The new NewsCut (5×8 – 5/30/13)

Blog housekeeping, is reading or math more important, the people who disappear, what might have been for Bachmann, and paying it back.


At some point tomorrow, this page will no longer exist, at least in the style to which you’ve become accustomed. Gone will be the big red banner and also gone, hopefully, will be some of the limitations of the blog design, which we’ve been using since October 16, 2007.

If you look at some of the other blogs on our site (Stadium Watch, for example), you can see what’s in store. The font will be larger and more readable, and it is designed to be better read on phones and tablets. Things will format properly on those devices and the load time will be significantly reduced.

We’re also ditching the current system of comments and we will be using Disqus, the global commenting system which also allows you to share discussions on Facebook or Twitter. I’m hoping this will increase the amount of daily discussion we have in this space.

The old comments (and all of the old posts) will be imported into the new system, but there might be delays in bringing some of the comments over.

In the coming months, I’d love to increase the two-way nature of NewsCut, getting more ideas for posts and interviews from you and observations from you.


The national spelling bee has opened. For several days a year we learn how much smarter some young kids are than we might be. It’s even worse this year; they have to know the meaning of the word too, the Associated Press reports:

The first 20 spellers breezed through words such as “mandir,” “Eocene” and “tertiary” before the telltale bell rang for the first time when Alan Shi of Irvine, Calif., put an “s” instead of a “c” at the start of “cynosure.” The first to be eliminated, Alan was uncertain which way to go until officials directed him to the offstage comfort couch to be met by a parent.

The mere mention of “spelling bee” inspired a charming note from Gordon Schesel of Mahtomedi:

I was a regional winner from small town Wisconsin way back in 1961. An 8th grader, we traveled to Minneapolis for the final contest; held at the now demolished Hotel Leamington. Sadly, or not, I recall not progressing very far; I think there was a written word contest first, which is where my experience ended.

My mom, now age 96, cheered me up with a new bicycle from the Coast to Coast store. Of course, I had to share it with my 5 younger siblings.

This is also the occasion when we consider the value of things like spelling and reading and math. The New York Times reports today that fretting over math skills might be misplaced; it’s actually reading that needs attention.

Teachers and administrators who work with children from low-income families say one reason teachers struggle to help these students improve reading comprehension is that deficits start at such a young age: in the 1980s, the psychologists Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley found that by the time they are 4 years old, children from poor families have heard 32 million fewer words than children with professional parents.

By contrast, children learn math predominantly in school.

“Your mother or father doesn’t come up and tuck you in at night and read you equations,” said Geoffrey Borman, a professor at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin. “But parents do read kids bedtime stories, and kids do engage in discussions around literacy, and kids are exposed to literacy in all walks of life outside of school.”


How is it we lose track of people who were once close to us? That question permeates the Fargo Forum story this morning of Paul Hatchett, a star football player in North Dakota in the 1960s who played his last game in 1969 and then was rarely heard from again.

A sister hadn’t heard from him in a years and years. A Minneapolis man was one of the few people to try, apparently.

Hatchett was descending into a life of crime, prison, and homelessness.

There are those who believe Hatchett’s nice side was close to steering him down a lawful path in the late ’60s and early ’70s. His mother, Margaret, in a questionnaire that was on file at NDSU, wrote after the 1968 season that the reason Paul picked NDSU was because “it is a great little school and he loves it.”

He was president of a Red Cross club in high school at Minneapolis Central. He worked with underprivileged kids at a community center in Minneapolis, according to a document from the NDSU sports information office.

“He was really fond of kids,” Washington said. “He even took my son to the circus.”

Washington said he worked out with Hatchett in the summer months of his college career. He painted a picture of an athlete who worked to exhaustion.

“He was the kind of guy who wouldn’t brag,” he said.

He died Monday at age 64.


What’s left to say after Rep. Michele Bachmann’s announcement that she’s not running for re-election? That she had a chance to change American politics, and she blew it, the New York Times’ Michael D. Shear says. He cites three examples.

MPR’s Conrad Wilson suggests Republicans may be as happy to see her go as Democrats.5) PAYING IT BACK

Muji Karim was badly injured in a car crash in August 2011. He was a former football star but both of his legs had to be amputated.

When he was in the hospital, another man who had been badly burned years before told him he could — as the Boston Globe described — “choose to spend the next months worrying that he wouldn’t run or play football again, that he wouldn’t get married or have a life apart from his injuries — but if Karim thought that way, Pessotti warned, he would indeed be disabled.”

It worked. He was walking in a few weeks and he decided that if he could ever help somebody else the way he was helped, he would.

And then came the Boston marathon bombing.

Watch the video. You’ll feel better.

Meanwhile, From the Department of “If people were more like dogs…”

Bonus I: Confessions of a stay-at-home dad. (Wall St. Journal)

Bonus II: There was a time when it would be local news if a Vining, Minnesota woman became only the 9th woman to make a long-duration trip in space.


Is Al Franken doing a good job in the U.S. Senate?


