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March 31, 2007

It's Not Rat Poison After All!

The FDA confirmed on Friday that the cancer drug and rat poison aminopterin was not the culprit of the contaminated pet food recall, but rather an imported wheat gluten from China called melamine. This finding came after Cornell University scientist compared chemical components of the recalled pet food, urine of a sick cat, and a kidney of a cat that died as a direct result of the poisoning. Melamine was the common component.

Melamine is a substance that is used as a fertilizer and in the production of plastic kitchen products. It is not registered for use in the US.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, which printed an article out of the Washington Post: ""Melamine is an ingredient that should not be in pet food at any level," Sundlof said. Nor does it have any approved use in food for humans. He said the FDA is not aware that any contaminated wheat gluten went into human food, but said he could not confirm that "with 100 percent certainty."

Sundlof and FDA investigative officials said a company found to have imported the contaminated wheat gluten manufactures dry pet food as well as "wet" or "moist" food similar to that previously identified as the source of the illnesses. However, they said, investigators have not yet determined whether any of the wheat gluten has been used in any dry pet food. "

According to the Star Tribune, which printed an article from AP Wire: "Menu Foods recalled 60 million containers of cat and dog food, sold throughout North America under nearly 100 brands, earlier this month after animals died of kidney failure after eating the Canadian company's products. It is not clear how many pets may have been poisoned by the apparently contaminated food, although anecdotal reports suggest hundreds, if not thousands, have died. The FDA has received more than 8,000 complaints; the company, more than 300,000.

Company officials on Friday would not provide updated numbers of pets sickened or killed by its products. Pet owners would be compensated for veterinary bills and the deaths of any dogs and cats linked to the company's products, the company said.

The melamine finding came a week after scientists at the New York State Food Laboratory identified a cancer drug and rat poison called aminopterin as the likely culprit in the pet food. But the FDA said it could not confirm that finding, nor have researchers at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey when they looked at tissue samples taken from dead cats. And experts at the University of Guelph in Ontario detected aminopterin in some samples of the recalled pet food, but only in the parts per billion or trillion range."

Both articles wer of the same length and covered the same basic information, but were organized differently and had greater detail in different areas of the investigation. Together, they made a very nice cohesive article. Pool your resources.

Minnesota Senate Says Go to a Tax Increase

This week seems to be a week for local legislature, as the Senate has made another very big decision in the course of four days.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Wealthy Minnesotans would pay the highest general income tax rate in the nation under a bill that Senate Democrats plan to pass today.

The measure, unveiled and quickly approved by the Senate Tax Committee on Friday, would raise $991 million over the next two years by adding a fourth rate to Minnesota's three-tier income tax system.

The new top rate would be 9.7 percent, up from the current 7.85 percent. It would apply to an estimated 60,000 tax filers - joint filers earning more than $250,000 a year and single persons earning $141,000 or more.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor senators want to spend the additional tax revenue on education and property tax relief.

But that almost certainly won't happen. Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty repeatedly has said he will veto any tax increase. "

According to the Star Tribune: "The bill would create a top Minnesota tax rate of 9.7 percent, giving the state the highest top income tax rate in the nation. It passed the Senate on a 35-29 vote, with seven DFLers defecting.

The new tax would pump $444 million into K-12 schools, vastly increased preschool options and tuition relief over the next two years, and lower homeowner property taxes."

Although the bill is primarily DFL supported, the Star Tribune received mixed messages along partisan lines:

""The price tag seemed a little steep for my district," said Sen. Sandy Rummel, DFL-White Bear Lake. "I want to be more moderate. I think we might have to increase income taxes, but not that much."

Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, called it an "extremely difficult vote for me" but said she was "very uncomfortable" with voting for the nation's top tax rate.

Saltzman and most other DFLers did say they hoped to bring the rate down a bit so they could support a more moderate tax increase and the spending that could go with it.

