Lincoln artist wants you to judge her books by their covers

When most readers pick up a book, they think the art is all about the words on the pages.

            For Courtney Nore, there are other possibilities – the paper, the stitching and, especially, the cover. To the 41-year-old Lincoln artist, it’s all a canvas.

            Nore, who grew up a voracious reader, is now a part of a community working to preserve the book in a digital age of ephemeral tweets and streaming YouTube shows. What interests her are all the creative choices that making a book presents. Its paper, for instance, can be made from everything from seeds to dryer lint.

Nore once fashioned a cover out of an old beat-up record by setting it out in the sun until it was malleable enough to bend. 

            “I love feeling books. I love smelling them. I like holding and reading them,” Nore said. “I hate seeing people read Kindles.” 

            Nore first learned about bookmaking as a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), where one of her teachers was artist Karen Kunc. Kunc showcases and continues to teach the “book arts” — printmaking, bookbinding and letterpress publishing — at her own Constellation Studios on O St. 

            In an interview, Kunc said that interest in the field has grown. Artists worry about “the endangered nature of the book” and enjoy working with colors, exotic fabrics and intricate designs to enhance its appeal, she said.       

            “Let’s preserve it in this alternative form, that’s more beautiful and celebrates it and makes everybody provoked a little bit about this potential demise of the written word or the experience of reading in a certain way,” Kunc said.

          Constellation Studios recently exhibited the work of Nebraska book artist Bonnie O’Connell, who retired in June as a University of Nebraska at Omaha arts professor. The work includes framed sections of a book pages cut crosswise as well as elegant pamphlets of poetry produced by O’Connell’s own printing press.

            A book is a “marriage of material, color and design,” Kunc said. 

            “It feels like you’re holding a sculpture and also like something that everybody knows,” she said. “There is a rightness to that.” 

            Nore starts by selecting the type of paper she wants. She folds and separates the sheets into small sets called signatures and then sews them together in any number of ways, including the ancient Coptic stitch, used by Egyptian bookmakers 2,000 years ago, and (Nore’s favorite) the secret Belgian stitch, which allows a book to lie perfectly flat. 

            One book Nore sewed has an intricate web of purple string, a technique called the French link.

            Then there is the cover itself. It starts (usually) as a blank, bland rectangle. Nore, without access to equipment like a book press, takes a DIY approach. She carves designs into linoleum block and presses the ink onto the board by piling on other books and 8-pound dumbbells.

            Then there is the cover design. Nore’s aesthetic inclines toward the grotesque: “skeletons, blood, monsters, etc.” A silhouette of a man hanging sold well at a recent show, she said. But Nore says she’s happy to make sunnier pictures for the “normies.”

            “I like to make the color combination and images, if I use them, interesting,” said Nore, whose personal look is goth-light crossed with rock ‘n roll chic. She wore black eyeshadow, a T-shirt from the Brian Jonestown Massacre band, and a lapel pin of David Bowie holding a cat to a recent interview. 

            Among her influences, Nore counts the surrealist Italian sculptor Alberto Giacometti and graphic comic books like “The Crow.”  

            This fall, she is collaborating with her friend and local writer Hillary Umland to put out as many as 20 books by the end of the year. Umland writes “flash fiction,” short pieces usually less than 1,500 words. She said she was excited to combine her talents with her friend’s.

            A book in Nore’s hands “becomes an artform instead of a means to an end,” Umland said.        

            Nore charges as much as $40 for a finished product. But this is more of a hobby than profession. The fact that she finds 15 hours to complete a book is a sign of her love for the process. She has a day job at NRC Health, which does market research for healthcare companies, and works as a bartender three nights a week at Yia Yia’s pizza place. 

            She’s also a drummer in a band, which true to her love of all things vintage, recorded an album on vinyl one recent weekend. That one probably will stay a record.

Democrats’ challenge: Tackle climate change; don’t antagonize blue-collar workers

Democrats running for president are trying to strike a delicate balance: promising aggressive action on climate change as they work to win back blue-collar voters, some of whom could be hurt by a swift shift away from fossil fuels.

Polls have shown climate change to be among the top issues for Democrats this cycle. But a push to end the use of oil, natural gas and coal might undermine the party’s efforts to rebuild its “blue wall” in the industrial Midwest, political observers said. 

“Democrats have a clear message on economic inequality and a clear message on climate. But I don’t see how they mesh the two together,” said Michael McKenna, a pollster aligned with Republicans. 

Bernie Sanders, a frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, speaks to local leaders in Gary, Indiana. (Photo credit: Northwest Indiana Times.)

At a recent campaign event, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sought to find a middle ground. He called climate change an “existential threat” but acknowledged policies implemented in response would create problems of their own.

“Somebody who is working in the fossil fuel industry today trying to support his or her family is not my enemy,” Sanders said in Gary, Indiana, a city that has lost 25,000 manufacturing jobs over the past 30 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “They need help in that just transition.”

Fossil fuel jobs are largely concentrated in states where Democrats have had little recent success, including West Virginia, Wyoming and Texas. 

But there are roughly 60,000 workers in oil, natural gas or coal production and generation industries who live in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, according to the Energy Futures Initiative, a non-profit group that releases an energy jobs survey each year. 

Former President Barack Obama won each of those states in 2012, part of his blue wall of support. But in 2016, President Donald Trump won all three, receiving just 80,000 more votes than former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Trump, who called climate change a “hoax,” made appeals to working-class voters a specific part of his campaign, running against free trade agreements and promising to revive industries like coal mining. Support nationally among white, non-college educated voters for Clinton fell by 5 percentage points compared to Obama’s 2012 total, according to this study by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

Jeremy Symons, an environmental lobbyist, said Trump’s embrace of coal miners may have appealed to blue-collar workers more broadly who viewed Democrats as favoring an urban, coastal base. Democrats need to frame their efforts on climate change by “prioritizing policies that invest in solutions with good paying jobs,” Symons said. 

Donald Trump promised to protect the coal industry as president.

There are hundreds of thousands of workers in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries in the U.S., according to the Energy Futures Initiative report.  

But the growth of green jobs hasn’t eliminated concern among workers in more traditional energy fields that they’ll be left behind. In a letter to House Democrats earlier this year, seven unions warned of “adverse job implications” of a carbon tax. The AFL-CIO, meanwhile, has criticized the Green New Deal, an ambitious, if largely undefined, plan to address climate change.

With more than nine months to go before the Iowa caucus, differences are just beginning to emerge among the 20 candidates who are now officially running for the Democratic nomination.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former US Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas) have made climate change a central focus of their campaigns. O’Rourke this week pledged a $5 trillion investment to halve greenhouse gases by 2030.

But the presumed frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, didn’t mention climate in his speech at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, union hall kicking off his campaign, focusing instead on a need to rebuild the middle class.

“Climate change remains a tough political lift under any circumstances,” said Barry Rabe, a University of Michigan professor who specializes in environmental policy. “There is some evidence that the issue has increased saliency, particularly among Democrats, but there is inevitably a challenge in discussing possible policy remedies.”

Video: Under the Trump administration, carbon dioxide emissions are again on the rise.

Climate Fwd: makes a big problem seem more manageable

Climate change is a hard topic to wrap your arms around. It affects the entire planet, for one. And fossil fuels are so ingrained in our lives that making meaningful carbon cuts seems impossibly hard, particularly under the current administration.

The New York Times’ Climate Fwd: newsletter speaks to the complexity of the challenge without sending us into apocalyptic despair. It’s part science journal, part gardening blog.

It curates all the well-written, insightful climate stories the Times produces each week, some of which are, well, depressing. If it only did that, I’d still subscribe. It often highlights international stories that I’ve missed during the week.

But Climate Fwd: offers something more, a “One thing you can do” feature that makes the daunting challenge seem slightly more manageable.

This week it focused on lawns. “America has a lot of lawns. Add them all together, and they’d cover an area roughly the size of Florida, making grass the most common irrigated plant in the country. And all that grass comes with an environmental cost.”

A graphic from the latest New York Times Climate Fwd: newsletter.

The post advises less lawn and more trees, in part to reduce the use of gasoline-consuming lawn-care machines.

Even if we don’t actually do any of the things we read about each week, the how-tos are a nice change of pace to the heavier climate change reporting we often see.

The combination of practical tips and in-depth reporting makes sense journalistically from another perspective.

Through engagement, the Times has built a lasting relationship with its audience. In another example, reporter Henry Franklin used Climate Fwd: to offer a peek behind the curtain of a Times investigation into what could be meager oil reserves in ANWR: “It began with an intriguing lead. It ended with the answer to an Arctic mystery.”

Climate Fwd: also published tips from readers about how to reduce plastics use. Would any of them eliminate the giant island of Barbies, Ziplocs and Coke half-liters floating around the Pacific? Alas, no. But the dialogue connects those of us interested in such things to one another and the paper and gives us something to do besides worry.

Be social on social media and other ways to take advantage of journalism’s new tools

Print isn’t dead, not quite yet. But its future isn’t particularly bright. According to Pew Research, 36% of adults between the ages of 18-29 get their news from Twitter, Facebook and similar platforms and just 2% from the newspaper. Journalists of any age need to understand how to use social media. But that doesn’t mean abandoning the ink-stained ways completely. Here are a few tips, for young and old, on managing the new landscape.

A tweet isn’t a text. You should speak in a conversational voice on social media. But be professional: write in complete sentences, use exclamation points sparingly, and forget about LOLs and emojis altogether. (And sit up straight while you’re at it.)

Know the platform. Social media audiences have different expectations. For instance, Paul Bradshaw in The Online Journalism Handbook says that Facebook is a particularly social site. One study he cites found that seeking input and including questions in posts increases engagement by 64 percent (i.e., your stories are more likely to be seen).

In a tweetstorm, remember the Boy Scouts … their motto anyway: Always Be Prepared. Twitter is a terrific way to grow your brand online. When you liveblog events, think in story terms: beginning, middle and end. That means understanding the issue enough to add context. 

Remember, it’s called social media. Engage with readers who engage (nicely) with you. Don’t just throw links at them. Use social media to build your source base and get story tips. It’s OK to be funny and human but leave out the snark. It is possible to be nice online.

Content counts, still. An oldie but a goodie: Write compelling, watercooler stories that people can’t help but talk about, or better yet, share.

Plugged In: Lobbyist Stephen Brown has amassed a huge library of unauthorized live recordings

Stephen Brown’s hobby once put him crosswise with the rock band Dire Straits, but such are the hazards of being a bootlegger.

In the mid-1970s, Brown worked as a stage manager at a Washington, DC, venue before beginning his career as a Democratic congressional aide and oil industry lobbyist. It was the perfect spot from which to add to his growing collection of live shows, which he recorded with or without a band’s approval.

Dire Straits fell in the “without” camp.

Lobbyist Stephen Brown, in a 19′ by 24′ room in his home specifically built to hold his music collection. Photo courtesy Stephen Brown.

“We don’t know where this [particular] wire goes!” Brown, 63, remembers the band’s manager swearing, refusing to allow the show to start. Brown removed the offending cord. Temporarily.

“When they weren’t looking, I plugged it back in,” he says, linking the group’s soundboard to a reel-to-reel recorder he’d hidden under the stage.

The performance is among the 27,000 hours of live shows, studio outtakes and radio broadcasts Brown has accumulated over the past four decades. His collection is cataloged on a site he created called DC Dead Tape Exchange.

Record labels have gone to great lengths to guard against piracy, the unauthorized use and distribution of copyrighted, officially released music.

Brown operates in a grayer legal area. Performances aren’t copyrighted. There are anti-bootlegging statutes, but Brown says he’s in the clear legally so long as he doesn’t sell any of the material or trade with anyone who does.

Bob Dylan at Oak Mountain Amphitheater in Pelham, Alabama, 1992.

Musicians react differently to being recorded. The Grateful Dead, whom Brown once worked for as a lobbyist, believed the notes were no longer theirs once they left their instruments.

Others, like the famously fussy Bruce Springsteen, try to prevent the practice, says Brown, who is a big fan of The Boss nevertheless.

In an age of computer-enhanced recordings, Brown says what he’s searching for authenticity. Live shows are the true test of musicianship and capture a magic that sanitized studio sessions don’t, he says.

The mischief of it all appeals too, a not-following-the-rules attitude that fits the rock n’ roll aesthetic.

Brown, who has kept his hair a little longer than the typical political professional, maintains contacts at concert halls across the country who are ready to put the plug in for him, with or without a band’s OK.

 “You want to hear the stuff they don’t want you to hear,” he says.

Hawkeyes storm back but rally falls just short

An Iowa men’s basketball team that had a number of magical moments this season almost pulled its biggest rabbit out of the hat today, erasing a 25-point deficit against the 5thranked Tennessee Volunteers before falling in overtime, 83-77.

Iowa would have tied the record for the largest comeback in NCAA history had they been able to finish the job. Instead, they fell just short. 

Iowa, which rebounded this season from a 14-19 finish a year ago, showed heart in fighting back against a tough Tennessee team that finished second in the SEC. 

The Volunteers seemed quicker and more athletic during the first 20 minutes of play, forcing Iowa (23-12) into committing nine turnovers. Tennessee led 44-19 and took a 21-point advantage into the locker room. 

But the Hawkeyes returned with newfound energy and purpose.

Led by their star Tyler Cook, Iowa slowly ate into the Volunteers’ lead. Cook was 0-5 in the first half. But in the second the junior forward scored Iowa’s first 9 points, finishing with 11. His teammates fed off his energy, picking up the scoring the rest of the way, including huge three-pointers from Iowa junior guards Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss.

Image result for iowa tennessee basketball game
Iowa’s Tyler Cook helped Iowa come back from a 25-point deficit before falling to Tennessee, 83-77. Photo credit

Joe Wieskamp’s two free throws tied the game with 20 seconds left, and the two teams went to overtime, the first for the NCAA tournament this year. 

After regulation, it was Tennessee’s turn to regroup. The Vols jumped out to an early lead they never relinquished, led by two-time SEC player of the year Grant Williams. 

“We just kept chipping away, there’s no 21-point rule,” Iowa senior Nicholas Baer said after the game. “We fought and I’m proud of that.”

Last-minute thrillers have been a hallmark of Iowa’s season. Late jumpers by Bohannon and Wieskamp against Northwestern, Indiana and Rutgers helped to put the Hawkeyes back in the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years.

The two had big moments again on Sunday, as did nearly all of their teammates. All five starters scored in double figures, led by Bohannon, who had 18.

Writing for the Web: 5 Keys to Getting Read

Nine out of 10 adults get some of their news online, according to this Pew Research Center report. Today’s journalists need to be able to structure their stories to meet the needs of their digital audience. Here are some tips to think about when writing for the Web.

  • Don’t Dawdle: Get to the point. Quickly. Now is not the time for your 1,000-word, New Yorker-esque lede. Research shows that as many 55 percent of online readers spend less than 15 seconds on a page.
  • Deliver What You Promise: Readers can be fooled by clickbait. Once. But they won’t be back if you write intentionally misleading headlines.
  • Be Short, But Good: Your story may be short compared with what you’d write in print. But it must be well told. Boil the story down to its essence. Focus on the most important hook first, then move to your narrative.
  • Apply the Brevity Principle to Sources, Too: The people you quote don’t get to pontificate either. No extra words. Make the quotes count!
  • Go Easy on the Eye: Use white space generously. Readers are turned off by great big blocks of texts online.

Whoever thought infrastructure could be this compelling

In my hometown, there is a giant stone levee that keeps the Mississippi River from overflowing. It was built some years after a massive flood in 1965 damaged downtown. So, when there was an even more massive flood in 1993, Clinton stayed dry. It’s an ugly thing, this massive rock strip along the riverbank. But what we lost in aesthetics we gained in peace of mind, I suppose.

Todd Frankel, in Taming the Mighty Mississippi, has set a difficult task for himself: telling a story about a subject as banal as infrastructure, like that levee in my hometown. But his writing – the river is a “powerful beauty” and a “corrosive force” with an “alarming propensity to flood” – combined with beautifully shot video and humanizing audio, compel the reader forward as surely as a tug does a barge.

The expansive overhead shots of different points along the river’s 2,350-mile path on the story’s opening page are overlaid with gentle sounds of trickling water and softly chirping birds. It’s so peaceful it could be used as a sleep aid. But the serenity, you know, will set up the conflict to come. And the perspective, which was shot from hundreds of feet in the air, underscores one of Frankel’s themes: a sense of our hubris in trying to control such a natural wonder.

Frankel’s writing is equally compelling. His initial three graphs are so sharp that each has its own kicker. He takes care to couple this story with a current topic of interest, Trump’s infrastructure plan, to add a dose of timeliness to an otherwise evergreen. And he introduces us to interesting characters as we meander down the Mississippi with him, like the farm family that used the silt left by one flood to build a levee to protect their home from another one.

What’s old is new(s) again

I once read a twovolume history of the Washington press corps. (I guess I was between relationships at the time.) Few of the anecdotes in the books have stuck in my brain sufficiently to be of much use at parties. But one overarching theme I do remember is just how much journalism changed from one century to the next. 

At the start, newspapers operated in service of political parties, dependent on printing contracts that underwrote their newspapering. It wasn’t until the 20thcentury that objective journalism took hold.

That won’t be exactly news to anyone who has read a biography of Thomas Jefferson, I realize. I bring it up because my favorite blog, Bleeding Heartland, strikes me as a bit of a hybrid, and I wonder when there’s a volume of political reporting written about the 2000s whether it will feature news outlets like it.

There are no gifs. The photos are often uncompelling (there is an appealingly quirky Wildflower Wednesday feature). And the graphics look like something even I could do, and I need to call the IT guy over every time I fill out an expense report. 

But it has the crucial element all blogs (or magazines or newspapers for that matter) must have: good content. 

It’s definitely news with a view. Not an official party organ but colored in support of Democrats. The name I assume is a play on the phrase “bleeding liberal” and hints at frustration with rural America’s rightward tilt.

But the main author, Laura Belin, backs up her analysis with objective facts. It’s smart stuff that supplements coverage provided by the Des Moines Register, which no longer has the firepower that once made it one of the great regional papers in the country. Here’s a series Laura wrote after the most recent mid-term election.

Is this the wave of the future? I think anyone interested in Iowa politics would benefit from reading Laura’s blog. But is anything lost if this model becomes the new standard and the influence of the newspapers that we grew up with continues to wane?