Friday, June 30, 2006


On May 12 I lauded USA Today for a story saying that the National Security Administration has worked with the leading phone companies to compile records of millions of domestic phone calls. Today USA Today ran "A Note to our Readers" saying that it can no longer confirm that
BellSouth and Verizon provided those records. I expect this saga still has a few more chapters, but it's important to acknowledge that I may have been too quick to praise the initial story.

Can Cheaters Prosper?

The Philadelphia Inquirer has done a great job investigating what really goes on with standardized testing in the schools. In "Education Tests: Who's Minding the Scores?" Kellie Patrick and Larry Eichel take a local cheating scandal and give it national perspective. They reveal that only about half the states responding to an Inquirer survey actually statistically analyze standardized test results to make sure there is no organized cheating. Patrick and Eichel give us examples of cheating scandals around the country and explain how the No Child Left Behind Act doesn't require states to take a more active role to catch testing shenanigans.
My thanks to loyal reader Brian Summers for the tip.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bank Battles

Dan Fitzpatrick of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offers a wonderful example of explanatory business reporting with this week's "BankTown USA" series. Fitzpatrick shows how Charlotte, N.C., passed by Pittsburgh to become the second city of U.S. banking. I like how Fitzpatrick describes the people, laws and business strategies that helped Charlotte rise and how he dissects the consequences for Pittsburgh. I don't usually find stories about banking easy to understand or fun to read, but Fitzpatrick's writing kept me engaged.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Toxic Trap

Some strong stories are appearing this week in alternative newspapers.

"Containment Policy" by Gilbert Garcia of the San Antonio Current looks at a low-income neighborhood that is struggling with the toxic legacy of a shuttered Air Force base. Garcia does a nice job of humanizing this story while thoroughly investigating the scientific and policy issues.

"Still On the Waterfront" by Tom Robbins in The Village Voice details the long battle to rid New Jersey's docks of mob influence. The story is full of intriguing history and great descriptions like this one:
Today, Hanley could still pass for one of the hardworking grunts Kazan recruited off the docks as extras for the movie. He is a hefty six-footer with a broad, weather-ravaged face that has spent years looking into the sun and whipped by 45-mile-per-hour winds out on the uncovered piers.

Finally, "Rough Love" by Joanne Green of the Miami New Times exposes disturbing allegations against Tranquility Bay, a Jamaican boarding school for troubled teens that appears to be anything but tranquil. Green does a good job of putting the controversy about Tranquility Bay in the context of the more than 1,000 so-called "tough-love" programs for teens operated by U.S. businesses.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Lone Star Justice

Maurice Possley and Steve Mills of the Chicago Tribune continue their groundbreaking investigations into the death penalty with a three-part series that ended today. "Did One Man Die for Another's Crime?" looks at the 1983 murder of gas station clerk Wanda Lopez and concludes that the state of Texas may have killed the wrong man for the crime. Carlos De Luna was executed by lethal injection after being convicted of the murder even though another man, Carlos Hernandez, bragged about the killing. Mills and Possley use court transcripts and dozens of interviews with those connected with the crime and trial to cast significant doubt on the verdict.

For contrast, today's Tribune also boasts a sweet profile of James Culver, the last farmer in the Chicago area to work his fields using draft horses. "A Life's Labor Firmly Rooted in Soil" by Jason George is a nice look at a vanishing way of life. I like how George puts Culver's story in the greater context of the region's growth.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Get the Lead Out

Sharon Coolidge of The Cincinnati Enquirer tells us in Sunday's paper that in the last five years 570 Cincinnati children have suffered from lead poisoning while city government does little to make landlords clean up their act. "Lead's Dangerous Legacy" reveals that less than 1 percent of the hundreds of property owners who have ignored city orders to remove lead paint are taken to court. The result is that hundreds of children are being poisoned by lead, which can stunt their intellectual and physical growth, Coolidge writes. The excellent package also includes Coolidge's profile of a family who can't afford to escape its lead-filled home and Glenn Hartong's photos of children who have been poisoned by lead.
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