December 2012 Archives

Reporter Ryan Gabrielson covers issues concerning for the California Watch, which is founded by the Center for Investigative Reporting. On Saturday, I interviewed Gabrielson and asked him about the use of databases for his last story about mishandled sexual abuse cases in California development centers.

Gabrielson said that the investigation started with a tip that there was overtime abuse by the police force at the development centers. He said he wanted to examine the police force's caseload to understand how they operate.

One of the difficulties was that he could not request all of the criminal investigation files or a log of the criminal investigation files. He said that they are confidential in California and that he had to find an outside source to find information.

"The department of developmental services that runs the police force is a nightmare to deal with in terms of public records," Gabrielson said. "They stall, they deny, and they go to law. It's a mess."

This department also prohibited its employees from speaking to the press, Gabrielson said. He said that all of the records about the internal cases came from people in the system and that they risked their jobs to provide him with the data.

The main difficulty with using large sets of data is to clean them, Gabrielson said. Sometimes this process takes a couple of weeks and he said that it takes far longer to clean the data than analyze it.

Gabrielson said that students who want to become reporters should take a statistics class in college. He said that it was important to understand the method that the data follows. Students also need to learn the software, Gabrielson said. They should definitely know excel, he said, and a statistics analysis package would help as well.

In an investigative story by reporter Ryan Gabrielson of California Watch, he examines the mishandled sex assaults among the developmentally disabled at California development centers. In the article, Gabrielson sources many records and documents. Some of the records he accessed were internal incident records, state court records, police records, and patient files. The news source even has sued the state of California for access to additional abuse records, to which a superior court judged ruled that the records should be open, but the state is appealing the ruling.

To write this story, Gabrielson needed to know how to organize and pull information from numerous records and documents. Computer skills, such as knowing how to use Microsoft Excel, would be needed to sort through large databases. Furthermore, after organizing and sorting through the documents, the reporter needed to convert this data in a way that the readers could understand.

This particular article does not include any interactive graphics to portray the data in the story. They do, however, include many photos that pertain to the story. Another multimedia aspect that they include is a video that tells the story of one of the patients who had injuries looking like sexual abuse and filed a report, but the detectives never took any action. While the videos and photos work well with the article, an interactive graphic would have been nice to the readers. The story included many numbers from data and if the article represented the main points into a graphic, the data would have been easier to read and understand.

US Supreme Court takes up two gay marriage cases

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The U.S. Supreme Court took up two cases involving the issue of same-sex marriage on Friday and agreed to decide if same-sex marriage is allowed in California and if the government can deny benefits to same-sex couples, the San Francisco Chronicle said.

In the cases, the court will review California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage and the provision in the Defense of Marriage Act (Doma) that limited benefits to same-sex couples, the Guardian said.

The court cases are scheduled for early next year and rulings are due by the end of June, the San Francisco Chronicle said.

This decision comes after the votes in three states, Maine, Maryland and Washington, approved same-sex marriage in the November election, the San Francisco Chronicle said.

The Supreme Court has "signaled its readiness to consider the civil rights issue of our time at an opportune moment in our history," San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera, who participated in gay rights groups, said to the San Francisco Chronicle.

According to a poll by Gallup, 53% of Americans believe that the law should recognize same-sex marriage and that same-sex couples should receive the same rights as heterosexual couples, the Guardian said.

Both sides of the issue welcome the court's decision to take up the cases. Bryan Fischer, a member of the American Family Association, acknowledged the importance of the cases, the Guardian said.

"It's good that the Supreme Court has taken up these issues," Fischer said to the Guardian. "What is needed is clarity at a national level."

Newborn at hospital was breast-fed by wrong mother

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A newborn was accidentally brought to the wrong room and was breast-fed by the wrong mother Tuesday night at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, the Star Tribune said.

Tammy Van Dyke gave birth to her son and stayed the night at the hospital, giving her son to the hospital nursery, the Star Tribune said. Her son was then taken to the wrong room during the night and was breast-fed before the mix-up was corrected, the Star Tribune said.

