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'Take notes,' advised Nora Ephron's mother. And she did. Oh, did she ever.

DownloadedFileFor a generation of women -- especially women who love books and movies, women who endlessly analyze relationships, women who've tried to balance work and motherhood, women who have spent great amounts of their lives on the phone with their female friends, women who've seen their marriages splinter on the harsh rocks of modern life -- the news of Nora Ephron's death tonight landed like a blow to the gut.

My reaction to a friend's email and a barrage of Twitter warnings was simply: No.  And when I called my friend, writer Lauri Githens to tell her, I broke it to her gently: "Have you heard about Nora Ephron?" She answered, "Don't tell me this."

Why does it matter?  Because she had a voice -- a writer's voice -- like no other.  Because she helped us laugh at ourselves when crying made more sense.  Because she was us, perhaps funnier, more high-flying, more urbane, but every bit as vulnerable. 

"In my sex fantasy, nobody ever loves me for my mind," she wrote in an early column.  Vintage Ephron.

For women journalists and writers, the identification was even more complete.  She was everything we wanted to be.  "Above all," she wrote, "be the heroine of your own life, not the victim."   

In her early essays and columns, what came across was that undeniable gift of sounding exactly like herself and no one else at all times. 

Her sharp opinions on media and culture packed a punch, as when she wrote in Esquire about feminism's excesses:

"I know that the pendulum has to swing a few degrees in the wrong direction before righting itself. But it does get wearing, sometimes, waiting for the center to catch hold."  

If she had done nothing other than write those pieces, she would have made an unforgettable contribution.  But then came her second and third incarnations -- as screenwriter and director.

 For some odd reason, I moved "Heartburn," the movie version of Ephron's roman a clef about her disastrous marriage to Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, to the top of my Netflix queue last week.  I can never tire of it, any more than I can get sick of "When Harry Met Sally," though I can practically recite the dialogue along with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal.  And that was just the beginning -- there was "Sleepless in Seattle," "You've Got Mail," "Michael," "Silkwood," and "Julie and Julia," to name just a few.

Ephron said she tried to "write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are."  And she did just that.   She touched men's lives, too, of course, and portrayed them with the humor and perceptiveness she brought to all of her work.  The Billy Crystal character in "When Harry Met Sally" is a prime example, self-mocking with his "white man's overbite" dance, and looking for love in all the wrong places.

Everything she touched had that distinctive Ephron stamp of wit, urbanity, literate dialogue, and underneath it all, her understanding of the human heart: battered yet brave, stupidly hopeful against the odds.

She made us laugh.  And now, I'm afraid, her death at age 71 is doing quite the opposite.  But more than sadness, there is appreciation that she captured life so well and expressed it so perfectly.  She took a sharp-eyed but wry look at herself and the world around her and spun it into writer's gold.

When Ephron's mother was on her deathbed, she famously told her daughter, "Take notes.  Everything is copy."

Ephron took her seriously.  And, looking over the marvelously original body of work she leaves behind,  we should all be glad she did. 

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The photo is from the Associated Press.

An obituary from the Los Angeles Times provides details. And here is the New York Times obituary.

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From Burma to Britain, a heroine for democracy in Aung San Suu Kyi

ImagesBecause of Buffalo's burgeoning Burmese population, including accomplished photojournalist Law Eh Soe, I've written before in this space about my admiration for Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi. (Those earlier posts are here and here.)

The human rights advocate and democracy champion is a Nobel laureate, having finally accepted the peace prize only recently, though it was awarded in 1991.  She has spent 15 years under house arrest in Burma, finally released late in 2010.

I want to mention her again now because of her historic speech to British Parliament today, a portion of which I was lucky enough to hear on NPR this morning, and which brought me to tears with its simplicity and power.    The first non-British woman to address both houses of Parliament, she spoke eloquently of the Burmese journey toward democracy and the struggle that lies ahead and asked for help from Britain and other Western countries.

Voice of America has good coverage, including video of her entire address.

I also very much like this piece by columnist Frida Ghitis for CNN, which describes the 67-year-old activist as brilliant, charismatic and one of the few modern figures who fully deserves her icon status.

