Original Unpublished Reporting

National Novel Writing Month

While some are planning their turkey dinners or starting their Christmas shopping, an estimated 400,000 writers in 200 countries are attempting to finish a novel by the end of the month.

November is National Novel Writing Month. The event began in 1999. It challenges people to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days, Timothy Kim said in a press release. Kim is the organization’s editorial director.

The National Novel Writing Month organization is calling 2014 the year of “Your Boundless Novel.”

The organization’s “Come Write In” program is partnering with 700 libraries, including two in Alachua County, to provide places for participants to work on their novels, said Nicki Kortus, the marketing and public relations manager.

Adults and teenagers can meet Mondays from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and Thursdays from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Millhopper library, 3145 NW 43rd St.

The headquarters library is holding discussion groups for writers to review their progress and critique each other’s work. These meetings are on Tuesdays from 6 to 8:45 p.m. at 401 E University Ave.

More than 250 novels written as a part of National Novel Writing Month have been published. Some of the well-known titles include “Water for Elephants” by Sarah Gruen, “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern and “Cinder” by Marissa Meyer. Meyer visited Gainesville over the summer for Alachua County Libraries’ “Battle of Books” event for young adult readers, Kortus said.

Lizzie May, an international affairs major, participated in the event when she was a senior in high school.

“I wanted to do Nation Novel Writing Month just to prove to myself that I could pull it off,” she said. “I didn’t think I could do it.”

May, 18, said she previously did not have the motivation to put her story ideas on paper.

“I used National Novel Writing Month as the kick in the pants I needed to get that story written down,” she said.

She said she did not take advantage of any of the groups offered by the local libraries. She did reach out to her father, who is also a writer, when she would lose focus.

“The middle was the hardest,” she said. “You know how you want it to end, but you just can’t get your characters through the story. It’s rough.”

The last week of the month was the easiest part of her experience, May said. She wrote 15,000 words in three days. She finished her novel two days early.

“Participating was a huge confidence booster,” she said. “Just the fact that I pulled it off made me so proud of myself.”

She said she would recommend the process to other writers who are looking for a challenge or the motivation to finish the first draft of a story.

“There were times I really hated it,” she said. “Writing is hard, but if you believe you can do it, you can do it.”

Original Unpublished Reporting

Lucky’s Market Delay

Organic food enthusiasts will have to wait until January for Lucky’s Market to open in Gainesville.

The chain’s first Florida store was set to open by the end of 2014. The opening has been rescheduled for Jan. 6.

The company specializes in organic, natural and locally grown products. There are stores in Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Wyoming.

Garris Matthews, store director for the 1409 NW 23rd Ave. location, said the store is waiting for city approval on grand opening events.

The schedule should be released by the end of November. The events will take place the week before the opening and throughout January.

The company has a history of bringing stores into towns with large universities.

“The people who live and work around that area are more educated about the foods they’re taking in and how they affect them,” he said.

The company recognizes that organic food and products can be expensive. It has a goal to be competitively priced with other grocery stores in the area, including those that do not specialize in organics, Matthews said.

“We want to be able to meet the price point of college students and the mother of two,” he said.

Sidonie Wolfskeil, a 21-year-old business finance major, said she cannot afford to eat only organic food because it’s too expensive.

“I always grew up eating healthy,” she said. “I try to avoid chemicals at all costs.”

She gets her groceries at Trader Joe’s. Trade Joe’s on Archer Road offers organic options to shoppers. She said she is excited to have an alternative store in the area.

“I think it’s unfortunate that government doesn’t subsidize organic foods,” Wolfskeil said. “It’s like a down payment on your health.”

Addie Crosby, 21, said she believed that additional organic grocery options were unnecessary.

“I think they’re overrated,” she said. “Hormones and pesticides make the strawberries bigger. That’s more bang for my buck.”

Crosby said she has shopped at an organic grocery store for orange juice.

“As a general rule, I’m a Publix girl,” she said.

Lucky’s Market plans to open five Florida stores. The Orlando location will be next to begin construction. The company is planning to open two stores in Jacksonville and one in Miami.

Original Unpublished Reporting

Sweeney Todd ends run on Halloween

The University of Florida School of Theatre and Dance production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” features a special Halloween performance.

The audience is invited to dress up for Friday night’s show and stay for a costume contest and Halloween ball with the cast.

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Constans Theatre at the Nadine McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion.

