Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Running in Havana

There's an annual marathon in Havana called the Havana Marathon or Marabana that draws about 2,500 international runners including Americans.  With the relaxing of relations between the US and Cuba and the introduction of a sports license that allows semi-professional and amateur athletes to compete in exhibitions and events on the island nation, more and more Americans are heading to Cuba to run.  I wrote a news feature on some South Florida runners who are training for the marathon which takes place Nov. 20.

(photo above by Jim Rassols of the Sun Sentinel)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Fighting HIV through social media

At the recent National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association conference in Miami, I heard Maria Mejia tell her story, how she uses her HIV positive diagnosis to raise awareness and share the realities of living with the virus.

"You get no breaks,'' she said. "It's not easy but it's not going to kill you if you do what you're supposed to do, which is take your medicine, live a healthy lifestyle, try to be a person that is productive, work out, drink lots of water and just live intensely one day at a time."

She had a tell-like-it-is manner that was raw and engaging. She stood out from the panel of doctors, researchers and advocates.

Maria is very open about her status. Using the handle @MariaHIVMejia, she records videos on Youtube, blogs, and posts updates on Facebook and Twitter to help lessen the stigma.

Her story stayed with me and I decided to follow up with a profile on her for the Sun Sentinel.

(Photo by Amy Beth Bennett/ Sun Sentinel)

Friday, September 23, 2016

C'mon Ride The (little) Train

Choo choo! For more than 25 years, volunteers have provided fun train rides at Tradewinds Park on little locomotives that are about an 1/8 of the size of their big counterparts.
The tradition was launched by the late Jon Hollahan and his fellow live steamers to share in their love of railroads. Now his son and others are helping keep the tradition on track. I wrote a news feature about the Hollahan's family love of trains and why volunteers and people love of these model trains.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


I'm just coming off from a few days at the NLGJA conference, an annual gathering of 200-something gay, lesbian, transgender journalists and media professionals.

 It's been 10 years since the conference was held in Miami Beach and 2006 was my first introduction to the group. So I'm glad the conference came back full circle to my hometown where I now live. (I was also glad because it made for a really easy commute - 24 minutes!)

As I've written before, the conference is like one big gay reunion, a media brotherhood/sisterhood but with notepads, pens and lots of Coca Cola products (Dasani water, Sprite, etc) because Coke was one of the sponsors.

with old friend Kenneth Craig of CBS News
I got to see old friends from other newspapers, TV stations and networks so the conference serves as a non-stop catch-up session over three days at the posh beachside Ritz-Carlton South Beach.

 But there were workshops too, A LOT of workshops, and I got to attend a few (and I was even on one of the panels but more on that later.) And because I'm a writer, I couldn't help jot down notes wherever I went.

In the Homophobia in the Caribbean workshop, I learned a lot about JFLAG, the nonprofit Pride group in Jamaica and the work they've done to make it easier for gays/lesbians to come out or at least talk about being gay in their native country. One study by the group found that only 18 percent of Jamaicans appreciate/accept/tolerate LGBT people and that over 60 percent of LGBT folks don't report harassment. PRIDE in Jamaica doesn't garner much news coverage in the country or internationally which spokesman Jaevion Nelson hoped that would change by speaking at the conference and sharing the group's story.

On a more somber note was the Reporting on HIV and AIDS Today: Latinos at the Crux of the Epidemic panel which was moderated by Diane Anderson-Minshall. I learned that Miami-Dade and Broward counties lead the country in new HIV infections and the counties are third and fourth in the nation of new AIDS cases.  "We are still looking at the equivalent of five 911s of people dying each year of AIDS,'' said Dr. Stephen Fallon of Latinos Salud, a nonprofit that works with gay Latinos in South Florida. But what really stuck out for me was that Latino gay men in Miami-Dade live only half as long as nonminorities after an AIDS diagnosis.  The last panelist of the group was Maria Mejia, a Miami-Colombian woman who has been HIV positive since she was 15 in 1988. She shared her story and how she now empowers others who are positive that life is worth living and not to be ashamed.  "I have no shame whatsoever for having HIV. I'm a survivor. This is a human condition that affects us all."

Other workshops I attended included Making the Most of Google Tools which presented how one can refine their searches from within a site, looking up legal and scholarly documents and using the Search by Image to trace where photos come from. (Very Catfish-like.)  But the one feature that all the guys and gals were buzzing about was the video on the Google Translate app which instantly translates whatever word that appears in an image on your phone.

