The Pitch

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Pitching stories is not my strength. It’s difficult to find a subject I want to write about, let alone try to find a place for that story to eventually land. As a relationship with an editor develops, it often becomes easier to discern which stories her or she will like and on what stories they will pass. But those first few pitches can be a beast.

General story ideas usually come to me by regularly checking in with fruitful sources. These can be government websites, industry events, or key people who have a unique perspective on an area of expertise I find interesting. Local newspapers are good for identifying trends, which they usually report on piece by piece. I can then pitch a big picture look at the story to a publication with a broader audience. When I’m struggling to come up with something that will really work for a certain publication, I find the best cure is to browse the publication’s website. What kind of stories do they post in the top spots? Are they humorous, newsy, contrarian? Most importantly, have they done stories similar to my pitch idea?

After my first few pitches landed with a thud, I finally got a bite at New Hampshire Public Radio. When the idea hit me (after reading stories about the subject in the local newspaper) I had a gut feeling this would be the one that worked. It fit in well with the kind of stories they’ve posted — newsy but a little quirky, too. You can read a portion of it below, or click through to the NHPR.org website for the whole piece.

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As Scooter Popularity Revs Up In Portsmouth, So Do Parking Concerns

Walk along any street near downtown Portsmouth and you’ll likely hear the buzz of a moped motor. Recently, these small motorbikes have been whizzing along Portsmouth’s streets in greater numbers and packs of scooters can often be found parked along the sidewalks and in alleyways near the Portsmouth waterfront.

But this rise in moped ridership – and where they’ve been parking – has raised some concerns among business owners and city officials.

“In recent years and particularly this year, there seems to be a dramatic increase in scooter type vehicles being used in the downtown part of the city,” said Portsmouth City Attorney Robert Sullivan.

“These vehicles are able to park on the sidewalk or where regular vehicles cannot. It’s actually been suggested that this is the reason they are being used.”

Read more at New Hampshire Public Radio.

Summer projects

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Sometimes a story evolves between assignment and deadline. That was the case with this piece, written for UNH Manchester’s Campus News. I originally highlighted the long-running small mammal research project headed by Professor Steve Pugh and the unique experience it provided students over the summer, but after first review the story became something bigger.

Beyond the Books and into the Field for Summer Animal Tracking

Each day, Joshua Linnane walks a portion of an 800-acre plot of undeveloped land on the outskirts of Manchester. The senior biology major at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester eyes the ground and trees for hair, scat and rub marks on trees. He’s looking for signs of wild mammals in this urban forest.

Linnane has three motion detection cameras set up in the woods, located in the area known as Hackett Hill. He leaves each camera for up to two weeks to eliminate his human scent from the area and later retrieves the card to see what animals crossed its path.

Linanne is one of UNH Manchester’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship grant recipients. Linnane is conducting a 10-week study and after will compare his findings to data collected 12 years ago by then-student Christine Andrews, UNH professional tutor and lab instructor.

“I’ve found coyotes, raccoon, something that looked like a bobcat, porcupines, opossums, chipmunks and a couple of non-mammal species, like turkeys, blue herons and turkey vultures,” said Linnane. On one of his morning walks, Linnane said he wandered upon a moose and her calf. “It’s really only five minutes out of the city and the diversity in this area is huge.”

To read more, go to UNH Manchester Campus News.

When it’s changing all around you

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The little nugget enjoying a Friendly Toast fry

I pitched a story about the Friendly Toast on a Tuesday morning. Less than 24-hours later I wondered if I had made a mistake.

Jeff Feingold, editor of New Hampshire Business Review, liked the idea immediately. He asked for a profile of the well-known Portsmouth eatery and a look at the benefits and challenges that come with taking over a business that everyone seems to love just the way it is. By noon on Tuesday, I had posted the following on my Facebook page, hoping to nudge some opinionated people into commenting on what I had heard was a controversial change in management.

“As a regular Facebook user, I’ve notice the Friendly Toast changing ownership story has elicited strong opinions from Seacoast residents who are long-time patrons, and especially from those who once worked there. I am writing a story for a business publication about the new ownership and the direction they are taking the business. But if I’m going to write this, I don’t want to gloss over that’s there’s been some controversy in the change in ownership. I would like to interview a few people who work/worked there and long-time customers about the changes being made. I’m not sure what will end up in the final story, but I want input from these folks before I sit down to write it.

