08/17/15
Mt. Rainier in winter

Putting a multimedia journalism degree to work

Soon after I graduated from the University of Maryland-College Park in December 2012 with a master’s degree in multi-platform journalism, I moved cross country to Seattle and began a search for a full-time job that would incorporate my new multimedia skills with my continued love of writing and editing.

What began in summer 2013 as a freelance gig doing social media consulting and web stories turned into a full-time job for me in December 2013. Since then I’ve been the multimedia editor for NORTHWEST CATHOLIC, the official publication for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

I came aboard right as the archdiocese’s long-running weekly newspaper, The Catholic Northwest Progress, transitioned into a new monthly magazine, website and multi-platform initiative. What had been a fairly small circulation newspaper suddenly became a print publication that went to 123,000 homes in Western Washington state and a website that could potentially reach far beyond that.

My job includes overseeing Northwest Catholic Online, including updating the site daily with international and national news, handling Northwest Catholic’s social media presence, integrating photo/audio/video components between the website and the magazine, and writing feature and web stories.

Despite the vast transformation in the journalism world from a print to a digital focus, one of the ongoing challenges for NORTHWEST CATHOLIC has been getting the word out that we are “more than just a magazine.” In fact the bulk of my daily work focuses on NWCatholic.org, social media and multimedia.

In June 2015, NORTHWEST CATHOLIC won 19 awards from the Catholic Press Association, many of which were for work that never appeared directly in the magazine. The awards validated the work of our relatively new initiative, and I’m excited to continue finding new ways to expand and enrich our online and multimedia content in particular.

05/20/13

Give Spam a Chance

The cover of Slate, May 20, 2013

The cover of Slate, May 20, 2013

As a Hawaii resident, I’ve always known and loved Spam canned meat, especially in the form of local favorite Spam musubi. So, based on Hawaii’s devotion to Spam, I came up with this piece for Slate.

 

01/22/13

Crafting the perfect drink

The story below was part of a larger Maryland craft brewery project I worked on while at Capital News Service at the University of Maryland. You can see the entire project here, including three videos I shot and edited and another piece on Flying Dog Brewery and Evolution Craft Brewing Company.

For the Love of the Beer: Small Craft Breweries Discover Unique Business Challenges

 

By Anna Weaver

ST. MICHAELS – In 2006, Adrian and Lori Moritz found themselves without jobs and with a newborn daughter. They decided the only thing to do was to start a brewery.

The young couple sold almost everything they owned and moved from upstate New York into Adrian’s parents’ home in St. Michaels. With their home renovations skills and a bank loan, the Moritz family built out an old mill building to house their new company, Eastern Shore Brewing.

“Our safety blanket was yanked out beneath us,” said Adrian Moritz. “All the reasons we didn’t want to do it were taken away.”

The Moritz family is just one of many craft beer businesses that have started up in Maryland in recent years. But while the businesses may be small, the amount of work and struggle that go into running them is not.

smallStruggles

Eastern Shore Brewing’s owners Lori Moritz (left) and Adrian Moritz at their St. Michaels brewing facility. (Photo by Anna Weaver)

Since the mid-1970s, when the national Brewers Association started tracking craft breweries, through the end of 2011, 1,247 craft breweries have opened and 421 of them have closed, a 34 percent failure rate. For brewpubs over that same period, the failure rate has been 48 percent.

Craft beer is built on a grassroots movement, according to J.T. Smith, the executive director of the Brewer’s Association of Maryland. “We’re all small, independently owned businesses,” he said. “We don’t have a tremendous amount of money like some of the larger transnational brewing companies have.”

The recession didn’t help those small business breweries either, said Paul Gatza of the national Brewers Association. “Beer is not recession proof. And the recession did impact craft breweries, but not as much as the larger brewers,” he said.

“After things calmed down, we really saw craft beer sales grow from low single digits up to double digits,” Gatza said.

Eastern Shore

“I would say that I traded wearing a suit for wearing flip flops,” Adrian Moritz said. “I also traded having Saturdays and Sundays off for working 120 days straight. It is a commitment that is rivaled only by parenting. It is all day, all night, every day.”