Tony Mata, director, said the Halloween performance might sell out. Tickets cost $13 for UF students and $17 for the general public.

The musical stands out because of its dark nature, featuring a main character who slays his barber shop costumers to provide the filling for meat pies.

“It just kind of worked out to be on Halloween,” he said. “We didn’t even plan it.”

Mallory Steffes, a 20-year-old theater major, attended the show on opening night. She is seeing it again on Friday

“I thought the performance was higher than university quality,” she said. “The set was so foreboding and huge. It adds to the terrifying nature of the show.”

Tyler Ellman, 19, said, “It’s like a Halloween Horror Nights musical.”

Sami Gresham, a musical theatre major, encouraged students to come see the musical even if they have plans Friday night.

“All the parties will happen afterwards anyways,” she said with a laugh

Gresham, 20, is an ensemble performer in the show.

“We’re all staying around for the costume contest,” she said. “I think it’s going to be really fun.”

Emily Lewis, a 19-year-old musical theater major, plays the role of “Beggar Woman.”

“The best part was seeing everyone in costume,” she said. “We were scary before, but we’re terrifying now.”

The production is staged in gray-scale, featuring shades of gray in the set pieces, costumes and actors’ makeup. This contrasts the frequent presence of bright red blood.

“It already feels like we’re in a Halloween world,” Lewis said.

Tickets can be purchased through the University Box Office at the O’Connell Center. Call 352-392-1653 or visit ticketmaster.com. They will also be available at the Constans Theatre Box Office at 6:45 p.m. Friday.

Original Unpublished Reporting

Jay Carney visits UF

Former press secretary Jay Carney shared stories from his career Monday night at University Auditorium, focusing on his time at the White House.

About 500 people came to hear him speak. A line formed at the University Auditorium box office and stretched down the sidewalk to Newell Drive.

“My favorite audience is a student audience,” Carney said.

He explained how he transitioned from being a journalist at TIME Magazine for 20 years to being “behind the lectern and on the podium.”

“Working in the West Wing is like trying to stand up straight in a tornado or a hurricane,” he said.

Carney said that his background as a reporter made him an outsider in the White House.

“The media is seen as a nuisance or outright enemy in Washington D.C.,” he said. “History wasn’t exactly on my side.”

He encouraged students not to become cynical or passive in regard to politics. He repeatedly pointed out the importance of paying attention the media and making sure your voice is heard.

Mahdi Kassam, a nuclear engineering freshman, came to hear Carney speak because he plans to add political science as a second major.

“He maintained his objectivity,” the 18-year-old said of Carney as press secretary. “You could definitely see his journalism training.”

Kayla Malone, a graduate student of public affairs and policy, said she tries to attend as many of the events presented by the Accent Speakers Bureau as she can.

“The question-and-answer session is usually the most interesting and controversial part,” she said.

Public relations, telecommunication, political science, Jewish studies and journalism students lined up at two microphones to ask Carney questions.

“Audiences try to ask questions tougher than the US Press Corps,” Carney said. “See if you can get under my skin.”

He spent about 50 of his 80 minutes answering questions about disruptive technologies, confidential information leaks, reporting abroad and the United States’ involvement in the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.

Nick Denney, a 19-year-old history major, said he prefers events where speakers spend the majority of their time taking questions.

“It feels like they’re much more actively trying to address what people consider relevant rather than what they do,” he said.

Carney was surprised by the standing ovation at the end of his presentation.

“Wow,” he said as he backed away from the microphone.

Original Unpublished Reporting

Defining acceptance in the church

This story was written for JOU3101 at the University of Florida during the Fall 2014 semester.

Helen S.  grew up in traditional Catholic family. She has six siblings. She went to mass every Sunday. She went to Catholic school.

During high school, Helen broke this mold. She came out as a lesbian.

The Vatican’s most recent “Report After Debate” includes a section called “Welcoming Homosexual Persons.”

The report was released after cardinals and bishops gathered for two weeks of meetings in Rome.

“I think actually bringing forth discussion on the issue is a good move, especially since the discussion seems to be more aimed at acceptance and understanding,” said the 19-year-old English major.

Several media organizations like Time, Newsweek and the Huffington Post have showcased the contrasting reactions to the document from human rights activists and conservative Catholics.

The report stated: “without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions, it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.”

The section does not bring any radical changes to church teachings. Catholicism still opposes same-sex marriage but now acknowledges the benefit of partnerships.

