Saturday, July 15, 2006

Exploring China

Two recent stories helped me understand the rapid changes and growing tensions China is experiencing. "Bridging Two Worlds" by Alwyn Scott of the Seattle Times tells us about Susie Cheng, a young woman who is part of the largest and fastest migration in human history -- the journey of an estimated 150 million young Chinese from rural areas to cities in the past 15 years. Scott does a nice job of showing us the impoverished hamlet of mud huts where Cheng grew up compared with the cosmopolitan city where she now works for a Seattle-based company.

"China's One-Child Problem" by Mark Magnier of the Los Angeles Times explores the controversy surrounding China's one-child campaign. Magnier movingly tells the stories of people who are challenging the Chinese government's autocratic approach. I admire Scott and Magnier for their ability to reveal the lives of ordinary Chinese citizens.

Cargo Crashes

Cargo planes in the United States have a fatal crash nearly once a month, a rate higher than the government officially admits, the Miami Herald reported after a nine-month investigation. "Deadly Express" by reporter Ronnie Greene, photographer Candace Barbot, audio editor Rhonda Sibilia and online producer Stephanie Rosenblatt describes an industry where pilots work long hours, corners are cut and government oversight is loose. To produce this excellent package, the Herald team pored through National Transportation Safety Board data, filed FOIA requests to examine FAA files, reviewed industry memos and interviewed people around the country. Thanks to Al Tompkins for the recommendation.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Sweet Home Alabama

When NBA star Ben Wallace signed with the Chicago Bulls, K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune traveled to Wallace's tiny hometown of White Hall, Ala., to find out more about him. The resulting "Big Ben's Humble Beginnings" is a beautiful portrait of an ambitious young man, the devoted matriarch who encouraged him and an impoverished town that can't decide whether to worship or resent its most famous son. Johnson's writing is full of great descriptions of White Hall and its people.

Booze Escape

Too many local teens are getting off easy after being caught drinking and driving, Lisa Hammersly Munn and Ted Mellnik of The Charlotte Observer discovered. Their "Mecklenburg Judges Giving Breaks for Underage Drinking" reveals a system that lets Mecklenburg County judges give young offenders what's called "a prayer for judgment continued," or PJC for short, allowing them to escape losing their driver's licenses and higher insurance premiums in return for education and treatment. These PJCs are only supposed to go to drivers with virtually clean records, but Munn and Mellnik revealed that 45 percent of those getting PJCs had prior arrests or convictions. This is a great example of court reporting that looks for patterns behind the daily rush of cases.

Becoming an American

Cindy Lange-Kubick of the Lincoln Journal Star has written a compelling story about Brissa Placek, an 18-year-old girl from Acapulco whose adoptive family struggles to keep her in Nebraska. "A Home for Brissa" unfolds like a novel as Lange-Kubick's simple sentences follow the Placek family's frustrating efforts to climb through the tangled web of immigration laws. Photographer Jill Peitzmeier's pictures help capture the Placeks' daily drama. Thank you Brian Summers for the tip.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Return of the Taliban

Jim Sciutto of ABC's "World News Tonight" is doing important reporting from the mountains, valleys and fields of Afghanistan. His "The 'Other' War" series of reports describes how the Taliban are returning better armed and organized than when they were driven from power five years ago. Sciutto travels with U.S. troops as they combat the revitalized Taliban, who are borrowing tactics such as roadside bombs and suicide attacks from the Iraqi insurgents. In one of his reports, Sciutto explores the increasing growth of opium in the Afghan countryside. Kudos to Sciutto and his crew for reminding us about this continuing war that much of the media have been ignoring.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Cop Capers

For nearly a year, Lewis Kamb, Eric Nalder and Paul Shukovsky of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have been investigating misconduct in the King County Sheriff's Office. "Conduct Unbecoming" uses payroll, pension and other public records to expose how deputies convicted of misconduct still receive taxpayer money and how citizens who make misconduct accusations get charged instead of thanked. Lamb, Nalder and Shukovsky use example after example of how the sheriff's office doesn't police itself. In one story, "Taxpayers Foot the Bill for Keeping Bad Cops on the Job," Kamb tells about a cop convicted of murder who gets a $3,100 tax-free pension check while serving life in prison and the deputy who doubled his salary after being accused of beating his girlfriend.
Thank you Brian Summers for the tip.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tow to Nowhere

Patrick Lakamp of The Buffalo News used public records to reveal that Buffalo residents are being charged towing fees even when their cars aren't towed. For his "Towing-Fee Abuse" special report Sunday, Lakamp did a computer analysis of more than 38,000 parking tickets to discover that a police officer was assessing $40 towing charges on 80 percent of the parking tickets he wrote for illegally parked cars. Lakamp then went out in the neighborhoods to learn that none of these 242 ticketed cars was actually towed, although many drivers paid the fines because they didn't want the hassle of appealing them or didn't realize they could. "Towing-Fee Abuse" is already getting results. In today's follow-up story, Lakamp and Brian Meyer report that the Erie County district attorney and Buffalo police are launching investigations into the phantom towing.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Dry Times

I admire columnists like Mike Littwin of the Rocky Mountain News who leave their desks far behind in search of stories. Littwin's "For Dry Cowpunchers, a Standing Eight Count" is a searing look at the drought that has struck southeastern Colorado. Littwin's taut, rhythmical sentences describe a desperate place and the anxious ranchers who are watching a way of life disappear. His quotes pack a wallop as well. The accompanying video by Sonya Doctorian and photos by Todd Heisler help convey the ranchers' rough times.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Descent into Darkness

I saw two impressive stories today about different aspects of mental illness. "On Dec. 5, 2004, I Killed my Daughter" is a first-person account by Valeria Godines of The Orange County Register describing her descent into the torment of a bipolar disorder. Her story is chilling and brave and beautifully written. Here is how Godines describes what her mental illness felt like:
"What happened to me was like turbulent weather inside my head. Black became three shades darker; red became blood. I could smell flowers in the next room. I felt primal fear, cornered, as if something ominous were after me."
The package with Godines' story includes a sidebar with important facts about mental illness and advice on how to get help.

In "Uncovered," Encarnacion Pyle of The Columbus Dispatch dissects how health insurance in Ohio and some other states usually pays less for severe mental illness than it does for other diseases. Pyle uses powerful anecdotes mixed with strong analysis to show how families struggle as a result of this disparity.
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