May 4, 2007

A story of my own: State Government

I reported a story about a new bill going through both the Minnesota House of Representatives and the Senate. The bill deals with doubling the fines of moving violations if a driver was using their cell phone at the time of the incident. I had some issues with this story originally; mainly I was playing telephone tag with Rep. Frank Hornstein. He was very congenial, and wanted to answer my questions, although we had trouble finding a time when he could answer them. Originally I was unsure of how to put the story together, and make it interesting for someone to read, and informative. I had so much trouble actually getting the story to flow correctly; I actually turned it in late because I was so unhappy with how I had written it.
Finally Rep. Frank Hornstein got back to me, and he was able to answer my questions, although much of what he said was a little too general for a good quote. He did give me something useable though, and the feel of it was a little bit more casual off the cuff rather than bureaucratic.
I also talked to a commuter student from Delano who I ran into in the parking lot, and started asking her questions while we were waiting for the bus- I too am a commuter student and know how some people on their cell phones can be. Her quote I think made the piece a little more human, and helped to illustrate what the bill is attempting to do: namely lower cell phone use while driving.
Reporting this sort of story was very new to me, and the biggest challenge was making sure that all the information that I had did not bog down the story. Integrating the information from the AAA study as well as the academic journal article that I read for the story was difficult, though clarifying it and making it concise to get the main points across made them work. Talking to people, lots of people, to understand the issue was really the key. Following up on documents and other mediums also helped to contribute a good deal to my story. The prominent figures in the radio show Car Talk really helped to demonstrate those who are in favor of cell phone regulation, and added a little bit of humor to what could have been a very dry piece.
I think that if I had a little more time I would have liked to contacted the people who actually ran the AAA study and to really get an idea of what the drawbacks for that study were. I also think it would have been benefical to actually go to a meeting where the representatives were talking about the bill, as the bill is still moving through the House and I might have been able to get a better grasp on whether the bill will actually pass or not.
Overall I really enjoyed reporting on this story… even though at times I was so stressed out about writing it that I wanted to pull my hair out.
So without further ado, my state government story:

Cell Phones and Driving: Could be History
By: Cierra Sather

Drivers using cell phones could face higher fines for moving violations in the future as a result of a hang up and drive bill proposed by Minnesota legislators.
The bill authored primarily by Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, to be considered later this year in front of the House of Representatives, proposes that the fine for moving violations be doubled if the driver was using a cell phone at the time of the offense. A companion bill is being considered in the Senate.
Minnesota follows in a national trend toward regulating cell phone use in vehicles. The primary reason representatives cite for this type of legislation is safety from drivers distracted by cell phones.
Laws prohibiting and regulating the use of cell phones are experiencing a boom in popularity and activity that began in 2001 when the first cell phone bills were introduced and are increasing each year, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.
Minnesota passed legislation in 2005 prohibiting drivers under age 18 from using cell phones while driving. A year earlier, New York State passed a law forbidding hand-held cell phone use while driving, except in emergencies.
The proposed Minnesota bill, which was sent to the House’s Finance division on March 22, 2007, could be the first cell phone bill in Minnesota to begin to penalize cell phone use by any driver already flouting traffic laws.
The proposed Minnesota bill will not have police pulling people over for simply talking on their phone, although, if a person was speeding while on their phone the fine for the moving violation would double.
Proponents of such measures say the laws protect motorists against a serious threat. Some critics – including the popular Tom and Ray Magliozzi of National Public Radio’s Car Talk program – liken drivers who use cell phones to drunk drivers. The two are fervently against cell phone use while driving, and have bumper stickers available to the public to back up their position: “Drive now… Talk later!?
“A guy on his cell phone in a big black truck nearly ran me off the road,? said Delano resident Melissa Sandberg, 22. “If I wasn’t paying attention he might have killed me.?
Yet despite irritation with cell-phone-using drivers, studies suggest phones are not the leading culprits of driver distraction.
Drivers are likely to be distracted by objects, people or events outside the car, such as billboards, or roadside businesses. Those factors caused distraction 29 percent of the time, according to a study by Jane Stutts and the University of North Carolina for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
By contrast, cell phones accounted for only 1.5 percent of all measured distractions. Other distracting activities included eating or drinking, adjusting temperature or music controls, talking to other people, and reaching around the car for items.
The AAA Foundation’s study, which sampled only 70 volunteers, also reported that attentive drivers accounted for 48 percent of all crashes in the study, while distractions were involved in just 8 percent of the crashes.
This finding has some academics looking at what they call “a disconnect? between law and policy analysis.
“A total ban does not seem to be justified on economic grounds and the effectiveness of hands-free devices in reducing motor vehicle accidents is unclear,? according to Robert Hahn in the Administrative Law Review.
Rep. Hornstein is confident in the proposed bill, “We’re talking about a pretty big hit.?
The bill could bring a speeding ticket from $125 to $250, and might make the Magliozzi brother’s bumper sticker closer to reality.