This mix-up carries a major risk for the newborn who could contract HIV or hepatitis B or C through breast milk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CBS News said.

While both the mother who gave breast milk to the newborn and the newborn were tested for these diseases and tested negative, the newborn will have to be tested every three months for a year, the Star Tribune said.

Dr. Penny Wheeler, the chief clinical officer at the hospital, apologized for the mistake and said that standard procedure was not applied in the situation, the CBS News said.

"As an obstetrician, I have personally seen verification of the infant's identifying name band matched correctly with the mother's on hundreds of occasions," Wheeler said to the CBS News. "It is extremely unfortunate that was not the case this time"

The Minnesota Department of Health requires hospitals to report if any child is sent home with the wrong parents, the Star Tribune said. But since the implementation of this rule five years ago, no incidents have occurred, the Star Tribune said.

The board of directors meeting Thursday reported that the orchestra had an operating deficit of $6 million for the last fiscal year, which is the largest deficit in the orchestra's history and double the deficit from last year, the Star Tribune said.

This announcement comes at a time when the orchestra musicians are locked out due to contract negotiations. Officials blame this deficit on a decrease of revenue and a contractually obligated increase, the Pioneer Press said.

"We largely honored a five-year contract from our players which saw substantial raises across that five-year period," Minnesota Orchestra president and CEO Michael Henson said, the Minnesota Public Radio News said.

Brian Shapiro, an accounting professor at the University of St. Thomas said that the orchestra greatly needs funding, the Star Tribune said.

"This board really needs another $100 million in the endowment to fully fund musicians," Shapiro said to the Star Tribune.

Hansen said that the board said that the Twin Cites community can pay and support for this orchestra, the MPR News said.

"We are here for the art, and that has got to be what drives us forward," Hansen said to the MPR News.

While the orchestra is facing this deficit, the organization received a Grammy nomination for Best Orchestral performance for its recent recording of the Sibelius Symphonies with Osmo Vanska conducting, the MPR News said.

Wildfires due to invasive grass species

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Cheatgrass, an invasive grass species, has caused more bigger and frequent wildfires in the West, according to a study that appeared in the Global Change Biology Journal Thursday, the Los Angeles Times said.

The researchers compared wildlife data with satellite images from the Great Basin of the American west, the Los Angeles Times said.

The report said that almost 80% of the largest fires in the west over the last 10 years are due to this grass, the BBC News said.

"We were able to pick out this species from space because it dries out earlier than native species," lead author Dr. Jennifer Balch said. "[Cheatgrass] is fuelling those really big fires."

This change in the wildfire cycle that is fueled by the invasive Cheatgrass is destroying the native sagebrush ecosystem of the Great Basin, the Los Angeles Times said.

The invasive grass does not provide any nutrients or wildlife shelter and is decreasing biodiversity in the land, the Los Angeles Times said.

To combat this threat, scientists are looking at many solutions, one of which that uses a fungus to attack the grass seed, the BBC News said.

Space-tourism company plans trips to the Moon

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The Golden Spike Company, launched by former NASA executives, announced Thursday that they are trying to send people to the moon, the BBC News said.

Golden Spike will be "the first company planning to offer routine exploration expeditions to the surface of the Moon," according to the news release, the Washington Post said.

They have aimed for a first launch before the end of the decade and will use rocket and capsule technology that already exists, the BBC News said.

"We can do this," Alan Stern, former NASA science administrator and leader of the company, said to the Washington Post.

The company has gathered many space veterans including Apollo-era flight director Gerry Griffin and former space shuttle commander Bill Richardson, the BBC News said.

The project has also met criticism, however.

"This is unlikely to be the one that will pan out," Harvard University astronomer Jonathan McDowell said about the project. McDowell criticized space firms and said that many will fail before anything is built.

The murder of two high school students in Little Falls, Minn. on Thanksgiving gained a lot of attention from the press. Ben Garvin from the Pioneer Press was one of the photojournalists that covered the aftermath of the event. Many photographs that are taken after a death include family members in grief. For this interview, I asked Garvin about the ethics surrounding photographing people in grief who may not want their privacy invaded and do not want their photo taken.