Have you worked for the Toast in the past 5 years? Are you a regular customer who’s been to the Toast since the new owners have taken over? Are you a customer who’s had a hard time going back now that someone else owns it? Do you feel this change is just one more sign Portsmouth has lost its soul? Please contact me about being a source. Or if you’d just like to leave a ranty comment about the Friendly Toast, past or present, that’s fine too.

The response to this post was immediate, but mostly from people I expected to chime in, not necessarily people I wanted to interview. Around mid-afternoon on Tuesday, I got a private message from a woman saying she had some friends who wanted to talk to me for the story. I gave her my email, letting her know I wanted to talk to anyone, pro or con. I received an email a few hours later from a long-time customer raving about the royal treatment given to his relatives, who recently married, and their extra special love for the Toast. The story sounded familiar, and I soon figured out why. It was featured on the Friendly Toast’s own blog.

The next morning, I found an email from a representative from the owner’s marketing company, letting me know that the Friendly Toast owner would love to chat. Before I had a chance to email her back, I got a message from the owner (!?) saying he can’t wait to do an interview.

Before I could even ask, I have an interview lined up.

In any other city, this would seem like a lucky break for the reporter and nothing more, but in Portsmouth, where a city meeting on sprucing up a small parking lot draws a skeptical crowd and causes a 30-minute debate over where to put a dumpster, this is a symptom of a much later problem.

Portsmouth residents and business owners are divided on the growth the city has seen in the past decade. As other communities struggle to pull themselves out of the recession, Portsmouth is booming. We’ve seen two new hotels go up and another is on its way. There will soon be conference center and a Whole Foods — a big deal for a city of 25,000 people — and enough luxury condos to house all the rich empty nesters north of Boston. Some see this as progress. Other say the soul of the city is dying. Any change, no matter how badly needed, is maligned as another sinister way to rid the city of its historic charm. The result of this long distaste for anything new are hideous fake historic buildings made of brick, nowhere to park because we can’t decide where to build a new garage or if we should even encourage more people to come, and a divided City Council paralyze by the ginned-up outrage of a small but active minority.

It is in that context that the new owners of the Friendly Toast became wary of anyone accusing them of changing yet another Portsmouth institution. Despite improvements to the building and operations, rumors of horrible working conditions and substandard food being served flew around town. I brought these rumors to the owners during our interview, and he addressed them. I was honest. I had to include some dissenting voices, and he understood. I suppose after operating in Portsmouth for six month, you see outrage over the color of the walls and the size of the servings as part of doing business here.

Friendly Toast, Portsmouth, NH

Friendly Toast, Portsmouth, NH

Portsmouth eatery with a past looks to the future

Walk down Congress Street in Portsmouth any Sunday morning and you’ll find a crowd of roughly 15 people milling about on the sidewalk, waiting for a table at the Friendly Toast.

For 20 years, the diner-style restaurant has been an anchor in downtown Portsmouth, attracting both visitors and locals with its big plates of homemade food and retro décor ripped straight from the walls of your crazy aunt’s house.

The menu has 75 items that include nachos, burritos, milkshakes, homemade soups and nine different burgers, but breakfast is the true star at the Friendly Toast. Served all day, offerings include the basics, like eggs benedict and blueberry pancakes. What the Toast is best known for is the original dishes, like the popular Guy Scramble – a mix of eggs, cheddar, avocado, black beans and fresh salsa – or the Green Eggs and Ham – a play on eggs benedict that includes anadama bread and a homemade triple herb sauce. Most dishes are served with a big, butter-slathered piece of toast, made from bread baked in-house daily.

These eclectic dishes have earned the Friendly Toast national recognition. The restaurant took fourth place in the Best Breakfast in America contest held by “Good Morning America” and was named “one of the best breakfast places in America” by Esquire magazine.

This year, the restaurant earned the state’s best breakfast honors in New Hampshire Magazine’s “Best of NH” readers’ poll, and both the Portsmouth Friendly Toast and its sister location in Cambridge, Mass. received a certificate of excellence from the review website TripAdvisor.

