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March 30, 2008

Analysis: Obituaries

The New York Times published an obituary on Sunday for the photojournalist Dith Pran.

Douglas Martin, the other of the obituary, chose to start with a standard lead: he gave the name of the deceased, a line about his life, when he died and where, and his age.

The second paragraph tells what Pran died of. The source he uses is Sydney H. Schanberg, a "friend" of Pran's. A journalist always wants to use a reputable source when reporting a cause of death, usually a close family member or doctor. Martin must have felt that Schanberg, Pran's journalistic partner, was trustworthy enough to use as a source in a published article.

The next nine paragraphs detail Pran's "claim to fame." He was an important photojournalist documenting the brutality of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge government in the 1970s. Douglas uses Schanberg as a source for much of this information.

The next 9 paragraphs are the chronology of Pran's life, telling where he was born, his upbringing in Cambodia, his education, and his career.

Douglas then gives a few paragraphs about Pran's spouse and children.

The obituary is not a simple resume because it contains quotes from Pran's friends and Pran himself. These additions give life to the story and make it more interesting.

Two cheetahs maul Fla. woman

The owner of a wildlife sanctuary in Wellington, Fla. was attacked Sunday by two cheetahs and hospitalized after sustaining 40 puncture wounds, the Associated Press reported.

Judy Berens was airlifted to a local hospital, but her injuries appear to be non-life threatening, police said.

She was conducting an exhibition with two male cheetahs when one became distracted by a bouncing ball ouside. The cheetah moved toward the ball and knocked Berens down, police said. The cheetah then attacked, clawing and biting her, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Widlife Conservation Commission said. At some point the other cheetah joined in the attack.

Several people entered the cheetah cage and rescued her.

An investigation is underway, but it appears no laws were violated.

March 29, 2008

Darkness sweeps the globe during Earth Hour

Cities across the world went dark Saturday night for Earth Hour, a global "lights-off" campaign to highlight the threat of climate change, the Associated Press reported.

The event, hosted by the environmental group WWF, entailed turning off the lights for at least an hour starting at 8 p.m. in every time zone.

Earth Hour started last year in Australia and trailed the setting sun to Europe and some American cities.

Event organizers hoped 100 million people would observe Earth Hour, cutting down on electricity use.

Last year, the event cut 10.2 percent of Australia's carbon emissions for that hour.

The Star Tribune did not publish any information on whether the event would be observed locally.

U horticulture scientists create new apple

University of Minnesota horticulture scientists have created a new breed of apple called Frostbite, the Star Tribune reported Friday.

This is not the first U of M apple to be introduced to the produce market; the Honeycrisp, SnowSweet and Zestar all got their start at the U.

The scientists held a contest last fall to decide the name of the apple. About 7,000 people wrote in, and 12 independent contestants suggested the name Frostbite.

Frostbite has been part of a breeding program at the U since the 1920s and was only named recently.

The Star Tribune reported that Frostbite apples do "terribly" in taste tests, but are good for making apple cider.

Scientists will start grafting Frostbite apple trees this summer and planting them by 2010. The fruit won't make it to market until 2014.

March 26, 2008

Mystery gas leak injures 37

Thirty-seven people were injured and 15 were sent to the hospital Wednesday following a mysterious chlorine gas leak in the swimming pool at Ricori High School, the Star Tribune reports.

The cause of the leak was unknown as of late Wednesday. "Quite honestly, we're really baffled," Scott Staska, superintendent of the Rocori School District, told the Star Tribune.

Many of the patients were coughing and had burning eyes, said the patients' doctor. No one was seriously ill and the victims are unlikely to suffer long-term symptoms.

Students were swimming in the pool Wednesday afternoon when a "big vapor cloud" appeared to be coming from vents in the pool, police said.

"It felt like there was a whirlpool in the water," one student said.

The school was pronounced safe by 4 p.m. and evacuated students were allowed back in the building.