"I'm not a hard 'no' vote at all," said veteran Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope. "After a few adjustments, I'll be the first green vote up there. I believe a correction to the tax system is needed. This one just went over the top.""

Both articles noted that Governor Tim Pawlenty has been adament about signing a bill with a tax increase, and the Star Tribune called it a "showdown."

The one aspect that the Star Tribune provided that the Pioneer Press was lacking, was detailed information about where the government plans on spending this extra money that would (theoretically) come from more tax dollars. Here is what the Strib reported:

"For instance, the Senate now would allocate nearly $850 million of new spending for preschool through high school programs The House has proposed more than $970 million for new pre-school and K-12 spending.

Those figures are not exactly comparable because the components of the two education plans don't exactly match. But subtract $125 million in property tax relief included as part of the House total, and the increases for pre-K through high school spending are very close for both chambers.

The big differences lie in where the money is going. Much of the Senate allocation for K-12, for instance, is still earmarked for helping schools pay off big debts incurred for children with learning disabilities and other special education needs. The House, on the other hand, puts much of its new money into funding all day kindergarten and giving schools bigger raises than the Senate in basic education funding. Both plans would help lower tuition costs."

Reporting this story may have been challenging to write, since there are so many numbers involved (I wish this event had happened last week when I had to write about numbers), that it can sometimes be difficult for the reader to comprehend exactly what is happening when there are so many numbers and jargon thrown in. Both papers did a good job, however in making the stories understandable.

March 28, 2007

Canadian Woman Eats Tainted Dog Food and, Surprise, Becomes "Violently Ill"

In a ploy to get her dog to eat her food, Ottawa, Canada resident Elaine Larabie would take small bites of the Iams food to convince her newly adopted dog, Missy, that it was people food.

Thinking she had a virus, Larabie experienced "confusing and embarrassing symptoms" such as vomiting, loss of appetite, and foaming of the mouth for three days.

At the time, Larabie was unaware of the recall on pet food, but connected the dots later after seeing it on a news broadcast.

Larabie is now awaiting blood work results, and her dog is doing fine. She has been in contact with Iams to solve the problem and possibly receive reimbursement for medical costs.

The Star Tribune featured a short AP wire version of this story, which is where I came across it, but I also was able to find a longer, more elaborated local version at Canada's National Post website. Clearly, the reporters there were able to get more information because they were closer to the source, but the short AP story was a nice teaser to get me to look for more.

Overall, an interesting and unexpected story ... Larabie said she learned her lesson and vowed to "never eat dog food again."

March 27, 2007

Senate Approves Statewide Smoking Ban -- Will the House be Next?

The Minnesota Senate voted Tuesday on the statewide smoking ban after much debate, and it passed 41-24. Next, it will go to the House of Representatives, where it will have more hoops to jump through to get passed. Governor Tim Pawlenty has said in the past that if the bill reached his desk, he would sign it.

According to the Star Tribune coverage of the event, here's what the bill says:

"The bill prohibits smoking in public places, aboard public transportation and at public meetings. Violations would be petty misdemeanors.

The measure allows bars, restaurants and bingo halls to build outdoor smoking patios. Electricity and heating would be allowed on the patios but not food or beverage service.

Hospitality workers would be eligible to use the state's Dislocated Worker Program if they lose their jobs because of the ban.

Exemptions include private residences and vehicles, hotel rooms, specific areas in nursing homes and some smoke shops. Local governments could impose stricter requirements; the state's Indian casinos would not be covered by the bill."

Because this event happened extremely recently on Tuesday, not much other information was available at the time, but more will surely be available in the next few days.

The Pioneer Press's article was very brief, and very vague. I wasn't sure exactly what the bill said, but the Star Tribune gave a nicely explained version of the stipulations of the bill, which was appreciated for someone like me who doesn't always follow political stuff very well.

This is a big event for Minnesotans, and I wouldn't be surprised if it gets alot of coverage in the next few days or weeks.

