton's character and beliefs to enthusiastically support her. I voted for Bernie in the primary, just as I voted for unsuccessful candidates in the past, including Paul Tsongas in 1992 and the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1988.

But on Election Night, I was prepared for a Trump victory. I took Michael Moore seriously, and I agreed with my husband when he predicted Clinton would take the popular vote but win the electoral college. I'm no political savant, but I was a political reporter for a few years and I've covered more elections than I can count.

Things can go very wrong. I know this. I just didn't feel it - a Clinton victory - would happen.

Still, I was not prepared to get behind Trump less than 12 hours after the polls closed. Are you kidding me? I'm not prepared to unite with Republicans ever. Yet I don't consider myself a Democrat.

After the sappy posts about uniting, came the bashing of protestors and those who failed to immediate ly declare unity with a president-elect who vows to gut Obamacare and everything else our first black president has accomplished.

In between were fearful comments from LGBT friends, concerned that Trump would abdicate, figuratively speaking, to Mike Pence and various and sundry GOP thugs like Paul Ryan and Rudy Guiliani.

So I began unfriending and blocking. I like that social media platforms allow this. I wish it were so easy in real life. I do not need negativity on top of what may well become a global tragedy.

Three people fell from grace yesterday, one more this morning. A few more are on shaky ground.

Those of us who feared a Donald Trump presidency need time to vent, time to process, time to heal. Then we need to consider how we will move forward to ensure that in two years the destructive forces of Trump, Ryan, Guiliani and others like Scott Walker and Christ Christie will not continue on their collective hate-filled path.

We also need time to watch what unfolds as Trump makes his plans to move forward as the ill-equipped leader of the free world. I do not think he can do it. I do not think he will.

During the campaign, Donald Trump gave us no reason to consider uniting with him. We - those of us who hoped for a different result on Election Night - need time to grieve and make our own plans for moving forward.

Please don't urge unity. Please don't criticize us for objecting.

Frankly, to do anything but watch now would be foolhardy. Let's see what happens next. And keep up the protests.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

How to Survive

I started this post about three weeks ago, and have been tinkering with it, changing the introduction, for some time now.

This morning, after a long sleepless night, I got up hoping I'd had a bad nightmare. No such luck.

I read think pieces online. I saw my friend's posts on Facebook. I watched Hillary Clinton's speech just a while ago.

Now, what I think is this. We need today to mourn and regroup, recover from last night's madness. And then we need to take charge.

Here's my personal prescription for dealing with the notion of a monster like Donald Trump in the White House:

Take baby steps. Volunteer for the local United Way, community foundation, or some other group that helps fight poverty and inequality. Become involved in a PTO or other group that helps schools and kids.

Get involved in politics on a local level. Go to local meetings; they are open to the public, with very rare exceptions. Start with the school board or the city council. Run for office, or help someone else run for office.  At the very least, let your mayor know you'd like to serve on a citizen committee. I've served on four such committees over the past few years, and its been a very rewarding and very interesting experience.

Join or start a League of Women Voters. Our community doesn't have one but for a time a branch of the local women's club took an active roll in promoting issues and politics.

Make your own world brighter. Join a church for spiritual sustenance and grounding. Invite friends over for pizza. Exercise. Make regular medical and dental visits. Embark on some DIY projects, or take up a new hobby. Pare down; hold a yard sale. Simplify your life, and your kids' lives. Take time to breath; don't rush from activity to activity. Seek balance.

Make someone else's world better. Our community has an organization that connects donors with needs. Many of the organization's projects are small ones, like collecting jars of peanut butter and jelly for kids' summer snacks, or holding a diaper-bag drive for new mothers. Do something small to help someone. Do lots of small things to help.

Build community. Go to community events and become part of your town or neighborhood. Meanwhile, build a sense of place at home. That may be as simple as rearranging the furniture, or as complex as building a new addition or landscaping your yard.

Broaden your horizons. If you can afford to, travel. Make day trips or long weekend jaunts, if nothing else. A change of scenery is always refreshing.

Read history. Learn about past responses to unfortunate turns of events. Learn from 1930s Germany. Learn from Reconstruction-era America. Read about real leaders, Winston Churchill and Franklyn Delano Roosevelt.

Find your tribe. Make friends with like-minded people. You are not alone.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Lands' End, come home to the Midwest

A few days ago I chimed in on Lands' End's Gloria Steinem controversy, which was badly mishandled by the catalog company.