March 25, 2008

Fox refuses to pay indecency fine

Fox Broadcasting refused Monday to pay a $91,000 levied by the FCC for indecency on a long-canceled television show, the Washington Post reported.

The FCC had previously tried to fine all 169 Fox television stations for a total of $2.1 million in 2004 for a 2003 episode of the reality show "Married in America" that featured digitally obscured nudity and strippers covered in whipped cream.

The FCC reduced the fine to $91,000 last month, deciding to fine only the 13 stations that received viewer complaints.

Fox refused to pay the fine, calling it "arbitrary and capricious, inconsistent with precedent, and patently unconstitutional."

The Supreme Court decided last week to take up FCC vs. Fox Broadcasting Broadcasting, a separate case in which fines were levied against Fox in 2002 and 2003 because of vulgarities uttered during live broadcasts of awards shows.

The Court has not heard a broad indecency case since 1978 when it upheld the FCC's authority to fine broadcasters for indecent material.

FCC rules prohibit broadcasters from airing offensive sexual or excretory material between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are likely to be watching.

March 16, 2008

One dies in St. Louis Park fire

One man died Sunday in a St. Louis Park fire, the Star Tribune reported.

The fire, in the 1400 block or Oregon Avenue, was reported by a motorist on I-394. By that time, flames were shooting through the roof.

Fire Chief Luke Stemmer said that the roof had already collapsed and that the man and his dog were found dead inside.

Stemmer said the police department has not yet determined the cause of the fire.

"It's unusual for us to get a house fully involved like this at 7 in the morning and not have anybody see it," he told the Star Tribune.

Violence in Tibet

Tibetan protests have spread from the region's capital of Lhasa to other areas of China, the BBC reported Sunday.

Tibetan protesters attacked cars and a police station in Sichuan province.

The violence came after Tibetan leaders in exile said that the Chinese authorities had killed 80 people in Lhasa on Friday. Officials in India said several sources confirmed those numbers, although the official Chinese estimates are much lower.

The Chinese military deployed 200 military vehicles filled with soldiers to the region to secure the peace.

China invaded Tibet in 1950, claiming that it was always part of its territory. The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, has been in exile since 1959.

March 15, 2008

Poll: Most Minnesotans OK light rail expansion

Seventy-two percent of Minnesotans back plans for mass transportation expansion, according to a recent poll.

The poll was conducted by Minnesota 2020, a liberal-leaning think tank.

The Minnesota Legislature is currently considering several bills that would expand light rail services, most of them in the Twin Cities area. Lawmakers overode Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a transportation funding bill last month.

The legislature passed a bill funding the Central Corridor light rail line that is to connect Minneapolis and St. Paul when it opens in 2014. They also funded studies for five new light rail lines and high speed train route between St. Paul and Chicago.

The poll found that rural Minnesotans support mass transportation just as much as their urban neighbors.

Ridership on the Hiawatha light rail line between Bloomington and Minneapolis is five times higher then expected, the Pioneer Press reported.

March 12, 2008

New York governor resigns amid sex scandal

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned Wednesday after it was revealed he had been involved with several prostitutes, the New York Times reported.

The resignation will be effective Monday and Lt. Gov. David Paterson will be sworn in as Spitzer's replacement.

“Over the course of my public life, I have insisted — I believe correctly — that people regardless of their position or power take responsibility for their conduct,? Sptizer, wife at his side, said during a 140 second press conference. “I can and will ask no less of myself. For this reason, I am resigning from the office of governor.?

It was revealed two days ago that Spitzer was a frequent client at a high-end prostitution ring.

It is unclear whether Spitzer will faces any criminal charges.

Spitzer is the first New York governor to resign since 1973 and the first to be forced out since William Sulzer was impeached in 1913 because of campaign finance fraud.

March 11, 2008

1 in 4 teen girls has STD

At least one in every four American teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease, according to a major study released by the Centers for Disease Control, USA Today reported Tuesday.

A virus that causes cervical cancer is the most prevalent disease of the 3 million girls infected with an STD, the study found.

