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May 10, 2008

TXT-U Feature Story

Here is my final story for News Reporting and Writing--

MINNEAPOLIS--

University of Minnesota senior Xiong Yang was in Blegen Hall when the adjacent building experienced a bomb threat last December. Yang, 21, and a subscriber to the university’s TXT-U system, was concerned about his safety, which is why he wanted text message alerts.

“I was in the building and asked to leave before the text ever arrived,? Yang said.

TXT-U, launched last fall, is a part of the university’s emergency preparedness system to handle campus wide emergency situations. The system sends subscribers text message alerts with information and instructions about emergencies. After six months of operation, and two alerts, student support of the system is not as widespread as hoped.

Students like Yang signed up for the service wanting to receive warnings during emergencies, however, technical problems have increased doubt among students.

“If it worked, I would have confidence in my safety on campus,? sophomore Katie Hanacik said.

Hanacik subscribed to the service even though she heard of students receiving messages several hours after an emergency.

“That’s not how the system works,? she said. “It is great theory, but there are too many complications.?

Some subscribers are not receiving messages at all. According to a Minnesota Daily article, certain cell phone carriers cannot support the messaging, and the problem can only be detected with new subscribers.

“There are certainly some bugs that need to be worked out initially,? Chuck Miner, a lieutenant for the University of Minnesota Police Department, said. “But it could be a problem with the individual carriers and out of the university’s hands.?

Some students have chosen not to sign up.

“I might be naive,? Scott Ray, a design junior, said. “But I guess I would rather be naive than paranoid.?

And some said they simply forgot.

Joel Johnson, a senior, will graduate next week. He said he never got around to signing up, and does not see the point now.

Johnson said he never felt unsafe at the university. “You’re going to have risks, especially after what happened at Virginia Tech,? he said. “But I think they have handled it well here.?

The tragedy at Virginia Tech last year sparked both the TXT-U system and more threats to campus safety.

According to University Police Chief Greg Hestness, college campuses nationwide received an increased number of bomb threats following the shootings.

“They were interesting,? Hestness said. “ Kind of infectious the days after what happened at Virginia Tech.?

The bomb threat at the university, on April 19, 2007, cleared eight buildings on the university’s East Bank three days after the Virginia Tech incident.

Hestness said that the university has had four more bomb threats since then.

“One phone call could disrupt the entire campus,? Hestness said.

“Bomb threats are a big expense to the university,? Terry Cook, director of the department for emergency management, said. Cook started working on TXT-U shortly after the shootings at Virginia Tech.

“A lot of universities looked [at text alert systems] prior to Virginia Tech,? Cook said. “But it was more important after.?

Cook’s program has since gained just under 14,500 subscribers. About 20 percent of the university community of 65,000. It has been in operation since November.

“Virginia Tech has a higher participation rate than we have,? Cook said. “About 40 percent.?

Cook’s department even developed a campus-wide advertising campaign to increase subscriptions.

Students like Elizabeth Jennings, still have never heard of TXT-U.

“Our goal was to hit 50 percent in the first six months,? Cook said. “But I don’t think we will ever get to everyone.?

People misconceive that TXT-U is only used for bomb threats, but Cook said the system has other applications.

“It’s about warning people in harm’s way to know what to do,? Cook said. “For immediate threats to life.

Emergencies from tornadoes to train derailments could provoke a TXT-U message to the university.

Cook said the system sends alerts in only very serious situations, and people will not be bombarded with messages.

“If a student gets a TXT-U message, they know it’s a big deal,? he said.

Still, many students do not use the service. Cook said he thinks it is because people feel safe on campus.

But Xiong Yang said he does not always feel safe. Even though the infant system is not quite perfect yet, Yang still wants to be informed.

“I have heard of people getting robbed during the day,? Yang said. “I signed up for TXT-U because I wanted to know about dangers happening on campus as soon as they happened.?

Click HERE to see more about the recent bomb threats.