I’m on the road to Brainerd today so posting will be light.

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Two-thirds of all pending disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs have been sitting there longer than 125 days. Members of Congress, veterans’ groups and even Comedy Central’s The Daily Show have focused their attention on this issue and some are calling for President Obama to replace Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs. What’s the cause of the backlog, and what’s being done to alleviate the problem?

Second hour: Van Jones, a former advisor to President Obama on green jobs, was in town earlier this month addressing a local think tank about environmental issues and his thoughts on the movement. In an earlier Washington Post article, he talked about diversity within the environmental movement. “We essentially have a racially segregated environmental movement,” said Van Jones, co-founder of the nonprofit Rebuild the Dream and a former adviser on green jobs to the Obama administration. “We’re too polite to say that. Instead, we say we have an environmental justice movement and a mainstream movement.” Is this true; is the environmental movement hampered by its “too-white” image? What is the “big issue” that can unite the clean air mainstream and the environmental justice arms of the movement?

Third hour: Tom Weber speaks with the director and one of the subjects of a new documentary that looks at the lives of people who were the sole survivors of commercial aviation disasters.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Kathleen Hall Jamieson at a University of Minnesota speech titled, “The Attack on Fact: American Politics and the Loss of Accountability.”

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – The war in Syria, and Hezbollah’s role.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Minnesota has long been home to the headquarters of big companies, leading to a flourishing Twin Cities advertising production industry. But some modeling and casting companies say they’ve hit a hurdle that’s causing them to lose business: They have a hard time finding Hispanic people to appear in ads. And companies are demanding a more diverse look to lure consumers. MPR’s Rupa Shenoy will have the story.

Sasha Aslanian looks at the Obama administration’s big anti-poverty effort in North Minneapolis to evaluate how it is — or isn’t — working.

This weekend soprano Dawn Upshaw wraps up six years as an artistic partner at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. She says it’s a bittersweet moment for her, particularly given the recent lockout. However she has enjoyed a close artistic collaboration with the musicians at the orchestra, and looks forward to hearing them play as an audience member. MPR’s Euan Kerr will have the story.

  • jon

    @#1 – unsure how I should feel about change. Hopefully it will be for the best… but new comment systems worry me.

    @#2 – My parents never gave me an equation before bed… but we did keep track of our finances, gas milage, and an additional map on family vacations.

    Maps would tell us how much farther we had to go… a watch and some mile markers would tell us how fast we were going (because my dad got tired of answering us, and even tireder of us pointing out he was speeding) and a bit more math would tell us how long until “are we there yet?” was a yes.

    On at least on occasion we set out for vacation with a set sum of money that we could spend before it was time to go home. We made it to the grand canyon with some careful lodging and food choices.

    Math can be taught by parents, but most people don’t see math as practical or fun, so they don’t bother.

  • Pat

    Not a fan of the new comment system you will be using. I’ve run into issues with it on other sites that use it and no longer participate where it is used.

  • Allison

    #1–I can’t even view Disqus comments, so this news is a bummer for me. I don’t really comment (sorry Bob) but I love reading what other people have to say.

  • JStrander

    Just to note: Stadium Watch may be easier to read on a tablet or smart phone (which I don’t use) but it’s definitely less easy to read on my desktop monitor. The text is large enough that only a few paragraphs fit on a page, meaning a lot of scrolling on a monitor that’s large enough resolution to not need much scrolling at all normally.

    Also the breaks between sections are much less obvious, giving the impression of a wall of text.

    Also I’ve not used Disqus on any website that has it. I don’t want to register with another third party and I don’t want websites to integrate themselves in any way with my social media accounts.

  • Bob Collins

    No one is required to share anything with other social networking services. That’s an option you have in the commenting system but not one that’s forced upon you.

    One of the things I’ve asked for for years at MPR is a notification system that people can choose to have so when comments are added to a conversation in which someone has partaken, there’s some way of notifying the person that a reply has been made. I think that promotes a more interesting discussion.

  • Bryan

    First, change at a blog can be shocking, but the readers will come around. Hopefully the comments increase. This is, by far, one of my favorite sites on the web, so I hope others will join the conversation.

    Second, regarding Bonus 1. That is a great read, and one I would love for every manly “my job is my life” man would read. It is not a lesser role to stay home, especially if your spouse makes enough to allow that to happen.

    I spent 4 years at home with my kids. In that time, I feel I connected with them in ways most fathers never get the chance to do. I got to raise my kids, rather than paying a stranger to do it for me.

    I also, in those same 4 years, worked a part-time job, got a Masters degree, build one of the top Wild fan sites on the web, and helped build a non-profit to help military kids play hockey. No one identified me as those things. Just a “stay at home dad,” who “sat around all day watching Dora.”

    The post is 100% accurate, but I have one question. Why do we insist on labeling fathers who stay home? They are always “stay at home dads” or, as the article conveys, a “full time parent.” I was rarely home when I was a “stay at home” dad, and now that I am working full time again, am I not a full-time parent? Do I lose my fatherhood when I am at work?