Continuing coverage to come .... what will the House do? How will this affect Minnesotans as a whole? We will see.....

March 25, 2007

Childhood Vaccine Costs Anger Pediatricians

The rising cost of vaccines is angering many medical workers. In this (quite long) feature article printed in the New York Times, Andrew Pollack examined this trend, full with statistics from clinics, insurance companies, and more. There was a heavy focus on newer vaccines such as Gardasil and the renewing of flu vaccines. He also reported on what is required for most children to get, and the average costs of these, comparing different states.

"Getting a vaccination was not always so difficult. In 1980, it cost only about $23, or $59 adjusted for inflation, for the seven shots and four oral doses needed to immunize a child, according to data provided by Dr. Thomas Saari, who is emeritus professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin.

Today, though, a child who receives all the recommended vaccines would receive as many as 37 shots and 3 oral doses by the 18th birthday — at a cost exceeding $1,600."

"“We cannot pay for the vaccination of the American public any longer,? said Dr. Dorothy A. Levine, a pediatrician in Stamford and New Canaan, Conn. “We’re not giving them with as much vigor as we should, and the main reason is financial.?"

"About 85 percent of the nation’s children get all or at least some of their inoculations from private physicians’ offices, which operate as businesses. The federal and state governments pay for vaccines for about 55 percent of children, mainly poor ones. But even those government-subsidized vaccines are mainly administered by private doctors."

Numbers were extremely prevalent in this story, from percentages of populations, to costs and comparisons to years. Although this could potentially get very confusing, the NY Times did a very good job of keeping the numbers spaced out enough for the reading public to better understand the significance of this trend. Good job!

50th Anniversary of European Union Draws Talks of Future

In a celebration of the EU's 50 years, German Chancellor Angela Merkel brought numerous issues to the table regarding future plans for energy use and foreign policy.

In the NY Times: "“We must also renew the political shape of Europe in keeping with the times,? Mrs. Merkel said, challenging the leaders to put Europe on a “renewed common basis? by 2009."

Also: "While the refurbished monuments of this once-sundered city served as testimony to Europe’s achievements, the festivities were shadowed by a sense that the union is stuck in a midlife crisis — unhappy about its divided present, uncertain about what path to take in the future. In a city that celebrated the World Cup last summer with joyful abandon, today’s revelry seemed a bit dutiful."

On the BBC News Website: "British Prime Minister Tony Blair also said the EU needed "more effective rules", adding that the "sooner it is resolved the better"."

Both the NY Times and the BBC News also used various numbers and statistics to better represent the countries in the EU and how divisive they would be on certain issues. All numbers were presented in a fairly straightforward fashion.

Rat Poison Found to be the Cause of Death of Numerous Pets Around the Country

After numerous pets around the US mysteriously died from their food, the cause has finally been linked to a chemical known for its use as rat poison: aminopterin.

According to the New York Times: "The poison, aminopterin, a rodenticide that has not been approved for use in the United States or in Canada, was found in wet food manufactured by Menu Foods of Ontario and distributed under more than 90 brands, including Eukanuba, Hill’s Science Diet and Nutro Natural Choice, and under store brands including Hannaford, Wal-Mart and Winn-Dixie. (A complete list can be found at menufoods.com/recall.)"

According to an AP Wire Story (printed in the Star Tribune): "After the announcement, the company that produced the food expanded its recall to include all 95 brands of the "cuts and gravy" style food, regardless of when they were produced. The company also said it would take responsibility for pet medical expenses incurred as a result of the food."

Officials are not yet sure how the chemical got into the food, because the drug, also used in the past to induce abortions, is illegal in the US and Canada. They are still looking at various possibilities, including sabotage. In addition to this investigation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been notified in the event of a public health problem.

While both stories featured basically the same information, the AP story failed to mention exactly which brands of food were being effected by the chemical, which I found myself asking until I read the story by the NY Times, which had all the information. They also had considerably more interviews with the owners of a few of the pets who have been victims to the poisonings.