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Photo Gallery: Images of The Buffalo News from Buffalo-born photojournalist Brendan Bannon

TruckBrendan Bannon practically grew up at The Buffalo News.  His father, Anthony Bannon, was a writer and art critic at the paper in the 1970s and 1980s, (and is now the executive director of the Burchfield Penney Art Center).  The younger Bannon remembers being fascinated with the papers rolling off the presses and loaded onto the trucks, and remembers receiving his first record albums from his father's colleagues in the News features department, Dale Anderson and Jeff Simon.

"I heard the roar of the presses before I got my first job as a newspaper delivery boy," Bannon says.

Since those early days, he has flourished as an international photojournalist, spending much of his time in Africa and other places around the globe, teaching photography and shooting for some big-name organizations.

On a recent assignment for the New York Times, Bannon, 42, returned to The News, where he spent many hours photographing the newsroom, the pressroom, Publisher Stan Lipsey, and more.  Three of his images appeared with the Times story, but many others from that shoot are available on his website.   See all 50 of them here.  I especially like the one I've included here which I would title "News Noir," a nighttime image outside our building on Washington Street.

His photo galleries from around the world are also well worth a look.  Bannon told me how he approaches his work -- whether in Buffalo or Nairobi: "I practice opening myself to whatever I am photographing, being present and empathetic and try to see it fresh as the person, place or thing might see himself, herself or itself in a moment of reflection." 

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As the New York Times sees it: The Buffalo News under Warren Buffett

For newspaper people, it's always interesting -- and maybe a little nerve-racking -- to be on the other side of the notebook.

 That was the case earlier this month when a New York Times reporter and photographer spent the day at The Buffalo News, researching a story about Warren Buffett's ownership of the paper.  Now that the News chairman is buying up dozens of other newspapers around the country, his ownership here makes a good case study.  Buffett bought The News in 1977.

Here's the New York Times story on The News, scheduled to appear in today's Times business section.   It accurately makes the points that Buffett is hands-off regarding editorial policy and that the paper has remained profitable and kept its high market penetration in the region.   It also mentions our investigative's team's award-winning prescription drug series.


 

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On a big news day, The Buffalo News repositions itself for the future with digital subscriptions

Today's a big day at The Buffalo News for many reasons.  One is that it's just an extremely heavy day for breaking news, largely because of Nik Wallenda's planned wire-walk across Niagara Falls tonight.  We will have 25 staffers -- reporters, videographers, photographers -- on the scene.  Check buffalonews.com tonight and tomorrow, and the Saturday and Sunday print editions for the results of their work.  It should be quite a night in the newsroom.   Here's a preview of what you'll see online:

6 p.m. Friday: Live chat with special guests, updates from reporters throughout Niagara Falls leading up to wire-walk

10 p.m. Friday: Updates, photos and more during the wire-walk

11 p.m. Friday: Live video webcast with extensive analysis


The international manhunt for ECMC trauma surgeon Timothy V. Jorden Jr.  is another major story that has had our attention.  We've been ahead on this story from the start and broke another aspect of it last night with Lou Michel and Phil Fairbanks' story on Jorden's bank withdrawals and other signs that he was planning to flee.  (Here is an update on that story -- the discovery of Jorden's dead body.)


Meanwhile, The News has let our subscribers, employees and the general public know that we're moving with strength and determination into the future by unveiling our plan to offer digital subscriptions this coming fall.

 My column on the subject is here, and the reader comments beneath it are of particular interest.

Here is a link to frequently asked questions about the upcoming changes.  

It's an exciting time for The News and we're glad you are along for the ride. 

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Ellen Goodman in Buffalo: funny, sharp and thoughtful, as always

Margaret with Ellen Goodman 2"My generation of women," says Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Ellen Goodman, "traded depression for stress."  Speaking to 500 women at Kleinhans Music Hall Wednesday night, she pauses to consider this, and gets a laugh when she decides that, on balance, it's "not a bad bargain."

Goodman's keynote address to the Western New York Women's Foundation was filled with laughs.  I even got to share one with her beforehand, as you'll see in the photo here. 

