Monday, November 28, 2016

Castro and Cuba

South Florida flared with raw emotion, from anger to sadness, with the news of the death of Fidel Castro this weekend.

I helped with the Cuban and Cuban-American reaction story that was published Sunday in the Sun Sentinel's special section.

(photo on the left from Michael Laughlin of the Sun Sentinel in front of Cafe Versailles in Miami)

I also wrote a story for that section about a new Cuban museum focused on the exile experience.

Naturally, Fidel Castro's presence can be seen and felt at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora through the art work by Luis Cruz Azaceta currently on display throughout the center's two floors.

(art work by Luis Cruz Azaceta at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora)

And this was the front page of the special section the Sun Sentinel published Sunday.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Taking a bite out of the Burger Museum

McDonald's characters (Hamburglar, Grimace), the Burger King and all have a home at the Burger Beast Burger Museum, an ode to all things fast-food restaurants.

The museum, a 1,500-foot square space at Magic City Casino in Miami, features vintage glasses, mugs, notepads, napkins, name tags, wrappers - you name it! - from famous and former fast-food joints in South Florida and beyond.  I wrote a story about the museum for my paper the Sun Sentinel.

Walking through the museum was like taking a stroll through my childhood when my parents treated my sister and me to Sunday lunches at Burger King or a quick dinner at McDonald's on Thursdays. (I always ordered a cheeseburger and chocolate shake from both places. Come to think of it, I did the same at Cuban restaurants in Miami - Puerto Sagua, Versailles, etc.)

I also remember the BK cashiers wearing bright orange and brown uniforms at BK and using microphones to repeat orders. And those catchy Saturday morning McDonald's commercials where groups of friends (mostly elementary school-age girls) went to lunch at McDonald's on the weekends after a school event.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Emily Estefan turns the beat around (her way)

Emily Estefan is about to rehearse inside Crescent Moon Studios in Miami. But don't expect the cha-cha-cha, dance and Latin music that made her parents Emilio and Gloria Estefan megastars in the mid1980s.

Emily's sound has hints of funk, rhythm and blues and Neosoul. Her voice is more Amy Winehouse than mom Gloria.

 I got to interview Emily for a story about her upcoming album Take Whatever You Want which comes out Feb. 3.  She also talked about how she created her songs while a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston.  (In my book, that makes her a fellow Beantown Cuban).

(photo above by Taimy Alvarez / Sun Sentinel)

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.