« April 2007 | Main

May 4, 2007

An Analysis of an Article

In my last entry I posted an article, "Same-Sex Benefits Bill a Point of Controversy," which I wrote for my Intermediate Reporting class at the University of Minnesota (the same class for which I keep this blog). I would like to make this entry an analysis of that article in terms of the problems, obstacles and frustrations a journalist might typically encounter in covering state government affairs.
I chose this particlar article because for me it encompassed several of the difficulties I have come to expect in public affairs reporting. Firstly, I found that the idea of the article didn't translate as well as I had hoped to the written page. That is to say, the intrigue of the issue at hand (a proposal for same-sex partners benefits, and the underlying political tug-of-war that that implies) was bogged down by the political jargon in the article. I thought having to use two paragraphs high in the story to explain what exactly an omnibus bill is and why it is significant took away from the overall appeal of the story ... After reading today's Star Tribune article about the fate of the same-sex benefits proposal (it was dropped from the omnibus bill in fear of a gubernatorial veto) I would have approached that explanation much differently. The Star Tribune's article was much simpler in that it sort of bypassed an explanation of an omnibus bill altogether, opting instead to simply call it "a major spending bill."
I also found the changes that the bill underwent over its lifespan to be a bit of a frustration in trying to to track it and cover it. When I first got the idea to write on the same-sex benefits proposal, it was a bill of its own with three identified co-authors and two clear parties of supporters and opponents. If it had remained this way, it would have been much easier to report and clearer to read. Alas, as I learned in the reporting of this story, diffusing controverisal proposals into bulk omnibus bills isn't uncommon, and is done with the specific intentions of making it more complicated in order to sneak by its passage on the coattails of less controversial legislation.
Finally, I found that getting straight-forward comment on a controversial issue from the parties involved to be a near impossibility, especially from the Governor's Office. Members of the offices of the co-authors would speak about their strong support for the proposal, but they were generally unwilling to comment on the level of importance it would or would not be given by the Democratic Party. They would make comments like, "We really hope this passes, blah blah blah," instead of, "This is what we are going to do to make sure it passes ..." The Governor's Office was even worse. For some reason their spokespeople wouldn't give me any response other than something to the extent of "Let's wait and see." I found that utterly bizarre considering the governor's well-documented stance adamently opposed to the proposal. Welcome to the world of politics, I suppose.

"Same-Sex Benefits Bill a Point of Controversy" by Erik Borg

A contentious bill that would give health insurance benefits to same-sex domestic partners of state employees was added to an omnibus bill last week.
This unique form of legislation, which groups various items into one bill, mainly features appropriations and state-employee salary changes, making the same-sex benefits article stand out as a glaring point of controversy among the numerical jargon.
The tactic employed by the Democrats in this instance is nothing new in state government, and is done in hopes of making opponents concede the passage of a controversial provision in order to pass the other components. Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is adamantly opposed to the provision, cannot veto specific parts of the omnibus bill without rejecting the entire thing.
That sets the stage for heavy negotiations between the governor’s office and the Democratic Party before it ever reaches Pawlenty’s desk.
Standing alone, the bill likely would have received enough support from the Democrat-led House and Senate, but Pawlenty has vowed from the beginning to veto the bill. Democrats do not control enough seats in either chamber to override a veto.
The omnibus bill featuring the same-sex article has passed the Senate, and now is up for consideration in the House Finance Committee. If it clears committee negotiations with the same-sex article attached, it likely will pass the House vote and arrive on Pawlenty’s desk.
That means the article’s fate likely lies in committee negotiations over the next weeks. Sandy Davis, a spokesperson for Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, original co-author of the bill, warned though that omnibus bills generally come out looking significantly different than they do going into negotiations. She said the future of the article depends on the level of priority the Democrats give it.
“The governor’s office has a lot to do with the negotiations in committee before it’s voted on, and they surely would like to see it removed.? Davis said. “It depends on how much the (the Democrats) are willing to give to keep it in there.?
Pawlenty already has established a staunch record against same-sex initiatives. Two years ago, as House majority leader, he led the Republican effort that ended same-sex partner benefits for state employees. Last year, he backed a strong push to constitutionally ban same-sex marriages and civil unions.
An exact number of same-sex partners who might claim health insurance benefits has not been determined, but in 2004 there were 85 state employees who did so, according to the office of Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul.
Jo Marsicano, communications director for OutFront Minnesota, an advocacy group for the state’s GLBT community, said the lack of benefits for same-sex couples is an injustice that clearly needs to be corrected.
She pointed to various Minnesota corporations and 13 other states that offer similar benefits to their gay and lesbian employees as proof that Minnesota should approve the measure.
“As a state, we should be leaders in the pursuit of equality, not followers, and that starts with our government,? she said.

May 3, 2007

A New Battlefront: Cyberspace

Just as the first televized presidential debate in 1960 changed the way political candidates campaign for office, and the graphic video footage of the Vietnam War changed the way American media cover military conflict, the role of cyberspace in Operation Iraqi Freedom (as the Iraq War is officially named) is marking a technological change in the way the general public is able to gain access and insights to world news events.
Military personell and rogue journalists are reporting first-hand from the trenches and posting it on their blogs for the whole (developed) world to see. Inqusitive U.S. citizens are logging on to al Jazeera's English-language Web site for a Middle Eastern, and often-times less-filtered, perspective on the Iraq War and the War on Terror. In January, millions of people visited YouTube and other video-dissemination sources to view the uncensored footage of Saddam Hussein's hanging.
Today, the Star Tribune announced the U.S. Military has launched its own YouTube channell, featuring footage of firefights, raids and other day-to-day military tasks from a "boots-on-the-ground perspective." I found the videos shocking, enlightening, humanizing, discomforting, and at times disturbing. There is footage of soldiers bantering between one another like the 18- to 22-year-olds that they are as they shoot off weapons that look like they belong in a video game. Then there is footage of the same soldiers scrambling for cover as they take fire from Islamic insurgents. This is not video you would see on the nightly evening news ... it is being captured by the soldiers themselves carrying hand-held videocameras as they go through their daily procedures. If it is edited or censored heavily, I can't imagine the kind of content that has been extracted.
Regardless of the political leanings one has over this war, it must be said that the Military has succeed in offering the public a first-hand account of what it is really like on the ground in Iraq. That transparency is commendable. I don't presume these videos have the ability to change one's beliefs over the war, but they certainly can make us all more invested. That is the power, and advantage, of cyberspace in this new age of war.