But amid the laughs was plenty of food for thought.  Goodman spoke of the "socially useful myth" of Superwoman, and spins out a day in the life of this non-existent creature: She starts the morning preparing a healthy breakfast for her 2.3 children ("which they eat"), then dons her Armani suit and sets off for her creatively fulfilling and socially useful job, and ends the evening with a multi-orgasmic session with her supportive husband. 

Goodman has her comic timing down -- as when she mentions bringing up her own daughter years ago.  (Goodman, now 71, is a grandmother these days, though she retains an enviably youthful and elegant look.)

"I wanted to give my daughter a good start in life," she begins, and you can feel the crowd of professional women stiffening a bit, ready for the onslaught of mommy guilt.  But it never comes. Instead, she says, after a beat: "So I didn't go back to work until she was six weeks old." 

Goodman also spoke of the long road women have ahead, despite the gains they've made.  Despite women's apparent advancements in the workplace, the door to true equality is opened only a crack or two, she says.  It will open fully when women's authentic values -- respect for caregiving, among them -- are fully recognized in society as a whole.

Here is Buffalo News Reporter Charity Vogel's interview with Goodman.  It appeared in last Saturday's Life & Arts section as a preview of her talk here.
 
The photo above is by Sharon Cantillon of the News staff.

It's no day at the beach, but see 'Da' at Irish Classical anyway

ImagesIt's June and Western New Yorkers are thinking about outdoor concerts and scenic drives to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

But in the tiny Irish Classical Theatre downtown, there's something you shouldn't miss, even though it doesn't shout "summer fun."

 It's the Irish Classical Theater's new production of "Da," the Tony-award winning play by the great Irish writer Hugh Leonard.  I had the chance to see it Friday, on the second night of its three-week run.

As with many things Irish, "Da" is both funny and sad.  If you've endured the death of a close family member, it will surely resonate.   And this production is especially moving because of its deep connections to director Vincent O'Neill, shown in the photo above, whose late brother Chris played a major role in its Dublin production and is still closely identified with the play.  The O'Neills grew up 10 minutes from Dalkey, where this autobiographical play is set.

Now, longtime Buffalo actor Gerry Maher plays the title role with verve, leaping about the stage like a deranged sprite and pulling at our heartstrings all the while.

News critic Colin Dabkowski's preview of the play, including a video interview with O'Neill, provides the details.   

It's well worth putting down that plastic beer cup for a couple of hours to see it.  "Da," strangely enough,may  turn out to be one of the most memorable events of the summer.   It's on stage through July 1.

Recap of today's "Ask the Editor" live chat

I fielded questions from readers today on everything from the Buffalo public schools to the value of online comments. 

Thanks to those who stopped by and, as usual, I'm sorry not to have gotten to every question.

Review the chat here.

Let's talk. Join my "Ask the Editor" live chat today at 2 p.m.

I'll be fielding questions from readers -- everything from how we cover your suburb to why Warren Buffett is buying newspapers to what happened in the Corasanti case -- today at 2 p.m.   I hope you'll join my monthly live chat on the home page of buffalonews.com.

 Come prepared with some questions and I'll do my best to answer them.  

 

Jerry Sullivan's column on Modie Cox is a poignant nod to his late colleague Allen Wilson

When Buffalo News sports reporter and columnist Allen Wilson first got sick last July, one of the people on his mind was Modie Cox.   Allen had done the reporting for a story on Cox, a former local basketball star who had his share of knocks and is now a motivational speaker helping kids turn their lives around. The photos had even been shot.  But he hadn't had a chance to write it. 

Lying in bed in the emergency room at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, waiting to be admitted to a room, Allen asked his wife, Lisa, who is the News' executive sports editor, to get in touch with Cox. 

"He just said, 'please call Modie and tell him I'm sorry I didn't get to that story," Lisa recalled Monday. A few days later, diagnosed with acute leukemia, Allen moved to Roswell Park Cancer Institute; he was in and out of Roswell for months, and passed away last December.  He is much missed in the community and on the News staff.

 Lisa never forgot Allen's desire to get a piece about Modie Cox into The News.  Today, with the help of senior sports columnist Jerry Sullivan, that wish finally comes to fruition.  Here is Jerry's column.

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