April 26, 2009

Analysis: Computer-Assisted Reporting in story about Tracking Pharmaceuticals

There was no indication as to what spurred the story idea for research in a story by The Associated Press about pharmaceutical concentration in water throughout the United States.

It was clear, however, that the writers (and those working with them) poured over data from government documents and data from companies and institutions. The reporters were not handed the comparisons that they presented within the story. In fact, the story often referred to an AP investigation.

Naturally, the reporters would have had to pick out the key statistics or facts among thousands of less meaningful, non-newsworthy data. The story likely also required manipulation of many of the data to even allow for comparisons.

The reporters were careful to draw on other sources, but not before a thorough analysis of most, in not all, of the data.

It was typical in the latter part of the story for the writers to present data of a particular case or institution, and then state the response by that institution or organization. It seems probable that the reporters would have presented their findings to these people, asking them to comment. The reporters included a comment or reaction (or non-reaction) from almost every institution or company mentioned.

Careful record-finding skills was critical to the story, and a statistical grounding was likely necessary. It seemed that the reporters had at least a basic knowledge of the chemistry and biology behind the subject.

Pakistani military pushes back against Taliban

The Pakistani military began an offensive against the Taliban militants near the Swat Valley on Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Pakistan's military said that one soldier and several militants had been killed in the fighting in the Lower Dir district, the Journal reported. Militants had ambushed police on Sunday, provoking a violent response from the Pakistani military.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that the government has not broken the peace deal established in February with the Taliban in the Swat Valley, Al Jazeera reported.

The fighting came one day after the Taliban withdrew from the Buner district that they had entered last week, the Journal reported.

On a related note, the government removed administrator Syed Mohammed Javed from his responsibilities in the Malakand region that includes Swat, Buner and Dir, because of his suspected meetings with top Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, the Journal reported. Javed had been a key architect of the negotiated peace deal several weeks ago. Officials complained that Javed had appeased the Taliban too much, allowing them to increase their influence outside of the region of agreement.

U.S. Gen. David Petraeus said that the Taliban and other militants are the greatest threat to the existence of Pakistan, Al Jazeera reported.

April 25, 2009

Elko reinstates police force

The city council of Elko New Market reinstated the city's police department with a unanimous vote on Thursday, two weeks after a 3-2 vote in favor of its termination, the Star Tribune reported.

Nearly 200 residents from the town of 3,800 came to the council meeting to protest the initial vote that would have eliminated the department on May 13, and the council changed its decision after four hours of discussion, the Pioneer Press reported.

Council members said that personnel, as well as financial, issues factored into the initial decision. Last year, the Lakeville Police Department investigated inappropriate conduct within the Elko department, the Star Tribune reported.

The council decided to conduct personnel reviews of Sgt. Steve Malecka, who has been placed on administrative leave, and Chief Richard Jensen, the Pioneer Press reported.

The city will seek an independent evaluation of the costs of sustaining a local police force or setting a contract with the county sheriff's office, the Star Tribune reported.

Scott County Sheriff Kevin Studnicka said the council had poorly presented the decision to the Elko department and residents, the Star Tribune reported. County Commissioner Tom Wolf also expressed doubts about the council's initial decision.

April 24, 2009

Memo: NSA director to head Cyber Command

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is expected to nominate the director of the National Security Agency as the head of the Pentagon's new Cyber Command, according to a draft memorandum, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Gates has chosen NSA Director and three-star Gen. Keith Alexander to lead cybersecurity operations, including addressing network threats and cyberwarfare, the Journal reported.

Acting senior director of cyberspace Melissa Hathaway, who is in charge of a 60-day review of cyberspace issues, said on Wednesday that the White House needed to take leadership in cyberspace security, the New York Times reported.

A bipartisan group of politicians, technologists, and other experts had said last year that a White House office overseeing cybersecurity issues was necessary, the Times reported.

Any announcement is expected to come after cybersecurity policy recommendations are released next week, the Journal reported.

Cyber Command will begin within U.S. Strategic Command, which currently handles Internet and networking security issues, the Journal reported.

The Cyber Command would open in October in Fort Meade, Md., the same place as NSA headquarters, the Journal reported.

Flu Outbreak Becomes a concern in Mexico City

Mexico City closed schools on Friday in an effort to prevent further spread of a swine flu virus that is suspected to have killed 60 people near the capital and infected more than 900, the Houston Chronicle reported via The Associated Press.

The first citywide school closure since the 1985 earthquake kept 6.1 millions students at home, the Chronicle reported.

The news raised concerns worldwide of a possible influenza pandemic, as the World Health Organization activated its pandemic response center, the Australian reported via Agence France-Presse.

Mexican Health Secretary Jose Cordova said that the swine virus was responsible for at least 16 of the deaths, and the government was still researching the other 44 cases, the Chronicle reported.

The Mexican government plans to administer 500,000 vaccines to health workers, but does not have enough vaccines for the general public the Chronicle reported.

Officials had not yet determined how seven recent cases of influenza in the southern United States might have been related to the strain found in Mexico, the Australian reported.