Nearly half of blacks and 20% of whites and Mexican-Americans have an STD.

About half of all girls ages 14-19 acknowledged having had sex, and of that half, nearly 40% had become infected.

A spokesperson for the CDC said this was the first study of its kind and will help doctors focus their research and educate girls who may be at risk.

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, the infection that can cause cervical cancer, can be prevented with a new vaccine.

Experts recommend that teenage girls receive the vaccine and get frequent examinations for other STDs.

March 9, 2008

Analysis: Event Coverage

The Thursday issue of the Minnesota Daily ran an advance for the 15th annual Women with Vision film festival at the Walker Art Center.

The advance gives the reader all the facts he or she needs to know: when the event is, where it is, how much it will cost, etc. Sheryl Mousley, the curator of the exhibit, is one of the sources for the article, giving the reporter several quotations to use in the story.

Although this story's main purpose is to give the reader basic information about the film festival, it puts an angle on the story by looking at the way the event serves as a "telescope to other cultures."

Prescription drugs found in drinking water

An Associated Press report found a "vast array" of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, the AP reported Sunday.

The concentrations of these drugs, including anti-biotics, mood stabilizers and sexual hormones, are tiny, and utilities insist their water is safe, but the discovery has many doctors worrying about the effects of pharmaceuticals on long-term health.

The traces of drugs that are not absorbed by the body are flushed down the toilet and eventually find their way to the water supply. The water is cleaned at water treatment plants, but some of the pharmaceutical residue is cannot be removed.

The situation is "undoubetdly worse" than the AP report's findings.

The federal government has no regulations about perscription drugs in drinking water, even though the number of U.S. perscriptions is about 3.7 billion.

"People think that if they take a medication, their body absorbs it and it disappears, but of course that's not the case," scientist Christian Daughton, a scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency, told the AP.

Recent research has shown that ingesting trace amounts of unprescribed drugs can have adverse affect on human health, causing cancer cells to proliferate too quickly, kidney cells to grow too slowly, and blood cells to show biological activity associated with inflammation.

Studies have also shown that the drugs are having negative effects on fish, worms and plankton.

March 8, 2008

All-you-can-eat baseball games

What's the latest trend at Major League Baseball stadiums across the country? All-you-can-eat seats, USA Today reported Friday.

For $30 to $55 you can sit in the upper-deck or bleacher sections at your local baseball park and wolf down as many hot dogs, peanuts, nachos and soda as you would like.

At least 13 of the major league teams are offering the all-you-can-eat seats for the 2008 season, more than double the amount last year.

Team officials say this new tactic is a way to sell tickets for parts of the stadiums that used to sit empty.

Health and diet specialists, however, have criticized the seats, saying they are symbols of a society in which 1 out of every 3 adults is obese.

"It's disgusting," a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association told USA Today. "Why can't people just enjoy the game and eat sensibly?"

Neither the Minnesota Twins nor the Milwaukee Brewers are offering the all-you-can-eat seats for the upcoming season.

So how much does a fan sitting in one of these seats usually eat? Ron Ranieri, general manager of concessions at Turner Field in Atlanta, calculates that a typical all-you-can-eat customer ate: 3.35 hot dogs; one 20-ounce soda; one 7.9-ounce bag of peanuts; one 3-ounce order of nachos and 32 ounces of popcorn.

Some teams offer fruit salads and garden burgers for fans who want to eat healthy.

March 6, 2008

Eight dead in attack on Israeli school

A guman killed eight and wounded at least nine others in an attack on a downtown Jerusalem school, the New York Times reported.

The attack was the deadliest on Israeil civilians in nearly two years. The victims were all in their 20s and 30s.

The lone gunman, thought to be either a Palestinian or an Israeili Arab, was killed at the scene by a part-time student and security officers.

The attack came during a time of increased tension in the region, following violence in Gaza which led to 130 Palestinian deaths.

Both President Bush and the United Nations denounced the attacks.

The radical Islamic group Hamas did not take responsibility for the attack, but praised it, saying they "bless the operation."

