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October 28, 2007

They Started the Party Before Everyone Got There

While the outrage over the genocide in Darfur hasn't waned, the news coverage has. Now, as peace talks that might end the genocide begin, coverage has been stirred up. Unfortunately, the news is that the talks might fail if factions boycotting the talks decide not to attend. The current talks are expected to do no better than last year's talks in Nigeria, which resulted in only one faction becoming peaceful. The article never tells exactly why the rebel leaders won't attend the talks, but it says that the talks are being held in Sirte, the hometown of Libya's leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Perhaps they don't want to leave Darfur for Libya. The audience isn't told why, just that they're boycotting the talks. The article doesn't focus on the fact that there are talks starting, but instead talks about the rebel leaders boycotting them.

Happy Cows Come From California (or Wisconsin), but Sick Cows Come From Minnesota

According to Sunday's Star Trib, several herds of cattle in Northwestern MN have been diagnosed with bovine tuberculosis. This short article talked about how some of the cattle herds tested "suspect" for bovine TB due to purchases made from an infected farm last year. It reports that the cattle industry has been trying to maintain a "TB-free status", and must now start the two year timer over again. It says the industry has begun testing herds throughout the state. A similar article, from the Pioneer Press, is equally short, but packs a higher punch. The Press article contains background into what bovine TB is, and tells the audience that it can pass to humans, while the Star Trib article says "...the infections pose little risk to human health...." The Press article also states that bovine TB can pass to deer and goats as well as cattle, a fact that the Trib article doesn't present. If the two reporters who wrote these articles had done more reporting, then there wouldn't be confusion about which article is more correct.

October 25, 2007

Unstoppable Firestorm Rages On

The Star Tribune did a strange thing on Wednesday. It reprinted an article originating from the New York Times, written by a couple of staff writers there the day before. The focus of the article was the California wildfires that are ravaging the state. The article describes how intense the fires are, and how unpredictably they spread. In fact, just about every article about these fires I've read have used some combination of "unpredictable," "tentacles", and "shifting." Even though this article was printed before the situation was resolved, I feel that it tells the story so far remarkably well. It discussed the deaths attributed to the fire (at least 1 directly, four others indirectly due to age), the environmental causes of the firestorm and why the fire fighters were/are having such a hard time containing the fire, and about the new refugee crisis and the migration of evacuees away from dangerous burning areas. Other stories, such as this one from Tuesday Oct. 22's Pioneer Press-via the AP- give more direct quotes from refugees, but only barely approaches the scale of the New York Times article. It seems like the AP story is made up of nothing but quotes (even though they are really, really good quotes: "'It was nuclear winter. It was like Armageddon. It looked like the end of the world,' Mitch Mendler, a San Diego firefighter, said as he and his crew refilled their truck from a hydrant."). The New York Times article has the advantage of a day's worth more of reporting time, though so it was probably easier to gauge the scope of the devastation.

"Old School" Schools Creating Problems

According to an article on page B5 of the Star Tribune's Metro section, smaller schools that were once attractive and trendy are becoming increasingly decrepit. One school district in St. Anthony-New Brighton, already suffering from open enrollment laws, is educating American youth in 40-year-old buildings. According to the article, the citizens of New Brighton and St. Anthony submitted a list of improvements and repairs required by the schools. The article quotes Jane Eckert, vice chairwoman of the school board, as saying that many of the repairs won't be enacted, partly because of the weak economy, and partly because the residents of the school district no longer have children in the area schools, and would thus vote against a tax from the education sector. I like that Norman Draper, the reporter, got the chairperson to admit that detail, because it shows the opposition to the issue without having to go out and interview a large number of older residents in the area. Eckert knows the town's thoughts and feelings better than any reporter unless they lived in the area, because she has likely been in the meetings where these issues are discussed, both with the school boards and with the public.

October 21, 2007

Construction Flaws Exposed by Explosion Stall Completion of US Embassy in Iraq

Mortar fire damaged the new U.S. Embassy under construction in Iraq has uncovered other flaws and mismanagement in the deal. According to this article, from the Friday Oct. 19 Star Tribune talks about the fact that the embassy walls were designed to resist the kind of explosive force the mortar shell delivered, but failed to, and several other problems with the design and the company building it. Apparently, the building's electrical system, the fire suppression system, and other things have gone wrong with the building, and the contractors, First Kuwaiti, were the only ones who were given a bid for the job. Despite all these negatives, the article is reasonably balanced.