Five people in California and two people in Texas recovered from a virus that included avian, swine, and human strains, the New York Times reported. Contact among some of them suggested that the virus could be transmitted between humans.

St. Paul seeks injunction against local gang

On Friday, a Ramsey County judge will review a temporary injunction request by the City of St. Paul against members of the Sureño 13 gang at the Cinco de Mayo festival in West St. Paul, the Pioneer Press reported.

Under the proposed injunction, gang members could attend the festival May 1-3, but would be prohibited from associating with each other, showing gang signs, wearing gang clothing, or trying to recruit gang membersz within a safety zone around the festivities, the Star Tribune reported.

The City is attempting to get an injunction for the first time since a 2007 law allowed judges to declare a gang a public nuisance and approve injunctions, the Pioneer Press reported.

To substantiate a nuisance charge, the city must prove that gang members have been involved in gang activities three times within the last year, the Pioneer Press reported. Officials submitted documentation of 13 incidents.

They also suspect that a gang member was responsible for a drive-by shooting at last year's event, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

Seven adults and three juveniles are included under the injunction. Three adults told the Pioneer Press that they were not gang members.

April 19, 2009

St. Charles evacuates due to fire

After the 3,600 residents of St. Charles, Minn., were evacuated because of a fire at a local meat-processing plant on Friday, they were allowed to return beginning Saturday morning, the Pioneer Press reported via The Associated Press.

At North Star Foods on Friday morning, a fire started over an oven, according to plant manager Mark Eads, the Star Tribune reported. Over 100 people were in the building, but they were quickly evacuated.

Concern developed that the fire would reach two tanks at the plant containing 30,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, potentially causing an explosion and the release of toxic chemicals into the air, the Star Tribune reported.

By early afternoon, residents were being told to evacuate the town, the Star Tribune reported.

The state fire marshal is still investigating the cause of the fire, the Pioneer Press reported.

On Saturday, it was found that about 75 percent of the plant was "substantially damaged," the Pioneer Press reported.

North Star Foods, which has operated since 1971, is the second largest employer in St. Charles, with around 150 workers, the Pioneer Press reported.

Zimbabwe Independence Day marked by unity

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai came together for a celebration of the country's Independence Day at the stadium in the capital city Harare, the Star Online reported via Reuters.

After a coalition government was formed in February, the first unified celebration took place on Saturday, the Houston Chronicle reported via The Associated Press.

Mugabe gave a speech calling for tolerance and reconciliation, the Star reported. Mugabe and Tsvangirai have pledged to work together to address the host of issues that face nation.

Many major Western donors, including the United States, currently have targeted sanctions on the government, but Mugabe called for those to end, the Chronicle reported.

The United States has lifted a travel advisory against the country, the Chronicle reported.

Unemployment in Zimbabwe is around 90 percent, the Star reported, and about two-thirds of the population are receiving international food aid, the Chronicle reported.

Local currency had become enormously inflated, prompting the Finance Ministry to establish only hard national currencies, the Chronicle reported.

The government is currently seeking $2 billion in emergency aid, the Star reported.

April 18, 2009

Obama friendly at Summit of the Americas

President Barack Obama was amiable in his first Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad on Saturday, the Houston Chronicle reported via The Associated Press.

The Globe and Mail said the Summit has been the scene of "Obama-mania."

The President mentioned ideas for new security and other cooperation efforts in the Western Hemisphere, the Chronicle reported.

Perhaps most notably, Obama shook the hand of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez multiple times on Friday and Saturday, and also received a book from the leader who was at odds with the Bush administration, the Chronicle reported.

The book, "The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent" by Eduardo Galeano, argues that Latin America has long been exploited by the United States and Europe, the Globe and Mail reported.

Ambassador exchange seems to be on the table for the United States and Venezuela, the Chronicle reported.

Obama said he would accept Cuban President Raul Castro's proposal for talks, the Chronicle reported.

The President also shook hands with Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega, who had essentially been an adversary of President Reagan, the Chronicle reported.

Bolivian President Evo Morales said that the country has not yet experienced any change, the Globe and Mail reported.

April 17, 2009

CIA Interrogation Memos released, Obama won't charge interrogators

The Justice Department released memos on Thursday that had authorized the use of harsh interrogation methods in secret C.I.A. prisons abroad, the New York Times reported.

The four legal opinions were written under the Bush administration in 2002 and 2005 and gave approval and specific guidelines for C.I.A. interrogators to use techniques such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, nudity and others, the Star Online reported.

President Barack Obama, who discontinued the techniques almost immediately upon taking office, said that his administration will not prosecute C.I.A. interrogators who carried out the techniques on the basis of the released opinions, and will try to protect them from facing international tribunals, the Star reported.

Attorney General Eric H Holder Jr. is among the current administration's officials who have classified over a dozen of the techniques as torture, the Times reported.

The memos were released due to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Times reported.

The Justice Department ethics office is currently investigating the legal analysis of the three men at the forefront of responsibility for the opinions: Jay S. Bybee, Steven G. Bradbury, and John Yoo, the Times reported.

