Five at 8 – 12/17/09: Journalism is a tricky business

First this: Who is the most intriguing person you met or otherwise associated with in some capacity this year? Tell me.

1) I have been learning how to bake a cake with a file in it since the uproar started over MPR’s story that a company that handled some sensitive private information for the state of Minnesota left much of the data unprotected. The company, as I wrote earlier this week, is suing the state and threatening to sue MPR for “hacking” into the data.

The blog, TechDirt, takes up the issue of exposing private information online:


So, even though this will publicize not just Lookout’s failings, but also how it responds to people who notice and report on vulnerabilities, the company still thinks it needs to bring a lawsuit because exposing those vulnerabilities “was wrong”? I would argue that the company’s reaction to this gives many more reasons never to do business with Lookout — more than any discovered vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities in software happen — and it’s more telling how a company reacts when they’re exposed. Suing those who expose them isn’t what you want to see.

This journalism thing is tricky business, indeed. Another example: Uganda is considering executing homosexuals. A BBC program and Web site opened it up for discussion. Politicians said the BBC shouldn’t have done that. Is it best to shine a light and hurt some feelings? Or just shut up and keep people happy?

2) The Cash for Clunkers program has pretty much been thoroughly discredited by now. It sold cars, but did little to stimulate the economy and — it turns out — the people who got the $4,500 to buy new cars, generally lived in wealthy counties.

Interestingly, a few counties in Minnesota — Murray, LeSueur, Dodge, Travis, Wilkin, Big Stone, Mahnomen, Clearwater and Lake of the Woods — did not have any Cash for Clunkers sales.

3) You’ve just got to love the resilience of people. The economy turning sour? Start a niche business selling an impossible-to-find, obsolete piece of technology.

4) Imagine being an employee of a museum and being taken hostage in Panama. Grim-looking soldiers march you into the woods and it’s pretty clear you’re going to be executed. You spend the walk imagining what bullets will feel like. Steve Travers doesn’t have to imagine it; he lived it. He was a guest last night on The Story. Unfortunately you have to scroll through the full show to hear it, and the embedded player on the show’s Web site doesn’t have a timer function. But it’s a story well worth finding here.

Steve now works at North Dakota State University in Fargo. He joined the program from Minnesota Public Radio’s studios at KCCD-KCCM in Moorhead.

5) Science! What is the speed of thought and why does it matter?

More science (sort of): A new study says couples who do dishes together are happier.

Not so funny science. Depression. Why is it becoming more prevalent? Stanford University has posted this class on the subject. “It’s the worst disease you can get,” says Robert Sapolsky.

(h/t: Open Culture)

What’s Right With Us Dept.:After a jar containing money donations for the Toys for Tots Program was stolen last week from the Thrifty Motel, an outpouring of outrage followed by goodwill more than made up for the loss, the St. Cloud Times reports.

TODAY’S QUESTION

Time magazine announced Wednesday that it had named Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as its Person of the Year for 2009. Last year, Time’s choice was President-elect Barack Obama. Who would you pick as your 2009 Person of the Year?

(Sully Sullenberger, of course)

WHAT WE’RE WORKING ON

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Is there a hidden concussion problem among athletes?

Second hour: Psycho’s impact on the movies.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: A discussion of the final days of the climate change conference.

Second hour: Sasha Aslanian’s documentary on divorced kids. I wrote about it here.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: When Barbara Bradley Hagerty went searching for God, she spent a year talking to Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and people who weren’t religious. She found that what they described as a spiritual experience was basically the same. She talks about her book, Fingerprints of God.

Second hour: A.O. Scott on the movies of the decade.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - A group called the Central Minnesota Warrior to Citizen Initiative hosts a live video link from central Minnesota to Iraq this morning to provide resource information to Minnesota soldiers who will return from Iraq in February. The VA says this is the first time it’s done a live link with soldiers, and their families will be at the St. Cloud end to watch. MPR’s Ambar Espinoza will have a story.

As the newest hired, the Minnesota Police Department’s new class of police recruits will all lose their jobs a week after they begin. They graduate from the academy today, work for a few days, and then perhaps some get rehired if the city gets federal grant money, but nothing’s certain. MPR’s Brandt Williams reports.

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