Tubby Smith Gets Well Compensated to Come to Minnesota

Former University of Kentucky men's basketball coach Tubby Smith announced this week that he was coming to the University of Minnesota to coach. After a long search for a new basketball coach, Gophers Athletic Director Joel Maturi didn't mind giving him a good reason to come: a big paycheck. He'll get $1.75 million annually, plus a bevy of benefits in the wake of winning championships or being sent to tournaments. He has signed a seven year contract with the University, with a two-year option afterward.

While the Star Tribune devoted a little section just on the numbers portion of Smith's contract, the Pioneer Press focused mainly on the effects of the hire, on the team, on the school, etc.

Considering that numbers like this are sometimes hard to understand, the Star Tribune put them in list format to make them easier to comprehend, which was appreciated for those of us (like me) who sometimes have a hard time understanding numbers, even in a sports format.

Police Anticipate "Long Haul" of Investigation after Friday Killings

After the brutal shootings in St. Paul on Friday, police are still trying to pin down details, anticipating a long investigation. Their main concern right now is to find the men who committed the crime and get them off the streets as soon as possible, but right now they have few promising leads. Other area residents are just glad to know that the acts probably weren't random, and numerous city officials are assuring them of their safety. Police think that drugs may be involved, but a neighbor said that there "was no funny business going on."

The Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press basically had the same information in their continuing coverage of this event, but a few details varied. The Star Tribune reported that the backgrounds of the victims were not released, but the Pioneer Press disclosed the criminal record of one of the victims (the man). Also, according to a neighbor of the victims said to the Star Tribune that there were five to seven men that arrived at the house, where the Pioneer Press reported that "no more than five" men were at fault.

This type of story is difficult to cover, given the severity of the situation, as well as the amount of information that comes in all at once, and making sure to keep the facts straight. While the two local Twin Cities newspapers generally had the same information, they had slightly different interviews with neighbors, and the Star Tribune's article was longer.

March 11, 2007

Now, Here's a Trend that I was Unaware Of: Couples Want Separate Bedrooms?

Although it struck me as strange when I ready the lead of this feature article by the New York Times, the more I read on, the more the whole idea made sense. It is becoming more and more popular for couples to have separate bedrooms in their houses, due to different sleeping habits or disturbances like snoring.

Builders have noticed an increase in couples who want separate master suites or in one case, separate wings of the house. They predict that 60% of new custom houses will be built this way by 2015.

The couples that Tracie Rozhon interviewed all had very legitimate reasons for wanting separate bedrooms. Most decide to make the change after children have grown, but they like to keep it "hush-hush" so as to not create speculation about troubles within the marriage.

And although it may seem like this would put a damper on the sex life, most of the couples say that it actually has improved the intimacy level, bringing the relationship back to a time when they were dating, a more mysterious time.

Overall, this was a very well written article and very interesting. The seemingly oddity about it caught my eye and kept it there. Because it was a feature piece in the Sunday edition of the New York Times, I was unable to find a similar story anywhere else, but it is a notable trend and an interesting article that I thought was worth writing about.

Challenges in writing this story included making sure enough information was gathered from all ages of the country as well as different backgrounds. While the reporter included interviews from couples experiencing these changes, she also got opinions from builders, contractors, etc. as well as sociologists from the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota, which added credibility to her article.

I just wonder if I'll ever want a separate bedroom ...

Who Would've Thunk: Man Uses Mouth-to-Mouth to Save his Dog

In Omaha, Nebraska, a man used his mouth-to-mouth resuscitation skills that he learned in the Air Force to breathe life back into his 10-month-old bulldog.

Randy Gurchin and Lucy are "best buddies" according to the AP article that ran in the Star Tribune, the New York Times and the Lincoln Journal Star (I couldn't fine the article in the Omaha paper, oddly enough).

