Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Stories I Told on the Entertainment Beat

One of my favorite gigs is writing entertainment stories for the Evansville Courier & Press, interviewing musicians, comedians, wrestlers and magicians and picking their brains about their works and their creative processes. I stopped working full-time for the Courier & Press a few years ago, but they still let me freelance previews of concerts and other events from time to time.

In the interest of having a bunch of them together in one post, here are a few of my favorite previews and reviews:

Monday, December 22, 2014

Marketing Stories I Told at Work

One of the ways I bring home the proverbial (and sometimes literal) bacon is through marketing communications: press releases, blog posts, ghostwriting, social media, etc. I have also worked as a speechwriter. The goal is to help people and businesses get their messages out in clear, compelling ways.

Here are links to some stuff I wrote:

I decided not to link specifically to any speeches or ghostwriting projects, but I would be happy to send samples to anyone who requests them.


Monday, September 15, 2014

That Time I Covered Hurricane Ivan

Ten years ago this week, I had one of my more interesting assignments as a professional journalist, driving to the Mississippi coast to meet Hurricane Ivan. The storm jogged east at the last minute so Mississippi missed the worst of it, but it was still pretty impressive. 

At the time I was working for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, along with fellow WKU Herald alum Ryan Clark, who actually beat me to the coast by at least a few hours. Ryan's website has a bunch of great old newspaper stories on it, including one page with a photo of the special edition the paper put out. The main story has my name on it, and I'm unashamed to say I never get tired of seeing my byline:

Ryan went on to publish a bunch of great books, mostly about University of Kentucky basketball. You should check out his site.

One of the things I miss about full-time daily journalism is being in the thick of things. Driving toward a hurricane when the northbound lanes are jammed would be considered insane under normal circumstances. 

I think I still have the rubber boots in my trunk, just in case.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


This was part of a 3-story package, but this one was the best.


Date: Sunday, August 3, 2008 Section: Metro Page: A1 Edition:
Source: JACOB BENNETT, Courier & Press staff writer
464-7434 or bennettj@courierpress.com

Photo by MOLLY BARTELS, Courier & Press staff photographer

The tree frogs came in the mail, shipped overnight in a plastic butter dish with air holes and a moist towel to keep them alive.

The jaguar arrived via plane to Chicago, then made the six-hour ride to Evansville in the back of a van driven by Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Garden zookeepers Stacey Ellis and Jill Remington.

"The director at the time, Dan McGinn, he gave us a hammer and nails and said if we thought she was about to break out of the crate, just hammer the lid back down," Ellis said.

Was he serious? "Surely not. We don't know."

Deciding on an Amazon rain forest theme was only half the task in readying the new multimillion-dollar exhibit at Mesker Park Zoo. Finding the animals to fill it, securing them from other zoos, and getting them here was often a challenge.

The more delicate the animal, the better it probably is to pack it up and ship it overnight, said Erik Beck, the zoo's general curator.

Insects and frogs and even some small snakes can be mailed almost like medical equipment or samples, with labels that say "fragile" and "do not put near excessive heat or cold."

It cost about $30 to mail the new exhibit's giant waxy monkey frogs. Most animals smaller than monkeys can be shipped just like dogs or cats, and picked up at the ticket counter.

Shipping challenge
Many of the animals in Amazonia were picked up in vans, usually by one or two zookeepers looking for a chance to get out of the office, so to speak.

Those that came by air still faced a van ride as well, since only certain airports allow big animals to be shipped by freight.

It cost about $1,000 in February 2007 to ship Beliza, the then 1-year-old, 80-pound jaguar, from Boston to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Beck said.

Airport workers offered to use a forklift to move Beliza's crate into the van, but Ellis and Remington thought that would be too rough and scary for the big cat. Instead, they helped a couple of workers lift the crate into the van.

Beliza was quiet the whole ride, Ellis said.

Once they arrived in Evansville, most of the animals were quarantined in the vet building, which underwent a $540,000 renovation.

It had been one big room, designed to hold elephants, with a single air-changing unit for the whole building.

Now there are several rooms with separate air units, so if one group of animals is sick, the illness won't spread. Beliza got her own space - two big stalls with two yards, one of which had a pool.

Zookeepers began moving the animals into Amazonia two months ago. The ones that were due for physical exams, such as the howler monkeys, were sedated before the move.

Beliza was awake for her move, made in a wooden crate that had once been used to transport a warthog.

Zookeepers put it in her stall, then added meat, and later a toy. Curiosity didn't kill the cat, but it did get the best of her.

"We got the door ready, guillotine-style, with a rope, and I acted all nonsuspicious," Ellis said. "She knew something was up. She paced for a little bit, then she went right in."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mini lion vs. mini schnauzer: place your bets

By Jacob Bennett

My roommate’s cat is hunting my dog.

Daisy is always watching my little buddy, peeking around the house plant, or lurking in the shadows of the sofa, or staring from her perch on top of the bed. Once, in the middle of the night, she nudged open my door, saw that I was awake, and backed away. And the other morning, as I got ready for work, I heard her sharpening her claws on a scratching post, like Carl readying his weapon near the climax of “Sling Blade.”