“I think the discussion could benefit by including more Catholics who are gay, but since in the past the church has been somewhat dismissive of them there probably aren’t very many who are open and willing to talk about it,” she said.

Helen said that she is hopeful that the Vatican will continue to soften its position on homosexuality.

“I think if this kind of talk had been going on when I was in Catholic school, rather than seeing signs around school supporting amendments to ban gay marriage, I would have had a much easier time accepting myself,” she said.

Gaby S., 21, said she supports this changing attitude within the Catholic faith.

“I believe it’s a progressive movement that Pope Francis is attempting to create,” she said “There are many homosexuals whose beliefs align with Catholicism, and Christianity in general, but know they are usually not welcomed into these religious communities.”

Gaby’s statement resembles a line from the report. It said that homosexuals “need to be welcomed and accompanied with patience and delicacy.”

“I think 50 years from now we will look back and think of how ludicrous these homosexual separations are,” she said.

Patricia P., president of Catholic Gators, declined to comment on the topic. Catholic Student Center staff did not return requests for comment.

Original Unpublished Reporting

Elephant Appreciation Day

This story was written for JOU3101 at the University of Florida during the Fall 2014 semester

GAINESVILLE–Cars lined up down the dirt road leading to Two Tails Ranch on Saturday morning for the third annual Elephant Appreciation Day.

Volunteers in bright yellow shirts took the reduced admission fee of $10 per person and guided guests to park in a large field.

Between 3,000 and 5,000 people were expected to attend the event. Some guests drove four hours to get the chance to interact with the elephants.

The ranch is home to six elephants, two males and four females. The event heavily featured Bunny, Luke and Roxy.

“Roxy and me were like sisters,” said Patricia Zerbini, owner of Two Tails Ranch.

Zerbini inherited the passion and profession of caring for exotic animals from her father. Roxy is 56 years old and the oldest elephant on the ranch, which was founded in 1984.

No electrified fences or barbed wire is used to keep the elephants contained.

“I could put up caution tape and keep my elephants under control,” she said.

The gentle and safe nature of her elephants was demonstrated during the photo opportunity guests could purchase for $25. A woman holding her infant sat on the elephant’s foot and posed for pictures. Zerbini watched from the side.

Many others waited in line to climb 11 steps to take a ride on an elephant.

Stacey Cleary was second in line with her husband and daughter.

“This is the first time we’ve been,” Cleary said. “Of course, princess here, wanted to ride an elephant, so we’ve been waiting here ever since.”

The event is a fundraiser for the ranch. It is held on the Saturday closest to the worldwide celebration of Elephant Appreciation Day, which is Sept. 22.

“It costs a lot to feed an elephant,” said John Irwin, an event volunteer. “Let’s not even talk about the bills.”

Each elephant eats between 250 and 400 pounds of food per day.

The humans dined on funnel cakes, kettle corn, french fries, hamburgers and hot dogs. Frozen drinks and smoothies were a popular choice as people crowded to under the shade of the trees to eat their snacks.

“Every penny here is spent long before we make it,” Zerbini said. “All the vendors that are here donate a portion of what they make back to the ranch.”

Vendors were accompanied by booths with information on local domestic animal rescues, service dog training and exotic animal care.

“I’ve known Patty for many years, and she is the premiere elephant woman in the world,” said Kay Rosaire, owner of Big Cat Habitat in Sarasota, Florida.

This is Rosaire’s second year of participation in elephant appreciation day. She brought three of her big cats and held a question and answer session for the guests.

“We really believe in what she’s doing,” she said. “We’ve got to save as many animals as we can.”

Two Tails Ranch employees, volunteers and employees of the Florida International Teaching Zoo staffed the event.

“It’s a great place,” said Fred Evick, of the Florida International Teaching Zoo. “A lot of people don’t even know it’s out here.”

Original Unpublished Reporting

Nuclear power offers safe, clean, sustainable energy

The following article was written for JOU3109 at the University of Florida during the Spring 2014 semester

GAINESVILLE, Fla.— Growing research indicates that nuclear power has a wide variety of benefits and uses. It is also a safe, clean and sustainable source of energy.

“What we have to do is let people know, first of all, that we can control radiation, and the other side is that nuclear power is something that we can have for the next 1,000 years,” said James Tulenko, Professor Emeritus of Nuclear Engineering at the University of Florida.

