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December 10, 2007

Grade School Geniuses?

An Inver Grove Heights grade school is giving kids as young as kindergarten instruction in the Advanced Placement (AP) style used by high school kids to get into better colleges and take care of basic required classes. According to a Wednesday Dec. 5 Star Trib article, only a few other schools in the country have put this Pre-AP program into action. The residents and teachers of Inver Grove Heights quoted in this article give positive reviews for the program. Some teachers already work on some of the concepts the program details, but not necessarily to the extent. The article doesn't say anything about any problems of limitations inherent in the program, if any are present. It appears from the article that each teacher is responsible for making up their own programs for each class, but on the Inver Grove Heights Community Schools website, it seems like they go through a training course.

December 9, 2007

The Golden Vaulted Ceilings of Edina

The homebuilding trend for the past few years has been to buy a decrepit house on salvageable land, knock it down, and then build an incredible hulking behemoth in its place. This has the result of making the rest of the neighborhood look worse in comparison. These old, single family homes were affordable and remain that way. But the gigantic castles that people are building today ruin the atmosphere of the neighborhood, say some residents. Supporters of the giant houses say they help elderly and retired residents who stand to make tidy profits from the sale of their homes. This article balances the opposing sides well. It alternates sympathy in each chunk.
I picked this article because, to me, it is a local concern in my hometown in Illinois too. The house that went up next to mine is the biggest house in a neighborhood of huge houses. It is dark and imposing, and it supposedly cost over a million dollars. The price tag on the superlarge houses is what the people complaining about them really care about. The bigger the house, the higher the price tag, which means new families probably won't be able to afford living in that neighborhood, which keeps new blood out of the area, which makes it less desirable to live there.

December 2, 2007

A Green Holiday

The "Holiday" (Christmas) Tree in St Paul's Rice Park hosts 360 LED lights this year instead of a full compliment of regular incandescent bulbs. This article, from the Friday print edition of the Star Tribune, is a bit of a puff piece, but I feel it's notable for a few details. First, the article conforms to the current trend of referring to the Christmas season as the Holiday season. This trend has been building for a few years now, but it has finally overtaken the traditional name. A lot of people hate this trend, but a much louder portion of the public sees the continuation of the Christmas name as an invasion of religion. The other trend this article reports on is the Green trend. Even though the 360 LEDs won't really affect the emissions of the "Holiday" tree, the article was still printed. I suppose the basis of the article was to tell people that the tree will be entirely LED next year, but then that information should have been farther up in the article.

November 28, 2007

Archery Takes a Hit

According to a Tuesday Nov. 27 Star Tribune article the hobby of archery might become outlawed in suburban areas, in addition to the ban in urban areas. The article focuses on the recent Roseville ban on backyard archery. According to a sidebar within the article, there are 70,000 bow hunters in Minnesota, and doubtless there are more than that who shoot arrows as a hobby. The majority of the people quoted in the article didn't support the ban, citing childhood backyard archery tradition as a reason. The middle of the article gives humorous descriptions of laws about bows, including the fact that it's illegal to carry a concealed bow (difficult to do anyway), and gives generalizations that say todays criminals are not using bows to commit robbery or assault. People do support the ban, though, because unskilled archers could kill and maim people accidentally. I could see this tying into controversy surrounding the Supreme Court's look into the 2nd Amendment regarding the right to bear arms. Its never overtly stated, but I think there could be a connection.

November 18, 2007

Some St. Paul Residents Worried About Campus Renovations

The St. Paul campus of the U of M is known as the "getaway" spot used for relaxation when classes become too stressful. Residents who live near the campus think so to, which is why they're worried that the U's plans to update the campus will upset the balance of the town of Falcon Heights. Thursday Nov 15ths Star Trib article talks about these worries and says that the U will "hold a 'listening session'... to gather input." The officials quoted from the university talk about what the campus needs, but beyond the first few paragraphs, Jean Hopfensperger doesn't give any more column space to the thoughts of the community. She also says that the university people re-evaluate the use of space on both campuses every ten years, which I think might have been a good thing to put farther up, because the way the article reads now makes it sound like they are randomly renovating another part of campus in addition to Kolthoff Hall and the new Stadium area.

Attack of the Hybrids

A parade of hybrid buses drove down the Nicollet Mall. According to this article from Friday's Star Tribune the city of Minneapolis Metro Transit has spent $557,000 on each hybrid bus. The people quoted in this article are all in support of the cost of purchasing 19 additional buses, possibly due to the social and commercial boost the paper could get for advocating the hybrid buses. This article seems like a puff piece, and therefore is pretty bad journalism.