Police Sting With a Twist: "Doc" was a Sex-Offender

According to the Oct. 15 print edition of the Star Tribune, a man the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension were paying to inform on a arms-dealing ring was revealed to be a sex offender in Massachusetts. This article, talks about how, since he was never asked if he was a sex offender, and since it never came up in background checks, Craig Allen Hartline decided not to volunteer the info, which came into light as he was preparing for his part in a trial of 53 people his operation stung. This article is refreshing, because it doesn't portray "Doc" as a sadistic sex offender (not that sex offenders should be treated very nicely, in my opinion), but as someone who is able to perform a service that benefits society. Hartline said he was "a professional" informant, who helped arrest 3000 felons. The Prosecutor for the case said that the reason that Hartline's background wasn't exposed was because Massachusetts hadn't computerized all its records, which says something about the over-reliance on computerized records in these matters, and also about the need for police entities to modernize, so people who are overly reliant on computers, as so many are these days, can have all the information they need.

October 18, 2007

Thoughts on a Pair of Headlines

On Wednesday, I noticed a similar story being run in both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press, with wildly different headlines and inflection. The Star Tribune headline was "Infections from drug-resistant bacteria growing deadlier" and the Pioneer Press headline was "Deadly superbug on rise in U.S.". The Pioneer Press headline seems much more forceful than the Star Tribune's. Both articles say pretty much the same thing; it's the Press' headline that makes me want to read what the article says. People have been scared of a "Superbug" ever since before Stephen King wrote The Stand (a book about a super-virulent plague that kills 99% of the world's population). The Press uses this fear to charge the headline of it's version of the article and thus hopefully sell more papers. The Tribune headline uses medium-long words that lack the emotional punch of the other. The Tribune's headline gives the reader more accurate information, but also threatens to bore them, while "Deadly superbug on rise in U.S." is short, sweet, and scary.

October 16, 2007

No, the Nobel People Weren't Kidding, Professor

Ninety year old Economics Professor Leonid Hurwicz co-won the Nobel Prize in Economics Monday. According to Mike Myers, the author of this Tuesday October 16 Star Tribune article, Professor Hurwicz thought the Nobel people were joking. Myers tells the audience about Hurwicz's work and the practical applications of it the next generation of economics professionals worked out for his theories. It was these applications, Myers says, that made Hurwicz a Nobel Prize winner.
The article is half an announcement of Hurwicz's victory, and half a profile of the economist himself, with descriptions of a few of his theories. Sometimes, Myers lapses into economic jargon, but he usually backs up the jargon with examples and makes it more understandable to the average man on the couch. Reading the article, one gets the impression that Hurwicz is one of the last real geniuses, the economics version of Feynman, or Einstein, or Freud or Jung. Myers ends his feature on Hurwicz with an anecdote where the professor revised in a few seconds what took a computer several weeks to work out, saying "This is what I think you mean."

October 14, 2007

Forgotten Law Could Offer Health Insurance to MN Migrant Workers

A law written in 1971 commands that employers who employ five or more migrant workers are required to get them health insurance. The article talks about how strange it is for the law to have been passed, then ignored for 30 years. It said no rules and it was never enforced. A CEO of a migrant worker health company in Texas said she didn't know of any other states with this sort of law. She was quoted talking about how lopsided the law was, unless Minnesota had this kind of law for all other industries. Jean Hofpensperger, the author of this article, suggested that the reason the law was passed was due to the advocacy boom in the 1970s. She told how responsibility for upholding this law fell to five different state agencies in 30 years. Since Hofpersperger quoted a Labor Department spokesman as saying the law was defunct in 1997, it seems like this article does nothing but point out a historical oddity.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find the online version of this story. It can be found on pages B1 and B2 of Monday's print edition of the Star Tribune.

More Mercenary Trouble in Iraq, But This Time it's Not Blackwater

The media's discoveries about Blackwater USA have resulted in more mercenary killings being uncovered. In Wednesday's Star Tribune, this article about Unity Resources Group, an Australian security company, told about how security forces opened fire on a white sedan, which was being used as an unofficial taxi by a Iraqi Christian woman, that drifted too close to a convoy. The first half of this article, which was made by the AP, talks about the event itself, while the second half talks about the rising amount of outrage among the Iraqi people. The article gives statements by a Unity spokesman, who expresses his sympathy and regret about the events, which gives the article some balance. It's fairly clear that the author, Kim Gamel believes that Unity is in the wrong, which is probably accurate.
I notice that nowhere in these articles that attack the mercenary groups is it ever discussed the successes of these groups. I realize that it is hard to tell if the people they gun down are actually threats or not after they're dead, but they have to have done something right, right?

Frazee Has Potential as Gopher Goalie

In the Friday Oct 12 Star Tribune Sports section, a feature article about University of Minnesota Hockey Goalie Jeff Frazee was printed. It described his pre-game ritual, then talked about his upcoming game at the Xcel Energy Center, then talked about how he's expected to do this season. The article talks about how Frazee has improved academically, personally, and health-wise over the summer. The article mentions a handful of negatives, such as how he apparently used to be less mature and his connection with underage drinking his freshman year (as reported by Fox 9 News), but for the most part, iit s overwhelmingly positive.