He and wife Lori Moritz opened the doors to Eastern Shore Brewing in St. Michaels in August 2008, during the height of the financial crisis.

They had been living in upstate New York and homebrewing for several years while dreaming of starting a brewery “some day” but not wanting to leave the security of either of their jobs. Then they had a daughter, and Lori Moritz decided to take a buyout from her executive position at Xerox.

Six weeks later, Adrian Moritz was laid off. With no back-up plan, the couple started searching for an East Coast brewery location. They settled on St. Michaels on the Eastern Shore. Adrian Moritz’s parents had retired there, and they thought the small town environment would be a good place to raise daughter Joycelyn.

“We sold every single thing that we owned to have collateral for a loan,” Adrian Moritz said, including two homes they had renovated and sold.

The bank loan allowed them to rent and completely renovate part of a former mill on St. Michaels’ main street. They’ve self-financed three brewery expansions since then by putting all brewery profits back into the business, living with Adrian Moritz’s parents and having a steady paycheck from Lori Moritz’s job as a contract administrator with Sotera Defense in Easton.

“It was a lot harder than we thought,” Lori Moritz said. “Every time we turned around we were spending more money, spending more money.”

The Moritz family said they could see the recession’s effect on St. Michaels when less visitors came to town and local stores started to close. But they said the visitors that do come are buying more beer.

Keeping expenses down, using social media and a focus on customer service to market themselves and a successful tasting room have kept them in the black. They’ve also found a support network with other St. Michaels businesses.

Eastern Shore Brewing bottled its beer for three years before the Moritzes realized they were making more money from tastings and distributing draft beer. They now produce about 400 barrels a year with distribution up and down the Eastern Shore. They recently expanded to Delaware and hope to be in Anne Arundel County soon.

They’ll keep the tasting room open late if there is even one customer in the store. The Moritzes, their brewmaster Randy Marquis, their bartender, and friends that know the beer do all the events and promotions themselves.

“In this economy, any opportunity to make a dime that you don’t take on, somebody else will,” Adrian Moritz said.

Another example of success? “We’re married, we have a daughter, we live with our parents and own a business together and we haven’t killed each other yet,” he said.

Union

Jon Zerivitz and Kevin Blodger dove into uncertainty when they left their jobs as a freelance designer for T. Rowe Price and as head brewer at Gordon Biersch Rockville respectively to open Union Craft Brewing in the Hampden-Woodberry neighborhood of Baltimore in June.

“To up and leave for something with no clear future yet was definitely scary and still is scary,” Blodger said. “But I think we’re succeeding. I think we’re doing a good job and we’re trying to look forward to the future smartly.”

“A little uncertainty in your life can be a good thing and motivate you to do bigger things,” Zerivitz said.

Both Baltimoreans have young children, but had the support of their wives and a desire to get more into the creative side of brewing by branching out into their own business.

Like Eastern Shore, the Union brewery start-up cost a lot more than expected. Most of the funds they’d raised from investors were gone by the time they’d completely renovated a sign factory on Union Avenue.

But business has been good so far, with strong word of mouth promoting the brewery within Baltimore. They’ve got almost 2,000 followers on Facebook and great foot traffic.

“I think that people were just really excited there was a brewery [here]. And people love good beer,” Blodger said.

A couple of awards in their first year can’t hurt either. Union’s Balt Altbier won a gold medal in German-style altbier at the American Beer Festival in Denver in October and they took home several awards at this year’s Brewer’s Association of Maryland Governor’s Cup.

Union is brewing 100-150 barrels a month right now and wants to be up to their 12,000 barrel capacity in five to 10 years. Their ultimate goal is to be a strong Mid-Atlantic brewery that’s part of the fabric of Baltimore.

As Zerivitz put it, “I’m building something for the city and for my future and for my own family’s future.”

Baying Hound

Like the Union guys, Paul Rinehart of Baying Hound Aleworks in Rockville had his wife’s support in starting a nanobrewery.