May 4, 2008

35W Bridge Ahead of Schedule

Construction on the new 35W bridge is so far ahead of schedule officials say it could open in mid-September.
According to reports in the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune, the early finish would include a $200,000-a-day incentive which totals to about $20 million.
"During a weekly public tour of the construction site Saturday, managers for Flatiron Constructors said the bridge is 65 percent complete and that the hanging of concrete segments over the river could begin as soon as May 14 or 15 -- three months earlier than originally scheduled," said the Star Tribune article.
The article also said that the lack of snow this winter is a reason for the fast work.
The Pioneer Press said that a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation expect snags in the schedule.
"There are a lot of complex things that go into building the bridge." spokesman Kevin Gutknecht, said. "Our priorities on this bridge are to build it safely and to build a quality product."
The bridge was scheduled to be finished on Christmas Eve.

Two Shot in St. Paul

Two people were shot Saturday within a block of each other after a Cinco de Mayo celebration in West St. Paul.
According to a Star Tribune article, the 19-year-old man and 14-year-old boy were shot in separate incidents but very close to each other.
"The boy was shot at Mt. Hope Avenue and Baker Street, and the man was hit in the 200 block of Prescott Av. Police said they could not confirm whether the shootings were related," the article said.
According to the article, police took into custody two other teenagers driving a car believed to be in the area during the shootings.
"West St. Paul police stopped a suspicious car on Robert Street about 20 minutes after the shootings and reportedly recovered a gun believed used in the shootings," the article said.
A Pioneer Press article included more reporting of the incident, and said the second victim was 17-years old, not 19.

CAR story

I found this story from USA Today through nicar.org.
It is about how different ticket prices for the National Conventions this summer will get people different perks.
The computer assisted reporting comes into play when the reporter breaks down what different priced tickets offerer. There is a spreadsheet at the bottom of the story breaking down different priced tickets and what the donor gets.
In St. Paul, the platinum package costs $100,000 and includes three hotel rooms and priority credentials to evening sessions.
The reporter had to be familiar with a spreadsheet program for this article. I am certain that he used programs to find and aggregate the information too. He was dealing with two different cities, and many sources for tickets.

Yahoo and Microsoft Deal is Over

After months of negotiations, technology mogul Microsoft is giving up and trying to by out rival, Yahoo.
According to reports on BBC.com and the Washington Post, the deal is over because the two companies could not settle on a price.
According to the articles, Microsoft has landed on a final offer of $47.5 billion or $33 per share. Yahoo said wanted $53 billion or $37 per share.
The articles added that talks of a deal that started in January were an attempt to close in on Google, the leader in online advertising.
"Clearly a deal is not to be," Microsoft chief executive Steven Ballmer wrote to Yahoo chief executive Jerry Yang yesterday.
The BBC article said that Ballmer's letter to Yang was posted on the Microsoft Web site.

Min Dies After Suicide Attempt, Police Quarral

A 21-year-old man died Sunday after apparently trying to commit suicide with a controlled substance and a fight with the police officers trying to save him.
A Star Tribune article said police responded to the attempted suicide call at about 2:43 this morning. The partially clothed man began to fight with the officers.
"The officers sprayed a chemical irritant after a short struggle," a news release in the article said. "It had no effect on the man, who proceeded to bite both officers."
Officers used a taser gun to detain the man, but he was unresponsive after being shot.
"He fought but was restrained, at which time he became unresponsive," the release said in the article.
According the the article, the injured officers were treated and released.
"The incident is under investigation," the article said.
The Pioneer press did not run this story.

Cyclone Hits Myanmar

A power tropical cyclone hit Myanmar over the weekend, killing more than 350 people.
According to a New York Times article, the storm, Nargis, struck early saturday with powerful winds up to 120 mph.
"Five regions of the impoverished Southeast Asian country have been declared disaster zones," the article said.
Myanmar, formerly Burma, is a military ruled nation. The largest city, Yangon, was hit hardest.
Almost half of the people killed lived on an island off the coast of the city.
"By Sunday, many parts of the city were without electricity," another article on CNN.com said. "Phone connections were also down in most areas, making it difficult to assess the extent of the damage."
As pictures and reports come in, people are discovering more and more damage to the country.
Entire villages were destroyed.