Saturday, June 03, 2006

Air Sickness

I like how Saturday is the big day for Canadian newspapers. That way we can find great investigative scoops on both weekend days if we're willing to do a little border hopping. The Hamilton Spectator make that cross-border journey worthwhile today with "Dangerous Skies," an investigation into airline safety. Reporters Fred Vallance-Jones, Robert Cribb and Tamsin Mcmahon write that planes in Canada got dangerously close to each other more than 800 times between 2001 and 2005, or about once every other day. Vallance-Jones, Cribb and Mcmahon look in great detail at the conditions that are putting planes within seconds of crashing. The Spectator team, along with the Toronto Star and The Record of Waterloo Region, worked for four years to uncover the data that made this important story possible. Thanks to my colleague Mary Nesbitt for pointing it out to me.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Profiles in Courageous Reporting

The deaths of CBS cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan and the injuries to correspondent Kimberly Dozier remind us once again how much we owe the journalists who are brave enough to continue reporting from Iraq. I continue to be astounded by the quality of the reporting that's being done in the face of terrible odds. An example is "A Town Awoke to Slaughter" by Megan K. Stack and Raheem Salman in Thursday's Los Angeles Times. Stack, Salman and an Iraqi reporter whose name the Times is protecting for security reasons share first-hand accounts of what happened in Haditha, where survivors say Marines, enraged by the death of one of their own, gunned down women, children and a man in a wheelchair. I admire the Times reporters for not relying on leaks from the official investigation but instead getting information from Haditha itself.

Last month the Times carried another gem from Iraq, this time by Bruce Wallace. "In Iraq, Soccer Field Is No Longer a Refuge" describes what happens when violence strikes one place ordinary Iraqis had felt safe. Wallace does a nice job of showing how sports had survived as maybe the only part of Iraqi society immune from sectarian bloodshed.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

California Crooks

A couple of crime stories from the Golden State have impressed me recently. In "Risking a Life Term to Protect a Child," Sean Webby of the San Jose Mercury News tells the story of Matthew Ryan Hahn, a convicted burglar who stole a safe only to find inside evidence of a much more horrible crime. Webby describes Hahn's agonizing decision of whether to turn the evidence over to police and risk getting caught himself, or to keep quiet and preserve his own freedom. Webby's taut writing -- notice his potent action verbs -- make this a compelling read.

A bit further north, Phillip Reese of the Sacramento Bee uses mapping and data base software combined with old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting to identify the Sacramento neighborhoods where crime is rising the fastest. I like how "Watchdog Report: Bearing the Brunt of Violent Crime" humanizes what could have been a dry statistical story by using specific examples from residents' lives.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Horse Sense

How do you mend a broken-down horse? Mike Jensen of the Philadelphia Inquirer shows us with "The Man Whose Job Is Saving Barbaro." Jensen profiles Dean Richardson, a renowned veterinarian who got the call to perform life-saving surgery on Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner who broke three bones during the Preakness Stakes. Jensen mixes high drama with intriguing information about what it takes to save a horse. My favorite part of the story is how Jensen portrays Richardson's humility and humor, as shown by this quote about the early-morning flight he took back to Philadelphia to perform the surgery:
"I got the back-row seat, next to the toilet," Richardson said. "If you want a real news story, [the flight] was on time."

Monday, May 29, 2006

Troop Tributes

On Memorial Day I want to highlight some stories that do an especially thoughtful and sensitive job of saluting our troops and showing the pain and grief they suffer.

Last month Jim Sheeler of the Rocky Mountain News wrote an inspiring profile of David Rozelle, who lost his right foot to a land mine on the border between Iraq and Kuwait. Sheeler's "Amputee in it for Long Run" describes how Rozelle runs marathons, even with a prosthetic leg. Sheeler is a master at capturing vivid details:
"His hat is stitched with the name of the Army running team he created - a team composed mostly of amputees:
'Missing (Parts) In Action,' the hat reads.
Alongside is the team's motto: 'Some Assembly Required.'"

In "Iconic Marine Is at Home but Not at Ease," David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times profiles Blake Miller, who became a Marine Corps icon when a photographer shot a picture of him with a Marlboro in his mouth after an all-night firefight. A year later, Blake is back in his Kentucky home, fighting the demons of post-traumatic stress disorder. Zucchino does an excellent job of using quotes to let his sources tell the story in their own words. Check out this passage where Zucchino describes how Blake's wife reacted when she first saw the photo:
When Jessica saw the photo on the front page of the local paper, she had not heard from Blake in a week."I was glad to know he was alive, but I couldn't stop crying," she said. "The scared look on his face, his eyes — it tore me up."

And in "Tears, Tributes, and a Simple Memorial," Jenna Russell and Deborah Turcotte of The Boston Globe describe the work of the Maine Troop Greeters, a volunteer group that has welcomed more than 300,000 troops to the Bangor, Maine, airport as they travel to and from Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition to welcoming the military personnel with cookies and hugs, the Maine Troop Greeters keep a plastic binder that lists all the American troops who have died in these wars. Russell and Turcotte show how this simple binder, now filled with more than 300 pages, 10 names to a page, has become a memorial for the returning troops, a way for them to check to see if their friends and loved ones have survived their tours of duty.
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