Weekend Work

I always tell people the key to being a successful freelance writer is never say no to a project (unless it doesn’t pay, or doesn’t pay well). I realized the other day I don’t actually have much evidence to prove this, since I haven’t said no to an assignment in a really long time. This might explain why I was out the door early on a Saturday morning to be in Manchester to cover the 2016 Aspirations in Computing Awards.

This event was fun and easy to cover, and featured a crew of talented and smart young women trying to figure out what to do with their lives — plus a trip to Whole Foods right down the road made this worth giving up my Saturday morning.

Aspirations in Computing Awards Celebrate Young Women in Tech

It’s 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning and instead of sleeping in, fifteen young women were in the lobby of the University of New Hampshire at Manchester trying to figure out how to build the tallest tower they could out of few pieces of dried spaghetti, a marshmallow, a strip of masking tape and string.

The activity was an icebreaker for the recipients of the 2016 National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) Award for Aspirations in Computing, a national initiative to honor young women at the middle and  high-school level for their computing-related achievements and interests. The Aspirations in Computing Awards Event, held on May 14, was a half day of activities that provided an opportunity for young women from New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont to interact with students faculty and industry members in the field of technology. The awardees are selected for their computing and IT aptitude, leadership ability, academic history, and plans for post-secondary education. The program provides opportunities for young women to find internships and earn scholarships, including a $1,500 award to UNH Manchester for NCWIT awardees and a $1,000 award to NCWIT participants.

To read more go to UNH Manchester Campus News.

So you want to be a freelance writer? 5 important tips to get you started


You want to be a freelance writer? It's cold out there.

You want to be a freelance writer? It’s cold out there.

Being a freelance writer in New Hampshire is a lot different than New York. The pool of editors and publications is small and breaking in anywhere with a national circulation is almost impossible. That doesn’t mean you can’t do at least a little freelance writing on the side, especially if you have good ideas and you know how to package them.

Last weekend, I taught a one-day freelance writing workshop at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications, and this message was one to which I kept returning. The Loeb School is a small non-profit focused on fostering an interested and spreading knowledge about all things media, so the students ranged from high schoolers to retirees. All were very interested in writing and incredibly engaged, bringing great ideas with no clue how to get them in front of an editor. Here’s what I told them:

  1. Be able to write

This seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many people underestimate the importance of high-quality writing, even those who aspire to be one. All you need to know about writing for a publication comes in two books. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and the Associated Press Stylebook. When editors say use AP style when formatting your story, this is the book that will tell you how to do it.

  1. Know how to identify a story

“Why should I care?” If you even get to talk to an editor, you’re likely to hear one say this when you first start out. A story worthy of publication should be something that affects a significant number of people, not just you and your friends. It should reveal new and interesting details about something people are doing, not something we’ve read 100 times. It is something out of the ordinary, even stunning, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be something we look at every day. A story should have a new way of looking at that thing. I also believe a good story provides a glimpse of humanity, whether it is joy, struggle or loss. Some people are gifted storytellers, while others have to practice. I had to practice.

  1. Network like crazy

This is the most important step. No freelance writer making a living today doesn’t network his butt off. NH Writers’ Project, NH Creative Club, and NH Media Makers are good places to start. The people you meet in those groups can help you find other ways to meet editors and writers, plus give you their own tips. Get cards and contact information. Follow up. Invite people for coffee and drinks. Hate doing it? You certainly aren’t the only aspiring writer with an aversion to the social sphere. If you really want it, you’ll do it.

  1. Practice pitching

My workshop focuses a lot on writing pitch letters, a subjective craft to be sure. There are online templates for query letters out there, but so much of the pitch format has to do with what the specific editor wants that all you can really do is keep throwing darts at the board and hope one lands on bulls eye. What you should be thinking more about is how to make the story sound interesting, keeping it short, and showing the editor there’s a great way to package it in her publication. If you send enough pitches, an editor might even take pity on you and spend a few moments telling you what you’re doing wrong and how they can be better.

  1. If you do get an assignment, be perfect

I got fired from one of my first freelance writing jobs because I couldn’t deliver a quality product on time. That’s the last time I did that. Make your deadlines. Deliver exactly what the editor wants, no more, no less. Punctuation, spelling, correct names, titles and quotes – these should be perfect, or as close to perfect as you can be. Having clean copy is my own personal white whale, so I get how hard it can be, but if you want to get hired again, putting in the effort is worth it.