The Friendly Toast’s two locations bring in about $5.5 million in combined annual sales. The Portsmouth location has 45 employees and seats 143. It’s open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. most days, and until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday night, making it the largest late-night dining spot in downtown Portsmouth.

The Portsmouth Friendly Toast generates roughly $2 million in sales annually, but co-owner Eric Goodwin believes sales could easily grow to $2.5 million by the end of 2014.

A restaurant with a past

Goodwin and business partner Scott Pulver purchased both Friendly Toast locations in October 2013. With their new ownership come a number of changes, including upgrades to the kitchen and a new point of service computer system.

The changes caused some blowback among the locals, mostly worried that the laid-back, not-trying-to-be-cool coolness of the Friendly Toast would be lost. But Goodwin repeatedly emphasizes that the quality of the food and the overall feel of the dining experience have not and will not change.

“We are mindful of the historic value,” said Goodwin. “We want to strike a balance between ensuring all the things that make the Friendly Toast unique and special stay, while trying to protect the sustainability of the restaurant and utilize the industry’s best practices.”

To read more, please visit New Hampshire Business Review

Will Travel for Beer

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With the boom in small craft breweries, it seems like every small town has their own tasting room stocked with beer brewed fresh out back. State tourism boards have noticed too, and are trying to boost their appeal by promoting their locally made ales and lagers alongside other attractions, such as skiing, hiking, and even work conferences. It’s not that hard of a sell. Who wouldn’t want to throw in a craft brewery tour on their vacation? For the story, click the link below.

Will Travel for Beer,” Market Watch June 2014

Science Teacher Shortage Lands in Two Publications

This piece was originally published on UNH Manchester’s Campus News site, but was later picked up by New Hampshire Business Review. Please click through to either one of the links for the full story.

UNHM program addresses science teacher shortage

Derek Burkhardt always wanted to be a teacher. He attended to the University of New Hampshire at Manchester to explore his teaching options in the arts, but ultimately decided to become a biology major and seek a career as an environmental consultant.

This summer, Burkhardt is finishing up his bachelor’s degree in biology, but he’s come back around again on the teaching career.

“I realized I always wanted to be a teacher and just because I didn’t want to be an art teacher didn’t mean I couldn’t be a science teacher,” said Burkhardt.

Burkhardt is entering an area of teaching where certified professionals are in short supply. Across the country, and in New Hampshire, science teachers are considered a “critical shortage area,” specifically in middle school and some high school science classes.

Read more either here or here.

Will Write for Food

How a love of food and a past gig led to this business story assignment

Fresh, local produce at Monadnock Food Co-op

Fresh, local produce at Monadnock Food Co-op

 

As the City Hall reporter at the New Hampshire Union Leader, I would often write news features about the residents’ various efforts to improve the city, from forming neighborhood watches to opening a farmers market. One of my features was about the Manchester Food Co-Op and their monthly potluck dinners to recruit new members. The group had only a few hundred members then, far from their 1,000 member goal before opening a retail store. I didn’t give that co-op much thought until years later, when I was roaming the aisles of the Monadnock Food Co-Op on a recent visit to New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region. If Keene could open a successful co-op, then Manchester must surely be close. And what other communities are talking about open similar cooperative grocery stores? You’ll find the answer in the story below.

The latest food co-op to open in NH

The latest food co-op to open in NH

A hunger for local food

While it may seem counter to New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” mentality, the cooperative business model is becoming a popular way for local communities to provide an alternative to the traditional supermarket.

Over the past five years, there has been a surge of interest in cooperative grocery stores as consumer interest in organic and locally sourced foods has grown.

Since 2009, food co-op stores opened in Littleton and Keene, and the Manchester Food Co-op is currently searching for a downtown location for a new grocery. Great River Co-op in Walpole is raising funds with the hope of opening a store in 2015, and Berlin, Gorham and Brookline have had discussions about launching a co-op in their communities.

To read more, click through to the full story in New Hampshire Business Review.

Big Data in a Small City

I had no idea what the term “Big Data” meant until I was assigned this story. When I called my first source, I felt a little sheepish about being so clueless about it, but that’s often the case with journalism. One of the best tips I got as a fledgling reporter was that I should never be afraid to admit I didn’t know something. So I asked, what is Big Data. I was told the name is really just a silly tech term, like Web 2.0, and the actual substance of Big Data, well, it’s big. You’ll see when you read the story.