The fission of atoms used to create nuclear power produces 50 million times more energy than the burning of one coal atom.

Christopher Gruelich, a nuclear engineering senior and research assistant at the University of Florida, provided this context, “One Coke can of uranium produces about the same energy as coal that weighs as much as the Saturn V rocket.”

The Saturn V rocket weighed roughly 6 million pounds.

“The coal will run out. The oil will run out. The gas will run out, but we will have uranium,” Tulenko said.

Uranium is a plentiful material in the ground, which releases radiation that enters our environment and homes every day.

“We are always surrounded by radiation. A little radiation seems to have a beneficial effect on people,” Tulenko said.

Nuclear power is currently responsible for 20 percent of the energy produced in America, according to Christopher Gruelich.

“Nuclear power has a large role to play in medicine. An active part of the nuclear program and biomed program [at UF] is what we call medical physics,”Tulenko said.

Medical physics is the application of radiation to diagnose and treat diseases. The most common examples are the use of Computerized Tomography scans and radiation treatments for various cancers.

“I was most surprised by the lack of connection between radiation and cancer. There isn’t really any correlation between lower levels of exposure to radiation and cancer [development],” said Kyle Vaughn, a nuclear engineering student and research assistant.

A proton accelerator recently built in Jacksonville, Fla., has granted success to doctors treating and curing patients, particularly those with prostate cancer.

“Here at the University of Florida, we use radiation very strongly in our IFAS [Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences] to understand how plants pick up particular elements, where they go, and what they do,” Tulenko said.

According to Tulenko, there are two types of nuclear energy: fission and fusion.

“Fusion will give us energy beyond 1,000 years; basically give us energy forever. The sun is a fusion device,” he said.

Nuclear energy is said to be clean due to the small amount of waste produced, which is contained and decays away over time.

“Because of the 50 million times factor [in comparison to coal burning], the amount of material we burn is very small. It doesn’t release bad gases,” he said.

“Either a plant is safe or it’s not safe. In this world of black and white with nuclear, we don’t deal with it’s only 80 percent safe or 90 percent safe. If it’s not safe, you shut it down,”Tulenko said.

Nuclear power plants use a series of 9,000-18,000 tubes filled with water to cool the reactor. Water that flows through the core can pick up radioactive material.

“If you leak one tube, you are leaking .0006 percent of the core water,” Tulenko said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines require tubes to be plugged and removed from use after they show 40 percent wear.

“In fact, our analysis shows that you can have complete confidence that a tube has to be worn 70 percent before you have a chance of failure,”Tulenko said.

The NRC strongly enforces measures of caution to ensure the health and safety of those working with nuclear energy and those in the communities close to nuclear plants.

“I believe that nuclear is a safe and efficient way for use to produce energy and sustainable. That’s the important thing. It is sustainable,” Tulenko said.



Being the Beholder

Real Women?

While we live in a society where thin women draw the envy of many, there has been recent backlash in the form of “Real Women Have Curves” campaigns and internet phenomena. They  are rejecting the model standard of thinness and calling for full-figured women to love their bodies.

However, this movement has inspired an unexpected response. Thin women are responding to these claims that they are somehow less worthy of attractiveness and womanhood due to their size.

Regan Smith is a college student. She stands at five feet, two inches tall and weighs less than 100 pounds. I asked her to discuss the way her size influences the way people perceive her beauty, as well as the effect this has on her own perceptions.

Regan Smith takes in the view from historical St. Augustine, Fla.
Regan Smith takes in the view from historical St. Augustine, Fla.

Smith says her physical size is something that draws uninvited commentary.

“Being little, and the fact that people comment on it on weekly basis, makes me feel like a child as opposed to a woman.”

Smith points to hypocrisy in our current culture. We have become hypersensitive to those who are overweight. Society only shames those who find larger individuals to be somehow less attractive.

“It’s really socially acceptable for people to comment on me being skinny, like even people I just met. You wouldn’t say that to someone in the opposite direction. You wouldn’t meet someone who was fat and say, ‘Do you eat a lot?’ But people will ask me, ‘Do you eat ever?’” Smith said.

Smith mentioned that she perceives beauty differently based on the reactions of others to her size.

“I do think it is more difficult to look at someone who is my size and think of them as beautiful, because of the way others respond to me. I notice first that they are skinny and then that they are beautiful.”

