Stay calm and do what you can (5×8 – 4/16/13)

Image takeaways from Boston, when journalists make a difference, the view from the wheelchair, the electric-shock bra, and when meteorologists fight.


1) IMAGES FROM BOSTON

There are, of course, any number of iconic images of yesterday’s bombing attack at the Boston Marathon. I’m choosing to go with this:

spreadsheet_marathon.jpg

It’s a Google docs spreadsheet with pages and pages of email addresses and phone numbers from people offering a place for stranded marathon runners and their families to stay.

The accounts are not as compelling as some of the eyewitness reports to yesterday’s horror, but comforting nonetheless:

Myself and my roommate have a futon and a couch – we can fit up to three people. We can reimburse a cab/pay for a cab if you let us know you’re coming.

We are a gay couple, in case that might be a detriment or attribute to someone thought it would be important to know. We have a guest bedroom and a cat.

We will be in our apartment as well, but will happily give people our bed. We can fit 3 total. two in a full bed and 1 on the couch. 1584 tremont street, Boston.

And on it goes. People willingly giving up cell phone numbers, email addresses and private information, reminding us that we are a species that wants to help. The small acts and offers are often the only power we have, but it’s us doing the only things we know how to do: something. Anything.

” It’s not that Bostonians have something that makes them uniquely capable of dealing with this,” Charles Pierce writes today on Esquire. “It’s that people do.”

If we’re paramedics, we rush in where others are rushing out. If we’re reporters, we report. If we’re a thousand miles away, we tweet an encouraging word. If we’re artists in Brooklyn, we use our talent to create a viral image on the side of the Brooklyn Academy of Music that says what we always say when there’s not much else we can: “We love you. We thinking about you. Let us know if we can do anything.”

brooklyn_loves_boston.jpg

The sum of which tell us that we are better than we think we are.

But, of course, despite the reluctance of politicians and officials to say the “T” word, yesterday was an act of terror, even if it didn’t have — yet — some political or social “cause.” People are terrified and the danger of inflicting more damage by our response is high. That’s how terrorism works.

Don’t succumb to that, Bruce Schneier writes in The Atlantic.


If it’s hard for us to keep this in perspective, it will be even harder for our leaders. They’ll be afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism — or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity — they will be branded as “soft on terror.” And they’ll be afraid that Americans might vote them out of office. Perhaps they’re right, but where are the leaders who aren’t afraid? What has happened to “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”?

Terrorism, even the terrorism of radical Islamists and right-wing extremists and lone actors all put together, is not an “existential threat” against our nation. Even the events of 9/11, as horrific as they were, didn’t do existential damage to our nation. Our society is more robust than it might seem from watching the news. We need to start acting that way.

“When we react from fear, when we change our laws and policies to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed, even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we’re indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail, even if their attacks succeed,” he writes.

In Boston, people fight back with spare futons.

Related:

patton_oswalt.jpg

2) MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Do journalists get a little too caught up in awards? The Pulitzer is about as prestigious an award as there is in the industry. Bigger than a terrorist attack?

strib_pulitzer.jpg

Irrational exuberance aside, the Pulitzers are a reminder that great journalism requires journalists to take a stand. Too often, we prove our journalistic ethics by not taking sides and not championing some cause. But the Star Tribune knew that the number of children dying in child care had nearly doubled over five years was an unacceptable situation in a civilized state and, armed with facts, set about to make a difference.

And it did. State and county regulators stepped up enforcement and this year, only one child has died. And after last July through through the end of the year, none did.

Journalism isn’t stenography. It’s making a difference.

3) THE VIEW FROM THE WHEELCHAIR

Minnesota Viking Chris Kluwe spent a day in a wheelchair to support efforts at the Legislature for a $4 million appropriation for research to discover a cure for paralysis. (h/t: Ben Chorn)

Chris Kluwe Rolls a Mile in Someone Else’s Wheels from Matthew Rodreick on Vimeo.

4) THE ELECTRIC BRA

In many ways, I suppose, this next story is a perfect example of what I mentioned earlier — people doing what they can. In India the rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi in December, 2012, focused new attention on the treatment of women in the country.

Manisha Mohan, an aeronautical engineering student at SRM University in the Indian city of Chennai, fellow students Niladhri Basu Bal and Rimpi Tripathi, decided to use their technical skills to try and do something to help protect women like her, the BBC reports.

They’ve developed a bra designed to deliver a 3800 kilovolt electric shock to any would-be rapist. It also sends a text message to a relative or friend and the local police station, with the GPS coordinates of the victim’s location.

(h/t: Mary Turck)

5) WHEN METEOROLOGISTS FIGHT

It can get a tad uncomfortable on Twitter when two local meteorologists have a spat. It happened this morning, and started with a tweet from a KSTP meteorologist and a response from a competitor at WCCO.

They eventually made up.

TODAY’S QUESTION

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case that could stop the patenting of human genes. Advocates for the biomedical industry assert that patents drive medical discoveries. The multi-billion-dollar industry performs critical research in the fight against cancer and other diseases.

Opponents of gene patents, including Nobel Prize-winning scientists and medical groups say the patents slow discovery and research by restricting access to the genes. “Finding a new use for a product of nature, if you don’t change the product of nature, is not patentable,” lawyer Christopher Hansen argued.

Today’s Question: Should patents be allowed for human genes?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: America’s shrinking workforce.

Second hour: The latest research on empathy.

Third hour: Author Dennis Lehane talks about his love for Boston, his blue-collar background and his latest novel, Live by Night, which follows outlaw Joe Coughlin as he climbs the ranks of organized crime in prohibition-era America.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander on “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – The Boston bombings.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - In an unlikely collaboration, actor Mark Rylance joined forces with Duluth poet Louis Jenkins to create a new play about ice fishing at the Guthrie. MPR’s Euan Kerr reviews.

  • jon

    @#1 Thanks for reporting Bob.

  • Robert Moffitt

    Nice posts, Bob. Stay calm and carry on, we shall.

    2) I took no offence in the placement of the Pulitzer story.

    3) Chris Kluwe seems like a big-hearted fellow. But if his punts don’t improve, he’ll be an ex-Viking very soon.

    4) Whatever the heck is wrong with India, I don’t think it’s going to be fixed with an electric bra…or an electric chair. India still has some soul-searching to do on the issue of rape, and the larger issue of how women are treated/viewed there.

    5) I saw that unfold this am. Hammer seemed distracted and “off” during the morning newscast. I’m not sure what the issue was, but it was noticeable.

  • MikeB

    #1 Here’s hoping we stay calm and not lose sight of who we are and what we stand for. People want to help and technology is a great enabler. The Google Docs page went up quickly. People running to the scene and taking down barricades to assist those who in need will be the standard going forward. It’s a good sign.

    #2 Pulitzers are a front page story, putting it up there does not diminish other stories. It’s news.

  • Sam

    Re: #1: I appreciate your thoughtful approach to this awful story, especially coming as it does from your hometown, Bob.

    That having been said, I did not appreciate the way in which MPR chose to cover the story as it was breaking yesterday. There appeared to have been a calculated decision to go wall-to-wall with breathless, sensationalist, moment-by-moment coverage more reminiscent of cable news than public radio, and to cut away from NPR’s coverage whenever it deviated from that approach. This was especially noticeable because there was effectively no new information revealed in the hours after the attack, yet MPR insured, by jumping constantly from MPR to WBUR to CNN(?!), that no one listening to your station would hear about anything but the bombings all afternoon and evening long.

    I do not come to MPR to listen to Wolf Blitzer & Co.’s wild speculation and irresponsible guesswork. Nor did I need to hear WBUR’s endless repetitions of what few facts had been established, interspersed with random phone calls from people who had been in the area but saw and heard nothing. The strength of public radio is that it persists in reporting and analyzing facts in an age when most American media prefer to shout opinions at us.

    I know that breaking news is tricky for news organizations large and small, but in this case, it was clear from the outset that we were dealing with a criminal act closer in scale to the Olympic Park bombing than to 9/11, and there was no need for MPR to intentionally amp the volume of its coverage by constantly jumping feeds to insure that the Boston story never left the air.

  • Bob Collins

    // that no one listening to your station would hear about anything but the bombings all afternoon and evening long.

    I understand and can appreciate where you’re coming from, and I respect your opinion. But one of the things about stories like this is people are coming (and going) from radio listening all the time and, frankly, the coverage has to recognize that.

    It’s the nature of breaking news that you’re passing along fragments that may or may not be relevant; you just don’t know.

    What I do know is when someone turns on the radio in the middle of a national story, you can’t be airing a calmly presented review of the latest play at the Guthrie.

    You just can’t.

    I understand where that opens up MPR to criticism and unfavorable comparisons with other news organizations, but sometimes you just have to do it and hope some people get over it. That’s just the way it is. You hope they come back later. It’s a gamble you have to take.

    You’re probably right, of course, that it was clear this wasn’t 9/11. On the other hand, if that’s the standard for extended coverage now, I’m not sure that’s a net positive. I’m not sure it’s not, either, for the record.

  • kennedy

    Re#2: Prior to the story, the state of Minnesota had an average of 10 child care deaths per year. After the story was published, there were no deaths in the last 6 months of 2012. My math says this saved the lives of 5 children. Certainly worthy of a headline.

  • MikeB

    I am absolutely stunned at the idea, if true, that MPR would simulcast CNN or any cable “news” channel in any circumstances. That’s throwing in the towel. Just put on the BBC then go home.

  • andy

    //What I do know is when someone turns on the radio in the middle of a national story, you can’t be airing a calmly presented review of the latest play at the Guthrie.

    Here in Chicago, I tried to hear about the bombings on Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ) on my drive home, only an hour or two after they occurred. They had no coverage at all! It was normal programming. I had to listen to the local sports talk station, who handled the story quite well actually.

  • BJ

    //What I do know is when someone turns on the radio in the middle of a national story, you can’t be airing a calmly presented review of the latest play at the Guthrie.

    //You just can’t.

    MPR is better for having someone like you (Bob) there, even if your role is not in the newsroom these days. The fact that you can answer these questions for listeners, as best you can, is a huge advantage MPR has. Unofficial Ombudsman, of sorts.

  • Bob Collins

    // I am absolutely stunned at the idea, if true, that MPR would simulcast CNN or any cable “news” channel in any circumstances. That’s throwing in the towel. Just put on the BBC then go home.

    Well, look, I didn’t hear the coverage so I can’t document what was involved but I’m going to guess that a senior producer was monitoring every source of information looking for who had it, A. And, B, I’m going to guess if they went with CNN, it was because NPR was behind — if covering at all — and WBUR hadn’t yet geared up.

    What CNN usually does is patch into a local TV outlet and rebroadcast it so if we were carrying it, I’m guessing that’s what was going out.

    I’ve covered the marathon. I know what the media coverage is like and putting the local TV coverage on the air while pulling together other coverage is a logical and excellent choice.

    When I was checking around, WBUR was still talking about the race winner when Twitter was noting possible explosions at finish line.

    It takes time, and maneuvering people to go live. You go with what you’ve got who has some information.

    The notion that MPR just handed coverage off to someone else “and go home” is unfair and insulting. I saw in the newsroom yesterday a well coordinated attack plan to get coverage, get ahold of people there and, in the end, produce a very, very excellent web and radio product. “Throwing in the towel”? Nothing could be further from the truth. “Throwing in the towel” would be “Oh, NPR is still airing a Talk of the Nation piece on the immigration bill, I guess we’ll just sit here and wait.”

    Deciding to go with what we have is an aggressive approach to a breaking story. Don’t like it? Fine. I get that. But in this case it’s an example of doing our job, not of not doing it.

    Besides, nothing happens in isolation and it’s foolish to believe that the only thing happening is what’s going on on the radio at that moment. I wish you could see it.

    Breaking news is ugly. We know that. It is what it is.

    One thing public radio is REALLY good at, is coming up with reasons NOT to do something for fear of offending someone.

    I don’t have a problem at all with taking the risk and apologizing later.

    Disagree with the result if you will. That’s fair game. But don’t disparage the effort by suggesting there wasn’t any.

  • Bob Collins

    // Certainly worthy of a headline.

    I certainly don’t have a problem with giving it a headline. Giving it higher billing than an actual breaking national news story? Yeah, that’s overly exuberant.

  • Shannon

    He may have a masters. But it’s you’re; not your.

  • Sam

    To be clear: I wasn’t suggesting a lack of effort. I was suggesting that it was poor news judgment to assume that MPR’s audience wants the same fact-free, speculation-heavy kind of coverage that cable news audiences routinely seek out. The CNN simulcast (which occurred in the minutes leading up to 3pm CDT) had no more information than anyone else in those moments after the blast. What it did have was a lot of stammering and bloviating by Wolf Blitzer in the absence of actual information.

    Like I said in my original comment, I know that breaking news is tricky. Public radio isn’t really set up for it, which is what I value about it. Yesterday was the first time in my memory that I tuned away from MPR in search of more reasoned coverage elsewhere. I found it on WCCO, where they were calmly explaining what had happened without behaving as if the world was ending.

  • MikeB

    I did not hear yesterday’s daytime broadcast. I was referring to another commenter’s mention of hearing Wolf Blitzer on the MPR airwaves.

    But I am familiar with CNN. And Wolf Blitzer. I have a strong distaste for the product they put on the air. Even their breaking news coverage, to me, includes the superficial. Especially when their time o nhand exceeds the news and they need something to go on.

    I was able to follow Twitter yesterday afternoon. And I saw tweets about Wolf Blitzer’s coverage. To put it mildly, it was not flattering. I also realize this is like using double bank shot, hearsay information.

    It is in that context that when I saw that MPR was possibly using CNN coverage. I appreciate that people at MPR work their a**** off. THAT’S WHY I LISTEN TO MPR. Standards are higher. I don’t need to worry about news as packaged entertainment or the least common denominator factor on public radio.

    No doubt WBUR was scrambling to get people in place. Maybe NPR was breaking in and out of coverage. But MPR has a lot of tools in the toolbox. Apparently CNN is one of them.

    I have low expectations about cable news channels in regards to quality or judgment. It is the opposite for MPR. That is why I was surprised to hear about the simulcast. Covering a disaster in real time is very hard work – I think I understand that. But whoever made the decision to utilize CNN made a mistake in my opinion.

  • Kevin Watterson

    I’ve been around some silly arguments in my time, but arguing over average snow fall statistics is right up there.

    Faulting the Tribune is an easy first reaction, but the two things seemed to happen almost instantaneously.

  • Bob Collins

    // ut MPR has a lot of tools in the toolbox. Apparently CNN is one of them. I have low expectations about cable news channels in regards to quality or judgment. It is the opposite for MPR. That is why I was surprised to hear about the simulcast. Covering a disaster in real time is very hard work – I think I understand that. But whoever made the decision to utilize CNN made a mistake in my opinion.

    Like you, I’m only guessing what was actually on the air but my suspicion is, as I said, CNN’s primary role was as a conduit to the feed by local TV stations.

    Which one, I don’t know. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was WCVB, a place where I once worked and which was — and maybe still is — known as the finest local TV news operation in America.

    It also could’ve been WBZ, which was broadcasting anyway from the finish line.

    If that’s true, I can’t imagine for the life of me, a better option for finding out what’s going on than from the reporters who are actually on location.

    The suggestion seems to be that MPR somehow just turned on CNN for an entire afternoon and went out for a drink. My guess is was only for a few minutes, it was the best option available until a better one became available, and that the reason for doing so was not a diminution of MPR standards but a fine example of them.

  • BJ

    //He may have a masters. But it’s you’re; not your.

    It was a twitter war, I’ll forgive, feel lucky it wasn’t ‘ur’.

    I find people who brag about their education annoying. But at 39 and struggling to get a BS degree, maybe I’m jealous.

    PS Until this had never heard of either of these weather folks.

    PPS Patrick Hammer sounds like an overnight top 40′s radio guy name. The hit’s with the Hammer!!

  • Disco

    I turned on NPR yesterday during the CNN simulcast. Is it just me, or does the whole world grow by listening to Wolf Blitzer? It’s as if I unlearn things when he speaks.