 

Photo by Mike Ross, UNH Photo Services

Photo by Mike Ross, UNH Photo Services

Preparing Students for Big Data at UNH Manchester

The amount of stuff we compile on digital devices has exploded in the past five years. Everything from the selfies we take on our iPhones to the medical data gathered every day at hospitals across the country, the amount of digital data now being created is massive. Coming up with better ways to store, access and process this information is a fast growing segment of the computing technology field, called “big data,” and it’s an area where University of New Hampshire at Manchester students will be able to learn more with the launch of a new class in 2015.

Jeremiah Johnson, a lecturer in mathematics at UNH Manchester, is currently developing the new course, “Statistics in Computing and Engineering,” which will be offered in the spring semester next year. Aimed at students in the Computer Science and Entrepreneurship program, the class will discuss methods for analyzing large amounts of data and breaking the information into functional pieces, essentially laying the groundwork for the skills needed to work in “big data.”

“Students coming out of college with a computer science degree will need to know how to work on big data,” said Johnson. “The big growth area in Silicon Valley is data-driven technology.”

Read more at UNH Manchester Campus News.

Venturing into the business world

Business journalism was never something that appealed to me, though I knew the job security was better in that field of expertise than say being an expert in education or environmental policy. Statistics, spreadsheets, tax law all seemed so, well, boring. But then I had a conversation with New Hampshire Business Review Editor Jeff Feingold.

“Our stories can be about anything really, as long as it has something to do with business,” he told me. Putting it that way, writing about business, which I know almost nothing about, didn’t seem so scary and not nearly as boring. My first piece for NHBR was published last week. You can read the full piece here.

Shortage of young people entering New Hampshire’s accounting industry is a worrisome trend

A high demand for qualified, entry-level accountants is driving up starting salaries and creating an environment of almost full employment for these young workers

“April is the cruellest month.” The line from T.S. Eliot is especially true for college seniors.

These near-graduates spend the month juggling senior projects and finals with polishing their resumes and visiting job fairs. College seniors not only want to start their careers, but also avoid another summer spent scooping ice cream, bagging groceries and waiting for their independent adult life to begin.

But there is one group of sought-after students that will spend this April worry-free, at least when it comes to finding a job.

According to professionals in New Hampshire’s accounting industry, a high demand for qualified, entry-level accountants is driving up starting salaries and creating an environment of almost full employment for these young workers.

“There are lots of good firms looking for good people,” said Robert Smalley, a CPA at the Manchester accounting firm BerryDunn, which hires between two and four accountants every year, often recruiting from the University of New Hampshire.

UNH offers a “very high-level program,” said Smalley, but it’s simply not producing enough graduates to meet the demand of the state’s accounting firms and corporations.

The demand is so great that Smalley and his colleague Jennifer Sanctuary, also a CPA, recently collaborated with UNH Manchester to create a new accounting “track” – essentially a minor – for business students beginning in the fall of 2014.

The track requires students to take seven accounting-based courses throughout their time at UNH Manchester, including managerial finance and federal taxation and auditing. These courses are designed to give students the skills and expertise needed for certification as a management accountant or as a certified public accountant.

The accounting track is modeled after UNH’s Durham program, but will also include curriculum Smalley and Sanctuary developed to reflect the kind of skills they use in their day-to-day work.

Tech Girls

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Girls Technology Day looks like it was a blast. It was certainly a blast writing about it.

High School Students Explore Computing and Engineering at Girls Technology Day

The computer tech boom of the past decade has created many new and exciting careers for young people, but what troubles people like Mihaela Sabin, associate professor and coordinator of the Computing Technology Program in the Division of Science and Technology at UNH Manchester, is that too few young women are entering the tech field.

“One stereotype that prevents girls from being interested in computing is about how technology professionals are perceived,” said Sabin. “Girls in middle school and high school imagine a lonely programmer working on a laptop, she said, with little collaboration or communication with co-workers and team mates. Unfortunately, many girls see working in technology as kind of geeky and lacking meaningful social interactions.”

Read more here: