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February 27, 2008

And the Oscar goes to...

The Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men? took home several awards including best picture at Sunday’s Oscars, reported CNN.com.

The Coens also received the awards for best director and best adapted screenplay. Javier Bardem, the actor who played killer Anton Chigurh in “No Country,? won best supporting actor, as well.

Other winners include Tilda Swinton (“La Vie en Rose?), Daniel Day-Lewis (“There Will Be Blood?) and Marion Cotillard (“Michael Clayton?) who won best actress, actor and supporting actress respectively.

February 25, 2008

House overrides veto

The Minnesota House overrode Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto Monday, a move that ushered into law a $6.6 billion transportation plan, reported the Star Tribune.

The legislation brings about the first state gas tax increase in over 20 years. By this fall, the gas tax will have increased by five cents.

A quarter-cent sale tax increase will also occur in seven-county metro area with all proceeds going toward transit projects. It is estimated that in Hennepin County the tax would generate about $606 million.

While Pawlenty said the legislation was “a DFL product, and a DFL result,? six Republicans joined the DFL majority in the House to override the governor’s veto.

The House vote was 91-41, one more than was needed to override the veto.

February 24, 2008

Spot and follows

In the article about the I-35W shooting, the updated lead has more information about the man wounded in the shooting. In the original, the lead was about two lanes on the freeway being closed. This new lead not only informs the reader that a man was injured but also that the shutdown lasted longer than two hours causing traffic to back up for miles.

The updated story is filled with details whereas the original was bare boned. There were no real details other than the shooting happened in the original and in the new there is information about the shooting victim, the scene the shooting created, and attributions from witnesses. This forwards the news and gives the reader a fuller, more complete picture.

Transportation bill goes to Pawlenty

A new transportation bill was passed in both the House and Senate Thursday, reported the Minnesota Daily.

While the bill was passed in both houses, the House passed the bill 89 votes to 44, just one vote shy of the two-thirds needed to override an expected veto by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. One House vote, Connie Ruth, R-Owatanna, was absent when voting took place.

The bill now goes to Pawlenty, who will have three days to either pass or veto the bill.

If passed, the $6.7 billion bill will immediately increase the gas tax by two cents and another three cents by Oct. 1. This will be the stat’s first gas tax increase in 20 years. However, it is likely that Pawlenty will veto the bill because of his opposition to raising taxes.

Castro’s brother named next president

Raul Castro was named Cuba’s new president Sunday, reported the New York Times.

While the announcement of Castro’s presidency officially ended his brother Fidel’s 49-year reign, it washed away hopes of a new, younger, different government that might have taken power.

Castro made it clear that no radical changes would occur during his presidency and said he would consult with Fidel on every “important? decision. He also said the time had not come to pass the baton to a new generation of leaders.

Even though Fidel remains the head of the Communist party and will still be very present in the new Cuban administration, Raul Castro’s presidency marked the first time since 1959 that the government has been in the hands of a new leader.

Even though the National Assembly said the power of Cuba’s old guard will continue, Castro hinted at a few changes he would like to make. Two proposals include putting more power in the hands of provincial governments and reforming the bureaucracy in Havana.

Merger put on hold

Pilot conflicts have put the Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines merge on hold, reported the Star Tribune.

The merger was placed on hold because executives wanted the pilots to resolve their conflicts. The conflicts involve integrating their seniority lists.

Seniority defines a pilot’s career progression within an airline as well as determines who flies larger airplanes. It also determines the size of a pilot’s paycheck.

As of yet, spokespersons for the Northwest and Delta pilot groups have not commented on the status of the seniority talks.

Failure to integrate the seniority lists will likely kill the merger, Julius Maldutis, president of New York-based Aviation Dynamics, said.

Without a finalized, integrated list, the two companies will not sign a merger agreement.

Blu-ray wins over HD DVD

Toshiba will no longer produce or market high-definition HD DVD players, reported the Star Tribune.

By making this decision, made by Toshiba Corp. President Atsutoshi Nishida, it means the latest battle between video formats has ended and Blu-ray disc player technology has come out victorious.

The reason Toshiba decided to end the format battle, which had only lasted a few years, was because Hollywood failed to back high-definition HD DVD technology. Warner Bros. Entertainment made the decision last month to release movie discs only in the Blu-ray format. Several other companies soon followed suit including Sony Pictures and Walt Disney Co.

“That had tremendous impact,? Nishida said. “If we had continued, that would have created problems for consumers, and we simply had no chance to win.?

With the introduction of Blu-ray technology, consumers will have to buy new disc players because older DVD players are incompatible with Blu-ray discs. This means retailers will be stocking more Blu-ray disc players and fewer HD DVD players.

Stores such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp. and Blockbuster Inc. have also decided to sell only Blu-ray DVDs thereby dealing a final blow the Toshiba format.

February 21, 2008

Burning down the house

Maxwell’s American Café and Scandia Furniture Company located at 1200 Washington Ave. in Minneapolis were damaged in a fire Wednesday, reported the Star Tribune.

Sean McKenna, a Minneapolis fire department spokesman, said the fire was heavy when firefighters arrived around 10:30 a.m. Washington Avenue was closed until 1:40 p.m. while crews tried to put out the fire.

No one was hurt in the fire.

Presently, there is no word on what caused the fire but it appears to be accidental said McKenna.

February 17, 2008

Structure

The story about the transportation fund bill progressed in a fairly effectively manor.

The article began with a generalized lead about the Senate discussing a bill. While the lead was general, the important specifics (what kind of bill it was and when it was discussed) were present.

From there, the progression followed the standard inverted pyramid structure. The information in the fact boxes become less important as the story continues. However, I would have put the information about the gas tax and the license tab fees closer to the beginning of the article. It is more important to know what the bill is about than the fact that it will create 33,000 new jobs in the state.

Overall, the structure of the story is solid. The reporter summarized the important information in a succinct fashion and put it in a (mostly) logical order.

Transportation funding bill

An $8.4 billion transportation funding bill was discussed on Tuesday by state legislatures, reported the Minnesota Daily.

According to Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, the bill is meant to build and maintain the state's infrastructure. He also expects both the House and Senate to approve the bill.

However, to pass the bill, the House and Senate will have to pass it by two-thirds in order to override Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto.

If passed, the proposal will also increase the gas tax, which has remained the same for 20 years, by 2 cents directly following its passage and by another three cents later in the fall. License-tab fees will also increase if the bill is passed.

Drive-by shooting on Interstate 35W

Two lanes on northbound Interstate 35W were shut down Sunday after a drive-by shooting, reported the Star Tribune.

The shooting, which happened at about 3 p.m. according to WCCO, left at least one person injured, Minneapolis police said.

As of yet, no arrests have been made.

Independence day for Kosovo

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia Sunday, reported the New York Times.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who was a former guerrilla leader, addressed both the Albanian and Serbian Parliaments.

“I feel the heartbeat of our ancestors,? Thaci said, paying tribute to Kosovo’s war dead and to the European Union and Washington. ?We the leaders of our people, democratically elected, through this declaration proclaim Kosovo an independent and sovereign state.?

Thaci also promised to protect the rights of all Kosovo citizens.

The former province’s independence was greeted with enthusiasm by ethnic Albanians who, according to the New York Times, were flooding into the streets. Some were beating drums and waiving Albanian flags while they chanted “Independence! Independence! We are free at last!?

February 14, 2008

Spending Valentine’s Day with the Outdoors, Arts, Environment

The Senate and the House passed a bill Thursday to let voters decide whether to amend the Constitution to increase the sales tax by 3/8ths of 1 percent in order to fund the outdoors, the arts and the environment, reported the Star Tribune.

The bill, also called “The Great Outdoors and Heritage Amendment? by groups such as Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, was passed by 85-46 in the House and by 46-17 in the Senate.

According to the Star Tribune, if the amendment is approved, $54.5 million, $91.1 million, $39.3 million, $91.1 million and $4.5 million would be dedicated to the arts, the outdoors, parks and trails, a clean water fund and sustainable drinking water programs each year for the next 25 years.

If approved, the sales tax increase would go into effect July 1, 2009.

February 12, 2008

I spy

The federal government may be spying on you.

On Tuesday, the White House was given a major victory when the Senate voted to broaden the government’s surveillance powers, reported the New York Times.

The bill was passed by the Senate after phone companies which cooperated in the warrantless surveillance program were given legal protection.

A proxy vote on the wireless tapping issue and other wartime authority issues was the result of the Senate debate. Essentially, the debate foreshadowed the issue of national security that will be a major topic throughout this election year.

The issue, according to Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, won the day in the Senate.

“Unfortunately, those who are advocating this notion that you have to give up liberties to be more secure are apparently prevailing,? Mr. Dodd said. “They’re convincing people that we’re at risk either politically, or at risk as a nation.?

Along with wiretapping, the bill would allow the National Security Agency to use broad orders, without acquiring court orders beforehand, to spy on groups overseas.

February 10, 2008

Attribution

As I reread the Writers Reach Tentative Deal With Producers from the New York Times, I noticed there is little attribution for some of the minor editorialized comments. For example, journalist Michael Cieply wrote “A resolution would be good news for the producers.? But Cieply does attribute who thought or said this. Since this is a news article, editorialism should not be present without proper attribution.

However, Cieply does have a few sources in which he uses both indirect and direct quotations in his attributions. Patric M. Verrone, president of the West Coast guild, Michael Winship, his East Coast counterpart, Terry George, a negotiating committee member, and writer Carmen Culver are just a few of the authoritative sources used. E-mail messages and a memorandum were used, as well. The actual proposition was referred to several times as well but the information was never directly attributed to it; the reader infers that the information came from it.

The attributions are fairly effective since they are scattered throughout the article. However, the first attribution is seen until the sixth paragraph.

The end is near

The end of the writers’ strike may be in sight, reported the New York Times.

The strike, which has lasted three months thus far, might be over by Monday morning depending on if the governing boards of the two writers’ guilds approve the tentative three-year deal. The guilds were to have met by Sunday to discuss the proposition.

The end of the strike, according to the New York Times, would be good for both TV and movie producers as well as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which was planning the Oscars on Feb. 24 without writers or stars.

The writers’ strike was, in large part, due to the issue of compensation for work shown on the Internet and other new-media devices.

While many of the demands were edited or dropped, the negotiation resulted in the writers possibly having precise amounts of payments for the increasing digital distribution of shows during the next three years. This means that each time work is streamed on the Internet the writers, directors, actors and others will be paid a fixed quantity amounting to about $1,300.

Also, in the third and final year of their contract, the writers will receive payments of up to two percent of the distributor’s revenue.

According to Patric M. Verrone, president of the West Coast guild, his guild had achieved two of its three objectives by securing the Internet and new media deal.

Corrected results

Inaccurately submitted vote totals triggered the changes of voting results in three precincts Thursday, reported the Minnesota Daily.

Ford Hall, which was the polling place for three precincts around the University of Minnesota campus, was the site where the misinformation originated.

Barry Hickethier who was an overseer of the precincts in Ford Hall said he grabbed a sheet that looked like the totals. It was not, however.

After the problem was brought to his attention, Hickethier reviewed the ballots and tally sheets and informed the Minnesota GOP of the discrepancy, he said.

Minnesota GOP spokesman Mark Drake confirmed the resolution of the problem.

Money makes the world go round

The Star Tribune reported that the Group of Seven industrialized countries met Feb. 2 and promised to work together in order to restore the global market economy.

While no specific solution was agreed on, the G-7 assured the world's biggest economy would grow this year but at a much slower rate.

A key focus of the meeting was to reassure the Group – and the rest of the world – that the United States’ economy was not in a recession.

“I believe that we're going to keep growing,? U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said. “If you're growing, you're not in recession.?

However, the Group speculated that the U.S. had encouraged its trading partners to cut interest rates and start offering tax rebates. Paulson dismissed the speculation.

“Every country's different ... and every country needs to focus on their own economic situation,? he said. “The discussion was on really how do we minimize the spillover from what's going on in the capital markets to the broader global economy.?

The U.S.’s approach involves a $168 billion stimulus package of tax rebates, business tax write-offs and other similar actions.

The European Central Bank and other trading partners, however, did not follow the United States’ lead. This is because they are focused on avoiding inflation rather than stimulating growth, according to Jean-Claude Trichet, the European Central Bank president.

“We will do whatever we need to do to be credible in maintaining price stability in the medium term,? he said.

New potential labor contract

HealthPartners and Service Employees International Union Healthcare will be voting Tuesday on a three-year labor contract, reported the Start Tribune.

If approved, the contract would cover 1,500 non-physician employees at many of the HealthPartners clinics in Minnesota. A two-day strike which was supposed to take place on Wednesday would also be evaded by the contract.

The conditions of the contract have not yet been disclosed.

Winter Wonderland?

Winter is back with a vengeance, according to the Star Tribune. Strong winds and sub-zero temperatures have made the simple act of going outside a dangerous venture.

Saturday saw temperatures near the negative 20 mark in Lakeville, Crystal, Eden Prairie and Minneapolis while St. Paul was reporting negative 11 degrees.

With temperatures this low, frost bite can occur in less than 10 minutes which is why the weather service recommends highway travelers pack a winter survival kit as well as extra clothing. Driving conditions also worsen when low temperatures are coupled with blowing snow.

Whiteout conditions have caused many car accidents this past week. A 15-car pileup on Interstate 90 near Minnesota 16 occurred on Saturday and the Minnesota Department of Transportation closed Interstate 94 between Moorhead and Fergus Falls from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Other roads that were closed for a time include U.S. Highway 2, State Highway 75, and Highways 4, 19, 71 and 212.

Dangerous windchills are expected to last throughout the day in south central Minnesota and west central Wisconsin, the weather service reported.

February 2, 2008

How leads lead a story

A lead essentially summarizes a story in one or two sentences. It tells you what happened, who it happened to, when it happened, and where it happened. Occasionally a lead will tell the reader why it happened, too. However, in most cases, the “WHAT? is going to determine the direction of a lead.

In order to determine the “WHAT,? you must ask yourself “Where is the action? What is most important in this story?? From here, the summary tends to fall in to place.

It is important to not give too many specifics in a lead; it should be general enough but specific enough to tell the story. The critical information should be detailed, other details can be added further into the story.

As far as names go, you should only include them if the person has name recognition. For example, you would mention Harrison Ford’s name in the lead (if the story was about him); you would not mention Jane Doe’s name.

If the lead is not a straightforward hard-news lead, the reporter used it to grab the reader’s eye. It is important to grab the reader’s attention otherwise they will not read your article.

University student sparks YouTube competition

A University of Minnesota architecture student sparked a YouTube fan competition in which the winner will get to open for Wyclef Jean on his current tour, reported the Minnesota Daily.

For about a month, senior Dan Sederstrom has been posting videos of himself performing acoustic covers on the Web site. On Jan. 16, Sederstrom received an e-mail from Kathy Baker, senior director of digital marketing for Columbia Records, inviting him to choose a tour date in which he would open for Wyclef.

“Right away when I heard the message, I was really skeptical,? Sederstrom said.

However, after verifying the email address, Sederstrom realized the offer was real.

“After that, it was kind of like a sole realization of ‘This is real,’ and I was kind of freaking out,? Sederstrom said. “I didn't know what to do. I was hopping up and down; my roommates were throwing me up in the air.?

According to Baker, Wyclef requested the implementation of the competition. She also said that this is the first time she has ever worked on such a promotion.

On Feb. 15 Sederstrom will perform with Wyclef at the University of San Francisco.

University of Minnesota proposes options for light-rail

The Minnesota Daily reported Friday that the University of Minnesota was still talking with Metropolitan Council officials about a possible light-rail line that would go through campus.

While the Central Corridor rail line would connect the Twin Cities to the university, the price of the project is causing some problems.

According to the project Web site, “the Metropolitan Council must lower the cost of the project to $840 million in order to receive federal funding.? However, if a tunnel was built underneath Washington Avenue Southeast on the East Bank, which is the university’s hope, the project would cost $130 million more.

Kathleen O'Brien, Vice President for University Services, is part of Central Corridor Management Committee. She said that there is one other, less expensive option worth considering.

“We asked that the northern alignment be studied. At that point, that was defined as going … through the Dinkytown rail corridor to the northern edge of campus,? said O’Brien. “The Regents' position, that has been the University's position, was the northern alignment was our preferred route.?

Even though the northern alignment was the preferred route, the Federal Transit Authority stated the line would go through campus on Washington Avenue in a tunnel.

Although O’Brien believes in strengthening the transit system, she does have one concern with the Central Corridor going through campus.

“[The University] is already congested. We already have a high level of accidents along the street, and adding light rail just is going to cause a failure of the transportation system,? she said.

This particular concern is a major reason why the northern alignment and a tunnel under Washington Avenue are the two preferred options for the light-rail line.

China exports inflation

A falling dollar, rising energy and raw material costs, and new labor laws are the culprits behind increased prices of Chinese exports, the New York Times reported Friday.

“China has been the world’s factory and the anchor of the global disconnect between rising material prices and lower consumer prices,? said Dong Tao, an economist for Credit Suisse. “But its heyday is over. We’re going to see higher prices.?

While the rise last year was fairly insignificant, 2.4 percent, the United States saw an inflation of 4.1 percent because of higher energy and food costs.

With rates just shy of 5 percent, it may be the end of “ultra-cheap goods, as well as the beginning of China’s rise from the lowest rungs of global manufacturing,? said the New York Times.

Some of the goods affected include toys, clothing, and footwear.