April 13, 2009

Panel rules in favor of Franken

Democrat Al Franken was confirmed as the winner of the 2008 U.S. Senate race, a three-judge panel unanimously decided on Monday, the Pioneer Press reported.

After Franken won a recount that concluded in January, Republican Norm Coleman challenged the result that could end his senatorial service after one term.

The panel said that Franken may receive an election certificate, the Pioneer Press reported.

The judges rejected Coleman's argument that inconsistent standards were applied when counting absentee ballots, the Star Tribune reported.

Coleman was attempting to have at least 1,300 ballots opened, Minnesota Public Radio reported. The judges said he did not prove that double-counting had occurred.

Only 351 ballots were opened and counted last week, the Pioneer Press reported.

Coleman said in an interview on Monday that he planned an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, the Star Tribune reported. He will have 10 days to do so, MPR reported.

April 11, 2009

Analysis: Story about experience of Somalis in the Twin Cities

A story by Minnesota Public Radio attempted to reveal how Somalis are thinking and feeling about the recent focus on their community in local and national headlines.

In a way, the story tried to tackle the issue of stereotypes surrounding Somalis. However, it was more about how Somalis feel about the stereotypes that seem to be emerging from stories about Somalis returning to their country to join militant groups, issues with money-wiring services, or Somali pirates.

The story includes brief perspectives from three different "everyday" Somalis. Allowing these people to share insight moves away from stereotypes.

Nothing in the story was too surprising, although the level of awareness among Somalis of their own social image is striking. They are concerned about how they are perceived in the larger community, and realize the effects on that situation brought about by the recent news surrounding Somalis.

This idea comes through from the quotes and ideas from the Somali sources. Because the story was for a radio broadcast, solid quotes needed to be built around, so the nature of the story forced the seeking-out of these relevant sources.

The most compelling story was from a young woman's personal story of harassment, which was critical to telling the story that Somalis have been treated differently (in a negative way) as a result of the recent news about Somalis.

Zebra mussels found in Prior Lake

A homeowner on Prior Lake reported finding zebra mussel shells along the beach of the lake, prompting an announcement on Friday by the Department of Natural Resources, the Star Tribune reported.

The DNR said that it will search the lake for more zebra mussels before determining that it is infested with the pest, the Pioneer Press reported.

Zebra mussels can disrupt and choke out native species, the Star Tribune reported. They currently infest nine lakes in Minnesota, as well as the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers.

They are native to Eastern Europe, and came to North America by clinging to ships. They were first discovered in Minnesota in a Duluth harbor 20 years ago, the Pioneer Press reported.

Officials are concerned that the heavy traffic on Prior Lake might make it likely for the zebra mussels to spread to other lakes in the area and the state, the Pioneer Press reported.

But the DNR does have several recommendations about transferring boats from one lake to another, the Pioneer Press reported. They are designed to decrease the risk of spreading unwanted species between lakes.

Liberian President makes visit to U of MN

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia expressed a desire to see Liberians in the United States return to their homeland as part of a visit to the University of Minnesota on Friday, the Pioneer Press reported.

Speaking to an audience that included many Liberian-Americans among the several thousand at Northrop Auditorium, Sirleaf said that she would like to see Liberians begin to return to their country, while acknowledging that might not be universally possible, the Star Tribune reported.

Sirleaf, who was elected in 2006 as the first female leader of an African country, also said she supported President Barack Obama's extension of the time for Liberians living in the United States to maintain temporary status, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

Sirleaf highlighted the progress of Liberia coming out of a civil war, including improvements in infrastructure and public services, MPR reported.

Minnesota is home to one of the largest Liberian populations in the United States, which was part of what sparked excitement leading to Friday's event, the Pioneer Press reported.

After her speech, Sirleaf met with several Twin Cities leaders in the private and public sectors to discuss potential relationships with Liberia, the Star Tribune reported.

April 8, 2009

Arab world reacts to Obama's first regional visit

The first impression of President Barack Obama for people in many Arab countries is that he appears to deeply contrast former President George W. Bush.

After Obama said to the Turkish parliament on Tuesday that the United States “is not and never will be in a war with Islam,” he drew praise from Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, the Australian reported via Agence France-Presse. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi claimed Obama has broken from the "arrogance" of past U.S. presidents.

Sheik Mohammed al-Nujaimi of Saudi Arabia, who is on the government committee that rehabilitates militants away from extremism, said that Obama behavior makes it less likely for young Muslims to join terrorist groups, Newsday.com reported.

In Beirut on Wednesday, Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah said he believed Obama's comments in Turkey earlier this week were sincere, the Star reported via Reuters. While he acknowledged optimism about Obama's difference from Bush - who he said did not have an open attitude with the Muslim world - Fadlallah said that the true test for Obama will be whether he can implement a policy in the face of institutions beyond his control.

The leading concern among Muslims in the Middle East is the U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Newsday.com reported. Abul Gheit and Fadlallah pointed to the situation as among the most pressing issues in the region. Fadlallah and Gaddafi were also clear that Obama's actions will still need to back up his words regarding engagement with the Arab world.