April 27, 2007

Fight! Fight! Fight!... But Not in the Middle of the Road

Drivers on I-694 were delayed 20 minutes on Wednesday when two women stopped their car in the center lane of west bound traffic and began fighting. State troopers arrived on the scene and broke the fight up, both woman were arrested for disorderly conduct.
The Star Tribune covered the story, although it was not covered by the Pioneer Press nor MPR. The Star Tribune story gives a detailed account of the incident as well as quotes one of the arresting officers on the bizarre nature of the event.
WCCO-TV did cover the story, and presented the information along with traffic camera footage of the event itself, showing the state troopers breaking up the scene and the traffic that was forced to go around.
The story itself might not have been covered by the Pioneer Press or MPR because it was a small blip compared to other issues, although it is an example of an interesting event that one could write a decent story about from a police report due to its bizarre nature.

Stem Cell Research: The Controversy

The Minnesota Senate voted 36-26 in favor of a bill that could open up the use of taxpayer money to fund embryonic stem cell research in the future. The University of Minnesota is one of the key institutions that could benefit from such a bill, and while the bill does not specifically name them, they are used as a key part of the issue in the coverage of the story. The vote was the first of two needed in the Senate, and the House will vote in the next couple of weeks.
Minnesota Public Radio covered this story very well, with a lengthy in-depth article that portrayed both supporters and critics in an equal and fair light. In addition to the written article, both an audio story and a video of Sen. Ray Vandeveer , who has Parkinson’s Disease, speaking out against the research that could help him and others who suffer from the disease.
MPR gave coverage of all sides of the issue, as well as noted what has happened in other states, and the type of research the university currently does. A seperate link also lead to how each individual senator voted.
On the Newspaper end of the spectrum, a less fair and less reported story is painted. The Star Tribune has a short article which does a good job of reporting the main fact that the senate voted for the bill, although the wording the lead and the final sentences leave the reader feeling a bit of a contradiction. The lead states that the bill allows the University to gain money, implying they are stated specifically in the bill, although the last line informs the reader that they University is not specifically named. This might cause confusion as most times readers do not read stories to their ending, even short stories.
The Pioneer Press also covers the vote, though in a manner which does not seem fair, balanced or neutral. The words used are very strong and sweeping, and they Jeremy Olson does not mention that the university is not specifically mentioned, nor that the bill is only a step to makes it easier for funds to be granted in the future.
Olson uses two sentences to sum up the beliefs of the two sides:
“DFL lawmakers in supporting the bill said the state investment is needed to put Minnesota back on top when it comes to medical research. Opponents countered that any research that requires the destruction of human embryos is unethical and perhaps already illegal in Minnesota.?
The choice of main reason for the supporters of the bill is interesting, since the main reason cited by both the Star Tribune, and MPR was the potential good that could come out of the research, and only the MPR article actually even mentions any notion of the research helping the University to stay at the top of the research.

April 26, 2007

Who Cares about Dog Laws?

The City of St. Paul has OK'd a new ordinence stating that anyone cited for animal abuse or neglect more than twice in five years will not be permitted to register another animal.
This ruling was covered by the St. Paul Pioneer Press in a one sentence article online, stating the barebones information, but no information on when or why the oridence had been introduced, what the repercussions of the ordinence could be, or what the history of animal abuse in St. Paul was in order to need such an ordinence.
The Star Tribune article in contrast hashed out the story with interesting details on why the law was instituted, as well as detailed accounts of the incidents which lead the law to be impossed. According to the Strib, "The ordinance is aimed at people who train dogs to fight, puppy mill operators and negligent pet owners."
The deeper coverage of this story seems to make sense in light of the coverage violent dog attacks have had in last few weeks in both print and television.
After reading the fully developed story by the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press article which reads for its entirety: Headline: "Tougher Dog Law"
"Under the new St. Paul ordinance, anyone cited for animal neglect or abuse two or more times in five years is barred from registering another pet. Owners may appeal a license denial."
It is somewhat appaling to see coverage like this, because it looks primarily like a last ditch effort to cover an issue which could impact locals significantly.
Neither article however talked about what the law had been prior to this ruling about animal abuse.
The Animal Legal and Historical Center website provides a chart with links to specific minnesota statutes dealing dog law, and according to the Minnesota Statute 347.21 the state laws on dog control are supplemental to the local provisons that are enacted by ordinences.