“My wife also wanted her basement back and told me to go and get a warehouse,” Rinehart joked. “So that’s what I did.”

Rinehart has beer in his blood. His maternal great-grandfather was on Carlsberg’s board of directors, his paternal great-grandfather was a bootlegger in the 1920s and Rinehart himself started home brewing when he was 14.

He tried a career as a chef before swearing he’d never step in a kitchen again. In 2010, he used about $30,000 to start up Baying Hound. “I wanted to start small and scalable,” he said.

Rinehart says that dealing with the paperwork and bureaucracy of having a brewery is challenging but he loves that he and his brewing partner are brewing beer “the way we want to do it.”

He says Baying Hound is breaking even right now but doesn’t make enough beer yet to turn a profit. Rinehart hopes to expand soon to a new location with a 15-barrel system and start distributing kegs. A good distributor also helped Baying Hound expand its draft and bottling reach from about eight to around 50 locations in Maryland, Washington and Virginia.

As for the recession, Rinehart doesn’t think it affects beer, repeating a common adage in the craft brewery world: “When things are good, people drink beer. When things are bad, people drink even more beer.”

Tuppers

Two people who have drunk a lot of beer in their day are Bob and Ellie Tupper, who together own Tuppers’ Beers Co.

The pair started keeping tasting notes on their beer tasting trips in 1979 and have since recorded about 22,500 beer tastings. After thousands of tastings, they took a look at their tasting notes and saw some commonalities in what made a great beer.

“We sat down and realized nobody had put these together,” said Bob Tupper, who has taught history at Holton Arms Academy in Bethesda for 43 years.

So they created Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Ale in 1995, brewed by their friend Jerry Bailey, the then owner of Old Dominion Brewing Company. The beer amassed a cult following in the Washington area until Old Dominion was sold and the new ownership didn’t have space to continue brewing Hop Pocket.

After a few years break in production, the Tuppers found a new brewer for Hop Pocket along with sister beer Tuppers’ Keller Pils at St. George Brewing Company, a small brewery in Hampton, Va. Hop Pocket beer returned to stores in 2010. But now because of production costs, a four pack goes for $11. Despite that high price, the beer continues to have a low profit margin for the Tuppers.

“Never open a small business of any kind unless you are prepared to not make a dollar for the first year,” Bob Tupper said. He also says a brewery needs to have enough money for a full year of operation before diving into the brew kettle.

Asked why they never set up their own brewery, Bob Tupper said that both he and Ellie Tupper, who is a senior production editor for the American Society for Microbiology, like their jobs and neither wanted to run a brewery full-time.

“It is a ton of work,” he said. “I work hard as a school teacher but I don’t work as hard as someone who works at a brewery.”

Tuppers’ Beers Co. may not be growing quickly, Bob Tupper said. “But we are really committed to making good beer.”

12/10/12

Maryland’s Star Wars museum

Ever thought about starting a museum inside your house? How about amassing thousands of Star Wars toys?

Thomas Atkinson did both when he created the Star Toys Museum in Linthicum Heights, Md., putting his more than 13,000 Star Wars collectibles on display for visitors. I went and interviewed him last week for this Capital News Service video.

And Washington Post blogger Michael S. Rosenwald mentioned the video on his blog today. (Nice surprise to see as my final semester as a graduate student at Maryland winds down this week.)

10/30/12

Travel-inspired writing

Inishmore, Ireland, August 2012. (By Anna Weaver)

 

Two trips I took this past summer led to articles in Slate Magazine.

The first was to my home state of Hawaii. I happened to be traveling to the island of Lanai with my family at the same time as Oracle CEO Larry Ellison announced he was buying the island. The timing was too perfect not to write a story centering on what Lanai residents thought about the man who now owns most of their homes.

 

In late August, I was traveling in Ireland and heard about this Guinness holiday designed to sell more beer. That too led to an article in Slate, this time about Arthur’s Day.

Travel never fails to inspire me whether its in pictures or words. Throw in a little lucky timing, and it can mean a great story.

