« April 2008 | Main

May 4, 2008

Analysis: Computer-Assisted Reporting

Here's a link to a investigative report that News Channel 5 in Nashville, Tenn. did about flammable wiring on airplanes.

Phil Williams, the chief investigator for the channel, did a nine-month investigation that followed the recent grounding or airplanes so that their wiring could be inspected. The reporter ultimately discovered that a lot of the wiring had a history of almost-explosive sparks. The story details the different types of wire that are explosive, what the FAA did about it, and how it affects fliers.

News Channel 5 used computer-assisted reporting, or CAR, to help with the story.

Consider the following passage:

"But our investigation discovered reports filed by the airlines that, safety advocates say, are warning signs.

"Those reports, called 'service difficulty reports,' contain dozens of references to Kapton's 'burned wires.'

"In one report, a 'wire bundle that runs under [the captain's] feet has numerous wires burned thru and others [are] fire damaged.'

"And in another, 'wiring burned holes in [the] fuselage.'"

It is unlikely that the investigators sat down and looked at the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of reports about airplanes filed with the FAA over the last few decades. They most likely used a database to sift through these records, entering keywords in order to find the information that they needed.

The website for the article also contains links where the readers can read the actual reports themselves and look at the list of aircraft that have the faulty wiring.

Using computer-assisted reporting lends credibility to the story by giving specific facts and numbers to back up the reporter's statements. The reporter does not have to rely on anecdotal reporting and can tell the story more effectively.

Cyclone kills 350 in Burma

At least 350 people died in Burma during a powerful cyclone that destroyed thousands of homes, USA Today reported Sunday.

International aid is desperately needed, but many worry that the country's leaders, who tend to be secretive and xenophobic, will be reluctant to ask for help.

An election is scheduled for May 10. How the junta, the ruling party in Burma, reacts to the storm could spell the end of their grasp on power. Voters already blame the regime for "ruining democracy and squashing democracy," USA Today said.

The military-run television station reported that Tropical Cyclone Nargis, which packed winds of up to 120 m.p.h, killed at least 351 people and that at least 75 percent of the buildings in the country's Irawaddy region had collapsed.

The United Nations tried to send in teams on Sunday, but were unable to enter the country because of roads clogged with debris.

"The Burmese are saying they have never seen anything like this, ever," Shari Villarosa, an American diplomat in Burma, told The Associated Press. "Trees are down. Electricity lines are down. Our Burmese staff have lost their roofs. There is major devastation throughout the city."

The storm has already had an effect on the nation's economy. The price of a gallon of gasoline has jumped from $2.50 to $10 on the black market and many other goods have tripled in price.

New 35W bridge to open in September

Construction on the new 35W bridge is on pace to be completed in September instead of December as originally planned, the Star Tribune reported Sunday.

Flatiron Construction announced Saturday that the bridge is already 65 percent complete and that the horizontal concrete pieces of the bridge could start to be put together as early as May 14. If the bridge opens in September, they will receive $20 million in federal funds as a reward for being ahead of schedule.

The bridge is estimated to cost $234 million. The entire project, including removal of the old bridge, will cost about $400 million.

The completion date will be within just a few days of the Republican Nation Convention to be held in St. Paul Sept. 1-4, but Kevin Gutknecht, an official with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said that the project would not be rushed to be done by the beginning of the convention.

"The priority on this project is safety and quality," Gutknecht said.

The old Interstate 35W bridge collapsed last August, killing 13 people.

May 1, 2008

U.S. missiles strike Somali targets

The U.S. military confirmed Thursday that it carried out missle attacks in Somalia aimed at killing the leader of an Islamic militant group, the BBC reported.

A spokesman said the attacks were carrie out in the Somail town of Dusamareb where an al-Qaeda leader was known to be staying.

The strike hit the home of Aden Hashi Ayro, who controls al-Shabab, another militant group in Somalia that may have ties to al-Qaeda.

The attack may have killed as many as 30 people.

"It was an attack against a known al-Qaeda target and militia leader in Somalia," military spokesman Bob Prucha told the Associate Press.

The U.S. considers al-Shabab to be a terrorist group, but it is unclear whether it is connected to al-Qaeda or is a purely Somali group.

The missles were launched from a vessel in the Indian Ocean and his Ayro's home at 3 a.m. Somail time.

"We heard a huge explosion and when we ran out of our house we saw balls of smoke and flames coming out of house," a local resident told the BBC.

A spokesman for al-Shabab warned there would be revenge for the attacks. "I am letting the citizens of the US and the allies know they are not going to be safe in this area," he said.

Strib: Up to 10 years for millionaire tax dodger

A federal jury in Minneapolis took only two hours Wednesday to find Robert Beale, the former millionaire CEO of Maple Grove-based Comtrol Corp., guilty on seven counts of tax evasion, conspiracy and fleeing authorities, the Star Tribune reported.

The eight-day trial in U.S. District Court featured more than 100 exhibits.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy Rank and Michael Cheever argued that Beale tried to hide more than $5 million in income for which he should have paid $1.6 million in taxes.

Beale was originally charged in 2006 but fled court. He was captured 14 months later in Florida.

Beale acted as his own lawyer, repeatedly arguing the meaning of the U.S. Constitution and the enforcement of the tax code.

Beale's fiance, Mun Suk Kim, cried when the verdict was read and declined to comment.