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.

Manchester Love


The longer I work in Manchester, the more I come to realize it’s my second home. Although I’m not in the city as often as I was during my Union Leader days, I have more professional connections in the Queen City than I do in my hometown. I’ve gotten to know the place from a unique perspective — as one who works but has never lived there — which inspired me to do a quick post about it.

There’s plenty to complain about when it comes to Manchester, like traffic. Seriously, how is it that traffic is so bad here. Perhaps the 1 million lights? Or the worst drivers north of Boston? Crime is another factor, which is relatively low compared to some other cities the size of Manchester, but people in New Hampshire are outraged by a dog fouling epidemic. Hearing about a rash of break-ins or a drug ring bust is cause for panic.

Manchester is one of those funny places that has a small town feel, but big city problems. I think the big city aspects add more to Manchester than diminish, but I hold things like culture, entertainment opportunities and diversity in high regard.  Here’s a sample of the Stay Work Play piece I wrote this week:

5 Reasons to Love Manchester

Manchester has many personas, depending on who you are and where you live. For some it’s where you see Van Halen play on its next tour. For others it’s a place to go bar hopping, and unfortunately for others, they see Manchester as a city where your car might get broken into. I’ve worked in Manchester off and on for a few years now and have found that the city has more to offer than its “Manchvegas” nickname lets on.

1. Manchester is multicultural

For one of the least diverse states in the country, New Hampshire’s Queen City is very diverse. Dozens of languages are spoken by students in Manchester’s public schools and more than 20 percent of the students are non-white. Manchester today is home to Sudanese, Bhutanese and Iraqis. Having different cultures represented in the city means there are stores and restaurants that cater to these cultures. The West Side has the Ali Baba Wholefoods Festival & Treasures, which serves wine, groceries and prepared food like falafel, shawarma and channa masala. Near Gill Stadium is its sister store the Spice Center, a market offering foods mainly from the Middle East and southeast Asia. There are many more small markets throughout the city that have ethnic food sections catering to the neighborhood. Manchester also has an embarrassing amount of good Mexican restaurants and a highly rated Nepali restaurant, Café Momo.

2. Manchester has the Merrimack River

During the Industrial Revolution, Manchester’s riverfront property was taken over by mills and warehouses. Now it has a baseball park, walking trails, and luxury condominiums. The mills are still there, but inside are tech firms, restaurants and the UNH Manchester campus. If you want to get up close to the river, head to Arms Park. Parking is ample and you can walk along the Merrimack just feet from the rushing water below.

Best News All Day, Prison Edition


One of the stories I followed closely in the past year is the state’s decision to investigate opening a private prison in New Hampshire. More than a year ago, the state issued a request for proposals from private prison contractors and developers interested in building or renovating a prison that the private company would run for 20 years, then hand back over to the state.

Interest in the proposal was strong.

But now the state has decided to end the discussion, saying none of the proposals outlined how the prisons would comply with a number of court orders, such as how they would provide equal services for men and women prisoners. Not only did the applicants fail to provide enough information on how they would comply, but in some cases they just said they would comply with the court order and left it at that.

Looking back at the coverage last year, it is worth noting the RFP was lauded for being open-ended.

“It’s probably one of the more unique and creative (RFPs) put out for some time,” said Eli Gage, the publisher of Correctional News, a national publication that covers trends in prison construction. “The state has given the ability to leave things (a bidder) is open to do or not do, depending on what they like. Even some in the industry say it’s the best RFP they’ve seen in a while.” (from Union Leader Jan. 2012)

Apparently they thought court orders fell under the open part.

The effort to build a private prison in New Hampshire was meant to save money and probably would have been met with more support if the prison didn’t have to go somewhere. When word got out developers were thinking of building a prison in Manchester (sorry only in print?!), the aldermen tossed it up like a hot potato until it landed in Ward 8, much to the chagrin of Alderman Tom Katsiantonis.

Then activists from Arizona — not a state known for compassion when it comes to prisoners —  spoke across New Hampshire urging Legislators to kill the deal.

