Friday, February 03, 2006

The Little Paper That Could

I'll confess that until this week I'd never heard of the weekly Express newspaper covering communities north of Tucson, Arizona. But on Wednesday the Express proved once again that small newspapers can do important investigative journalism. "It's on the Town" by Ryan J. Stanton shows how government officials in Marana, population 23,000, are using their town-issued credit cards to pay for cable TV hookups, expensive dinners, tuxedo rentals and Christmas gifts at taxpayer expense. It's a wonderfully detailed investigation that gives town officials plenty of space to tell their side of the story.
Thanks to Brian Summers for the tip.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Dropping Out

This week the Los Angeles Times is running a fascinating series, "The Vanishing Class." Six Times reporters and two photographers spent eight months observing classes, reviewing data and interviewing students, teachers and parents to find out why more than half the Class of 2005 at Birmingham High School, a typical L.A. public school, dropped out since their freshman year. On Sunday, Mitchell Landsberg looked at the reasons different teens left school and what happened to them after they did. On Monday, Duke Helfand described what happened to students once a new graduation requirement that they pass algebra was added. Both stories are filled with vivid examples. The great Web package for this series includes a map where readers can find information about individual schools, sample questions from the algebra tests the students must take, and terrific photos by Genaro Molina. The rest of this series continues Friday and Saturday.,0,6750397.story

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Back to Basics

Neenah Ellis has been doing a terrific series on the roughly 400 one-room schools remaining in the U.S. for NPR's "Morning Edition." This week she took us to Gold Creek, Montana, where teacher Kim Tozzi is responsible for six students ranging from kindergarten through sixth grade. This story is a great portrait of America off the beaten path. My favorite part of this broadcast is when Ellis interviews the tiny district's superintendent while he brands and castrates cattle -- I can't imagine the superintendent of my kids' school doing that. Last month Ellis took us to a school in Maine, and in February she will report from the only one-room school in Hawaii. I can't wait.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Profiles in Courage

The kidnapping of the Christian Science Monitor's Jill Carroll and the injuries to ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt remind us of the incredible courage journalists are displaying to bring us vital news from Iraq. Last year alone, 22 journalists were killed in Iraq, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Today's gem goes to all the journalists who are still over there bringing us stories we need to know about. As an example, check out this story by Robert H. Reid of the Associated Press that ran in many papers and Web sites on Saturday. It's a thorough, clear round-up of the news gathered under the most difficult of conditions.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Pass the Pork

In the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, the Boston Globe turned its spotlight on the lobbying industry this weekend. In Saturday's "Family Ties Spark Concern in Lobby Debate," Michael Kranish reports that at least 32 congressional family members now lobby Congress, including the son of House Speaker Dennis Hastert. And in Sunday's "Congressional Pet Projects Boom -- in Secret," Susan Milligan shows how the number of pet projects secretly inserted into the budget by Congress soared from 1,439 in 1995 to 13,997 last year, a new record. In wonderful detail, Milligan describes how many of the lobbyists pushing for these special earmarks, which cost taxpayers $27.3 billion last year, once worked for the congressmen they are now lobbying.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sex Slaves

The terrible tragedy of sex slavery is thankfully starting to get more attention in the media. In recent weeks, Nicholas D. Kristof has written important columns for the op-ed pages of the New York Times about the international scope of the issue. In today's Charlotte Observer, Franco Ordonez localizes the story by showing how immigrant Latino women are being kept as sex slaves in brothels in Charlotte and around the state. I like how the end of his story, "Sex Rings Prey on Immigrant Women," offers tips for readers to recognize when a home might be housing a secret brothel and gives victims a hot line number they can call.

Intelligence Failure

Six years after it was started, a $1.2 billion National Security Agency program that was supposed to help protect the U.S. from terrorists still doesn't work, Siobhan Gorman reports in today's Baltimore Sun. In "System Error," Gorman describes the stalled Trailblazer program, which was supposed to be able to pick out crucial pieces of information from the vast wave of digital communications the agency receives. To report the story, Gorman used documents obtained using the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with intelligence experts, many of whose names aren't used in the article. I usually don't endorse the use of anonymous sources, but because the program is classified and NSA officials refused to respond on the record, it makes sense for the reporting of this important story.,1,1444424.story?page=1&coll=bal-home-headlines
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