Oak Street Cinema demolition likely

The Oak Street Cinema is likely to be demolished after the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival ends May 3, the Star Tribune reported.

The theater's owners are in "serious talks" with a group of developers who want to demolish the building and develop the property into high-density student housing and retail space.


Oak Street Cinema, 309 Oak St. SE., was founded in 1995 by Bob Cowgill, now a professor at Augsburg College. He renovated the 92-year-old theater into a destination for film enthusiasts, showing independent, classic, and foreign films.

The cinema is currently $145,000 in debt, according to its most recent tax form, and has had turbulent relations with employees in recent years.

A representative from Minnesota Film Arts, the group that owns the theater, said that selling the Oak would allow the organization to relieve its financial burden.

March 4, 2008

Brett Favre retires

Brett Favre, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers since 1992, announced his retirement on Tuesday, Sports Illustrated reported.

"I know I can still play, but... I'm just tired mentally. I'm just tired," Favre told ESPN.

The 38-year-old quarterback set many records in his final season, including the most career touchdown passes, most yards passing, and most wins as a starting quarterback.

He retires with 5,377 career completions in 8,758 attempts for 61,655 yards and 442 touchdowns.

There is much speculation, however, as to whether Favre's decision is final.

"As the season gets closer, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he changes his mind," said Troy Aikman, a Fox analyst and former Dallas Cowboy.

The three-time NFL MVP has not yet formally addressed the media.

March 2, 2008

Analysis: Press Conference

Althought it barely made the headlines this week, the story about Ralph Nader's choosing Matt Gonzalez as his running mate is a good opportunity to explore the relationships between press releases and published articles.

The Thursday press release from Nader's press office describes who Gonzalez is, his accomplishments, his education, and large amounts of the transcript of what Nader actually said at the press conference.

A Friday article in the San Francisco Chronicle opens with the following lead: "Ralph Nader's choice of San Francisco lawyer and activist Matt Gonzalez as his running mate isn't likely to propel the consumer advocate to victory in his fifth presidential campaign since 1992."

Clearly this lead isn't hard news story; it adds a little analysis and insight. Rather than simply reporting Nader's statements, this author decided mix the news about Nader's choice with some analysis.

The story does contain many of the quotations from the press release, but not all of them. The writer chose to include only the most salient quotes that would fit in her story.

The article continues by adding a lot of history of Nader's past campaigns in order to give the reader who may be unfamiliar with Nader a better understanding of his recent actions and history.

The writer's story is not a simple, boring "a guy said something" piece. By adding analysis and history she creates a story that is both interesting and informative.

Venezuela-Colombia tensions escalate

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is sending thousands of tank and troops to the Colombian border, the BBC reported Sunday.

Chavez's actions are a response to an incident in which Colombian forces crossed into Ecuador on Saturday and killed sixteen members of the rebel group FARC.

Chavez called the event "a cowardly murder, all of it coldly calculated."

Venezuela sees Colombia's actions as an infringement of Ecaudor's sovereignty and will be sending troops to secure its border. Chavez also ordered the Venezuelan embassy in Colombia to be closed.

The White House called Venezuela's efforts an "odd reaction" to the Colombian strike, CNN reported.

FARC is a terrorist group that has been struggling for 40 years to overthrow the Colombian government.

March 1, 2008

Ricin found in Las Vegas hotel

A man who stayed in a Las Vegas hotel where ricin was found is in critical condition, the New York Times reported Saturday.

Investigators are still try to determine why the man, whose identity has not been released, would have come into contact with the deadly substance at the hotel one mile of the Strip.

The city's police chief said that the man was still checked into the hotel when the ricin was discovered by a friend who went to retrieve the sick man's belongings after he had been hospitalized.

Ricin is made from the waste produced by processing beans of the common weed castor. Just a pinprick of ricin can be lethal.

Police found guns and an "anarchist-type textbook" in a search of the man's room, but an F.B.I. spokesperson said the events did not appear to be related to terrorism.