But the real reason for killing the deal is likely the changes in the Legislature, Executive Council and Governor’s Office, as foretold by Annmarie Timmins of the Concord Monitor in Dec. 2012.

While residents of Manchester and the other towns targeted for a new prison are likely happy about the decision, the state still has little money to spare, the prisons are still in poor condition and the courts still expect the Department of Corrections to fix its problems. I guess it’s back to the drawing board.

Best News All Day 3-26-13


Being a superintendent of schools is a pretty thankless job. There is never enough money. Everyone is constantly second-guessing your decisions, from teachers to the school board to the average citizen who knows next to nothing about education. And when you try to make improvements, shake things up for the overall good, parents, kids and teachers fill a large auditorium or gymnasium or hearing room to talk about why the improvement plan is such a bad idea — often before hearing all the details.

Hudson Superintendent of Schools Brian Lane is trying to make a change, to improve student test scores by restructuring the early education model in his town. Will it work? Maybe. But first he has to convince the people who live in Hudson to let him do it.

— In case you missed it, WMUR interview with newly elected Manchester City Democrats Chairwoman Liz Kulig.

— Not quite New Hampshire news, but a rare white coyote was found in Kennebunk, Maine.

These photos of Cranmore Mountain’s annual pond skimming event over the weekend makes you realize the North Country is totally having more fun than we are this winter.

Another blow to charter schools. And the university system.

— The Manchester Superintendent of Schools candidates got a taste of the job Monday night.

— Last Thursday, I attended the Portsmouth Pecha Kucha (pronounced Puh-CHA Koo-CHA), a sort of TED talk thing that actually began before the whole TED talk thing was a thing. My favorite segment was presented by Jane Seney, educator, tour and docent program director. A Manchester native, Seney spoke about how her view of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Zimmerman House has changed over the years. It was enlightening and made me realize how rich in art and architecture Manchester really is.

Best News All Day 5-6-13





— I’d like to start with an incredibly creepy article in the Union Leader about landowners “hunting” biologists conducting a wildlife study in Northern New Hampshire as part of the prep work for Northern Pass. Nothing motivates New Englanders like the prospect of some kind of development in their backyard, so it’s no surprise that people who live in the middle of nowhere are concerned when they see officials doing research connected to a project they viscerally despise. But geez, following them and ordering them off your land? These are biologists, not Satanists.

— The annual report for the Verizon Wireless Arena is out and it appears to have been a good year, with net revenue at $1.9 million. The Special Committee on the Civic Center will meet next week to go over the numbers with the independent auditor.

— Hooksett. What are you going to do with all your high school students? Are you going to build a new school? Send them somewhere else? Possibly break your contract with Manchester? OK. Taking your fight with Manchester to the state Board of Education is something.

Linked to the Union Leader article on this is an op-ed by David Ryan, Nashua High School North principal, former Central High employee and Hooksett/Central High parent. It addresses the challenges the new Manchester superintendent of schools will face and offers a little advice, not only to the person who next holds that position, but to the School Board and mayor that seem to wield so much power over that job.

— They say becoming a parent changes how you look at things, especially when it comes to issues with kids. That’s probably why I was so moved by this case, having recently had a baby. I just couldn’t understand, how could you leave your injured child alone at a hospital and run off with the man who (allegedly) hurt him? Documents filed by the prosecution are shedding some light on that and is likely to be an integral part of its case against Roland Dow, accused of the assault. From the WMUR article:

“Prosecutors said they will call an expert witness in the field of intimate partner violence to assist the jury’s understanding of (accused mother Jessica) Linscott’s behavior. The filing said the witness will discuss the patterns and general trends of victims of intimate violence regarding their nondisclosure or hesitancy to disclose the violence.”

Also in the news:

— Awesome red tailed hawk video.

— Great Charles McMahon article about the new Memorial Bridge span floating in last night/this morning.

— GZA (of Wu-Tang) will be performing at the Shaskeen later this month. I’m not kidding.

Best News All Day 3-4-13

The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge over the Pisctaqua River in Portsmouth, new Hampshire.