November 11, 2007

Deadly Duck Parasite

Bluebill ducks are dying in northern Minnesota. The ducks that eat a certain kind of snail that carries the parasite will be passed onto the duck, which will result in the duck's death. The article, from Wednesday's Star Tribune, describes the impact on this season's duck hunting. The experts quoted in the article talk about how they can't predict the extent of the infection of the nematode that's killing the ducks. It talks about how the incredibly low levels of the scaup (bluebill) population is, and how the large quantities of surviving scaup rest in northern Minnesota and are at risk of infection and death.

Return of the Native (Filmmakers)

The Coen brothers recieved a lot of press in the Friday Star Tribune. Their new movie "No Country for Old Men" was released in theaters, and it was reviewed in the Source Section. In the front page section, though, Colin Covert interviewed them about their next project, which will be set in Minnesota. Native sons: Back for a dose of home is the article's title. The Coen brother's first movie, "Fargo", set the national opinion on Minnesota and the accent of its residents. Now, they are gearing up to shoot a new film called "A Serious Man", which will be based on the brothers' experiences in their childhood.
I'm not sure that this article needed to exist. It could have been combined with the article about the movie review; they could have made it more of a feature, saved column space for other stuff. I also don't think it should have been on the front page of the paper. Maybe the two articles about the Coen brothers could have shared space on the front page of the Source section instead.

November 5, 2007

Minnetonka Traditional Yard Sale Busted Like Underage Party

Minnetonka police officials shut down a yard sale occurring at an vacant house due to zoning violations, which set off annoyance among residents who didn't think it mattered. In the Saturday November 3 Star Tribune, the article "When is a yard sale not a yard sale?" talks about how the proprietor, Laura Soelberg, was issued a citation at her last sale, and the city's plans to press charges against Soelberg after her Oct. 24 sale was broken up. Soelberg claims that she doesn't hold her sales for profit, and that the stuff she sells is second hand things from her family's various houses. The theme I brought away from reading this article was that people don't necessarily want the state, city, or presumably federal government micromanaging their lives. The article said multiple times how shocked people were that the sales had suddenly become an issue.

November 1, 2007

Buy Up the Movie Rights Quick!

In a scene resembling a young adult adventure novel, two St. Paul women, Erin and Holly Stojan survived a night lost on the St. Croix River. What originally had been intended as a four-hour trip lengthened to 21 hours last Sunday and Monday. The two women had to deal with a twice-capsized canoe, but fortunately had a plastic bag of dry clothes to change into. They could have been rescued earlier, but the rescue boat developed a hole, which forced the boat back to shore. The two women survived by covering themselves with leaves and they "kind of hunkered down." The article's lead starts strangely, with "Surely providence played a role...." Providence is the weird word, as it is usually a reference to the works of god. In an article that isn't about the Middle East, or any sort of church, the reference to god is puzzling. Perhaps the writers, Paul Walsh and Pat Pheifer of the Star Tribune, were just searching for poetic language to spice up the lead, but I think they could have found better words for it.

October 28, 2007

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

"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

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 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.

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.

October 7, 2007

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.

September 30, 2007

Voice of Jazz Signs Off Forever

An article on the front page of the Source section of the Saturday September 29 Star Tribune had the feeling of an obituary. It talks about the retirement of longtime Jazz DJ Leigh Kamman. The first half of the article is a direct report of his final recording session, and the second half was an interview with Kamman about his career, his plans after retirement, on his style, and on how he wants people to remember him. The article about Kamman in the Pioneer Press talks much more in-depth about Kamman and his career, while having the same half article/half interview style as the Star Tribune article. Since these articles are about a retiree, there isn't really a balance or bias issue. The leads of both articles are anecdotal. The headlines of the stories pretty much serve as the leads for the articles.

Murderer of Child Stays in Jail

Eugene Fort tried to reopen a case against him that had convicted him of murdering an 11-year-old child in 1990. According to a September 29 Star Tribune article, a fellow inmate of Fort's, one Paul Rice, confessed to the murder on two occasions. But, after examining the confession and the evidence, the court decided to reject the appeal for a new trial. Turns out, Rice confessed to shooting the boy, while the evidence showed that the boy had been stabbed 44 times. This Pioneer Press article tells the same story, but presented the facts of the incorrect confession much earlier than the Star Tribune article did. The Star Tribune took a more narrative approach to the story than the other did, presenting the background information before telling about the incorrect confession. The Press article's lead is one sentence about the false testimony, while the Star Tribune's lead shows the responses of the murdered boy's mother when she heard her son's killer wasn't going to receive a new trial. The good thing about both of these stories is that they were both written by local reporters, and not generated by the AP. This saves the articles from having a tinge of bias toward one side or the other.