But I didn't offer a solution, although I hinted at what I would do if I ran the Dodgeville, Wis., firm, whose reputation was damaged by its affiliation with the once-venerable Sears.

As a former public relations specialist and ad-agency creative type, I have a few ideas that involve truly taking the company back to its roots.

Lands' End was founded when Gary Comer, an avid sailor and Chicago native, left his ad agency job to explore Europe. When he returned, he started his own business selling sailing gear. He was joined by two Olympic Gold medalists, Robert Halperin, a sailor and football player, and also a Chicagoan, and Richard Stearns, a sailor.

Sailing and Chicago. Get it? That's why I suggested using a photo relating to the annual Chicago-to-Mackinac race on the catalog cover. I am sure the Chicago Yacht Club would love the tie-in.

The Midwest is full of sailors. I grew up in a city on Lake Michigan and summer here means sailing and racing. The shores of Lake Michigan and other Great Lakes are dotted with yacht clubs, marinas, beaches and lighthouses (the Lands' End icon). Here's a map of Lake Michigan lights. See what I mean?

But instead, Lands' End focuses on saving the Alcatraz Lighthouse. Is anyone at Lands' End paying attention?

Yes, I know: Alcatraz is a name everyone knows. But there are plenty of wealthy San Franciscans who will happily support its salvation as a local landmark.

Lands' End needs to take baby steps and build support in its own back yard. Make friends at home by supplying durable and classic sportswear we can wear sailing, bicycling, playing and watching football, raking leaves and doing all the things we do and that customers across the country do, too.

The Midwest offers scores of sports and outdoor opportunities, from Big Ten and NFL football to the Birkebeiner to local 5 and 10k walks and runs. We love baseball, softball and all manner of outdoor activities. We play tennis. We golf. We do it all.

Ever heard of Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers? Soldier Field and the Chicago Bears? Door County? Michigan Dunes? Boundary Waters?

Smart company marketing pros would have looked closer to home for assistance in bringing back the ailing company.

It's really pretty sad.

Lands' End not only erred in its approach to rebuilding its brand, it erred in hiring Federica Marchionni, who stipulated she'd take the job only if she could remain in New York City.

That was a warning sign, but no one was paying attention.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lands' End, you've made everyone unhappy

In the 1980s when I was drowning in a sea of student-loan debt, Lands' End was everywhere in Wisconsin, where I live. Well-made, classic American clothing, but beyond my budget until the company opened a seconds shop on State Street in Downtown Madison.

Since then, I've turned to Lands' End for everything from turtlenecks to LBDs. I was cautiously optimistic when Sears acquired the company a decade ago, remembering the quality and value the former behemoth catalog firm represented in my youth.

I continued to order parkas and pima-cotton tops from LL Bean, and was never disappointed in quality or service, given the reasonable cost and the fast delivery.

But Lands' End was losing other customers. The company began to plot a comeback in late 2014.

I was excited when a new CEO was hired a year ago. I didn't see her as an especially good fit for a company that got its start with canvas sails, but I thought the results of the transformation she would lead might be interesting.

The fake preppy family gatherings of rail-thin models on the cover of the new catalogs didn't do much for me, but then I'm part-Sconnie: Down to earth and suspicious of pretension.  I'd have used photos of sailors in the Chicago-Mac race or something similar. Lands' End needs to return to its core customers, and that wasn't happening.

A week ago, I tossed the spring catalog into the recycling after a brief glance. I've been following Gloria Steinem for decades. In college, some people thought I looked like her. I didn't bother to read the center-spread article because I simply don't see what Gloria has to do with sportswear.

The backlash from conservative, "pro-life" customers didn't really surprise me, but Lands' Ends' knee-jerk response was disappointing. Quickly apologize and scrub the company Web site? Really?

One of the cardinal rules of crisis management is to "tell it all and tell it fast." It's not "back down and do it fast." Someone, a group of someones, on the LE management team acted too quickly, fearing the company's parochial-school uniform sales would be damaged.

Seriously? They didn't consider this when they chose to feature a polarizing figure in their catalog and on their Web site? Does this company know what it wants to sell? I have my doubts.

That's what worries me. The company ended 2015 on a disappointing note. Now it's made a seemingly foolish public relations decision that's made everyone unhappy. Established customers who like and respect Steinem are unhappy with Lands' End capitulating to anti-abortion types.

Gloria Steinem stands for more than a woman's right to choose. But she doesn't have much to do with Lands' End. The decision to feature her was not well-considered.

Nor was the decision to yank her image off the company Web site. Read what PR specialists have to say here.