The truth about cats and dogs is they can’t be friends. I knew this. But Sophie and I were basically strays, until my roommate from the ‘Burg and his common-law fiancĂ©e took us in. I thought our pets could forge an uneasy truce, like when Brisco County had to work with Bowler every week.


And it’s not going to be a fair fight.

At 12 pounds, Daisy’s only a little lighter than my miniature schnauzer — five pounds less, to be exact. I know because my roommates just weighed her at my request, which I’m sure will only make her madder. Daisy is a rescue, adopted after she was discovered on the street, shivering in the snow, cold and hungry, but surviving.

Sophie is also a rescue — I found her online, stranded in a basket of puppies. I’d like to think buying her was akin to sponsoring a hungry Third World child.

Sophie probably started the rift the first day we were here, when she chased Daisy under the bed. She doesn’t know why she must feel like that — why she must chase the cat. But she never posed any real danger.

She’s just a goofy little terrier, bigger than a football, too big to fit in a purse, in accordance with man laws. Years of breeding and evolution have left her with no survival skills except relentless adorability. On a toughness scale from Clint Eastwood to Clay Aiken, she’s about a John Mayer.

She forgot all about the feud, once Daisy was out of sight. She went back to trotting obliviously through the house, thinking about bones or balls or biscuits.

Daisy didn’t forget.

The thing about cats is, they tolerate people, and they’ll eat food from people because it’s free. But they’re hunters, and their thirst for blood is so great, they play with their prey before eating it. Unlike dogs, which are just furry little street bums, cats like to kill.

Really, cats are miniature lions.

And when a mini lion takes on a mini schnauzer, I know where to place my bet.

I just watched a thing on National Geographic where seven lions ganged up and tried to kill an elephant. They just dug in and held on…

It was awesome.

But I wouldn’t wish it on my little snow pea.

Unfortunately, Sophie’s gonna end up like that elephant. The situation came to a head the other day, when her back was turned.

Daisy crept out from the shadows, padding across the carpet likea ghost in the darkness. When she was inches away, she shrieked and pounced, Montecore-style. She didn’t stop flailing until my roommates pulled her offstage.

From then on, the food chain was back as it should be. Sophie feels the need to stand at a safe distance, in a doorway, when begging for food. Daisy marches through the house like General Sherman in Atlanta.

This story doesn’t have an ending, but like “Sling Blade,” it really only has one logical conclusion.

Daisy just keeps watching Sophie. Watching and waiting, hoping for that perfect moment when she can go in for the kill.

She also gave me a sinus infection on my birthday.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Beer for dogs, and The Dutch

This has been one of the 10 most e-mailed stories on the Courier & Press Web site for the last couple of days.

By Jacob Bennett

When I get home after a rugged, sweaty day in the cubicle, there are two things I want around me: my trusty dog and an ice cold brew.

I want the dog there because it never lets me down in its cheerful ability to make everything better. I want the beer there for pretty much the same reason.

Despite that, one thing I've never done - mostly because I don't like to share - is get a beer for my dog.

But now I can, without the unpleasant side effect of instant doggie death.

A Dutch pet shop owner is marketing Kwispelbier, a nonalcoholic drink billed "as beer for your best friend." The BBC and The Associated Press reported Kwispelbier is fit for human consumption, but forget that. The meat-based brew costs four times as much as a Heineken (and probably doesn't taste any worse).

"Kwispel," by the way, is the Dutch word for wagging a tail. The seller told reporters she wanted her dogs to share light refreshments with her after a day's hunting.

I went to the Kwispelbier Web site to find out more about it, and this is what I discovered:

"Kwispelbier het bier voor je beste vriend. Ja Hondenbier vanaf 18 januari in Nederland. Door ons Dierenspeciaalzaak Molenkamp ontwikkelt en door een echte brouwerij gebrouwen. Klik hier en lees er alles over."

Fair enough. But I'm not sold.

I understand the urge to have a cold one with your dog. Mine is so happy when I get home, hopping around and pawing at my leg. Who else has ever been that happy to see me after I've been gone a few hours (or a few seconds because I had to run out to the car)?

Honestly, I like animals better than most people. It broke my heart when I read about them putting poor Barbaro to sleep. When I read that they let him have his oats first, I was afraid I was going to have to dab my tears with my skirt.

One of my friends was mad because he thinks Barbaro had been kept alive so long only because his owners were hoping to sell his stud services. But if ever there was a job worth staying alive for, stud is probably it.

My weepiness was pushing it, of course: Maxim magazine said the only time it's acceptable for a man to cry is when he's watching a movie where a heroic dog dies while trying to save its master.

I'll drink to that. But I still don't think I'd give my dog beer, especially expensive beer. What's next? Beer-colored water for fish to swim in? Extra-strong cat beer so they will give you affection (kinda like college)? Ferret beer?

I hope not, because those little suckers are mean drunks.

And the next time this old man comes rolling home, I think I'll just give my dog a bone.