After Lucy jumped into a partially frozen lake in pursuit of ducks and geese, she found herself overwhelmed by the cold. Gurchin managed to pull her out but realized that she was blue and needed air. So, he did what any pet owner would do. He was reminded of his training in the Air Force and gave her "mouth-to-snout" resuscitation. And it worked! He said she was breathing again in about a minute, when he then brought her to a veterinary hospital, where the doctors were able to give her better care.

By Friday, Lucy was back to normal.

This article was so out of the box that I had to write on it. I didn't even know that that was possible! I was disappointed that I couldn't find a more in-depth local version of the story in an Omaha newspaper, because I found the same AP article in three publications. Although it was written well, I had hoped that it would be longer and have more details (or something).

March 9, 2007

US and Brazil Sign Ethanol Deal, Locals Show Hostility

President Bush announced on Thursday that the US has struck a deal with Brazil to greatly increase the development of ethanol. Bush and Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva "appeared at a heavily guarded biodiesel fuel depot on the industrial outskirts of Sao Paulo, the largest in South America, to announce the deal late this morning," according to the article published in the New York Times.

In the midst of this ground-breaking deal, however, were numerous demonstrations by locals, as well as hostility by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who was planning a rally in opposition of Bush later that day.

I found an article both from the New York TImes as well as the BBC news website. They both provided relatively the same information, but the BBC focused slightly more on the public demonstrations and hostility against President Bush. Neither article mentioned any specifics about the deal that was reached, which was something that would have been interesting and informative.

Man Shot on Minneapolis Metro Transit Bus

Late Thursday night, a man was shot in the chest after a "scuffle" on MetroTransit route #5. Cleveland Montgomery, the victim of the shooting, is in critical condition Friday at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. He is 34 and a Minneapolis resident.

The number 5 bus was heading north on 18th and Emerson Avenues North, said Police Inspector Lee Edwards. The bus driver made a call for help at 7:12 p.m. accordin to MetroTransit spokesperson Bob Gibbons. Police still do not know what motivated the shooting and a description of the shooter was not available after he fled the scene. He is still at large.

Because the #5 route is the most used in the area, and possibly in the region, it is prone to accidents, but has never encountered anything this serious in the past.

The Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press both reported on this surprising event in Minneapolis.

The Pioneer Press, however, wrote their article in only a brief form, not being able to get information such as name, age, and more specifics about the incident.

The Star Tribune's article was much longer and more informative, providing more specifics about the incident as well as getting quotes from police and Metro Transit spokespeople, which added credibility. They also provided a history lesson on the previous violence that has taken place on that particular bus route in recent years, which was informative and interesting.

March 6, 2007

Drama between Local Newspapers

It was announced on Monday morning that Par Ridder, publisher of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, is leaving the newspaper for the same position at the competition: the Star Tribune.

"A tumultuous year in the Twin Cities' newspaper market took perhaps its most surprising turn today when Par Ridder, the publisher of the Pioneer Press, announced he's leaving to take the same job at the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune," reported the Pioneer Press.

"The Star Tribune's new publisher and CEO, former St. Paul Pioneer Press publisher Paul Anthony (Par) Ridder, reported for his first day of work in Minneapolis on Monday morning as staffs at both newspapers were informed of his decision to cross the river and come to work for his former rival," reported the Star Tribune.

Par, whose family has been with the Pioneer Press for 80 years, is excited about the transition, but made it clear that he was proud of the Pioneer Press and the work that they do.

This may have been a challenge for reporters to write, considering the implications of the move and the rivalry that has been present between the two papers for so many years, but it is also a multi-faceted story that will be sure to have updates for a rainy news day.

Both papers conveyed the issue very differently. The Pioneer Press' was significantly shorter and focused on Ridder himself, his family connection to the paper, and the rivalry between the papers, while the Star Tribune's was long and informative about the specifics about the recent purchase of the paper, and the process that the paper will now go through. There was an undertone of betrayal in the Press' article, and one of pride in the Strib's.