I won't threaten to boycott Lands' End because of the decision to throw Gloria Steinem under the bus. I have no plans to purchase anything this spring or summer, but who knows what the future will bring? Lands End made some management changes earlier this year, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if more were to follow.

Current management is confused about goals and core customers, I suspect, and has little clue as to how the company might regain some of its former luster.

It promises to be an interesting spectacle to observe.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Clothing for Women of a Certain Age

For the past two years, I have been appalled at the clothing offered in catalogs and at my local department stores. Everything seems to be dingy in color and decorated with bits of lace.

I cringe.

Back in the day, I wore tailored Jones New York and Liz Claiborne to work, accented with certain pieces from Ralph Lauren and The Talbots. When I moved to a smaller town where I earned less and the style was more casual, I found my best value buys to be department store brands.

I have never owned a designer piece in my life, or anything remotely couture. When I moved into a CEO job that required a few pieces of evening wear, I found those at Nordstrom's in Chicago.

Never any lace. Just not me. I knew at age 13 that my style was tailored, bordering on sporty. In high school, I drooled over Bobbie Brooks, Garland and John Meyer of Norwich in my Seventeen Magazine. I knew this was me: Plain cardigans and crew necks, plaid A-line skirts and jumpers, solid turtlenecks, tiny sprigged-print blouses, plain T-shirts and jeans, striped pullovers in summer. Sneakers, loafers, ballet flats and low pumps.

In my 20s, I was lured away for a time, attempting to achieve the Stevie Nicks look, favoring ruffly wrap skirts and flowered tops with long, flowing sleeves. And fringed shawls. It didn't last. In grad school, I wore sweatshirts and Dockers - much more my style.

The fashions of the mid-80s to mid-90s were too large for a short woman. Finally fashion turned my way again about 10 years ago. It was a short run.

Today, retired but busy with volunteer work, I live in jeans and khakis, with turtlenecks, tartan plaids and corduroy. A twinset and pearls for dressier occasions. I don't buy much, other than lingerie and pajamas, it seems. These items don't change much.

I love packing for travel because it forces me to choose items that can be worn together and that serve double duty. I love choosing, oh maybe 12 items, most in a neutral color. One trip to Europe was gray, black and white. Another was navy and white. An autumn trio to the southwest of France was black with aubergine and rust. Scarves are a must in Europe; they tie together many ensembles.

But that's travel. In general, I have way to many things hanging in my closet. I've given just about all I can part with to Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul.

I fantasize about a 10-or-12-item capsule wardrobe. Determining how I could do this is something that puts me to sleep at night.

If I had to cull my wardrobe down to 12 items, this is what would stay:

  • Little black dress
  • Blue jeans
  • Tailored white blouse
  • Blue chambray shirt
  • Black cardigan sweater
  • Black turtleneck
  • Ivory pullover sweater
  • Striped T-shirt
  • Plaid flannel shirt
  • White cotton T-shirt
  • Black dress pants
  • Tweed hacking jacket

Since it's cool where I live for all but 2 1/2 months of the year, I could actually get by with this wardrobe. I'd augment it with a camel wool coat and a khaki raincoat plus an olive or brown barn coat. Maybe a gray sweatshirt for really cold days. That brings my total to 16 items, excluding undergarments, pajamas, robe and shoes.

I could do it.

It would sure cut down on clutter.

Here's an idea I love: Cutting down to 37 items. I could do that and it would give me more flexibility than the 16 items above. Among other things, I'd add: A white cardigan, a red pullover, an ivory turtleneck, a navy blue dress, khaki trousers, a blue Oxford cloth blouse, an ivory spring and summer jacket, a cotton floral dress, a deep red jacket, black leggings, a black tunic, a white tunic and tops in blue, yellow, pink and turquoise.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How Rolling Stone and Samantha Rudin Erdely Can Redeem Themselves

Having spent part of my 35-year career as a journalist and the other half as a public relations practitioner, I watched the University of Virginia rape story unfold with interest and then alarm.

Getting conned by a source is every journalist's nightmare.

It has probably happened on some level to every reporter. I once had a source exaggerate a fact. I had no reason to question the fact. Pressed for time, I used her quote in my story, and learned the next day that she had lied to me. She called my editor. I had the quote in my notes. I later learned that she was a woman with many problems.

I wish I could say this was early in my career, but it was about halfway through my job as a newspaper reporter.

Samantha Rubin Erdely, the author of "A Rape on Campus," received bad information from a young woman we know as "Jackie." It appears Jackie was probably not gang raped at the Phi Kapp Psi fraternity on Sept. 28, 2012.