Have you driven over the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge recently? It’s the one that connects the Route 1-Bypass from Portsmouth to Kittery. You know, the one that keeps closing down and is in a constant state of repair because it’s a rusty heap. Yes. That one. As efforts to replace the bridge ramp up, it looks like New Hampshire is going to have a tough time convincing Maine to go halfsies on the multi-million dollar replacement project, seeing as New Hampshire is getting way more out of the deal, according to a new study. (photo by Jerry Monkman)

Also around the state this morning:

— Driving through Concord on I-93 is a traffic nightmare anytime of the day, but I’ve always kind of liked the view of the city from that highway. The backs of all those old, brick buildings makes you feel like you are sneaking up on the city, getting a glimpse of the real, working side of the capital. The Golden Dome may be where all the action is in Concord, but driving past on I-93, it merely shimmers in the background.

Apparently city leaders don’t see it like I see it and are looking at sprucing up the view of downtown’s backside.

— Immigration reform is never high on the issues list when New Hampshire residents are polled, but there are many people in this state affected by these policies. Nashua Telegraph covers an immigration reform rally in the city Saturday, which provides a rare glimpse at New Hampshire’s immigrant population and the problems they are facing.

— A new bill could require high school students to take four years of math (ugg.) But a recent study suggests reports that students are entering college woefully unprepared in math may be overblown.

— I wanted to post something about the upper Seacoast region…Dover, Rochester, Durham perhaps. But Fosters.com is making it very difficult. Fosters, if you are going to have a pop-up on your homepage, users should be able to “x” out of it so they can see your product, not take me to some weird page deep within your site. Just sayin’.

— Elizabeth Kulig was elected Manchester City Democrats Chairman over the weekend, beating out Mike Farley, city dem’s former secretary. This 21-year-old is the youngest person elected to the post. Also worth noting, Alderman Garth Corriveau addressed the committee.

There’s been some peculation about what Corriveau’s ambiguous video message to his peeps meant last week. My guess is Corriveau still hasn’t made up his mind, though he’s really thinking about it. What he has to decide is whether he thinks his chances of beating Mayor Ted Gatsas are good enough to give up a relatively safe seat on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

New School Super not a Super Job

Manchester Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan is set to step down this summer. After advertising the job across the country, 78 people have applied. Of those, 74 do not live in New Hampshire.

Once the applications are reviewed, 12 finalists will be selected. May I suggest the Manchester Board of School Committee send a DVD of a recent meeting to each finalist, just to make sure they understand what they are getting into?

Best News All Day 2-26-13


Good morning. Another snow storm is on it’s way tonight, so I’ve included a few stories you may have missed (and I definitely missed) from this weekend. Consider it a little extra reading for you while “working from home” tomorrow.

— White pine trees in New Hampshire are stressed out, according to UNH scientists.

— GREAT Nashua Telegraph web front page today. Plenty of good reads, including the piece on the Mont Vernon GOP gun raffle. It mentions recent controversy with these kinds of gun raffles and has a quote from Manchester GOP moderate Chris Stewart warning this may not be the path Republicans want to keep going down.

— NH Supreme Court rules the Nashua Telegraph did not defame a man when it erroneously reported he cooperated with police. Plaintiff argues, it’s defamation if you’re in prison.

— Comprehensive look from Union Leader business writer Dave Solomon breaking down the natural gas/Power New England/deregulation issue. Also, a little more background from New York Times.

— There are plenty of good stories about the local impact of sequestration. Here is the official White House fact sheet for NH.

— From Concord Monitor Sunday paper, great Ben Leubsdorf interview with interim LGC head and all around obscure government agency fixer, George Bald.

— NH DOT Commissioner Chris Clement to speak about NH’s state of transportation at the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce breakfast tomorrow. In the press release: New Hampshire has approximately 17,000 miles of roads, turnpikes and interstate highways and 3,795 bridges. “These structures are essential to our state and their deteriorating condition is a threat to our economy.”

— And my personal favorite, Nashua residents push Board of Public Works to hold its meetings at a reasonable evening hour, not in the middle of the work day. Former Alderman Dan Richardson adds this complaint (from Maryalice Gill at the Telegraph):

“When you read the formal Board of Public Works meeting minutes for that particular meeting, you’ll find absolutely no hint of public participation via that letter. It was as if no letter even existed. Is that what the mayor considers satisfactory public participation? It sounds to me like an official’s attempt to wash the official record of any public dissent.”