April 22, 2007

Metro Transit Buses Become Sites for Violence

A 16-year-old boy was shot in the chest on a metro transit city bus early Sunday morning. The shooting was the third such violent attack ending in death or serious injury on a city bus since March. The shooting was apparently spurred on by a dispute among two groups of young people. Despite this, according to the Star Tribune, there are no apparent gang ties.
The shooting occured in St. Paul, and the Pioneer Press expectantly interviewed the immediate family of the victim, although kept the syntax short and used fairly average quotations. While the shooting took place in St. Paul, the reporting was bare bones.
Despite the shortcomings of the Pioneer Press article the Star Tribune lacked interviews with any of the immediate family, and instead quoted the legal guardian of the boy from her interview with KMSP-TV Channel 9. Though, despite this the Star Tribune did manage to interview a vast array of sources for their coverage of the story. The Star Tribune reported in detail the other events of violence on the metro transit buses, as well as the reaction of the public on the recent acts of violence.

April 17, 2007

Reporting on Tragedy in the Digital Age

On April 20th, 1999 America was glued to their television screens as the horrific events of a school shooting unfolded in front of their very eyes. The third deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, Columbine High School was the center of attention, debate, and reflection for months after the shooting occurred. The tragedy spawned stricter safety regimes in public schools across the country, and opened up the debate on gun control laws, as well as the role that video games, violence in the media, and bullies have in the environments of children. While the coverage of the shooting was nearly constant by network news stations, there was no inside footage of the shooting, although plenty of testimony after the tragedy had occurred and the situation had begun to sink into peoples heads.
Now, in 2007, the 1991 Texas shooting of 23 people in a cafeteria becomes the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The shootings, Monday at Virginia Tech. claimed the lives of 32 people and the gunman. The attack came in two waves, the first on the fourth floor of West Ambler Johnston, a coed dorm where two people were killed. The second occurred in a classroom building, Norris Hall, around two hours later, where at least 26 people were hurt and 30 people and shooter died, according to the Associated Press.
The information on the massacre is beginning to come to the eyes of the public and the police, although the motive for the shooting is unclear, though rumors of an allegedly unfaithful girlfriend have been flying through message boards discussing the issue. It is also unclear what exactly the shooter was doing in the time between the attacks.
The name of the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, 23, a Virginia Tech senior, was released Tuesday. News outlets like AOL have a number of articles reporting on the related topics, and have released a profile of the shooter for curious members of the public.
The coverage of this story is nearly impossible to escape, as it is being covered by nearly every sort of media outlet, including popular, generally non-news radio stations like KDWB. Headlines of the tragedy were on a number of international papers, according to AOL.com.
While the coverage of such tragedy is normal for news outlets to disseminate important information that is valuable to the public, this particular story seems to be covered unlike other tragedies like this in the past. Columbine was heavily covered by the media, and heavily discussed by news anchors like spectators, although, the Virginia Tech shootings have been covered for possibly the first time in a very intimate way unlike most news stories.
The story running in most papers is the article by the Associated Press, and ran on page six of the Minnesota Daily, as well as on AOL.com, and countless other news outlets. The information is much the same, with minor quotes being added as they come in, or details of wounded continue to be published. It is interesting to note that while the coverage of the story was on the front page of the Twin cities two local papers, the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press, the Minnesota Daily made the decision to not cover the story at all on their front page, and instead run it as the main story for the Nation section. The University is one of the largest urban campuses in the country, and discussion of the tragedy has been all over campus since the news broke.
The new aspect to the coverage; however, is the addition of videos from Virginia Tech students’ cell phones, and the discussions and groups appearing on peer to peer networking sites like Facebook.com or Myspace.com, both popular sites for college students. Webcam streaming footage of the carnage was also played over the internet as the attack was occurring in Norris Hall giving the coverage of the story an almost eerily close feeling.
The interactivity of the internet and the appetite the public has for information on the tragedy has resulted in many differing accounts of the shooting, as well as a high level of personal impact being reported in the first days after the shooting. Such an account can be found in the Associated Press article, where the escape of some of the students is described, as is the sacrifice of his teacher, in an almost cinematic type light:
“’I must've been the eighth or ninth person who jumped, and I think I was the last,’ said Calhoun, of Waynesboro, Va. He landed in a bush and ran.
Calhoun said that the two students behind him were shot, but that he believed they survived. Just before he climbed out the window, Calhoun said, he turned to look at his professor, who had stayed behind, apparently to prevent the gunman from opening the door.
The instructor was killed, Calhoun said.?
The popularity of this story reaches far beyond college campuses, and into the White House, President Bush has issued his condolences, and will attend convocation with the First Lady Tuesday, according to Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press. The President has also decreed that all flags should be flown at half staff through Sunday in recognition of the national tragedy.