06/6/12

Pool Time

Most people remember spending some part of their childhood summers at the pool. These images, which were taken on one June afternoon at a suburban Maryland community pool, stir up memories of long, warm, summer days spent poolside. I named the photo essay “Pool Time” to reference both going to the pool and the experience of the pool for people over several generations.

I was struck by how even grown ups still enjoy floating around in an inner tube on a Lazy River and how kids can be fascinated by simple things like streams of water jetting out of the ground. What is it about water that we have always loved so much?

“Pool Time” aims to share a timeless summer experience with both abstract and concrete images. I purposely paired some images, such as three girls running followed by three girls floating in the pool and a young boy in an inner tube followed by a grown man in an inner tube, for the comparison and contrast. I book-ended the essay with an antique effect on both the first and last images of the essay to reference the passage of time and universal experience of the pool. I also wanted to give a better sense of the pool fun with the morphing of three images of a girl sliding into the pool.

These photos were taken on June 3, 2012, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Outdoor Pool in Silver Spring, Md. The pool is operated by Montgomery County Recreation Services and charges a small fee for county residents (and a higher rate for non-residents). There’s also an indoor swim center next to the outdoor pool.

“Pool Time” was designed with the Washington Post’s online photo galleries in mind.

Click on Fullscreen and the “Show Info” option for captions.

05/13/12

Pitchapalooza

For a graduate journalism class I focused on a book pitching event at Politics and Prose, the same store whose owners I profiled in this pieceYou can see the website I created with Dreamweaver for “Online Journalism,” which includes an audio slideshow on the event here.

Pitchapalooza: Event for aspiring writers reaches a fever pitch at Politics and Prose

 

By Anna Weaver Lopiccolo

John Belushi meets Betty White. “Running with Scissors” mixed with Henrietta Lacks. A pug narrative with a nod to Edgar Allan Poe.

The eclectic and creative one-minute book pitches flowed from aspiring writers during a high energy “Pitchapalooza” event held at Politics and Prose Bookstore in Northwest Washington on April 11.

About 175 people packed into Politics and Prose’s back section for the Wednesday night event, sitting in a U-shape of chairs around a central “pitching” microphone and overflowed into the bookshelf aisles.

People had come to pitch their books and support friends and family hoping to be among the 20 randomly drawn people to share their book ideas with a four-person panel lead by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, who call themselves “The Book Doctors” and travel across the country hosting Pitchapalooza events. Also on the panel were Gail Ross, a Washington literary agent, and Joe Johnson, a Penguin Books sales representative.

Those who wanted to pitch had to first buy the couple’s book, “The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published,” and about 90 copies sold that night.

Eckstut and Sterry like to call Pitchapalooza the “American Idol for books.” The idea for the event came out of Sterry’s background as an actor and screenwriter in Hollywood, a place where, as Eckstut told the April 11 crowd, “the pitch is paramount.”

With 20 pitches on their plate, the judges were strict on their one minute per person time limit, politely cutting people off when 60 seconds was up.

“We like to say that a pitch is like a poem, where every word counts,” Eckstut said, adding that most people are lucky to even get a minute to pitch.

Among the pitches were a sci-fi novel set in Uzbekistan, a collection of travel poems, a book on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cartography, and memoirs on the afflictions of narcolepsy, cancer, and multiple marriages.

Unlike certain “American Idol” judges, the Pitchapalooza panelists delivered their critiques to the would-be authors in a positive and kind manner, with lots of laughs and words of encouragement.

Plus they had plenty of tips. They told a Jay McInerney wannabe to be less theoretical in describing his plot. To a woman with an idea for a book on pancakes and sharing, they recommended never citing in a pitch the fact that one’s kids loved the book since most kids will love parents’ stories.

They pointed out to another that the word “essay” is taboo because essay collections don’t sell. And they told all aspiring authors to figure out in what section of a bookstore your title would go.

“We once had a friend who wrote a book about cannibalism that got shelved in the cookbook section,” Sterry joked.

He described pitching a book in terms of the movies, telling pitchers to think of the movie poster or trailer that would describe their books.