Some Guantanamo Inmates May Go Free, Finally

An AP-originated article printed in Friday's Star Tribune talks about how some of the detainees might receive new trials, with courts looking at "new or previously overlooked evidence" that could result in the courts ruling some no longer threats. A similar article was printed in Friday's New York Times by a staff writer.
The Star Tribune piece is a direct news article. The lead tells the audience where, who, and what the story is about (Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, 330 "enemy combatants", the military considering new hearings). It was apparently not deemed front page news, being stashed on page A3. It gives a lot of background material for the Guantanamo Bay prison complex since 2002, but doesn't go into the state of the prison, like so many other Guantanamo Bay articles do. This can perhaps be seen as a strength because the article doesn't waste the audiences' time telling them things they already know, especially if that knowledge isn't really necessary in context with the news.

October 7, 2007

The Faces of the Regime

A feature article printed in the October 1 print edition of the Star Tribune talks about the men who run the government junta in Myanmar. It describes them as slightly deranged megalomaniacs who think they are the only ones who can run the Myanmar. The article interprets the thoughts and actions of the generals.

Michael Casey, the author of this article, uses many scholarly sources. The first, Mary Callahan, is described as a "Myanmar expert" from the University of Washington. He seems to have used some sort of official report on the actions of the police and protesters. He quotes an official in the Human Rights Watch in Thailand, and a retired UN ambassador to Myanmar who had personal contact with the ruler of the government. He also paraphrases "analysts" but doesn't say who these are, or which organization they analyze for. He quotes an anonymous source, which is usually frowned upon. Casey also prints rumors, which are sort of the anti-news. Of course, this is an AP-generated story, so a few biases, mistakes, and general randomness is to be expected.

Dennis Hopper: Man of His Time

According to an article in Monday Oct. 1st's Star Tribune, Dennis Hopper is returning as Ameriprise's spokesman in a new series of commercial spots. According to Kara McGuire, the author, Hopper has been mocked on the Internet, as well as in the humorous weekly magazine The Onion. The article discusses Hopper's return to the commercial business, and how his presence at Ameriprise has helped its business.

The beginning of this article sounds like much of it was taken from an Ameriprise press release/media kit. I believe that this is one of the major sources for this article, due to the specifics of the client numbers, and assets. After this rewritten portion, McGuire obviously interviewed representatives from the company, including Chief Marketing Officer Kim Sharan about the target audience and how the internet is helping and hindering the advertising goal, and Matt Thornhill, president of the marketing research firm the Boomer Project about how best to reach baby boomers in advertising. She also interviewed John Haritos, someone who creates parody of the ads, and Howard Liszt, a retired CEO and senior fellow of the SJMC at the U of M. These interviews at the end of the article give it balance, because McGuire talked to all sides, and dropped academic names to bolster the article.

Local Shakopee Tribe Now a Major Philanthropist

Thanks to the Mystic Lake Casino, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is in the position to donate $21 million this year, making it the 17th biggest charitable philanthropists in Minnesota. This story began on the front page of the Oct. 3 Star Tribune and continued deeper within.

A huge amount of research went into this lengthy article. The author, Herón Márquez Estrada, had to figure out where Shakopee money went after it was donated to create the four-paragraph lead. He went to the Minnesota Council on Foundation for a chart and a table comparing the level of Shakopee giving with other institutions, and charting how much the tribe gave by year.

Estrada interviewed several people to get information for this article. Bill King, executive director of the Council on Foundations and John McCarthy, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association talked about how the tribe's donations stack up against other tribes and other businesses, and about how the tribe had built itself up from substandard living conditions to raking in the dough. Kathy Davis Graves, an author, contributed an informal quote about how surprised people are by the donations. Estrada also interviewed State Senator Dick Day, who was semi-critical of the tribes and said they could give more. He also interviewed a former president of a tribe the Shakopee donated to; Cecilia Fire Thunder talked about how her tribe would have had to declare bankruptcy if the Shakopee hadn't helped.

Stoplight Cameras Deemed Illegal, Fines to be Refunded

Last Spring, the Minnesota Supreme Court decided the stop light cameras were illegal because they ticketed the owners of the cars, not the drivers that sped through the red lights. An October 2 Star Tribune article said that those who were slammed with tickets because of this system would be refunded.

Joy Powell wrote this article, and used several sources in doing so. She obviously either attended or looked at court records; she attributes the findings of the court to Judge Mark Wernick. She also interviewed a defense attorney named Marshall Tanick, who told her that the process of refunding the money won't be as easy as just cutting a check for everyone, due to the fact that the city already gave most of the money to the county. Powell must have gone through police records, because she tells the reader that 15,000-20,000 people have already payed their tickets. She also interviewed a city spokesman named Matt Laible. Laible told her that the city gets only 30% of each ticket, and most goes into fees. She also found out when the next hearing will be, indicating she went into more court records.