Not everything was HIV, homophobia and Google.  At a workshop called Writing for the Ear which was standing room only, Mo Rocca from CBS's Sunday morning show talked about he interviews celebrities and writes transitions into his stories

He said he gets four minutes to 11 minutes to tell a story and he's given about three weeks to work on them before they air. With celebrities and profiles, the less track, the better.  "I think transitions are overrated. I think it 's nice to make a hard turn,'' he said of story packages.  He also noted that he enjoys jolting an interview a little bit by abruptly asking a question that is off-topic such as "What's your favorite pet?" or "What do you think of (insert celebrity name?)"   He added, "It's nice to ignore those expected transition lines and try new topics."

And finally, I was on a panel called How To Be Your Own Best Editor which was moderated by author and New York Times Magazine writer Benoit Denizet-Lewis and featured writing instructor and author Valerie Boyd, author Craig Seymour and Daily Beast editor and writer and author Tim Teeman.

photo by  Neil Savage. 

Some of the tips that I walked away with from this session:

 "Reading your story on different devices" such as your phone, iPad or desktop as part of the self-editing process, said Benoit.

"Trusting your instincts" when it comes to writing and editing, said Craig.

The importance of "peer to peer editing" and having a colleague read over your copy before sending it to your editor, said Valerie.

And Tim emphasized having a conversation with your editor before writing a story so you have a good sense of what the story should be. He also underscored picking your battles when you don't agree with a suggested edit.

I suggested reading your story outloud (which I do in my little orange Fiat) and reading it outloud with your editor as she/he edits. Your ear will catch what works and doesn't work.  I also like to print out my story when I am close to being done and then I leave it alone for a little while unless I'm on a hard deadline. (It's a great time to get some coffee or water from CVS) and then I reread the copy with fresh eyes.

Overall, it was a great conference despite the intermittent rain showers.  (Florida isn't the Sunshine state. It's the partly overcast state.)

I learned a few new things and got to see old friends and made some new ones.

photo from Michael Luongo (second from left) and I'm next to Richard Leong (right)

Until next year in Philadelphia.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Old time rock 'n roll(er)

Can you get a second shot at your first act? For Kal Fagan, the answer is yes.  I wrote an article   about this 78-year-old graduate student who once managed a 60s rock'n'roll band called Robby and The Troubadours. While studying music administration at FAU, he struck up a friendship with a Grammy-winning audio engineer who remastered the records from Robby and the Troubadours into a CD. So Kal is hoping the group will finally make it big by rereleasing their songs and appealing to new fans.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I don't like meat, wanna meet?

Can a vegan hit it off with a carnivore? Food lifestyle choices can be tricky to navigate in the dating world when you meet someone with a specific diet. I wrote a story about the dating challenges of folks with dietary preferences and how they manage in South Florida which can be a meat market (pun intended).

On similar note, isn't the graphic to the left super cute?  I can't tell if the carrot and the piece of meat are hetero or same sex. The ambiguous veggie and meat.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Disney princess from Miami

Once upon a time, there was a young Latina who grew up in the Miami suburb called Kendall. She enjoyed watching Disney princesses Mulan and Sleeping Beauty on the big and small screens. Now that little girl is the voice of a new Disney princess, Elena of Avalor. I wrote a story on Miami actor Aimee Carrero and her journey from Miami to LA (and Disney studios). Disney has been promoting Elena as its first Latina princess. Fans may better recognize Carrero from her role on Freeform's Young and Hungry TV series where she plays Sofia Rodriguez.
(Photos from Disney Channel)

Monday, August 1, 2016

Catching up with Mr. 305

Pitbull is always on the move. Between this concerts, TV appearances, videos and whatever single his cooking up, Mr. 305 should really be called Mr. Everywhere. Recently, he was in Miami shooting a video for his new single Greenlight when I was able to chat him with on the phone for a story about two South Florida concerts and his work with SLAM! (Sports Leadership Academy Management) high school in Miami, West Palm Beach and Henderson, Nevada. He's the schools' celebrity ambassador. But I got to ask him which artists he'd like to work with since he's collaborated with pretty much everyone on the planet. To my surprise, he said Jay Z and the late Celia Cruz. Here's my story on Mr. Worldwide, whose real name is Armando Christian Perez.