“You have to figure out what’s unique,” Ross said about the memoir pitched by an elderly woman, telling her to focus on how the woman grew up in a hotel. “Unfortunately we live in this town of overachievers and very, very successful people so you have to come up with what’s unique about your life.”

Eckstut told the pitcher of a Barbara Kingsolver-esque novel on immigrants that she wanted to her to be more specific and personal in her pitch.

“Some of the pitches that we’ve heard tonight, you can hear what the book is going to be like through their voice,” Eckstut said.

The winner out of all the pitches was Jared Gillins, who will get an introduction to agent or publisher appropriate to his book from Eckstut and Sterry. He proposed a nonfiction book about his great-uncle who he described as a “rogue doctor” and a “dangerously sincere sociopath who wanted to make a difference in the world and unfortunately did.”

After the event, Gillins said he’d already written up a 15-page New Yorker-style piece on the subject and “I thought if I had a chance to speak I’d have a good shot at winning the prize.”

One writer who had no expectation of winning but wanted practice pitching her book idea was Laurie White. The BlogHer.com writer delivered her proposal for a comedic book on single women in the U.S. called “Spinster of Honor.”

White said she liked that Pitchapalooza was “results-oriented” and that she got specific suggestions from the panelists on picking a genre for her book and honing in on her audience.

“There are so many super-talented, unpublished people,” she said. “The ability to actually meet people or even have a little face time is unusual and really nice.”

Pitchapalooza is among several writer-centric initiatives Politics and Prose’s new co-owners, Lissa Muscatine and Bradley Graham, have started since taking over the well-known independent bookstore in June 2011. Those include writer events like Pitchapalooza and a book-on-demand machine nicknamed Opus, which printed over 1,100 copies of books in March alone.

“They are part of our expanded effort to try and help aspiring writers and promote self-publishing,” Graham said. The store also makes sure to dedicate a shelf to self-published books.

Related Links

 

Politics and Prose’s website

The Book Doctor’s Website

NewPages.com’s list of indie bookstores by state

 

 

04/29/12
Politics and Prose's storefront on Connecticut and Nebraska Avenue is marked by a purple awning fronting Connecticut Avenue. Photo by Anna Weaver

Almost a year in, Politics and Prose owners find balance in their bookstore

Click on each photo above for a description

By Anna Weaver

Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary this April 26, and they say that raising three kids, building a house together and learning each other’s personalities inside and out helped them in moving to the next stage of their relationship – owning an independent bookstore.

The husband-and-wife team took over Politics and Prose Bookstore, the beloved Northwest Washington institution, in June 2011, and running it has turned out to be “part art and part science,” Muscatine says.

“It’s not like we’re selling one model of Chevrolets or even five models of Chevrolets,” she said. “We’re selling 35,000 different titles of books, each of which is different from the next.

“It’s a much more complicated, complex and frankly much more interesting and fascinating enterprise,” than she ever knew, said Muscatine.

Although both Graham and Muscatine have retired from their respective careers as a journalist and a speechwriter, neither seems fazed by each putting in 40-plus hours a week to their new business partnership.

“I work at that pace and so does Lissa,” Graham said.

Now they’ve turned that energy toward the store and have found complementary roles in running it. Both introduce speakers at events, handle personnel matters and long-term strategic planning, and edit each other’s writing for the store blog and newsletter.

Graham, who speaks methodically and thoughtfully and has a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford, prefers to handle more of the business side of the operations. Muscatine, the more animated talker of the two, spends more time on the bookstore floor and building up the shop’s inventory of non-book items.

Together they’ve initiated new Politics and Prose efforts like an in-store book-printing machine called Opus, which is intended to drum up self-publishing and out-of-print book orders on demand; more classes and store-led trips abroad tracing literary paths; a website redesign to promote more web and e-book sales; and plans to alter the store’s layout to allow for more space and better flow.

Muscatine and Graham believe that those beyond-bookselling efforts, plus the store’s expert staff, steadfast customer base and strong community feel will keep Politics and Prose thriving.

“All those things … connect our community to the larger world of books and ideas in ways that an online retailer simply can’t,” Muscatine said.

Over at fellow Washington independent bookstore Kramerbooks & Afterwords, book buyer Jake Cumsky-Whitlock says he appreciates that Politics and Prose’s has “been good at embracing new forms of bookselling and technology.”

“They’re such a beloved institution in this town,” Cumsky-Whitlock said of Politics and Prose, and attributes that especially to the store’s “customer service-oriented bookselling.”

Former Politics and Prose owner Barbara Meade isn’t surprised by Muscatine and Graham’s success so far. She likes how imaginative and entrepreneurial they’ve been.

“I’ve felt consistently ever since they took over the ownership that David Cohen and I made the right decision,” said the 76-year-old Meade, referring to the husband of the store’s late co-owner, Carla Cohen.

Meade still spends about two days a week at the store helping out and visiting with patrons, lending an air of continuity at the store.

Indie atmosphere

Another thing that doesn’t seem to be changing is the Politics and Prose independent vibe. You’ll find customers slowly browsing the store’s well-curated brown bookshelves for books like Denis Johnson’s 2012 Pulitzer nominated book “Train Dreams” and Madeleine Albright’s latest memoir, with no Danielle Steel in sight.

Mark Laframboise, the store’s head book buyer, said Politics and Prose customers have discriminating tastes. “If people really wanted dreck, that’s what we would sell. But that’s not what they want,” he said.

Graham and Muscatine are avid readers themselves. Graham says he favors non-fiction, but loves a good spy thriller too. Muscatine prefers fiction, like current favorite “The Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka, though she finds herself reading lots of non-fiction these days in preparation for introducing some of Politics and Prose’s speakers.

And coming to the store every day, surrounded by books, ideas and lively people, seems to them more a delight than a job.

“One of the great feelings for both Lissa and me since we’ve taken over is that coming to the store each day has not felt like coming to a workplace so much as it has felt like going to a community center,” Graham said.

A crucial part of that community center is the spot at the back of the main floor, where its popular author and speaker events take place, such as recent visits from “The Phantom Tollbooth” author Norton Juster and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.

A first-time “Pitchapalooza” event in that spot last month packed in those wanting the chance to give one-minute book pitches to a panelist of literary experts and agents. The store’s events have gotten so large that it is looking off-site to host events for especially big events like April 28’s Rachel Maddow appearance at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue.

Downstairs at Politics and Prose there’s a small coffee shop and the sale book section, as well as an extensive children’s area with everything from French- and Spanish-language kids books to the latest in Mo Willem’s “Elephant and Piggie” series.

Tell one of the children’s section staffers you need a book for a third-grade boy and she’ll point you to half a dozen options, explaining the plotline and merit of each while apologizing that a particular one is on the expensive side but nevertheless really excellent.

Politics and Prose has a reputation for a high-caliber staff, and Muscatine and Graham have retained almost all of the shop’s previous 55 or so employees. Muscatine calls them the “crème de la crème of book-selling staff.”

Book buyer Deb Morris, who is retiring this month after more than 16 years at the store, said, “[Muscatine and Graham] have a great deal of respect for the knowledge of the people here on staff, and I think they realize they have a learning curve because this is all new to them.”

The couple has also created a new editorial and programming director position, filled by author Susan Coll, who has developed more classes and more literary trips, starting with excursions to Ireland and France this October.

Long-time customer Gigi Bradford said she and other Politics and Prose loyalists are glad the ownership transition has been seamless because they love their neighborhood bookstore.

“It’s a locavore bookstore for locavore readers, just heads and shoulders above everything else,” said Bradford, who also guest teaches poetry classes at the store. “For people who care about books and ideas, this is nirvana.”

Path to ownership

While Muscatine and Graham are definitely readers and both have written books, neither had experience in retail before taking over Politics and Prose.

Graham, who was raised in Chicago and Pittsburgh, interned at the Washington Post after graduating from Yale and returned to Washington and the Post full-time in 1978 where he worked his way up covering national business before taking overseas reporting assignments in Central and Eastern Europe and South America.