"There's a fine line between taking advantage of people's vulnerabilities and telling their story," Garvin said about photographing family members of the deceased. He said that people are often skeptical of the media and that many people have been upset with him in the past. Once people see that you are just interested in telling their story and not taking advantage of them, they are usually okay, Garvin said.

Garvin said that he never wants to take a photo of somebody who does not want him to and that shooting across the parking lot with a long lens camera is never a good situation. He said that the one exception to this rule is when the person is an important person who has been convicted and has been a high-profiled criminal. He said the "ethics get slippery" in that situation and that he does try to get a photo if the criminal has a long history and has been trying to avoid the camera.

"If you have any gut feelings that this may not be a good idea, then you're right," Garvin said. While he said that you should trust your heart in deciding what is good and bad, he also said that there is never a solid line.

He said that the most difficult part about photographing people in vulnerable people is that he feels like he is a part of a "swarm of bees." He said that if it is a situation where many photographers and media are there, it makes it harder to be sensitive.

"You don't have a special right to be an asshole just because you have a camera," Garvin said.

Ministers announced on Thursday that all free schools in England must educate their students about the theory of evolution to receive funding, the Guardian said.

This change in rules has followed lobbying by senior scientists expressed concern that free schools run by creationists could avoid teaching evolution, the BBC News said.

"The new clause in the funding agreement should ensure that all pupils at free schools have the opportunity to learn about evolution as an extensively evidenced theory and one of the most fundamentally important tentents of modern biology," Nobel-prizewinning geneticist Sir Paul Nurse said to the Guardian.

While creationism can be taught, it has to be taught as a religious concept and not as part of the science curriculum, the Guardian said.

If a free school breaches the rule and does not teach evolution, the Department for Education can take "swift action which could result in the termination of that funding agreement," the BBC News said.

Paul Bate, a member of the European Educators Christian Association, said that schools should teach a broad and balanced curriculum, the BBC News said.

"Science and religion need each other in this debate," Bate said to the BBC News. "Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientists of all time said, 'Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

Minnesota State University, Mankato football coach was dismissed of his charges against making pornographic videos on Friday, the Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) News said.

Todd Hoffner, 46, was charged with two felony counts in August for videos he made on his university-issued cellphone showing three of his kids naked, the MPR News said.

Hoffner expressed innocence throughout the ordeal and said that the videos merely showed private family moments, the Star Tribune said.

"I'm thankful to be waking up from this nightmare," Hoffner said on Friday to the Star Tribune. "That last 102 days have been long, painful and a nightmare."

Blue Earth County Judge Krista Jass said in her ruling that the videos contain nude images of Hoffner's children dancing but that they do not perform in an "overtly sexual nature," the MPR News said.

Hoffner was suspended from being head football coach in mid-August and since then went through many searches and investigations, the Star Tribune said.

While Hoffner has expressed interest in returning too his former job, he will still be off from the field on Saturday for the next football game, the MPR News said.

Classmates, friends, relatives and neighbors all mourned the deaths of high school students Nick Brady and Haile Kifer on Saturday at Little Falls, the Star Tribune said.

The funeral service was held at Living Hope Assembly of God Church and had a separate room for guests that did not fit in the main room with a video broadcast, the Star Tribune said.

Many of the students had high emotions during the ceremony and many yelled at the reporters standing near the church, the Star Tribune said.

Brady and Kifer were shot and killed while allegedly breaking into Bryon Smith's house on Thanksgiving, the Pioneer Press said.

"In a small town, everyone knows everyone," Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem said to the Pioneer Press. "This puts a sense of fear into people; you wonder if it could happen to you."

Smith, 64, is charged with murdering the students by shooting them repeatedly, the Pioneer Press said. Smith's house was a target for teenagers to break in and this was not the first time someone had broken in, the Pioneer Press said.

While Smith claimed self-defense, the authorities said that Smith went beyond, the Pioneer Press said.

"The law doesn't permit you to execute somebody once a threat is gone," Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said to the Pioneer Press.

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2012 is the previous archive.

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