March 4, 2007

In a Winter Wonderland, Spring in Stores is Upon Us

While we are all shoveling out our cars, taking ski trips and snow days, and enjoying the white stuff that we didnt have two weeks ago, stores like Target and Gap are long gone with their winter gear.

Snow in March is a fact of life in Minnesota, but when weather strikes, where can you go to get what you need? Allison Kaplan of the St. Paul Pioneer Press did a little researching and found stores that offered some limited supplies for those of us who didn't get it the first time around, and that is much appreciated.

For things like winter jackets, hats, mittens, gloves, boots, snowblowers, sleds, and snowboards, Ms. Kaplan surveyed the area and can tell you if what you need still exists in the Metro, and where to get it if it does.

For clothing goods like jackets, boots and long underwear, there are plenty in stock at the local sporting goods stores, as well as snowboards and skis.

For the more practical people, they will be saddened to know that all of the snowblowers in the area are completely sold out. Sleds are short on the lists as well. She jokingly suggests using a cafeteria tray. I've been using boxes.

This article could have been challenging because surveying all of the possible places to get these sort of things probably took alot of time and effort, but the outcome is much appreciated for people like me who are now wondering, "Where can I still get that stuff?"

Unfortunately, I'll be sticking with boxes for my sledding adventures.

Bush Tours the South in Consolation of Tornado Victims

President Bush has been traveling alot lately. In the aftermath of the tornadoes that swept through the South last week, the President took time out of his schedule to survey the damage and console victims at various towns throughout the affected areas.

"The hastily arranged trip, following a massive storm system that produced at least 31 tornadoes from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, was intended to send an image of a compassionate president leading a competent government response, in sharp contrast with the lingering images of federal indifference and ineptitude after Hurricane Katrina," reported the New York Times in their AP story. "The president’s day began in Enterprise, Ala., where eight students were killed as a tornado on Thursday ripped apart Enterprise High School."

"On the second leg of his visit, Bush toured Americus, Ga., about 120 miles south of Atlanta, where storms killed two people and destroyed dozens of homes and businesses," reported the Star Tribune's AP coverage.

Both AP stories covered the basics of President Bush's visits, but the NY Times provided more depth and a longer article, with interviews from the student body where he spoke and other visitors of the site. They also provided information about the federal disaster relief funds that will be received from FEMA.

The story ran by the Strib was also informative, but not quite as long and detailed.

Snow Days are a Double-Edged Sword

Two teenage girls died in a car crash in Wisconsin on Thursday afternoon just after being let out of school for the day due to excessive snow.

Traveling south on Wisconsin Highway 46, Ashley Severson, 16, was driving when she lost control of the vehicle and crossed the center line, colliding head-on with a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction. Severson was thrown from the vehicle and died at the scene. Her passenger, Nicole Peterson, also 16, was taken to Amery Regional Medical Center and later transferred to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where she died.

The other vehicle's driver, David Sykora, 22, and his passenger, Matthew Carroll, 22, were taken to Amery Regional Medical Center. "Their conditions, which officials said did not appear to be life-threatening, were not available," according to the article printed in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Officials say that icy roads due to the weather were very likely to be a contributor to the accident.

Both the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune reported on this tragic event, but did so in very different ways. The Pioneer Press' was longer and more personalized as an ode to the girls that died, with anecdotes from family and friends, and began in a story-like way, proceeding to the chronology of the events.

The Star Tribune, on the other hand, treated the accident purely in a hard news fashion, with a solid lead and following graphs with details and current conditions of victims. No editorializing whatsoever was done in their article, and was subsequently shorter. Their article was also followed closely by other briefs of happenings in the area.

A challenge for the Press' reporters would have been to talk to family and friends of the deceased, because death is a difficult topic to address, but the Strib probably just got their information from the police report with a few extra sources.