In1989, when Graham was back at the Washington office and on his way from assistant foreign editor to deputy national editor, he met Muscatine at the paper. The Berkeley native had moved to Washington in 1979 and covered a variety of Post beats including sports, politics and education. They married in 1992 and now live in Bethesda with their 18-year-old twins and 14-year-old.

Muscatine went on to work for the White House from 1993 to 1998, mostly as Hillary Clinton’s chief speechwriter. She collaborated on Clinton’s bestselling memoir, “Living History,” and worked as a senior adviser on her presidential campaign. From 2009 to 2010, Muscatine was a State Department senior adviser and speechwriting director.

Graham eventually shifted from editing back to reporting, covering the Pentagon and military affairs for the paper between 1994 and 2008, with breaks to write a book on national missile defense, “Hit to Kill,” and a Donald Rumsfeld biography, “By His Own Rules.”

Graham was working on another book proposal in the fall of 2010 when friends encouraged him to consider buying Politics and Prose.

Initially it was just Graham who filled out the extensive questionnaire that Barbara Meade and David Cohen had created to weed out the first round of potential buyers. But Meade had made it clear that she wanted at least one of the new buyers to be a woman to continue her and Carla Cohen’s woman-owned-store legacy.

Muscatine said she thought that it was great that Graham wanted to buy the bookstore but figured, “You’re going to own Politics and Prose, right. Everyone wants to own Politics and Prose!”

Still, Graham convinced Muscatine to come along for a second-round interview, and she began to see how the store could be a way to promote the “higher level of civil discourse” that she found lacking in government work.

“This is an oasis itself … a forum for ideas and for people who are writers and thinkers to get together and actually engage in the kind of dialogue that interests me,” Muscatine said.

Muscatine and Graham were picked as Politics and Prose’s owners after a close decision, and the two officially assumed ownership on June 17, 2011.

“I’ve joked, although it’s actually true, that Lissa now introduces me not as her husband but as her business partner,” Graham said. “She actually wrote me a Valentine’s Day card that said, ‘Love from your business partner.’”

Bookstore discoveries

Almost a year after buying the store, the couple reflected on what has surprised them as the new owners.

Muscatine said that while she and Graham had been customers at the independent bookstore at 5015 Connecticut Ave. for years, it took becoming its owners to realize just how loyal Politics and Prose customers are.

“I think the rabid support for the store made it appealing for people like us to think about buying it,” she said. “But just the absolute depth and degree of it I don’t think I fully appreciated.”

Graham said he and Muscatine expected those faithful Politics and Prose patrons to have trouble accepting new owners after the same two proprietors had run the bookstore for the better part of three decades.

After all, concerned customers started publicly worrying about the store’s fate soon after its original owners, Barbara Meade and Carla Cohen, announced in June 2010 that they wanted to retire and sell the shop.

Cohen passed away from cancer four months later. Her husband, David Cohen, and Meade officially sold Politics and Prose to Muscatine and Graham in June 2011 after 27 years of a Meade-Cohen ownership.

But Graham said that though there is the occasional customer gripe over an unfriendly experience, “those complaints are so rare that I can’t believe it!”

Another pleasant surprise, he said, is that sales have been up since he and Muscatine took over in June.

“There are still a lot of dark clouds over the book industry, a lot of real threats to the future stability and profitability, not just to Politics and Prose but to all independent bookstores,” Graham added. “So we’re not standing still.”

 

A different version of this story originally appeared in the April 25, 2012, editions of “The Current Newspapers.” The story below is the final version I submitted for my graduate Public Affairs Reporting class at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

 

04/1/12

The wife of accused Afghan shooter Bales speaks out

Screencap from Slate's XXfactor blog

 

Karilyn Bales, the wife of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales went on the Today Show this week to talk about her husband’s being accused of murdering 17 civilians in Afghanistan. Prior to the interview, I’d been contemplating some of the news stories that talked about how Kari Bales had been getting support from other military spouses in the blogosphere.

And I ended up posting on Slate‘s XXfactor blog about the subject. I think Bales’ situation raises a lot of questions about the entanglement of military families lives with their active-duty loved one’s service.