Just as there many heavier individuals who wish to lose weight to avoid unwanted attention and unnecessary criticism, there are thin individuals who wish to gain weight for the same reasons. Smith gives a voice to this group.

“I think it would be easier if I looked more normal. I don’t feel like I look anorexic or malnourished, but I people say that I do all time.”

Smith ended her interview on her a confident note. She ultimately does not allow others to define her, and she will not define the beauty of others.

“Real women do have curves, but also real women have stick figures. I am short and very skinny, but that doesn’t make me less of a woman.”

Being the Beholder

Interview with Dr. Cory L. Armstrong

Cory L. Armstrong, Ph.D. is a professor at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. Her research and courses explore the relationships between gender, race, media and society.

I first asked Armstrong to describe the way media can alter or reflect a society’s perception of beauty.

“I don’t think it reflects it at all. It’s an artificial design of what they think consumers want to see. Every day they reinforce gender stereotypes and gender roles.”

Armstrong provided the example of television programs in the 1950s, when popular shows like I Love Lucy showed the “nuclear” family.

“The woman is not the primary breadwinner,” she said.

Women were often shown to stay at home.

“We still see that today. They’re still labeled as housewives,” Armstrong elaborated.

She cited the example of the Real Housewives reality series, saying that the shows, which take place in various metropolitan areas of the U.S., are particularly damaging to perception due to the extreme wealth and focus on these women’s primary occupation of planning lavish parties/other events.

“Now we’re glamorizing baby-making.” She gave the example of 16 and Pregnant. “That’s a very traditional stereotype. It’s also a class stereotype.”

Armstrong believes that these stereotypes are not only being perpetuated in pop culture, but through traditional media outlets as well.

“Don’t get me started on news content. It shows women as tangential to the main action. We’re not seeing women except as bystanders.”

Armstrong then described the ways men and women are effected by the presentation of beauty in the media.

“The better question is: which one is more influenced by the media portrayl of the other? The answer is still both,” Armstrong said.

“Sexy [for women] is considered to be under 30, curvy, but weighing [a minimal amount] and wearing provocative attire. Men you see in media are chiseled. Older men are shown with young women. Those who aren’t don’t see themselves in media,” she elaborated.

This kind of exclusion from popular culture is what perpetuates and reinforces a society’s perception of attractiveness.

Armstrong acknowledged the recent changes in advertising focus; some companies are working to present diversity in body types, ethnicity and age in their advertisements.

She gave the example of Latina boxer, Marlen Esparza, in Covergirl advertisements.

“It wasn’t well seen. If it doesn’t get air time, they go back to Sofia Vergara.”

Armstrong also gave the example of Abby Wambach’s Gatorade commercial.

“There’s definitely more room for that. The effectiveness is questionable. They are useful, but it’s still a publicity stunt. It’s not nearly enough.”

Being the Beholder

Can Men Be Beautiful?

The effects of presentations and perceptions of beauty in society are not solely felt by women. The male perception of women can be impacted as well. Additionally, men are just as likely to be affected by the way their attractiveness is defined by the masses, which is a highly overlooked concept in our culture.

I asked college student, Daniel Cooksey, to discuss what it means to be a man and how society beholds male beauty.

Q: Can men be beautiful?

A: Yes. They can be because beauty is not gendered. Because if beauty is defined by levels of attractiveness, then men and women both have them. There’s nothing inherently feminine about being beautiful or beauty in general.

Q: What are some stereotypes that exist about men and their attractiveness?

A: If men are muscular, athletic, and do stereotypically masculine activities they are considered attractive because men are expected to be dominant. That’s why girls fall in love with the “bad” boy. On the other side, women do love men who cook.

Q: Are these stereotypes unfair?

A: What’s deemed appropriate is created by society. It’s not going to be accurate for everyone. It’s not fair, particularly when men do a stereotypically effeminate activity, for example men who knit. If men partake in these activities, their sexuality is questioned. This is insulting to  [heterosexual] men. Society highly emphasizes men’s need to present themselves as masculine.

Q: What qualities do women stereotypically look for in men?

A: Height is a big thing. Men are supposed to be solid not curvy. Men aren’t supposed to be skinny, muscular is preferred, but fat is still considered to be manly. Skinny can be equated to frailty.

Many of these pressures and societal normalities that are imposed on males are paralleled by those felt by females every day. I invite you to consider that the way media presentation, perceptions, and stereotypes centered around gender and beauty inherently affects men and women.