Got a few minutes? Let’s make an 8-year-old’s day

UPDATE 3-19-12 Note corrected zip code. Letters with wrong zip will make it to Zach, I’m told, just a week or so later.

My supervisor sent me this e-mail the other day asking people to send letters to her 8-year-old nephew. The hope is the letters will help occupy his mind as he goes through chemotherapy. The kid’s family is aiming to get a letter from all 50 states. That’s an awesome goal to see if we can meet — and maybe exceed with some international mail.

We learned last Wednesday that my 8-year-old nephew’s cancer (Acute Lymphblastic Leukemia) has returned. He’s being treated at St. Jude in Memphis. He started chemotherapy Friday. To keep his spirits up, the hospital and his family are trying to come up with things to keep his mind occupied.
This kid, Zachary Wyman, loves to get mail — letters, postcards. The favor? Please help me pass the word to everyone and anyone — far and wide — to please send Zach a letter or postcard. Letters make him smile, and at this point, every smile is golden.
I am going to get him a map with some pins and have him plot where his mail comes from. Aside from the well-wishes, the aim is to get all 50 states and maybe some foreign countries too. And in the process teach him about geography and other places in the world.
He’s any outdoorsy kid now stuck in a room, instead of playing baseball, and in the fight of his life.
Please address the letters and cards to:
Zachary Wyman
The Ronald McDonald House
535 Alabama Ave
Memphis, TN 38107 38105
I assure you, every card or letter will be greatly appreciated.

So do you have a few minutes? Write something and/or put some cool things in that envelope, stick a stamp to it (if you don’t know that that is ask your grandma, she likely has one you can borrow), and ship it off. I’m going to write something and sneak some baseball cards in there as well. If you’re helping out and have a cool idea, share it in the comments.

Even if you can’t send a letter, sharing this with those you can reach will get us closer to the goal and would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for reading and thanks a thousand times if you can help Zach out.

In Kansas caucuses, reporters call rural areas key, then avoid them

For the couple days leading up to the Kansas caucuses, prognostication pieces in the news said that the rural parts of the state were going to be a huge factor in deciding the winner.

In her Trail Mix video, Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez made her key number in the race 44%, representing the number of voters in 2008’s general election who hailed from rural areas (more on this video later).

The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog put together this map showing that Kansans outside the three metros comprise 58% of registered Republicans in the state:

With all that talk about rural Kansas, you think there would be some unusual Kansas datelines from reporters — perhaps Protection, Kan., Skiddy, Kan., or Piqua, Kan.

Let’s take a look at the datelines from various news outlets in the days before and of the caucuses:

NYT: Topeka, Wichita

WaPo: Topeka, Wichita, Lenexa, Olathe (last two surburbs in Kansas City metro)

CNN: Kansas City, Kan.

LA Times: Wichita, Topeka

Not the case. When time came to report, journalists stuck to the metro areas, never leaving their bubble less than an hour from an airport.

Candidate chase

I know the main factor in where political reporters set up shop is where the candidates visit. All those cities you see in the datelines received a visit from either Rick Santorum or Ron Paul in the days before the caucuses — Newt Gingrich gave up on Kansas days earlier, and Mitt Romney saw Guam as more worthy of a visit (ouch).

The big fight in rural areas is drawing candidates there; the reporters will tail. But as the time between races shortens, candidates opt primarily for a touch-and-go gameplan focused on metro areas, and reporters follow suit.

But if you lead up to the caucus talking about the rural areas being key, why not stop and gather a story from a rural area, even if it’s just for 30 minutes? Grab a sandwich and a few quotes. There could have been a really good, unique angle about the Gray County caucus and its 73 voters. Or perhaps the die-hards who had to drive 45 minutes to vote in Parsons because their county didn’t hold its own caucus would make for a great anecdote. Maybe your Kansas caucus story could have stood out from the rest of the press pack’s robotic offerings that day.

But instead nearly all the reporters headed to Wichita, site of one of the largest caucuses, and reported the same anecdotes, interviewed the same folks and capped off their stories with the same victory comments by Santorum’s wife, who was in town as Rick had already moved on to another state to stump.

Basically every reporter took the easy way out and stuck by the airports. It’s disappointing.

WARNING: Things get really snarky from here out. If you’re not a fan of snark, consider jumping to the comments section.

Sticking to stereotypes

Back to the Trail Mix video. Sonmez says she’s recording from a field in Olathe (incorrectly pronounced) before discussing the implication of the rural vote.

And my soul dies as Kansas is cast as a giant field for the rest of the country. Can’t wait for the Idaho standup from atop a mound of potatoes, or the West Virginia standup from a meth lab (or is that Missouri).

And here’s the kicker: Olathe is not rural Kansas. Far from it. Olathe is a city of 125,872.

I guess I should breathe a sigh of relief nobody opted for the Wizard of Oz stereotype, shooting from the Yellow Brick Road in Sedan, Kan. Fortunately, it’s almost four hours from the Kansas City airport.