    I turned off NPR at that point, but then turned it on a while later. CNN was gone. The requisite (tenuous, silly) Minnesota connections had started. The guy from podunk MN who finished the marathon 45 minutes before the bombing is alright. Oh, and there aren’t any (known) threats to the City of Duluth.

    Thanks. Where’s the OFF button?

  • Disco

    That comment was supposed to include the word “dumber” after “grow.” Ironic?

  • Bob Collins

    // from MPR in search of more reasoned coverage elsewhere. I found it on WCCO, where they were calmly explaining what had happened without behaving as if the world was ending.

    And I’m sure WCCO did a fine job. But you said MPR (CNN, whatever), didn’t have any more facts than anyone else at the time, signalling that you went somewhere else first to find out what was going on, and because of that, you were able to compare what you found there with what was on MPR, and finally , what you found on WCCO.

    Where was that initial source?

    In terms of not having “any more information than anywhere else,” I don’t know that that’s a particularly good standard to use. To me, it only matters if they had more information than what MPR listeners already had received on MPR. I don’t know the answer to that.

    From what I have been able to determine, here’s a rough timeline:

    2:09.01 – Stephen John breaks into BBC NewsHour with bulletin, then returns to BBC.

    2:16.35 – Tom Crann dumps out of BBC with more information, citing WBZ. Cites 6 people hurt. Then pitches to CNN. Unfortunately, the skimmer tape only records what goes out thru MPR microphones so I don’t know what was on CNN.

    2:22.50 – Tom Crann dumps out of CNN, updates and then returns to CNN.

    2:31.30 – Crann dumps out of CNN and shifts to WBUR in Boston.

    2:40.10 – Crann with another station ID. Returns to WBUR.

    2:47.17 – Crann provides another station ID and updates with Associated Press copy. It was a 2:12 segment and seemed calmly delivered to me.

    2:49.31 – Shift from WBUR to CNN. Sounded like Blitzer talking.

    2:54.33 – Dumps out of CNN, Tom Crann provides information that bridges over Charles shut down and Boston locked down. Provides information on a couple of Minnesotans were in the race and reported by were safe. Segment ran 1:28. Sounded like it was sent back to CNN which — it sounded to me — was providing a feed from Boston TV.

    2:59.21 – Dumps out of CNN (sounds like Blitzer was providing information that it wasn’t a gas explosion) and provides station ID and runup to the 3pm news from NPR.

    The next break was at 3:14.09 and concluded a segment from NPR interviewing Peter Sagal, who ran in the race. In this segment, Crann provided information from a Minnesota runner, stuck at mile marker 25. 2 deaths and 23 injured reported, Tom said. He sent it back to WBUR.

    I didn’t hear a lot of Blitzer (because, like I said, it doesn’t record the feed) but the updates from Tom suggested information was fresh and it was calmly delivered.

    I think everyone has a choice of staying or going to find other information somewhere else. I certainly don’t have a problem with that. Lord knows I was looking all over for shreds of information.

    I suspect there’ll be a debrief of some sort in the newsroom about decisions and timetable. I usually don’t bother going to them as I have nothing to do with the decision-making process in the newsroom anymore.

    Fortunately, those that do seem to read the blog pretty faithfully and perhaps they’ll stop by to answer the questions posed.

  • Xopher

    I was really disheartened to hear Wolf Blitzer on MPR yesterday. Never again! That guy isn’t worthy. I don’t know what you’d use instead, but I’m all for dead air.

    That, and even though they had at least 20 minutes of lead time before President Obama spoke, MPR/NPR missed the first minute or two of the speech. Amateur!

  • Bob Collins

    // That, and even though they had at least 20 minutes of lead time before President Obama spoke, MPR/NPR missed the first minute or two of the speech. Amateur!

    This is incorrect. When I saw it I went back and checked. The pitch from NPR to the White House feed, while clumsy, cut off only the first few seconds of Obama.

    I’m sure this all looks easy from the outside, but I can assure you there were no amateurs working at either our news organization nor NPR yesterday.

  • Robert Moffitt

    Closed circuit to Bob: Romenesko has a post on how the Pulitzer winners covered themselves.