    These labels help make people feel comfortable, and like they are given credence to what these fathers are doing. What it comes across as is patronizing garbage. “It’s OK, honey, you’re a full-time parent now.”

    Would you say that to a mom that doesn’t go to work every day? Or is her label simply “mom,” like it should be?

    She doesn’t know it, but by calling her husband a “full time parent,” she is reinforcing gender roles by suggesting that men who work (and thereby women who work) are somehow NOT full time parents.

  • Kat S.

    1) “At some point tomorrow, this page will no longer exist, at least in the style to which you’ve become accustomed.”

    Geez, Bob, don’t do that to us before coffee. Will searching and categorization for old posts change at all? I was just re-reading the Saving Riverview Circle series again recently, and was definitely feeling annoyed at the archiving system. I’d consider improvements there more than a trade-off for any frustration with the new comments system.

    Bonus 1) My husband stayed at home with my daughter for the first year and a half of her life, and completed a Master’s at the same time. It was a blessing for all three of us that we were able to do that. It was a job I frankly could not have done as well as he did. It was interesting watching him wrestle with whether to identify himself as a student, a stay at home father, or both at any given time.

    To Bryan– at least in my circles, a mother who stays home with her kids is a “stay at home mom,” not just a “mom.” Most of us work out of the home at least part-time, so what we are distinguishing is where the majority of your daily hours are spent. I agree with you that “full time parent” is a useless phrase– no matter which parent it refers to. My friends who are stay at home moms identify the same frustrations you do when people refer to them as “just” anything.

  • andy

    1) I’ve been expecting this change for some time now. I had to register for a disqus account so that I could make suggestions for The Current’s 9:30 Coffee Break, so I’m ready for the change Bob! Good luck with the new format, I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

  • Bob Collins

    // I was just re-reading the Saving Riverview Circle series again recently, and was definitely feeling annoyed at the archiving system.

    Yes, as you’ve surmised, the current system stinks. It’ll be replaced with categories and tags. Gone will be the single page of every post ever written about bacon, for example, which takes years to load.

  • Kat S.

    “Gone will be the single page of every post ever written about bacon, for example, which takes years to load.”

    I have this sudden urge to go and find that page now, thank you for the continued killing of my productivity.

    If the system allows, please consider tagging Saving Riverview Circle and some of your other stories that cross several posts– like the Memorial Day one about the picture in your wallet, and the community response to the N. Mpls tornado–with specific tags.

    I have a tendency to use the Riverview Circle series, in particular, as an example when I’m talking with friends about blog-format journalism done right. It’d be great to be able to have a discreet tag to link to.

  • Jaime

    I agree with Bryan – this is one of my favorite spaces on the web. Although I read it every day, I don’t comment much (ok, really ever). But I promise to participate more since you’re making the efforts to make this a community conversation. No more being a troll. 🙂

    Thank you for #5. I admire and envy the resilience some people possess and I work every day to be better at it in my own life. It also made me want to go home and give my dog a hug.

  • David

    Best of luck with the new design, I’m sure it’ll be great, but many companies — including mine — block disqus.

  • Josh

    As long as the new layout doesn’t involve Comic Sans in any form, I will probably enjoy it.

  • Laura

    Glad the blog is getting updated and will probably get more readers, but a change in the comments scares me. This is the blog/news site I visit where the comments are consistently intelligent and civil.

  • Paul Wenzel

    MPR developer here.

    I hear your concerns on registration with third-party services. At the current moment, our newer Disqus-based system will not require registration to comment.

  • Xopher

    #2: You can read how to math, but you can’t math how to read.

  • bj

    comment 1, new comment thing scary. Like the notify feature, if it can be updated for each post and after a while we can turn it off. I comment a lot, so that would be a lot of notification…..


    read to both kids for 20-30 minutes each, every night. Ok most nights sometimes I’m just too tired. Loved the comment about a map and figuring out gas mileage and mph, that goes in the travel kit.

  • JStrander

    @Paul Wenzel

    Thanks! I appreciate not having to register for yet another service. I’m okay with giving you guys my e-mail address, but I’m always wary of giving information to outside parties.

  • Jack

    Count me in as another reader whose company blocks Disqus. Looks like my noon-time reading will come to an end.

    As a kind-of Luddite, please don’t ever require Facebook or Twitter usage. Not all of us are fully engaged with the digital world. I’m not ready to make the move to smart phones and tablets.

    Keep up the great work Bob – I’ve enjoyed reading the blog. (Also, glad to hear your plane wasn’t housed at the South St. Paul airport.)

  • Bob Collins

    // wasn’t housed at the South St. Paul airport.)

    Actually, it’s housed in the hangar next to the one that burned. But it’s OK.

  • Tyler

    I’m also glad to hear the blog is getting updated. Web 2.0 has been here for a while now.

  • Bob Collins

    // Web 2.0 has been here for a while now.

    We have an extremely small staff to constantly upgrade a very large and complex website. It’s not easy.