She may have been sexually assaulted at another time and place. Some of her friends say something happened to change Jackie. But so many details did not pan out, and were essentially left unverified by Erdely and Rolling Stone. Read the Columbia School of Journalism investigative report on the rape story here.

Here's how Rolling Stone might redeem itself and work to regain journalistic credibility:

  • Fire all staffers associated with the story and do it now. 
  • Replace them with journalists with integrity, perhaps writers and editors who have studied and written about ethical issues.
  • Make a commitment to strict policies and procedures that result in solid, well-vetted stories.
  • Write about ethics in journalism. Write about ethics in communication. Become an expert in ethics. Look at the Washington Post and its rigorous coverage of the Janet Cooke fiasco.
  • Reshape the magazine so that it is regarded as more than a music journal.
  • Use social media to report what RS is doing to regain credibility.

Erdely might recover her reputation by:
  • Taking one for the team and ending her association with Rolling Stone.
  • Admitting her mistakes and telling us what she has learned from them.
  • Seeking additional training in her profession, perhaps attending an ethics-in-the-media workshop or conference. This is not a one-time only step: Erdely needs to keep her ethical skills sharper on a regular basis.
  • Communicating about her experiences. Being visible with them. The road to redemption will not be an easy one, nor will it be smooth.
  • Becoming a visible advocate for ethics in journalism. Visible is the key word. Her story is not getting out there, probably because attorneys for RS have urged her to keep quiet.
  • Avoiding stories about rape, college, etc., and focusing on stories that can be easily verified. Erdely will probably never again be able to use a fake name for any sources.
  • If these are not acceptable steps, then Erdely will probably want to seek another career. I feel for her, because journalism truly does, in the words of my first newspaper editor, get in your blood.

I was accused of bias once, and my newspaper received a letter that made me seek a beat transfer. It was not easy, but it was the right thing to do. I don't think I was biased at the time, and my transfer request was made only because I wanted to spare my employer more grief. Of course, I was not writing on a national scale. I was small potatoes in the world of journalism.

Every reporter will face this at sometime. How it's handled is the key to survival. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

How to Survive the End of Downtown Abbey, Season 5

Can it be possible that five seasons of "Downton Abbey" have come and gone already?

Well, yes, and the end of Season 5 is especially hard to bear, with Tom Branson and young Sybbie departing Yorkshire for Boston and the knowledge that it seems likely next season will be the last. What's a Downton Abbey fan to do?

During the first two seasons of Downton, my own life was so busy, I hardly had time to mourn. But when I stopped working and the show ended and a bleak 10 months stretched before me, I learned to bury myself in another project.

The first year, that project was the long-delayed reading of "The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family." This huge tome took about two weeks to read, and led to more research. I was working on a DIY project or two at the time, and that helped occupy my mind and my time, while giving me time to digest the book and not rumble through it too quickly.

This year, I began preparing ahead of time, by downloading the following books on my iPad's Kindle:

The first book is, according to some reviewers, more interesting than the TV version. I've just started it.

I'm further along with the second book, which is highly readable, and much more interesting than the two previous books I've read by the same author, which were biographies of Vivien Leigh, the on-screen Scarlett O'Hara, and Margaret Mitchell, the American author who created Scarlett.

I often have several books going at once, one for each mood. Earlier this year, I read a fascinating book on the Romanov sisters (The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexanda by Helen Rappaport) so reading about European royalty, who are all related or connected somehow, seems a natural fit. I like history, but majored in American history. I'm filling in a few gaps.

Here are some other strategies for recovering from a season of Downton:

Learn to brew and drink tea. It's not as easy as it sounds. I've been a tea drinker all my life, but somehow have turned to coffee in recent years. There's a place for both beverages. Here's how to brew the perfect cup of English tea.

Plan a trip to England that includes a visit to Highclere Castle. Even if it doesn't materialize, planning is half the fun.

Research something related to Downton Abbey. Read all you can on the subject. I'm so intrigued with the Downton downstairs staff I'm planning on taking that path. What happens to them when the great houses can no longer employ them? How do they climb up the social and economic ladder post-Edwardian England?

Watch the third season of "Mr Selfridge" on Masterpiece Theatre. It runs from March 29 through May 17. By the time it ends, you'll be getting ready for summer and the farthest thing from your mind will be cold winter Sundays watching Downton.

Of course, you can always decorate your office to look like Downtown Abbey.