Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Obama's visit brings out well-wishers

I'm getting back into the groove of things after a fabulous week off to visit friends and family throughout the Midwest. With predictions of a steamy 90 degrees here in Tampa Bay today, I'm treasuring snapshots of golden autumn leaves, crisp mornings and warm hugs.

But the local news was a good welcome home, as President Obama landed in our back yard yesterday. And, politics aside, there was a real thrill in the air as controversies were pushed aside, and kids of all ages lined up for a glimpse of the nation's leader.

I ran into reporter Robert Napper as he returned from SRQ, about an hour after Air Force One had departed. Robert typically sports a great poker face, which always comes in quite handy for a cops reporter. But he was more relaxed, animated and, well, impressed. He had just been within five feet of Obama and witnessed a humbling moment of graciousness as the President thanked three decorated airmen for their service to their country. And he knew this memory would stay with him forever.

As Robert shared in this report today, the members of the Air Force also relished the moment. What a simple joy to hear their responses, like this one from Airman First Class Edward Walker: "I am going to call my mom. It is sure a pleasure to serve this great country.”

Here's to all things good about this country.

-- Joan

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No clear answer yet on getting swine flu vaccine

Some Manatee County physicians will receive their allotment of the swine flu vaccine today -- although there are only 600 of the nasal spray doses to go around in this first batch, as reported in today's story.

That seems unfairly low,especially since the county requested 1,700 doses, but no one outside of Tallahassee seems to know exactly how they're being doled out.

(AFTERNOON UPDATE: In addition to the 600 vaccines, the county learned today that the state has shipped 2,200 directly to private health providers throughout Manatee County who requested more than 100 doses and had their request approved by the health department. And they hope for more as soon as Friday.)

The medical jury is still out on the vaccine's effectiveness. Heck, sitting in my own doctors' waiting room the other day, the doctors in that office are divided on whether to get a vaccine, or wait for more research. And the nurse who took my blood insisted she wasn't going to take the risk -- she'd rather wear a mask.

But the threat is real, and the flu season is just starting. Ronald Cox, Manatee County Health Department’s director of epidemiology, is keeping us updated on any developments here. And you can check the Center for Disease Control's website for weekly national and international updates.

-- Joan

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The soul of Bradenton? Read on

My column today focuses on the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's three-year community research project, Soul of the Community.

The links above will allow you to explore more about the project and the Knight Foundation, whose mission statement explains its soul:
Our Mission
We are a national foundation with local roots. We choose, as the Knight brothers chose, to seek opportunities that can transform both communities and journalism, and help them reach their highest potential. We want to ensure that each community's citizens get the information they need to thrive in a democracy.

And we ask, as we evaluate opportunities and grants, "Is this truly transformational?"

Because grant making requires a sound financial base, we preserve the Knight brothers' gift through prudent investment and careful management.

And here is a link to the specific findings on Bradenton, one of 26 metropolitan areas that define the focus of this grant's research.

It's worth exploring.

-- Joan

Friday, October 9, 2009

Intense coverage of federal DNA backlog

Reporter Robert Napper got the e-mail from the FBI after 3 p.m. Tuesday -- not much time to dig for a story, but dig he did. With the help of reporter Duane Marsteller, an expert at research and database reporting, Napper turned a story with national implications: The FBI's DNA database backlog could have contributed to the serial home invasion attacks that gripped Manatee and Sarasota in fear this year.

The headline: Feds had suspect's DNA during home invasions

For months, investigators have been digging into 11 cases that may have been by the same invader/rapist/murderer. When they finally got a match to Delmer Smith III's DNA in four of those cases, there was renewed energy and hope that they might have the "monster," an apt description.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight and Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube held a press conference this morning, acknowledging the community's concerns on the database backlog and trying to offer assurances on the investigation.

Buchanan's web site states: "Buchanan has contacted the FBI about the backlog, which was blamed for a delay in the processing of home invasion and sexual assault suspect Delmar Smith’s DNA."

We'll continue to cover this developing story, and welcome your input.

-- Joan

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Coupon nirvana in today's Herald

If you need to convince someone on the value of the Sunday newspaper -- and news, entertainment, puzzles, comics, local investigative reporting, editorials, sports and advertisements aren't enough -- throw in $500 in coupons.

For just a buck (at least in our local Bradenton market) or less if you're a home subscriber, you get coupons worth chances to save at least $500 today. That includes national ads for everything from dog food to vitamins to shampoo; the Walgreens and Publix ads; the Herald's Money Saver with car care, dry cleaning and restaurant coupons; and plenty more to keep your scissors busy.

Each week, Shauna Horn in the Herald's finance department tallies the inserts for this add-on value. We often tease you with the grand total in the Herald's "skyboxes" on Page 1A, hoping to grab that passerby into spending just $1 to save plenty more.

Sorry, gotta go. My coupons await surgery.

-- Joan

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Teen violence online -- how to cover?

Law enforcement reporter Robert Napper got a tip early Wednesday that a teenage brawl last week in Lakewood Ranch had turned really ugly -- and landed on YouTube. And that started some intense conversations in the newsroom on our ethical responsibilities, and how to report the news.

The incident involved middle-schoolers -- juveniles, so the laws on accessibility immediately become limited. We finally found the video on YouTube, and some faces were clearly identifiable.

I called the news editor at Bay News 9, our TV partner. His advice: Try getting the family's permission first, and then, if that fails, protect their identity. But the video is out there, and it's an enormous part of the story.

Hours later, after Robert had found out as many details as possible about this story, Bay News 9 helped us with their video expertise to make sure the teens -- particularly the victim -- were not identifiable. We posted the video with today's story.

Late this afternoon, the victim's mother called us for the first time, asking us to remove the video because prolonged exposure prolonged her son's pain. Her request was reasonable and we honored the family's wishes.

About the same time, however, another mother called about another fight today on a middle school campus that sent her daughter to the hospital. "I saw your story today, and I can't believe my daughter is going through this now," she said. "You have to report how these bullies feel they can get away with anything. They can't!"

Did the kids plan last week's fight just to get their video out there for attention? Maybe. How much exposure should we give such actions in the Herald and on How to punish such violations? I don't think our justice system has the answers yet.

-- Joan