September 23, 2007

American Tradition on the Endangered Species List

The article on the front page of the Saturday Star Tribune evokes the sense of nostalgia in those old enough to remember the heyday of the drive-in movie theater. This article tries to appeal to the emotions of the audience in order to make them agree with the author's point that the drive-in theater should not be torn down. A conflicting article from Sunday's Pioneer Press takes the opposite stance. The theme of that piece is that a shopping complex would be good for Cottage Grove. It is a drier piece, focusing on economics rather than emotions. Much more emphasis is placed on the owner of the drive-in in the Star Tribune piece. In the Press article, he is quoted once, in one of the last paragraphs. Cottage Grove Mayor Sandy Shiely is quoted as supporting both sides in both articles, suggesting that the authors of each took what quotes supported their own opinions.

Media Sends Mixed Messages About End of Strike

This article from the Saturday edition of the Star Tribune makes the situation between the AFSCME union and the University administration sound almost as resentful as that of the nations of Europe after World War I. The front-page headline misleads the story, as well. "Time helps to bring U and union together" conflicts with the theme of the article, which says it was really desperation over the lack of wages that caused the union to grudgingly accept the university's offer. The inner page (A15) headline is more clear, but still written strangely. "Every day without pay helped bring U and union together" seems to have a conflict of emotional weight. "Every day without pay" sounds negative, but "helped bring U and union together" is positive. This university student written article from the Minnesota Daily glosses over the money factor as well. The union is painted as surly but acquiescent in both articles. Both the Star Tribune article and the Minnesota Daily article have the same quote from university president Bob Bruininks, which sounds almost as confusing as the headlines. The Star Tribune article's author clearly supported the union in the struggles, because the Bruininks quote is the only attention the university is given. The rest of the article gives support to the union side in the form of anecdotes and quotes from union members.

September 16, 2007

Peaceful Protest Harks Back to Protesting Heyday

Fifteen hundred protesters marched on the site of the 2008 Republican Convention Saturday, says David Phelps' article in the Twin Cities + Region section of Sunday's Star Tribune. Phelps' article balances the anti-war and the pro-victory sides of the protest, but gives the protesters more space, likely due to the reportedly greater size of the protesting group. Phelps quotes a veteran, whose story gives the emotional strength to his side's arguments, but the article itself supports neither side. The tone of the piece is apolitical, especially since the subject matter is so touchy and political. Phelps manages to tell his story without scrambling the message with politics.

Breaking News! College Dorms Noisy!

An article in Saturday's Star Tribune talks about a very near and dear subject: dormitory noise levels. The tone of the piece is light-hearted and runs alongside the Emmy predictions in the print edition. It talks about how some students have trouble confronting roommates, suite-mates, and neighbors with complaints about noise, ruckus and "--not to mention loud intimate encounters in adjoining rooms..." (Rosenblum). The article is a good piece for the front page of the Source section, which covers arts, entertainment, and other human interest articles. The article is balanced; it doesn't list towards the side of the noisy students or the side of the victimized students. One problem I found with the article is that, while it does offer one community advisor's opinions on how to fix these kind of interpersonal problems, Rosenblum doesn't offer any alternative fixes.

September 10, 2007

The Neverending Football Game

Marcus R. Fuller's Pioneer Press article about the University of Minnesota Golden Gopher's near victory over Miami of Ohio on Saturday, September 8 does a good job of passing the feeling of exhaustion felt by the players and Coach Tim Brewster on to the reader. The language of the piece helps; the lead and the second paragraph convey Coach Brewster's physical and mental tiredness. This almost certainly must be a fabrication; one isn't able to know exactly what went through the coach's mind after the end of the game. That being said, the intro is a good emotional lead. It grabbed me when I was reading through the paper. The article is written in pretty much the standard sports writing style. The emotional opening is the only interesting writing.

September 9, 2007

Bacon's Best Friend

Stillwater Police Chief John Gannaway thinks that police dogs are too expensive for every town to maintain, while Officer Jeff Gottstein thinks that police dogs fill multiple useful roles in public relations, tracking, and others. An article written by Bob Shaw for the Pioneer Press seems to balance these two viewpoints fairly well intellectually, but is given an emotional slant. More emotional weight is given to the pro-police dog viewpoint. Chief Gannaway is portrayed as a miserly villain, while Officer Gottstein regales us with an anecdote about how sad it was to retire his old canine partner at the end of the article, leaving an emotional slant on the reader as they go on. It seems like Shaw is trying to get the audience to side with the police dog proponents.