February 13, 2007

Influenza, The Bug That Packs a Punch

Winter in Minnesota brings more than just cold hands and rosy cheeks; it also brings higher rates of common illness like the flu. This years flu season appears to be particularly potent for Minnesota residents, despite the national averages of reported cases being about average, according to the Pioneer Press.
Four Minnesotans have died from Influenza A so far this season, a record number in the last three years. Three children, two aged 8-years-old and a 17-month-old died from Influenza between January 18 and February 1, according to the article. More recently as reported by the Star Tribune, a Minneapolis fire-fighter, Barry Delude, 44, died today of complications of Influenza A after being in the hospital for a couple days.
While 50 percent of the department had received flu shots according to the Star Tribune article, it is unclear whether Delude received one at this point. The three children had not received flu shots this season.
According to another Star Tribune article, federal health officials recommend children in the recently expanded "high priority" group, children under 5, get vaccinated for the flu.
The recent deaths, 4 out of the reported 14 nationally occurring in Minnesota, have spurred a rush for flu vaccinations around the metro. The deaths have also brought up the debate about whether children should be vaccinated for the flu at schools. According to the Star Tribune article, getting to children in time may benefit everyone, and indeed the recent outbreaks are causing debate at the CDC's national advisory committee on immunization policy.
The CDC's website provided information about the sort of people who should be vaccinated, as well as a plethora of other helpful information that includes current flu statistics, and flu clinic locators.
Currently at week five of the flu season, the CDC reports that Influenza activity is on the rise in the United States.
For even further information about influenza, try going to Flu Facts, which features not only a good deal of helpful information, but also uses the penguins from the movie Happy Feet to draw children into learning about the flu.

January 29, 2007

Not Your Averge Hit and Run

After striking and dragging an 11 year-old girl nearly a half mile Sunday, the St. Paul man allegedly responsible is being held at the Dakota County jail this morning.
The Star Tribune reports that, "the girl's injuries are very serious" according to West St. Paul Police Chief Bud Shaver. Experts brought in by the State Patrol are working on accident reconstruction at Wentworth and S. Robert Street, where the accident took place.
According to the Pioneer Press, the suspect is being held on charges of criminal operation of a vehicle.
Both papers report that a witness saw the accident and forced the van dragging the girl to stop. The suspect was later arrested a short distance from the scene of the accident.
According to the Minnesota state statute, 169.06 Accidents, the suspect allegedly failed to stop of his own volition for the accident, which violates subdivision 1 of 169.09. According to subdivision 14 of 169.09 penalties, "(2) if the accident results in great bodily harm to any individual, as defined in section 609.02, subdivision 8 , the driver is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than two years, or to payment of a fine of not more than $4,000, or both."

January 22, 2007

Two people killed in Brooklyn Park, arrests still unclear

Two people were killed last Tuesday in Brooklyn Park, by gunshots fired into their car as they were waiting in an apartment complex parking lot.
Ja'Naurri Allen, 18 and Mosetta Peters, 21 of New Brighton were waiting in an apartment complex parking. According to the Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com/467/story/951542.html, the police described the motive of the slayings as a domestic dispute.
While there is no contention that the killings occurred on Tuesday by gunshots into a car, there are differing reports on the number of suspects arrested in the case. The Star Tribune maintains that three people have been arrested as of January 22, 2007. The Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/news/local/16518551.htm, on the other hand, reports only two people arrested in connection with the crime.
Up to four people could have been involved according to the police in the Pioneer Press story, whereas five suspects are mentioned by the Star Tribune.
While both stories give the basic framework of information, though differing on a couple key points, the Star Tribune presents a longer story with multiple sources. The Star Tribune used interviews to deepen the story and give the reader more information and insight into the incident.
The Pioneer Press article reads like a very routine hard news story. It ended its article with information about the shell casings found at the scene of the crime that "indicated at least two weapons may have been used in the shooting: a 9 mm pistol and an assault rifle."
Whereas the Star Tribune injects humanity into the story by using a paraphrase from Peters' sister toward the end of the article before a plea for help from the public. On a whole the Star Tribune article focused more on the possible motives of the crime, and the people involved.
While the differing approaches to covering the story are interesting, an answer for how many people are actually in custody for this crime is still unclear.